L ocalization has become a key concept in the field of sustainability -- local food, local goods, local initiatives, and, more recently, local education. Beneath the deluge of global communication, the concept of localized, or "place-based" education empowers students to advance sustainable practices by reaffirming the importance of human habitats and the resources therein.

Recently, I have encountered a disheartening sense of helplessness among today's students, especially in the realm of sustainability. The explosive expansion of media and technology has launched the globe into a whirlwind of information and influence. Though instantaneous global communication provides endless possibilities for widespread environmental cooperation, it can also be a dehumanizing force. With the world at their fingertips, students often see themselves as an insignificant number among masses, incapable of making a tangible difference.

However, I have noticed that a recent shift toward localization and place-based education has provided students with an opportunity to make a tangible difference in society.

"I feel like [national and global governments] get so many messages, letters, emails and phone calls that they just start ignoring them," says CU student and environmental advocate Francesca Loomis. "But we have a bigger voice here on campus and in Boulder."

This notion of a "bigger voice" appears in the work of Professor David Sobel, who pioneered the place-based education. After reading some of his work, I began to consider the ways in which an educational approach that incorporates the local history, environment, culture, economy, literature and art can empower students by helping them recognize their voice and impact in local communities.


Sobel believes that students need to understand their local environment throughout their educational experience. "All those free play experiences in the natural world -- building forts and picking your own paths in the woods -- are the basis for environmental values and behaviors in adulthood," he says. "If we don't have kids out doing that stuff, we are ensuring they will not be environmentally responsible when they get older."

Sobel's ideas adapt the principles of environmental sustainability into an educational method that reminds students of all ages that they can be more than a mere number and make a tangible difference in their communities. As an experiential approach to learning, place-based education connects classrooms and communities through collective learning and problem solving, ensuring a sustainable and responsible relationship between students and their natural and social environment.

Sobel will speak on the topic of place-based education at "Place-based Education: Test Scores and Beyond Test Scores," a free event on Oct. 18, at 7 p.m. at the University of Colorado-Boulder in the Eaton Humanities building, room 1B50.

--Jessica Farris is the communications coordinator for the Environmental Center at CU-Boulder and a journalism graduate student.