Integrate > Teaching for Sustainability > Strategies and Teaching Themes > Connect to the World We Live In > Advocacy

Helping Students Advocate for the Earth

Sarah Fortner and Rob Baker, Wittenberg University

Earth and environmental policy decisions affect all of us. Our resilience depends on effectively addressing major issues such as climate preparedness (i.e. EPA, 2014, IPCC, 2014) and other critical needs (e.g. water, natural hazards, infrastructure)]. Scientific understanding does not directly translate into decision making, including policy. Equipping students with unbiased approaches to research and to advocate for the earth is important. Providing our students with opportunities to explore current policy issues engages them in the complexity of decision making and perspectives. While civic knowledge is an essential learning outcome for college students (AAC&U, 2008), it is not a traditionally associated with science curriculum. Civic engagement requires making connections between disciplinary knowledge to "one's own participation in civic life" and provides opportunity for exploring identity, communication for action, and "collaboration within constructs to achieve a civic aim," see: AAC&U Civic Engagement VALUE Rubric. These competencies align with sustainability curricula that require building interdisciplinary, systems thinking, and habits and skills needed for problem-solving. This module features advice for designing courses around issues central to your place and the many cultural communities within it. It also provides starting-place activities that engage students in the exploration of political issues including issues of environmental justice. In addition, it provides guidance for hosting advocacy events, developing talking points, and using Op-Eds, blogs, and social media. Finally, the value of engaging in political conversation is described in an essay.

  • Designing Courses around Issues: Includes resources for designing courses around issues important to your community and links to an example course, course design template, and reflection assignment tips.
  • Political Activities for Your Course: Features starting-place activities that help students explore policy and environmental justice issues. These explore the complexity of communication, decision making, and groups marginalized by decision making. How do we learn through inclusion?
  • Advocacy Events: Includes examples of advocacy events and as well as a template for planning events as part of your course or across campus.
  • Developing Talking Points: Considers how expertise or consensus documents may be translated alongside locally-relevant concerns to meet with or write letters to representatives.
  • Strategies for Reaching New Audiences: Provides tips for writing Op-Eds, blogs, and using social media to reach diverse audiences.
  • Political Talk is Important to Democracy (Essay): Reflects on the large number of independent voters and talking with others about issues as necessary political engagement.

Earth advocacy is a form of service learning that directly builds earth literacy and civic agency for undergraduates (NAS, 2016; Syzmanski et al., 2012).

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AAC&U, 2008, Essential Learning Outcomes

American Geosciences Institute, Critical Needs for the Twenty-First Century: The Role of the Geosciences

EPA, 2014, Climate Adaptation Resources and Guidance

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2014, Fifth Assessment Report, Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2017, Service-Learning in Undergraduate Geosciences: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24621.

Southern Poverty Law Center, 2017, Teaching Tolerance: Educating for a Diverse Democracy

Syzmanki, D.W., Hadlock, C. and Zlotkowski, 2012, Using Public Sector Research Projects to Engage Undergraduates, CURQ, 19-26.

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