Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

A Critical Analysis of Sustainability Education in Schooling's Bureaucracy: Barriers and Small Openings in Teacher Education

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

A Critical Analysis of Sustainability Education in Schooling's Bureaucracy: Barriers and Small Openings in Teacher Education

Article excerpt


Confronting (Un)sustainability Education

In the era of climate change, economic unrest, peak oil, perpetual war, and mass extinctions, teacher educators have to begin asking each other: are our workplaces relevant to the complex realities of a changing planet? Or, do they mainly serve the bureaucracies and the unquestioned assumptions that surround and increasingly determine the culture of schooling?

On planet Earth over the last few decades, the glaciers have been melting faster than education has been changing to meet serious new crises. With few exceptions, the field of teacher education has been nonresponsive to a wide array of globalized sustainability problems impacting local environments everywhere. This is so in part because teacher education, in practice, is less a field of cultural and ecological inquiry than it is a network of bureaucracies that operates under a largely unexamined cultural logic. Epitomized by the super-pervasive No Child Left Behind Act, teacher education bureaucracy explicitly and implicitly reflects political and economic ideals that are fundamentally at odds with a vision for social and ecological sustainability at local and global levels. Especially since the A Nation at Risk report, the political rationale for the huge sums of money committed to schooling has been to outcompete our economic rivals (and enemies) in the increasingly global economic competition. This underlying nationalistic and militaristic rationale means that the fundamental of purpose of education in the U.S. and elsewhere is not to educate young people to better understand themselves and their relations to others with whom they share the planet, human and other-than-human, but to prepare them for the economic marketplace, an enterprise that has always been grounded in questionable intentions and has always produced questionable results for people and places worldwide. Furthermore, the common practices of teacher education and schooling reproduce and reinforce educational structures, curricula, and pedagogical practices that do more to contribute to the problems of unsustainability than they do to acknowledge and respond to these problems (Gruenewald, 2004; Gruenwald & Manteaw, 2007; Kahn, 2010; Stevenson, 1987).

Still, the cultural politics of education can at times be responsive to the larger cultural politics around the globe, in the nation, and at state and regional levels. In this second decade of the new millennium, around the world and in the U.S., many citizens, educators, as well as government and business leaders and non-government organizations, have begun to pay attention to the complex network of social and ecological problems facing humans and other species in the era of climate change, peak oil, global economic unrest, perpetual war, and mass extinction. One quick search on the Internet (using the keywords environmental, place-based, or sustainability education, for example) can demonstrate that everywhere around the world educators are defining their roles as much more than agents of a state bureaucracy obsessed with competitive achievement, but as cultural or ecological workers dedicated to a saner vision of humanity and the human-nature relationship than that which is promoted by a culture of standardized testing alone.

As Paul Hawken (2007) describes it in his book Blessed Unrest, the environmental-social justice-civil rights-labor rights-Indigenous rights movement currently creating change on planet Earth, though unnamed, may be the largest social movement in the history of the world. People everywhere want and are working for change--for more just social relations and for healthier environments for people and the other species now and in the future. Unfortunately, our nation's schools and colleges of teacher education continue to function as if the most pressing problem we face is how to get everyone reading "at grade level" (a ritualized goal that has failed many times in recent decades), or college or workplace "ready" (a target manufactured by business leaders as they exert power over the curriculum). …

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