Environment and Pedagogy
Discussions concerning environment and pedagogy are typically located within fields related to environmental education (EE) and education for sustainability (EfS). These fields work across spheres of outdoor, experiential, and critical ecopedagogy as well as ecofeminist pedagogy, philosophy of education, and curriculum. They ultimately rely on philosophical positionings that relay various culturalist and materialist perspectives, reveal complex socio-political commitments, and occupy discourses that govern specific educational contexts.
Nevertheless, environmentally and culturally sensitive pedagogy is practiced within educational situations where ideals of plurality are also adapted to align with educational and societal metanarratives (typically patriarchal, neocolonial, capitalist). Thus, environment-related pedagogy freights various tensions and contradictions into the general education of young people and lifelong learners.
In such circumstances, environment-as-pedagogy would most likely work to foster caring relationships at several levels of consciousness. These range from learning about meanings of direct experience in natural places to those of values that implicate certain worldviews within knowledge structures of education and society. Recently, however, several commentators on the fields of EE/EfS have suggested a need to expand our repertoire of “pedagogical arts” in ways that reconceptualize and practice critical pedagogies across a growing range of applications, including in ways that challenge extant sociocultural and socioecological agendas. What seems most difficult to grasp concerning a broadened pedagogy – particularly when conceived as emotional, embodied, and emplaced – is how this implicates learning experiences in identity construction (i.e., subjectification processes).
An initial response might be to introduce complexity into talk of pedagogical practices, using sensitizing strategies that are at once intercultural, natural, action oriented, community based, and interdisciplinary. More theoretically innovative and politically crucial, however, is thinking beyond the limits of pedagogy, including in ways that will not foreclose on those moments of intersubjective articulation of environment and pedagogy but also interrogate the performative.
Environmentalism, it is said, conveys an ethico-historical imperative that connotes humanity’s ecological responsibilities. Indeed, a variety of shades of environmentalisms have emerged, ranging from discourses of sustainable development to those of deep ecology, the common assumption being that are broadly united by a growing desire for action towards a more socially and environmentally just world.
As an ethical base for educators, environmentalism can serve as a justification for teachers’ existential, political, professional, and personal quests toward embracing pedagogy beyond traditional educational discourses and practices. With an historical and intellectual dimension too, these can be mapped at several levels of thought, including by implicating imperatives of care and responsibility for the natural world.
This caring for the environment resonates with the pastoral concern for future generations and thus for pedagogical care as part of an educator’s ethical responsibility. The concept of responsibility encompasses expanding levels of care from personal and social values to include environmental values. In these terms, all forms of pedagogic care have sociocultural and political dimensions and may also connote forms of critical pedagogy that work both within and against traditional education.
In this regard, critical forms of pedagogy, including ecopedagogy, interrogate taken-for-granted interrelations across cultures, environments, and governance structures that produce ideological and hegemonic mainstream educational theory and practice. Critique is intended to not only reveal social inequalities and disadvantages but to also provide means for change as participatory actions for a more socially just and ecologically sustainable world. The point is that if concerns about social and environmental justice are warranted, they must remain part of the argument for pedagogical change and by implication, curriculum change.
In Freirian (2013) terms, the philosophical challenge for education, as for society, is stark: how to penetrate the thick wrapper of existential, political, personal, and practical commitments that always already occupy societies. Environmentally sensitive pedagogies are thus implicated in micro-politics that expose macro social, and thus educational, forces of power. Questions of purpose for environment and pedagogy become questions of social and environmental values fundamentally grounded in ways of knowing and being (i.e., onto-epistemic positionings).
