As a former environmental educator, I think it is very important that we as educators separate advocacy from education. At the Environmental Education Association of WA’s first conferences in the early 1990s we discussed the distinction a lot. Working at North Cascades Institute and now at another nonprofit, we always have to make the distinction between education and advocacy for the content our EE programs.
EE programs that we all work with have an environmental impact and environmental initiatives are often controversial because people hold very different opinions based on different values. Those values come from different life experiences in family, community, cultural groups, training and education, political power, history of property ownership, etc.
Controversy is inherent in a free democratic society and the discussion of controversial issues is essential to decision making in a free society. More than a discussion of controversial issues is needed.
Citizens need to understand the environmental issues and problems facing their community and of the options available in addressing them. THIS IS Education.
Advocacy is an important activity, and advocacy programs must provide individuals with opportunities to identify, investigate, and participate in the resolution of environmental issues and problems on their land and in their community. But in dealing with these issues through true environmental education, the atmosphere should be as neutral and objective as possible. Environmental educators must be familiar with all sides of issues, bringing all sides into educational programs, and must stand firm for each advocate’s right to be heard and express opinions based firmly on objective information.
This is an interesting topic and I would welcome a continuing dialogue among the EE community—on the distinction between EE and Advocacy! Thanks for everyone’s thoughts on this!
Wendy Scherrer, Executive Director
Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association (NSEA)