Testimony before the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education
Mr. Chairman, Members of the Subcommittee, welcome to the great State of Maryland -- we are honored to have you here. Before I offer some words in support of the legislation you are considering today, I wanted to take a brief moment to recognize Congressman Sarbanes, whose leadership and partnership have been so critical to our efforts to return Maryland to progress.
Mr. Chairman, Martin Luther King said that the mark of a true education is "intelligence plus character." That's really what this legislation is about. If we truly wish to prepare our children for the challenges of tomorrow, we must recognize that education can be about so much more than reading, writing and arithmetic.
At its core, true education is about teaching our children to be responsible citizens of the world - about instilling them with the ideal that each individual can make a difference, and that all of us must try.
And when better than Earth Day to discuss ways to impress upon our children the virtue of service to the common good? - This time we set aside to remind ourselves that all of us must "think globally and act locally" - that each of our individual actions have global consequences, and that there is a unity to spirit and matter, and the things we do in this life do matter.
WHY THIS LEGISLATION MATTERS
The No Child Left Inside legislation is designed to help those of us at the State level who have a vision for education which believes that connecting students with nature is an essential part of their development as global citizens. It is rooted in the hope and belief that today's young people will do a better job caring for our planet than, quite frankly, our generation has wrought.
When it comes to our kids' attention, nature has a lot of competition these days. Between television, Facebook, video games and other distractions, it's fair to say that going for a hike or enjoying the outdoors is not always on the top of every child's wish-list.
And, in these difficult economic times, when parents are working harder and struggling to pay bills, it can be difficult to find the extra time - or for those who do not live in proximately to open space, the extra money - to share the outdoors with their children.
That's why schools can play such a special role in bringing our young people closer to nature.
SUPPORTING OUR EFFORTS IN MARYLAND
As we work at the state level to implement more environmental education opportunities in our schools, the No Child Left Inside bill would provide significant assistance by providing grants and support, and counterbalancing portions of the No Child Left Behind law which scaled back hands-on learning opportunities and environmental education.
Let me share with you, for a moment, some of the initiatives in Maryland we hope this legislation would help support.
Yesterday, I signed an Executive Order which directed our state agencies to work in concert with local, private and non-profit partners on expanding environmental education. We created what we call the Maryland Partnership for Children in Nature and charged it with three main tasks:
* To develop an Environmental Literacy Plan that will create a statewide strategy for implementing environmental education opportunities in schools. I would like to note that No Child Left Inside would provide resources for states to help develop these plans.
I n developing our statewide strategy, we will examine model programs, curricula, and professional development opportunities for teachers. We will take a hard look at the environmental literacy of our graduating high school students. And, as has been the hallmark of our efforts to make government work, we will engage in relentless follow-up and analysis to measure our success and identify areas in need of improvement.
* To connect existing camps and other outdoor programs to state learning standards - and to increase participation of underprivileged and minority students. We already have some promising initiatives underway which are targeted at disadvantaged young people from underserved urban communities. Beginning this summer, participants will earn an hourly wage while conducting conservation projects, engaging in nature immersion experiences, and developing marketable job skills for our increasingly green economy. We have a similar program for court-involved youth.
* To increase opportunities for learning and recreation in natural settings. To implement this vision, we are:
o Working to connect communities with parks via walk-able trails;
o Working with private and local entities to create and improve natural play zones in the undeveloped pockets of local parks and neighborhoods;
o And, converting asphalt and empty lawns into natural landscapes.
Mr. Chairman, as we recognize Earth Day, we must also recognize that the decisions we make in the here and now will determine what type of planet we leave our children.
Will we create a generation of environmental stewards who realize humankind's sacred responsibility to our land, our water, and our air? Will they treat our planet better than we did? Will they allow the circumstances they inherit to change them, or will they feel that desire in their hearts to change their circumstances?
If we invest in environmental education today, it is our belief that there will come a time when our young people graduate high school not only with the intellectual ability to tackle complex environmental challenges - but also with the will and desire to care for and save our planet.