How do we prepare kids for Obama's "Green Jobs"?

Earth Day may be drawing to a close (or already over for most of the world), but ideally we should really be talking about Earth Lifetimes or Earth Millennia. Earth Day has always bothered me because one day of focusing on our environment will hardly "save the planet.

Earth Day may be drawing to a close (or already over for most of the world), but ideally we should really be talking about Earth Lifetimes or Earth Millennia. Earth Day has always bothered me because one day of focusing on our environment will hardly "save the planet." Tree-huggers (and I include myself in that group) alone can't transform Earth Day into long-term solutions. Rather, a wide swath of people on both sides of the environmental fence need to work towards significant change.

It shouldn't come as any surprise that the following quote from a New York Times article Wednesday made me pretty happy:

It has become increasingly clear that the administration's central theme -- not to mention its pitch to key lawmakers -- is that energy-related legislative priorities are based not only on environmental merits but on their ability to create jobs.

So there are those green jobs we keep hearing about. Unfortunately, "green jobs" are like "21st Century Skills." It's a bit hard to define and it's pretty hard to identify ways to prepare our students for them if we can't at least pin them down a bit. However, there was one statement from the administration featured in the Times article that stood out from an educational standpoint:

"This is the kind of 'for everybody Earth Day agenda' that the Obama administration stands for," White House Council on Environmental Quality adviser Van Jones said yesterday. "There's a wingspan on these jobs goes from GED to Ph.D."

While this is obviously a bit of rhetoric, it also gives us a bit of direction. It means that traditional manufacturing skills taught in our vocational-technical schools need to be adapted to the sorts of heavy industry and construction relevant to wind, solar, nuclear, and hydro power that will be implemented in the coming years.

It means that students need to leave high school with the same solid understanding of math, physics, chemistry, and biology that we've been screaming for for years. However, an emphasis on practical biological sciences (ecology and environmental science, for example) will help students make connections between the theory and the application.

To be honest, though, this doesn't require much more of change than our drastically changing global economy already is making necessary. The ideas of rigor and relevance haven't gone away. Whether the jobs are green, IT-related, or service-related, students must leave high school with the ability to hit college running or enter post-secondary education with all the skills they need to avoid relegation to jobs increasingly filled via outsourcing.