Advertisement

Theory in, theory out: NCSE and the ESS curriculum

  • James D. ProctorEmail author
Article

Abstract

The National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE) has played a prominent role performing empirical research on the environmental studies and sciences (ESS) curriculum over the last 10 years and in significant ways has helped define the “new normal” of the ESS curriculum—for instance, in foregrounding sustainability as its core theme. Greater attention to the conceptual assumptions and implications of this effort—i.e., how theory informs and follows from NCSE’s empirical research—may help us better interrogate this “new normal” as we collectively chart the ESS curriculum of the future. In this paper, I examine one key recent NCSE report, titled “Interdisciplinary Environmental and Sustainability Education on the Nation’s Campuses 2012: Curriculum Design.” Its theoretical dimensions are summarized via three key steps: (a) the ideal ESS curriculum builds on diverse forms of knowledge, (b) this diverse knowledge can be organized into major curricular models, and (c) sustainability integrates these curricular models. The final step, presented without empirical justification, appears to derive both from earlier NCSE-related publications and theoretical assumptions from the first two steps. I conclude by rephrasing these three steps as questions for continued discussion and debate. Ultimately, theory and empirical research both matter in discussions over the ESS curriculum, which would ideally be informed but not constrained by NCSE’s contributions.

Keywords

Theory ESS curriculum NCSE Sustainability 

Notes

Acknowledgments

I am grateful for support to Lewis & Clark College’s Environmental Studies Program via The Andrew Mellon Foundation, promoting development of innovative undergraduate curricular approaches. Careful feedback from two anonymous reviewers provided helpful input toward manuscript improvement. I acknowledge the support of the National Council for Science and the Environment in allowing publication of a figure from their 2013 report and to Shirley Vincent and Peter Saundry for their perceptive comments on an earlier draft. Finally, I am grateful to Jennifer Bernstein and Rich Wallace for their input and to the input provided at the June 2014 AESS meeting in New York City, where a draft of this paper was presented.

References

  1. Benson MH, Craig RK (2014) The end of sustainability. Soc Nat Resour 27:777–782. doi: 10.1080/08941920.2014.901467 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Castree N (2014) The Anthropocene and the environmental humanities: extending the conversation. Environ Human 5:233–260Google Scholar
  3. Chapman RL (2007) How to think about environmental studies. J Philos Educ 41:59–74CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Clark SG, Rutherford MB, Auer MR et al (2011a) College and university environmental programs as a policy problem (part 1): integrating knowledge, education, and action for a better world? Environ Manag 47:701–715. doi: 10.1007/s00267-011-9619-2 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Clark SG, Rutherford MB, Auer MR et al (2011b) College and university environmental programs as a policy problem (part 2): strategies for improvement. Environ Manag 47:716–726. doi: 10.1007/s00267-011-9635-2 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cooke SJ, Vermaire JC (2015) Environmental studies and environmental science today: inevitable mission creep and integration in action-oriented transdisciplinary areas of inquiry, training and practice. J Environ Stud Sci. doi: 10.1007/s13412-014-0220-x Google Scholar
  7. Gosselin D, Parnell R, Smith-Sebasto NJ, Vincent S (2013) Integration of sustainability in higher education: three case studies of curricular implementation. J Environ Stud Sci 3:316–330. doi: 10.1007/s13412-013-0130-3 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Holling CS (2001) Understanding the complexity of economic, ecological, and social systems. Ecosystems 4:390–405. doi: 10.1007/s10021-001-0101-5 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Luke TW (2005) Neither sustainable nor development: reconsidering sustainability in development. Sustain Dev 13:228–238. doi: 10.1002/sd.284 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Maniates MF, Whissel JC (2000) Environmental studies: the sky is not falling. Bioscience 50:509–517CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Parr A (2009) Hijacking sustainability. MIT Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  12. Proctor JD, Clark SG, Smith KK, Wallace RL (2013) A manifesto for theory in environmental studies and sciences. J Environ Stud Sci 3:331–337. doi: 10.1007/s13412-013-0122-3 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Robbins P, Hintz J, Moore SA (2014) Environment and society: A critical introduction, 2nd ed. John Wiley & SonsGoogle Scholar
  14. Romero A, Silveri P (2006) Not all are created equal: an analysis of the environmental programs/departments in US academic institutions from 1900 until May 2005. J Integr Biol 1:1–15Google Scholar
  15. Soule ME, Press D (1998) What is environmental studies? BioScience 48:397–405Google Scholar
  16. Vincent S, Focht W (2009) US higher education environmental program managers’ perspectives on curriculum design and core competencies: implications for sustainability as a guiding framework. Int J Sustain High Educ 10:164–183. doi: 10.1108/14676370910945963 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Vincent S, Focht W (2010) In search of common ground: exploring identity and core competencies for interdisciplinary environmental programs. Environ Pract 12:76–86CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Vincent S, Focht W (2011) Interdisciplinary environmental education: elements of field identity and curriculum design. J Environ Stud Sci 1:14–35. doi: 10.1007/s13412-011-0007-2 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Vincent S, Bunn S, Sloane L (2013) Interdisciplinary environmental and sustainability education on the nation’s campuses 2012: curriculum design. National Council for Science and the Environment, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© AESS 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Environmental Studies ProgramLewis & Clark CollegePortlandUSA

Personalised recommendations