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Today's kindergarteners will be retiring in the year 2075. We have no idea what the world will look in five years, much less 60 years, and the idea of a changing world can be daunting (Kellner, 2000). At the same time, today’s youth will be assuming leadership roles with the responsibility of environmental stewardship and the task of implementing actions for a sustainable world. The future is uncertain, however, preparing our children for a life focused on balancing the environment while sustaining a growing human population is a critical concern. These issues will require our youth to effectively deal with challenges in the social, economic and political arenas on local, national and global levels (Smith & Sobel, 2010).

To address the many uncertainties, and relinquish unanticipated or unintended consequences, students today will need more than superficial knowledge or awareness of disconnected environmental issues (ELC, 2008). Our vision of global sustainability will involve a true understanding of the balance between human needs and our natural resources. To carry out these tasks and manage the quality of the environment, our children must be an environmentally literate citizenry who can identify, solve, and prevent environmental issues collectively. However, there is great concern that an informed public with the necessary skills to address environmental issues at their root will not be prepared for the task (Hollweg et al., 2011).

Science education reform proponents explicitly put forward the idea that all students, regardless of culture, gender, race, or socioeconomic status, are capable of understanding and doing science (Barnett et al., 2006). However, very little research has been published on the subject of African American middle school students and environmental literacy. The lack of empirical information about young people’s environmental views will require further examination.

The purpose of this study was to determine the extent of ecological knowledge and verbal commitment among a group of sixth, seventh and eighth grade African American students in a suburban Texas middle school. The Middle School Environmental Literacy Survey (MSELS) was used to collect data (Hungerford et al., 2005). All statistical analyses were performed using IBM SPSS Statistics 22.0 (SPSS Inc., Chicago, IL). The mean scores of the sample population were compared to data collected by the developers of the instrument using an ethnically diverse population in a national setting (McBeth, Hungerford, Marcinkowski, Volk, & Cifranick, 2011). Additionally, two secondary analyses were conducted. First, an independent samples t-test was conducted to determine if gender affected the scores. Second, a one-way between-groups analysis of variance (ANOVA) was conducted to explore the impact of grade differences on both components of environmental literacy.

For the ecological knowledge component, the survey results indicate the seventh grade mean score (M=13.18) from this research outscored the seventh grade mean (M=11.89) from the national scores by 1.29 points, a difference of 7 percent, indicating the suburban seventh grade students in Texas have more ecological knowledge than the national average. The national mean data indicate the sixth and eighth grade students outscored the students from this sample by 1.49 and 1.18 points respectfully. For verbal commitment, the national data outscored the study sample by less than one point across all three grades in their willingness to commit to pro-environmental behavior. However, the 12-item measure overall mean scores from sixth, seventh and eighth grades (M=42.98) from this study outscored the eighth grade (M=42.89) national data.

When composite scores were calculated on high, moderate and low levels of environmental literacy, Knowledge domain data indicates the seventh grade students have a high level of ecological knowledge (46.51 out of 60), but the sixth (35.01 out of 60) and eighth (38.82 out of 60) grades fall into the upper moderate levels of the domain. When sixth, seventh, and eighth grade scores were combined, the composite score from this sample scored just under a high level of knowledge (39.84 out of 60). For the Environmental Affect domain (one-half the total points), the composite score for sixth grade (22.19) was highest, followed by the eighth (21.05), then seventh (20.87) grade students. When compared to the national composite scores for this domain (McBeth et al., 2011), all three grades, sixth (22.63), seventh (21.67), and eighth (21.41) were slightly higher than this sample.

The analysis of gender returned different results. Gender did not appear to play a role in either component of environmental literacy. The results from a one way analysis of variance on How You Think About the Environment (verbal commitment) indicate more variance exists within groups than between groups (F = 2.95, df = 2, p > .05). The data indicate no statistically significant difference among the mean scores of the three groups from the population sample. In calculating the effect size, Eta squared = .02, which is considered small.



Middle schools, Education, Environmental Education, African American students, Ecological Knowledge, Verbal Commitment