Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Visions Lost and Dreams Forgotten: Environmental Education, Systems Thinking, and Possible Futures in American Public Schools

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Visions Lost and Dreams Forgotten: Environmental Education, Systems Thinking, and Possible Futures in American Public Schools

Article excerpt

The contributions to this special issue of Teacher Education Quarterly introduce the reader to a powerful analytical framework through which one can reflect upon the meaning and role of environmental education, teacher education and professional development, and salient aspects of the quintessence of the human experience on planet Earth. In a very real sense, the articles herein were brought together so as to provide an interlocking array of intellectual and practical perspectives through which we can better understand our elemental human nature and the various socio-cultural and economic overlays which have served to insulate humanity from that nature and, in the process, from a workable relationship with the world environment to which the fate of the human animal is inexorably bound. These articles also raise very real, compelling, and urgent implications for the practice of teacher education and professional development, classroom instruction in public schools, and how these can lead Western civilization toward a more intelligent and workable relationship with our planetary home.

The authors of these articles present a number of insightful observations and thought-provoking ideas that warrant further scrutiny and reflection as the human family confronts some of the most daunting challenges it has ever encountered during its long and arduous sojourn on planet Earth. At the core of all the contributions to this special issue is the compellingly urgent realization that humanity is facing, and must deal with, enormous ecological and social problems and challenges. This situation has created an urgent and compelling need centered on how the future citizenry of the industrialized West will be prepared relative to addressing and dealing with these problems and challenges.

Competing Paradigms:

The Current Influence of Past Realities

In essence, the analytic framework and perceptual perspectives mentioned above give rise to the vision of competing paradigms in the conception of public education's purpose and role in contemporary American society. The paradigm that currently dominates the thinking of policy-makers in American public education--and forms the backdrop for much of the discussion in this special edition of Teacher Education Quarterly--dates from the late 19th century as the United States transitioned from an agrarian and small-scale manufacturing economy to a large scale, mechanized industrial economy. Ultimately, it is the product of a long tradition of Western thought born in the intellectual formulations of the Copernican Revolution, honed in the course of the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment as the pan-global mercantile empires of the West grew to dominate the world scene, and then given more mature form and new purpose during the socio-cultural reformulations attendant with the Industrial Revolution. In the United States of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, these powerful trends in Western thought led political and business elites to combine and create a new scientifically managed comprehensive public school system based on the most pervasive business model of the time and employing standardized native intelligence testing and ability tracking (both in-class ability grouping and class cohort ability grouping) so as to create a factory model of education capable of both sorting and socializing a large immigrant labor force into the developing industrial system of production (Emery, 2007).

This new educational platoon system was intellectually legitimized by the emergence and rise of the new science of educational psychology. E. L. Thorndike was central to the development of this discipline and infused it with a thick patina of operant conditioning which stressed repetition, memorization, and teacher-centric didactic instructional methods in which students were passive receptors of information batches designed to assimilate, acculturate, and pacify. The objectives of public education policy-making in America increasingly focused on the elimination of cultural, ethnic, and linguistic diversity and its replacement with a new standard issue American citizenry suitable for working in, and commercially supporting, the rapidly expanding industrial-corporate infrastructure. …

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