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Theory of Ecological Literacy

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In the article “Ecological Literacy: Education and the Transition to a Postmodern World,” David Orr (1992) presents his argument about the lack of emphasis on ecological literacy by our education system and how this discrepancy can be bad for society as a whole. Orr (1992) precedes his argument with an explanation of ecological literacy, and its importance in the lives of all people. He claims that just as regular literacy and mathematical skills are vital to everyday life, so is ecological literacy, the only difference being that ecological literacy is virtually untaught in our society. Orr’s (1992) central theory is based upon his belief that, “by failing to include ecological perspectives in any number of subjects, students are taught that ecology is unimportant for history, politics, economics, and society” (Orr, 1992, p. 300). This deficiency in the understanding of ecological literacy creates a problem for everyone on Earth, since future generations will be unable to maintain the world as a sustainable place to live. Orr (1992) gives many reasons to this discrepancy in subjects being taught, and while some seem a bit stretched and incongruous, all are valid points that can be verified by my own personal experiences. Attempting to live on earth without a solid understanding of ecological literacy is comparable to “trying to balance a checkbook without knowing arithmetic” (Orr, 1992, p.300).

Orr (1992) begins his argument with an attempt to explain his theory why ecological literacy is so difficult to successfully integrate into modern education. He claims that modern attitudes, by their very nature, work against the concept of ecological literacy. Children are taught through television “that the earth is theirs for the taking” (Orr, 1992, p. 300). I agree with Orr (1992) in that modern faith in technology has reached the point where people believe that scientists will devise some plan to stop global warming and create new wells of energy to fuel their lives, before the earth becomes a toxic hell. Orr’s (1992) claim that these types of attitudes do indeed work against ecological literacy is sustained by my own experience. I grew up thinking it would not matter what kind of food I ate or how I exercised, because I thought science would create a cheap, painless way to lose weight by the time I would have to worry about it. But now, I can see the effects of my slowing metabolism and I know that healthy eating habits and proper maintenance of my body are the best way to move into the future, just as taking preventive measures to keep the earth healthy, is clearly a better choice than waiting for a perfect solution to arise. Many people share my postmodern mindset and view the environment in a similar way to how I used to view my health. “[Ecology’s] goal is not just comprehension of work the world works, but, in the light of that knowledge, a life lived accordingly” (Orr, 1992, p. 302).

Orr’s (1992) conjecture that “ecological literacy is becoming more difficult…not because there are fewer books about nature, but because there is less opportunity for the direct experience of it,” gives a slightly stretched, but still applicable, reason for the failings of ecological literacy in modern society (Orr, 1992, p. 303). By interacting with the environment on a regular basis, Orr claims that one can feel a “sense of place” rather than the “sense of habitat” that arises when “the ratio between the human created environment to the purely natural world exceeds some point” (Orr, 1992, p. 303). “A sense of place requires more direct contact with the natural aspects of a place…this sense is lost as we move down the continuum toward the totalized urban environment” (Orr, 1992, p. 303). People are becoming comfortable with the ugliness and “sense of habitat” that are associated with urban landscapes, which gives them less motivation to opt for greenbelts, parks, and trees that can beautify an urban environment, as well as provide ample opportunity to experience nature. Again, I coincide with Orr (1992) in the belief that many people have become accustomed to spending too much time indoors, which leaves very few opportunities to spend time with the environment while doing day-to-day activities. Everyone morning I step outside to get a fresh breath of air and it always prompts me to consider to world I live in and to do what is best for the environment. With urban life slowly becoming more and more centered on anti-nature activities, people may eventually believe that they can replace the environment with a totalized urban habitat, completely removing any chance



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