All Education is Environmental Education
Young, Jessica Lynn Michelle
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The purpose of this study is to explore how secondary school students construct meanings for environmentalism. The study participants consisted of grade twelve students from a rural eastern Ontario secondary school. The questions guiding this research are: a) in what ways do these students develop an understanding of environmentalism; b) what factors influence these students' decisions to take, or to not take, senior level elective Environmental Education courses as part of their secondary school curriculum; and c) what are students’ perception of Environmental Education and the current curriculum in secondary schools. Using a critical theory approach, this qualitative study employed two different methodological approaches: a survey, in the form of a questionnaire, and focus groups. Eighty-five grade twelve students participated in this study, eleven of which were also involved in three different focus group interviews. The survey was used to explore the general knowledge base and attitudes of these students towards environmentalism. The survey was conducted in May 2008, and the focus groups were conducted in June of the same year. Results were analyzed to identify, describe and compare the attitudes of students, and how they form meanings for environmentalism. Five themes emerged from the analysis of data generated from the surveys and the focus groups. Those themes were: students’ definitions of environmentalism; students’ perceptions regarding Canadian environmental concerns and these concerns within a global context; where and what students are learning about the environment; students’ perceptions of the current curriculum; and students’ attitudes, lifestyle and choices they make as a result. The most significant finding was not only the apparent lack of direction these students perceive themselves to be receiving regarding Environmental Education in the secondary context, which in some cases leads to a deficiency in understanding and concern, but also their noting the prevalence of media as a source of information about environmentally-related issues. Suggestions for future research on other salient aspects of Environmental Education are offered to shed further light on this issue.