Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Developing Teachers' Capacity for EcoJustice Education and Community-Based Learning

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Developing Teachers' Capacity for EcoJustice Education and Community-Based Learning

Article excerpt


In the summer of 2009, a group of teachers, community activists, and university professors came together in a Summer Institute on EcoJustice Education and Community-Based Learning held by the Southeast Michigan Stewardship Coalitions at Eastern Michigan University (EMU). A series of workshops were organized to help participants examine the interwoven foundations and educational implications of social and ecological violence. They read and discussed a passage from Val Plumwood's book Environmental Culture (2002) in which she interrogates what she calls "the illusion of disembeddedness"--our hyperseparation from nature and its connection to a more general "logic of domination"--and they watched a film called Race: The Power of an Illusion (2003). Following the film, the group engaged in a silent "chalk talk," (1) filling the board with their responses to the question: "What does the study of race as an illusion have to do with our desire to teach for stewardship and ecojustice?" Below is a sample of their comments:

* The language that we use to rationalize racism relies on the oppression of nature. Some races are "wild," "uncivilized," etc ...

* Start by teaching how to appreciate differences instead of devaluing them.

* OK--how do we teach instead to undo anthropocentric teaching/acting?

* Anthropocentrism--other types of dualistic thinking. Helping students become stewards for the environment will hopefully lead them to realize the hierarchical nature of other dualist principles.

* I really like this concept [arrow to anthropocentrism].

* Drives home the importance of not thinking dualistically.

* Stewardship is seen as part of the healing process from "ages of dominance" and oppression. It is a way of creating a new wholeness and being less concerned with the pieces.

This silent conversation was followed by a powerful open conversation among the participants reflecting on the series of activities they had experienced. Together, they shared further insights, questions, and their emotional reactions to the issues explored. As might be expected there were varying levels of analytic insight, but lots of energy in their reactions. One thing was sure, we were embarking on an important journey together. In this article, we lay out the primary aspects of EcoJustice Education as a model of teacher education and school reform by examining the complexities of teacher professional development as they encounter these ideas, focusing on the work of the Southeast Michigan Stewardship Coalition.


The world is facing enormous ecological and social problems--top soil loss, overfishing and acidification of our oceans, loss of potable water and access to safe food sources, and global climate change are just the tip of the iceberg. Furthermore, there is an increasing gap in world-wide control of resources as modern industrial cultures (the United States, Canada, Europe and Japan) representing about 20% of the world's population enjoy 83% of the world's wealth gleaned from nature and human labor. Meanwhile three billion people, nearly half of the people in the world--many of whom once lived on land now controlled by corporations--are forced to work for less than two dollars a day, hardly enough to feed themselves.

In our own country, young children from Black and Latino families are suffering from high rates of asthma, lead poisoning, obesity, and nutrition-related diseases as their families are forced to live in impoverished conditions disproportionately close to toxin-belching incinerators and in urban areas classified as food deserts. How many of us consider the lack of access to potable water in our own cities and world-wide, or the Texas-sized mass of plastic floating in the North Pacific as we drink from our bottles of "spring water," often sucked out of our own aquifers and yet more expensive than gasoline? …

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