A deeper and broader view of “eco”pedagogy also draws attention to operations of politics and power at educational policy levels and how policy discourses become curriculum and praxis. Not seeing “culture-nature” as fixed but as something that changes as young people’s identities are (trans)formed means that crucial issues of pedagogy and learning must be addressed, be they institutional priorities or teachers’ usually tacit pedagogic beliefs. Even if such perspectives were manifest as curriculum imperatives governed by societal values, there also remains the question of clarity of teachers’ positionings and roles in “educating” and making sense of curriculum/policy, such as in relation to perpetuating a “politics of unsustainability.” Accordingly, matters of teaching/learning strategies, interactional methods, community and cultural environmental responsiveness, and spaces/places/learning contexts must also be addressed.
To illustrate, environment and pedagogy intersect as “emplaced” EE. This involves stepping out of school to explore what counts as knowledge production in diverse learning environments. In such places of learning, says Ellsworth (2005), we must explore what it means to think of pedagogy not in relation to knowledge as a thing made but as knowledge in the making. Thus it may be in spaces between emotion and cognition that sensation has ontological priority over language and knowledge, including in pedagogy.
Environment-Pedagogy and Learning
Pedagogy has become, in recent years, a notoriously elusive construct at the heart of complexities of educational change. In the writings of many environmental educators, there is a suggestion that something is missing that surfaces at the interface of environmental theory, pedagogy, and change. Empirically, numerous articles in EE/EfS periodicals have raised questions about the theoretical groundings of educational inquiry and generated thinking about ends-means questions. In EE research journals, questions also concern how theoretical and political agendas are informed by particular research agendas. However, important questions remain about environment-related pedagogy, questions about the complexity of theory-practice thinking or of postcritical ecological ontology and pedagogy and about the politics of difference that demands material engagement across hybrid subjects in transformative and performative (environmental) education.
In order to merge questions of inquiry and pedagogy, it seems timely to (re)consider what may emerge more explicitly from onto-epistemic assumptions and critical praxis emplaced and replaced as materialist performative and posthuman perspectives. Of course, overriding political questions remain about why a long-desired integration of “environment” with general education pedagogy has not been achieved and does not seem imminent – why an anthropocentric worldview has not been replaced with an ecocentric one, for instance. The response in educational policy struggles regarding environment and pedagogy is limited: it remains within dominant discursive/material structures of society. But it is equally important for educators and curriculum policy authority to retain a critical attitude in relation to pedagogy, environment, and learning.
A key postcritical concern is how to be ethical, generous, and kind when the playground of academia resembles “Hunger Games” (Koro-Ljungberg et al. 2015). Overlooked in the management of education systems is the level of theorizing that tends to separate production of knowledge (i.e., matters of fact) from the production of subjectivities (i.e., matters of concern) in contexts of teaching and learning. If environment-related education and pedagogy is as concerned as it says it is with the production of eco-identities and subjectivities, and if educational inquiry has matured beyond attitudes and values, then postcritical notions of teaching as becoming ethical, as generous/kind and generative (even when the playground of education is not), become important. Teachers more pedagogically savvy of the theoretical/conceptual importance of connecting goals of education (including EE/EfS goals) have purchase in enabling experiences strategically, within almost any educational framework, to (re)construct their curricula accordingly.
Treating teachers as intellectuals capable of theoretical work within the power relations of educational systems is possible if teacher education programs, reconceptualized as pedagogical spaces for collaborative (teacher-student) constructions of meaning, can get beyond the divides of theory/practice, science/aesthetics, and mind/body. Making layers of past ideologies visible in nondeterminist and nonessentializing modes of both feminist poststructural and new materialist approaches may go a long way toward engaging identities/subjectivities as part of reconceptualizing socio-cultural-environmental frameworks for pedagogy. At issue is engagement of theory at levels of consciousness that trouble concepts such as environmental discourse, nature, and the environment itself that are themselves changing, as are concepts of (environment-related) pedagogy. Thus, for environmental theorists and educators it would seem unwise to ignore onto-epistemic dimensions (an ethics of being and knowing) in constructions of EE.
