Could environmental education be crossing into environmental indoctrination? Some critics say yes, as schools boast that such curricula simply is teaching children ways of caring for the earth.
Being a "good" student at Western Avenue Elementary School in Flossmoor, Ill., means more than just doing reading, writing and arithmetic well. It also means trying to save the planet.
"It's really important to help the earth and save the polar bears," 9-year-old Duree Everett said, as she colored a "go green" sign at her desk.
The students are taking part in what's called "National Green Week," organized by the Green Education Foundation. Schools across the country are encouraged to teach children about recycling, global warming and carbon footprints.
"It's important to start creating habits now, while children are young, because it can add up over a lifetime to make huge monumental consequences to the environment," said Victoria Waters, president of the Green Education Foundation.
Children as young as 5 years old are told to avoid plastic water bottles, carry lunches in reusable containers, to conserve water and reduce their trash, both at school and at home. They're also taught that planet earth is in trouble and animals' lives could be in danger.
While that may seem politically correct to many people, all the talk of "green" is making some people see red. Critics say using public schools as a means to change habits and opinions on things such as ecology and global warming, amounts to environmental religion, because the beliefs of some are being forced on all children. The kids are then pressured to bring that information home and impose it on their families.
Angela Logomasini, from a free-market environmental policy group called the Competitive Enterprise Institute, says it's political indoctrination.
"I think children should not be forced to take one set of values over another," Logomasini said. "This isn't simply about controlling litter, like we had in the '70s. It's more about recycling, living organically — it's a lifestyle choice that is being forced on students whether they like it or not, whether parents like it or not."
Logomasini said this type of teaching doesn't belong in taxpayer funded schools — students should be "learning science and they should be learning different perspectives from which they can make a critical analysis," rather than being taught that there's only one viewpoint.
Many school districts across the country are now offering teacher's lesson plans on environmental issues. Students in Los Angeles, Ohio and Texas are all practicing waste reduction in the classroom.
Western Avenue Elementary School principal Jennifer Camilleri insists students aren't pressured to make changes, just taught information that makes them want to change.
"They really weren't aware of the amount of trash they were producing based upon their snacks and their lunch, until we had the experiment where we weighed all the trash we collected from the classrooms and the kids," she said. "It was as if a light went on in their heads."
She said for these kids, the lessons will last much longer than just the seven days of National Green Week because teachers talk about environmental issues all year long.
Several parents at the elementary school say they support the program and have learned "green" measures from their children. They've even formed a "green team" to educate other parents and children about their environmental concerns.
Teachers say they hope the lessons from National Green Week will keep being recycled, as students pass along the information to others, forming habits they claim will lead to greener pastures for planet earth in the future.