Environmental Education in Ontario: To Be or Not to Be
Fawcett, Leesa, Our Schools, Our Selves
For decades environmental education documents have been riddled with talk of "education about/for/in the environment." Perhaps the intent of this rhetorical emphasis was to be inclusive, to ensure that this was a global priority that was important and ubiquitous. But it is hardly a catchy rallying cry - besides being plodding and divisive, it is boring and unimaginative.
A critical thinker would wonder what kind of education is not about the environment? Which environment(s) are we talking about? Each one of us is made up of a miraculous little world of atoms, cells, biochemical processes, organs, electrical impulses, muscles, willpower, and multitudes of other-than-human organisms. Ms. Frizzle and The Magic School Bus taught us that.1 We are rarely taught that each one of us are environments when, in reality, we are living, breathing environmental education in action.
To be ecologically literate is overrated. As a field, environmental education needs more friends - it needs to look for solidarity with other social movements, and form more alliances. If we are not going to collapse environments into prepositions, maybe we should imagine environmental work as a form of cultural ecotone crossing; my new term for facilitating environmental praxis. Ecotones are the boundaries between two or more ecosystems and they are the richest places of diversity of species. A cultural ecotone crossing would include natural as well as cultural diversity. The job is to consider always and all ways, the diversity, the differences and the knotted mix of cultures, natures, and technologies.
Why do humans have to be propelled millions of miles away from Earth in order to care about it? In Ontario, it took a Canadian woman who went into space, orbited about looked back at Earth to shake up the edu. cational establishment, and remind them that environmental education matters. In 2007, a team of experts and astronaut Roberta Bondar authored "Shaping our Schools, Shaping our future: Environmental Education in Ontario Schools," a thorough report that set out 32 recommendations for the Ministry of Education.2 In a refreshing demonstration of leadership, Ontario Minister of Education Kathleen Wynne stepped up and accepted all 32 recommendations. Two years later - little has happened.
Many NGOs and dedicated teachers who were already doing great work have continued despite the recession and hopefully can feel the warmth of the pat-on-the-back from the Bondar report. There are a few but far-between integrated curriculum programs that provide interdisciplinary learning in Ontario. Has their funding increased?
Ecoschools, which specialize in energy minimization and waste reduction, along with the practice of greening schoolyards, have grown admirably. Unfortunately, however, while there are lots of environmental education resources not many are linked to provincial curricular mandates. For the most part, outdoor education centres that were closed in the Mike Harris/Ernie Eves conservative government years (1995-2003) in an education 'rationalization' strategy (read cutbacks) are still closed.
The good news is there is a new Outdoor Experiential Education Additional Qualification in the wings. To date, teacher training in environmental education is still basically non-existent; only a smattering of électives in BEd programs, no Additional Qualification courses for existing teachers, and very few interdisciplinary, environmental education summer institutes. In such a vacuum of practice we will surely deskill generations of teachers and learners.
Nationally, integration is lacking across provinces and territories. Materials are not translated and the environmental education wheel gets reinvented region by region. Evaluation of programmes is minimal, except for some leaders in the field such as Susan Staniforth.3 Over the past 18 years, the bulk of the innovative funding and programming for environmental education in Canada was supported largely by the J. …