Earth Ethics Institute teaches new literacy

Miami Dade College offers primer on preserving planet


In the mid-1970s, Miami Dade College Professor McGregor “Mac” Smith Jr.  began germinating the idea of creating a place where he could teach his students and the South Florida community about the importance of caring for the Earth. By 1978, the seeds Smith had been sewing sprouted into the Environmental Demonstration Center at Miami Dade College’s Kendall Campus. That unique, self-supporting center grew and evolved to include an Owner-Builder Center, a Landscape Center, a Tropical Lifestyle Center and a Nature Center.

Smith, who is the author of Now That You Know: A Journey Toward Earth Literacy, worked with colleague Norma Watkins to then found Miami Dade College’s Environmental Ethics Institute to offer Earth literacy courses, a teaching concept that has spread far beyond Miami Dade College to St. Thomas University in Miami, Southwestern College in Winfield, Kan., and the Highlands Center in North Carolina.

While the center and institute both thrived, in 1992 Hurricane Andrew damaged the Environmental Demonstration Center so gravely that the college had no choice but to demolish the building. To carry the former center’s lessons into the classroom, the institute switched its focus from student-based programs to faculty-based enrichment with the goal of creating Earth-literate professors who could then spread their knowledge to students at Miami Dade College’s eight campuses in order to foster a new era of ecological understanding. Since that time, the institute has offered student workshops and immersion programs throughout Miami and beyond.

In 2004, the Environmental Ethics Institute changed its name to the Earth Ethics Institute in order to better express its mission and purpose of preserving and caring for the Earth.

One of the Institute’s most popular student immersion programs takes place not in the balmy, subtropical environs of Miami Dade College, but rather in the beautiful, cool mountains of Tennessee at the Narrow Ridge Earth Literacy Center. This eight-day course frees students from technology and urban life by placing them into a completely green world. They aren’t even allowed to take their cell phones, which wouldn’t work anyway since there is no wireless communication in that area of Tennessee. Students are literally cut off from the modern world. Instead of Facebook and a traditional classroom setting, they participate in team exercises, have class conversations outdoors on a wide variety of topics, practice organic farming, and live in houses made from natural, renewable resources and powered by solar panels and wind turbines.

In addition to the Tennessee immersion course, Miami Dade College’s Earth Ethics Institute also sponsors recycling programs and the Community-Rooted Organic Produce Services, or CROPS program, which delivers high-quality, locally grown organic fruits and vegetables to participants throughout the community. The recycling program at Miami Dade College gives students the opportunity to recycle paper, plastic bottles and aluminum cans by using bins placed around the college’s eight campuses. The institute also has a partnership with GRC Recycling, which specializes in salvaging old cell phones.

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