Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

E-Textbook Brings Environmental Ethics to Class

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

E-Textbook Brings Environmental Ethics to Class

Article excerpt

In October 2017, students at a Jesuit secondary school in Spain's Aragon region were studying hurricanes. At the same time, their peers in Puerto Rico were living through the aftermath of one.

Separated by an ocean and different circumstances, the students at Colegio del Salvador in Zaragoza, Spain, wrote letters of support to the students of Colegio San Ignacio de Loyola in San Juan, Puerto Rico, who remained in the midst of recovery from the devastating destruction brought by Hurricane Maria a month earlier.

What connected the two schools wasn't simply empathy but an environmental textbook, Healing Earth, that each class had used, with the Caribbean's hurricane fallout presenting a case study come to life.

"It's not just a textbook that's going from us to users, but we're able to get this lateral connection going, which is exciting," said Michael Schuck, an associate theology professor at Loyola University Chicago and co-editor of the book who helped put the schools in touch.

In January 2016, the Jesuit university launched Healing Earth as a free online textbook. Co-edited by Schuck and Nancy Tuchman, a biology professor and dean of Loyola's Institute of Environmental Sustainability, the e-textbook is geared toward upper-level secondary school students, beginning college students and adult learners.

Beyond its pricing and paperless publishing, what differentiates Healing Earth from other environmental science texts is its integration of ethics, theology and spirituality into the curriculum--subjects not often associated with science classes--in an effort to deepen the learning experience from simply understanding what is happening and why to what it means and what can be done about it.

The approach parallels the integral ecology that Pope Francis highlighted in his 2015 encyclical "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home," which coincidentally published roughly seven months before Healing Earth.

"When the encyclical came out, we were convinced that the pope had read Healing Earth," Schuck said.

The team behind Healing Earth briefly met Francis in September at the Vatican, where they were among the inaugural recipients of the Expanded Faith Awards, presented by the University Francisco de Vitoria, in Madrid, and the Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI Vatican Foundation.

"It was just very affirming for our project," Tuchman said.

The idea of a "living textbook" blending science, ethics and spirituality originated six years ago in the mind of Jesuit Fr. Michael Garanzini, formerly Loyola president (2001-15) and director of the Jesuit Higher Education Secretariat in Rome. The concept came, in part, from a 2011 special report on ecology from the Society of Jesus, titled Healing a Broken World. Among the report's recommendations: developing teaching resources and curricula in environmental studies as well as increased collaboration on environmental concerns--in particular the impact of ecological degradation on the poor--among its vast network of schools worldwide.

Healing Earth, which has been used in classrooms in at least 17 countries, 20 secondary schools and more than 30 universities, attempts to do just that.

The e-textbook runs six chapters--introduction, biodiversity, natural resources, energy, water, global climate change--with each written by an interdisciplinary team of scholars and teachers. While faculty from Loyola University Chicago represented roughly a third of the contributors, about an equal number of writers hailed from outside the U.S., including Brazil, India, Indonesia, Spain and Zambia.

"We tried to make it a global perspective so it's not just about the United States and what's happening here," Tuchman said.

Each chapter starts with the science to provide a basis of understanding of the issue before expanding into the ethics, spirituality, and finally, a discussion of actions underway as well as ideas for students to get involved. …

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