Bridging Theory-Practice Gaps
An overwhelming impetus from critical education of the 1980s and 1990s was to challenge colonization and oppression of teachers and students from every angle. If poststructural theorists were right in describing the subject as a discursive process, then pedagogy as an attempt to intervene in ongoing processes by which the subject was fashioned should also have purchase in fashioning environmentally sensitive subjects, even if in “willful contradiction” to dominant social discourses.
Nonetheless, education is never a neutral process, as Paulo Freire (2013) pointed out. Either it facilitates integration into the present system or facilitates change or transformation. For the last half-century, educators who have “environment in mind” have been anticipating new pedagogies, at once relational, experiential, and community oriented, as projects shared with critical, feminist, and posthumanist educators engaged in practicing “alternative” pedagogies. Many of these pedagogical encounters were intended to go beyond previous critiques of education, cognizant of the dangers of perpetuating the very forms of authority that environment-related programs sought to “modify.” Yet stories of EE, full of good intentions, were then subsumed by institutional cultures and research that ignores theory-based pedagogical shortcomings.
Many critical environmental educators have continued to work toward reconfigurations of pedagogy outside community values of competitive individualism, anthropocentric knowledge structures, and neutral inquiry methodologies across identity positions of race, class, gender, culture, and environment. In fact, in the larger fields of education, new theoretical trajectories portray pedagogy as incomplete unless characterized by some form of intervention in the unconscious through interchange between the teacher and learner (Ellsworth 2005). Teaching is implicated in the very formation of the personal unconscious self, as a kind of unmeant knowledge which escapes intentionality and meaning and which the subject cannot recognize. To engage with authority is most effective (in willful contradiction) but has been least calculated. What feminist materialist pedagogies have recognized is that EE, if practiced as traditional pedagogy, cannot get at this unmeant knowledge. Rather, in assessing relationships between teacher and student, it is argued that both can learn how to theorize rather than simply recount their experience. In such forms, both teachers and students can reflect critically on how that experience is woven into the fabric of the unconscious discourses of traditional educational and social systems.
This is where critical pedagogy becomes postcritical. “Post” takes on meaning in moving the “critical” beyond resistance narratives to view relational ethics, aesthetics, and politics as performative of social agency. Agency, so reconfigured, at once implicates the onto-epistemic governance of the subjective effects of pedagogies. Thus if we assume that an environment-pedagogy connection implies agential forms of pedagogical praxis in transforming education, inclusive of environmental ethics, then changes have to occur at all levels of educational provision but especially within the performativities of teacher educators and teachers themselves.
For Todd (1997), the crucial question concerns the indeterminacy of desire for change, the notion that we cannot make others want to take on an ethic no matter how socially or environmentally just. However, because we can assume that people are not immutable to the educational experiences and contexts provided, nor unaffected by systems of representation, teachers can create the kinds of pedagogical spaces and places that impact identity and ethics in certain ways.
Transformative educators recognize language games and learning environments, as well as conscious selection of particular spaces and places, as part of the pedagogical dynamic in transforming the “discourse” of the class and the identities of participants. These educators often go out on an institutional limb to make particular experiences part of the subject matter. While this may not sound different, incorporating discussions of values and ethics and worldviews into (re)interpreting the “discourse” of the class (in terms of one’s public identity and political commitments) can open discussions of unconscious desires and conditioned responses. Notwithstanding the danger of abuse/indoctrination in open discussion forums, it is argued that such activity offers no greater risk than currently exists as desires/identities circulate within and without education. Even so, pedagogy is always risky but risks might be viewed differently if desire and identity theory become subjects of the debates. The pedagogical point is to allow space for self-interpretation in ways that make evident how that self is profoundly connected to social roles, discursive systems, and intersubjective relations implicated in other people’s lives. This requires a different kind of pedagogical understanding in order to interpret the interchange between teachers and students.
