In this time when we are nearing a point of possibly no return, we need all the influence we can get to change our perceptions of what is truly necessary to our culture. Are new phones, laptops, mp3 players, electronic book readers, and game systems every few months essential? Shouldn’t they be made so that they aren’t obsolete within a few months? Should every 16 year-old rushing out to buy a car as soon as possible really be an expectation or a status symbol? How about the mindset that huge cars and unnecessarily large homes are what we should strive to own? Everything about our culture tells us that waste is okay because we’re a wealthy country. We can afford to be greedy and selfish because the consequences don’t affect us. Unfortunately, it’s hard to convince people to change now when they think all these products are an entitlement.
In order to phase in a new way of thinking, schools definitely must play a part. If they don’t teach us, who will? Schools are the one place that has the potential to reach everyone at the time when they are most impressionable. We need legitimate information presented to us in a reliable way. Mass media also reaches unimaginable crowds, but anyone can produce it. As easily as a good message can spread, so can a bad one. Schools however, are expected to present us with the right information. They strive to prepare the kids for their turn to be in charge. But as soon as school is over, so is many people’s involvement. Opportunities to volunteer and participate aren’t handed to you outside of school; you need to find them yourself. Many people won’t do this. Therefore, achieving a sense of community is much harder when schools aren’t providing the framework.Colleges would be ideal places to teach about the environment and also general responsibility towards the wellbeing of others. After all, liberal arts colleges already require taking general classes in many other fields- why not in environmental studies too? Students are old enough to intelligently understand the truth by then, and they can better understand the results of their choices and actions. The problem is, we’re already pretty set in our ways at that point. We know what we want in order to live comfortably. We’ve grown up thinking we need many things, and it’s normal to us. And by college, we’re already under the pressure of finding high-enough-paying jobs that will allow us to continue that consumerist lifestyle. No one wants to earn less money because society tells us to be competitive and greedy. So, waiting until college to try changing our thoughts is too late. We need programs starting in elementary school. We need to grow up thinking conservation and sustainability are natural and necessary. Then by the time we’re in colleges, we’ll have the confidence to challenge others. Although radical reformers are necessary and make a difference, the everyday unstated peer pressure of what’s considered normal is probably much more effective.
Although waiting until college to teach about the environment has its problems, it’s still better than nothing. It has the potential to start a shift in education’s focus, from a “fend for yourself” attitude to a “we’re all in this together” one. Although colleges mainly prepare us for our careers, they also have the ability to promote sustainability through classes and campus-wide efforts: recycling, cafeteria food choices, the possibility of walking anywhere on campus. By setting a positive outlook for us, they’ll give us the confidence to carry on the trends. Students at this age have a powerful position; we’re on the verge of stepping into the world and making important changes. The things we do now will determine the quality of life for our children and grandchildren. With the right influences, we can transform our relation to our planet without feeling like we’re losing anything along the way.