Academic journal article Australian Journal of Environmental Education

Environmental Education as the Mountain-Exploring Chinese-Ness of Environmental Education

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Environmental Education

Environmental Education as the Mountain-Exploring Chinese-Ness of Environmental Education

Article excerpt


   It is a ridge when viewed horizontally, or a peak vertically. It is
   not the same when viewed from afar or nearby, above or below. The
   true face of Mountain Lu is not known to me,
   Only because I am in the middle of it.

   --On the Wall of West Woods Temple
   by Su dong po (1037-1101)

This article aims at exploring the Chinese-ness of environmental education by uncovering and reflecting on fourteen Chinese environmental educators' life experiences that have impacted their environmental consciousness formation and have influenced their commitment to environmental education work. In doing so the author hopes to present another side of the environmental education "mountain" so that together our views on environmental education will be broader and hopefully closer to its true being, which is always evolving. On a practical note, the author hopes to not only "reclaim our own histories through 'acts of remembrance' but also to 'escape the automatic imprint of our own educational experiences', and to 'surpass them through acts of critical reflection and interpretation'" (Gough, 1999, p. 411).

In a sense, this study intends to continue the significant life experiences (SLE) research in environmental education, but with a slightly different purpose. Most SLE studies intend to uncover and "arguably foster" (Hsu, 2009, p. 497) the kinds of life experiences that have significant influence on someone's responsible environmental action, that is, most of the SLE studies operate within the "for the environment" domain of environmental education. Hsu summarized well both the mainstream goal for environmental education and the SLE literature saying that "one of the ultimate goals of environmental education is the creation of an informed citizenry that will actively work to protect the environment." The author agrees that globally we need to take immediate action to safeguard the natural environment, which we depend on for survival as a species. We need to defend it from our own greed, arrogance, and ignorance. The urgency of such challenge is particularly high in certain parts of the world, such as the People's Republic of China, due to its large human population and expanding consumerism among its increasing affluent residents. Also, we surely need to continue our search for the kind of educational experiences that can heighten people's environmental awareness and bring about responsible environmental activism. However, environmental education is education after all. Protecting the environment is a "personal commitment" and should not be blurred with the role of education (Jickling & Spork, 1998, p. 317). Because, it is "one thing for an individual to assess the range of available environmental alternatives then advance a case for a preferred option, it is quite another to insert this option into the heart of anything educational." As teachers and educators, it is our "ethical responsibility" not to "indoctrinate students" (Hart, 2007, p. xi).

The author argues that when we broaden our view on environmental education beyond the "deterministic" end of "for the environment" we can start to be more inclusive, because not all environmental educators share this ultimate goal for environmental education as protecting the environment through education (Gough, 1999, Ji, 2007; Jickling & Spork, 1998, ). Through active reflection and critique of our own experiences which have shaped our environmental consciousness we can better comprehend the various views and practices in environmental education. Doing so we can keep this young and vibrant field of environmental education open and continuously evolving.

Let us first look at what the author means by these terms used in this article: environmental education and environmental consciousness.

Environmental Education

In this article, environmental education is about how we human beings find out about the world, and about ourselves as human beings. …

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