No Longer a "Little Added Frill": The Transformative Potential of Environmental Education for Educational Change

By Hart, Paul | Teacher Education Quarterly, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

No Longer a "Little Added Frill": The Transformative Potential of Environmental Education for Educational Change


Hart, Paul, Teacher Education Quarterly


Introduction

My daughter, as a physician, says that, when a patient visits a general practitioner with a specific concern, there is often a simple solution to be prescribed. In instances where this is not the case, well... you really don't want to hear about the alternative. When environmental education manifests itself in schools, it is usually a simple matter of the insertion of an environment-related activity into the science, or perhaps social studies, curriculum. However, if you find a teacher who has "the ethic," the entire school might be "green." The fact that this ethic is spreading through a relatively well organized and rapidly expanding field of theory and practice, grounded in research and philosophical thought, that challenges many of the taken-for-granted assumptions of the dominant educational discourses, may be a cause for concern in some quarters.

Those teachers who are happy in standard practice may not want to hear about "the alternative," the critiques of business-as-usual in the field of education, whether from environmental education or other related areas such as social justice and cultural studies.

The purpose of this article is to explore some issues of worth concerning what takes place in schools and in teacher education from this vantage point of environmental education, as a field that challenges the taken-for-granted assumptions of the dominant discourses of schooling.

In view of the focus of this special issue on "environment in the curriculum," with teacher education in mind, I argue that the socially critical charter of the field of environmental education has meaningful things to say to mainstream education that, if taken seriously, can provide the means to transform our thinking about some things that really matter in schooling. I begin by providing a number of basic contrast points between mainstream educational goals (initially using science education as the example) and the philosophical position taken up by environmental education largely as a result of UNESCO-based international conferences over several decades. Examination of these founding documents reveals an environmental education that does not advocate insertion of isolated activities into the curriculum. On the contrary, it provides a complex philosophy with particular theoretical groundings that, just as environmental issues do within society, position dominant educational concepts as contested concepts for critical debate in (teacher) education. These distinctive qualities are found in philosophical counter-narratives generated by environmental education debates over more than 40 years as foundation for exploration of notions of structure-agency in teaching. These notions are then applied to education, and particularly to teacher education, as they relate to teacher and student subjectification in the schooling process.

Environmental Education in the School Curriculum: A Piece for a Different Puzzle?

Decisions about "what counts" in schools are always rooted in assumptions about the nature of education. Embedded within the curriculum and pedagogy of subject areas such as science are messages, often tacit or subtle, about historical theories of culture and society, as well as the nature of educational discourse. Such non-neutral theories have generated interesting debates within teacher education concerning how much of this history and philosophy teachers need to know in order to critically participate in their translation into curriculum and pedagogy. For example, how much more should teachers know than the fact that there is a range of views on these matters, that deeper purposes, interests and values underlie various perspectives? How much should they know about the connections between these perspectives and the forms of inquiry that supposedly sustain them? And, more specific to school subjects such as science and maths, at what depths should they be able to discuss ways of knowing (i. …

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No Longer a "Little Added Frill": The Transformative Potential of Environmental Education for Educational Change
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