An ethically generous post-ecocritical turn as part a new generation of agentive realist inquiry understands pedagogical thinking as between bodies and agents rather than as localized inside the mind of an isolated teacher. Pedagogical knowing is a matter of going beyond the human/nonhuman divide and acknowledging our coexistence with the rest of the world. The relationality of pedagogy as a locus of ethical responsibility opens toward qualitative dimensions of learning in which we also attend to affective dimensions of knowing. For environmental educators to engage transformative educational agendas requires conceptual exploration of a range of cognitive and affective tensions, such as onto-epistemic breaks with discursive practices that limit the possibilities of new knowledge. While environmental educators continue to press for greater school emphasis in curriculum and pedagogy, these deeper philosophical arguments cannot be assumed to have already taken place. Exploration of ways that our pedagogies represent knowledge and being in the world (our onto-epistemic groundings), as warrants for curriculum and pedagogy, become central questions for a renewed educational philosophy and theory. Questions of the politics of change and individuals’ professional self-narratives, as well as the discourses that these narratives valorize, require levels of self-reflection that can expose and address tacit philosophical alignments and pedagogical preferences. In other words, environment as theory/discourse (within one’s subjectivity) requires the development of strategies that illustrate how new emerging methodologies may transform practice through differentiated engagements with pedagogy.
Finding alternatives that work toward social-relational environmental goals to bring new ideas and perspectives to education implicates, for example, public argumentation concerning new theories and practice. The common ground becomes the theoretical-pedagogical meeting place for collaborative dialogue and planning to introduce and critically engage new perspectives. Within environment-pedagogy framings, questions of how we are to teach and learn, understood as relational collaborative processes within different onto-epistemic frames of knowing and learning, are no longer simply about human but the nonhuman material world as well, profoundly aware of the learner’s identity formation/subjectification. Challenges for pedagogues with environment in mind go beyond the traditional and “alternatives” polarization. In point of fact, one could regard environmental educators’ earlier attempts as a kind of archaeological pedagogy of attempts for changes in education systems related to profound global changes in knowledge, environments, and societies over half a century.
These changes have generated new knowledge about knowledge networks (Peters 2004) that have provided the substance for rethinking what counts as knowledge. They have created conditions for rethinking formal education through lenses of reconceptualized pedagogy grounded in both philosophical and practical debate. Although arguably the field of EE has had few theoretically based inquiries, it could be argued that a field somewhat under-theorized and under-researched can be reengaged with epistemic and ontological ideas, as Latour (2004) says, from matters of fact to matters of concern.
What might become of pedagogy if educators were to reconsider it in terms of the “responsible uncertainties” (Sellar 2009) of multiple onto-epistemic inquiries? If environment-related pedagogy, for example, could be framed as relational processes in ways that privilege intra-activity beyond normalizing discourses, then researching the in-between spaces and edges of identity limits may afford students the opportunities to narrate and reflect on what has occurred. Such is the new literature framed on relational processes that have ontological primacy over the knowledge and identities produced. Even as elusive concepts, environment and pedagogy demand complex inquiry of the unpredictabilities of the pedagogical relations as social and contextual. As Ellsworth (2005) says, pedagogy teaches but does not know how because we come to know onto-epistemically as learning only after it has taken place – as affect prior to cognition – in relationship.
Environment-related pedagogy, whether or not its practitioners know it, have always been caught up in Bateson’s (2000) idea of “breaking away” from traditional prescriptions of curriculum, instruction, and pedagogy. The message for fields of study such as EE/EfS is to become more cognizant of the depth of their own problem and to engage pedagogy with transformative agendas in relation to shifting worldviews as a base for shifting praxis. As Hipkins et al. (2010) argue, unless environment-pedagogy relations in theoretical and practical work actually “get” the profound philosophical shift in conditions of knowing, then EE practice may continue to do what it has always done. Rethinking pedagogy in terms of onto-epistemic referents may be regarded as developmentally appropriate growth in epistemological sophistication (Egan 2008).
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