Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

A Schooling for Sustainability Framework

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

A Schooling for Sustainability Framework

Article excerpt

One hardly needs to catalog the challenges that constitute the ecological crisis that is the theme of this issue of Teacher Education Quarterly. The encouraging news is the evidence that there are schools across North America and around the world responding to these challenges. They are discovering that guidance for living abundantly on a finite planet lies, literally, under their feet and all around them--in living soil, food webs, and water cycles, energy from the sun, and everywhere that nature reveals her ways. They are drawing on 3.8 billion years of natural research and development to find solutions to problems of sustainable living, make teaching and learning more meaningful, and create a more hopeful future for people and communities.

David W. Orr of Oberlin College describes the task facing educators:

   to teach students how they are part of the natural world; to
   emphasize self-understanding and personal mastery; to recognize the
   responsibility to use knowledge well in the world; to understand
   the effects on people and communities of the application of
   knowledge; to provide role models of integrity, care, and
   thoughtfulness in institutions whose actions embody their ideals;
   to recognize that the process of education is as important as its
   contents. (1)

Orr sits on the board of the Center for Ecoliteracy Berkeley, California. Since its founding in 1995 by Zenobia Barlow, Peter Buckley, and Fritjof Capra, this public foundation's mission has been education for sustainable living. This article reflects lessons learned from work with thousands of educators from all types of K-12 schools. While recognizing that there is no schooling-for-sustainability blueprint that fits all schools, the Center has articulated a set of precepts that it calls "Smart by Nature." They are described in more detail in its recent book Smart by Nature: Schooling for Sustainability, (2) which profiles schools across the United States that are putting elements of this schooling into practice.

In that book's preface, Barlow proposes

... a radical vision for education--radical in the sense of being essential, fundamental, and deeply rooted. It is founded on a conviction that the best hope for learning to live sustainably lies in schooling that returns to the real basics: experiencing the natural world; understanding how nature sustains life; nurturing healthy communities; recognizing the consequences of how we feed ourselves and provision our institutions; knowing well the places where we live, work, and learn. (3)

The Smart by Nature approach is characterized by:

* An operational definition of sustainability

* An expanded understanding of "curriculum"

* A suite of guiding principles

* Shifts of perception resulting from systems thinking

* Desired outcomes described by core competencies

Defining Sustainability

The concept of sustainability, first articulated in the early 1980s, has served as a useful organizing principle for educators, as in the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014). (4) It has also been so variously defined as to be problematic to many. To some organizations, schools included, "sustainability" seems mostly to mean "what we need to do to stay in business." As Michael Pollan wrote in the New York Times Magazine in late 2007, "The word 'sustainability' has gotten such a workout lately that the whole concept is in danger of floating away on a sea of inoffensiveness. Everybody, it seems, is for it--whatever 'it' means." (5) So it is worthwhile to reflect about what "sustainability" could mean.

Imagine sustainability as a far richer concept than simply meeting material needs, continuing to exist, or trying to keep a degraded planet from getting worse. A community worth sustaining would be alive--fresh, vital, evolving, diverse, dynamic. …

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