CONTEXTUAL SUSTAINABILITY EDUCATION:

Towards an Integrated Educational Framework

For Social and Ecological Peace

“Our individual self finds its most
complex realization within our family self, our community self, our species
self, our earthly self, and eventually our Universe self.”

Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry (1992:268)

by

Frans C. Verhagen, M. Div., M.I.A.,
Ph.D.

New
York City

January 5, 2003

In review in Educating for Social and
Ecological Peace
(SUNY Press, A. L. Wenden, Editor)

INTRODUCTION

Pulitzer price winning journalist
Ross Gelbspan (1998) notes that
throughout history, it has been philosophers, religious leaders, and
revolutionaries who have asked us to “reexamine our relationships, our
purposes, and the way we live,” but that “now we are being asked by the oceans”
(p. 171). Certainly, the present sorry state of Nature that is characteristic
of the “Petroleum Interval” in the Earth’s history, particularly the global
warming of her atmosphere with its rising ocean levels, extreme weather
conditions, excessive droughts and floods, melting glaciers and reduced crop
yields, leaves humankind no choice except to re-examine all aspects of its
habitation on this planet as a matter of great urgency.

Since
the early 70’s environmental education (EE) has responded in various ways to
this urgent need, as is evidenced, for example, in the histories of the member
organizations of the North American Environmental Education Association (Archie
& McCrea, 1996; Palmer, 1998). However, it is only in the last decade that
sustainability education (SE) emerged as an alternative to these earlier
responses. Its earliest history can be traced back to sustainability theory in
international development, which found its earliest expression in the 1970 Club
of Rome’s publication Limits to Growth
(Meadows, Randers, Behrens III, 1970). Presently, there are many types of
sustainability education. Some cover a set of topics to promote an understanding of sustainability, (e.g.
Lawrence Hall of Science, 2000); others aim to teach behavioral change for sustainable living (e.g. VanMatre, 1990).
This chapter will present yet another approach to sustainability education,
i.e. contextual sustainability education (CSE). In contrast to the above
approaches, CSE is a conceptual framework
that is intended to guide both environmental and peace education in efforts to
respond to the social and ecological problems and challenges of our times. As a
framework for peace and sustainability
education
, CSE is based upon the premise that the integrity of the natural
world is not one issue among many, but the comprehensive frame of all, without
which social peace cannot be achieved. However it also recognizes that
ecological sustainability—the integrity of the natural world—can be achieved
only within the context of a society whose norms are defined by social justice,
active non-violence and participatory decision-making. As an educational framework, CSE is based upon
the notion from critical pedagogy that “education is not neutral” but operates
within a system of prevailing powers that establish “official knowledge”
(Freire, 1970; Steiner, Krank, McLaren, & Bahruth, 2000; Apple, 2001). Therefore,
CSE challenges the existing anthropocentric assumptions that underlie contemporary
education, emphasizing the need for a biocentric orientation that makes the
human species a member of the web of life, not its master or, even, its
manager. It provides an alternative to the neo-conservative and neo-liberal
philosophies that are still dominant in many societies and their educational
systems (Apple, 2001).

This chapter will describe the components of the CSE
framework - its ideological foundations and value concepts - and outline a
strategy for incorporating it into the curriculum of formal educational
institutions, particularly those of the middle grades in public schools in North America. It hopes that it will be a contribution to
the political task of educators to care skillfully for our shared world by
placing education within the sustainability debate and education for
sustainability at the center of the education debate.

CSE FOUNDATIONS AND VALUE CONTENT

Ideological
Foundations

Ideologies, according to Van Dijk
(in Schaeffner and Wenden, 1995) are the “basic frameworks for organizing the
social cognitions shared by members of social groups, organizations,
institutions” and as such they “mentally represent the basic social
characteristics of a group, such as their identity, tasks, goals, norms,
values, position and resources” (p.18). Whether they are explicitly or
implicitly adhered to or not, ideologies provide the foundation for educational
theories, frameworks, curricula, school administration and, even, school
architecture. Their influence in education is recognized by Bowers (1997) who
recommends that “rethinking the ideological foundations of education” should be
an essential first step in educational renewal. Similarly, Orr (1994) notes
that reformers of problems in education often fail to identify and resolve the problem
of education itself because they do not recognize how education is also subject to a community of
often-implicit assumptions. The
following makes explicit the ideological basis of the CSE framework.

A
Universe story for the 21st century
. Throughout human
history questions of origin and purpose have been raised and answered in order
to bring meaning to human existence. Local religions, some of which developed
into world religions, have answered most of these questions in their creation
stories, which can be considered to constitute their cosmologies or meaning
systems. In the pre-scientific age, knowledge of natural processes was scant.
Therefore, these religious answers were satisfactory; the cosmologies were
functional. However, cosmologies based exclusively on insights from world
religions are no longer functional for contemporary times. A literal
understanding of the Adam and Eve story as an explanation of the origin of
natural and human life on Earth may have been acceptable in pre-modern times,
but it falls short in the face of the theory of evolution. To be relevant and
functional, a contemporary cosmology should include insights derived from
scientific advancement, especially from the fields of astrophysics and
evolutionary biology.

Essential to such a functional cosmology
is “a sense of cosmogenesis”, i.e. of
an unfolding rather than a static cosmos (Swimme & Berry, 1992, p. 2-3). It
is only in modern times through the advances in the space and biological
sciences that we have begun to develop such a time-developmental mode of
consciousness, experiencing time as an evolutionary sequence of irreversible
transformations. Until the present, human cultures have experienced and
celebrated Nature’s seasonal changes in a spatial mode of consciousness,
experiencing time as ever-renewing seasonal cycles. However, now we know that
the unfolding of the Universe started with the Big Bang, which evolved into
galaxies, solar systems, planets. We are able to date the sequence of these
cosmological events and trace the evolution of life, which has resulted in an astounding biological and
cultural diversity on planet Earth. These scientific achievements have changed
our mode of consciousness and our understanding of the role of the human
species, which should now be defined within this evolutionary sequence. That
is, unlike earlier cosmologies which placed humans at the top rung of the
hierarchical ladder of beings (the Scala Naturae), which they were expected to
dominate - in the Adam and Eve story humans were to name the animals, a clear
sign of dominance - now humans are considered part of an evolutionary process
and members of the Unity of All Beings (Swimme & Berry, 1992; Lonergan,1988). [1] As members
of this web of life, they are no longer to manage and exploit the Earth, but to
manage with the Earth and assist,
support, and strengthen the Earth’s cycling of matter, webbing of life and flow
of energy (Susskind, 2000).

Educational
implications.
The notion of cosmogenesis has important educational
implications for student identity development. Besides their social identities
based on gender, ethnicity, and social-economic status, students should be
guided in the development of an ecological identity – a planetary and a cosmic
self, based,
respectively, upon their status as Earthlings and
fellow inhabitants of the Universe. They should learn that they are part of an evolving Earth
and an evolving Universe - they are “star stuff” given that the hydrogen and
helium gases of the earlier Universe have chemically combined in the formation
of their own bodies. Educational curricula should aim to help them understand
the complexity of their individual identities. As Swimme and Berry (1992) have written,
“our individual self finds its most complex
realization within our family self, our community self, our species self, our
earthly self, and eventually our Universe self”(p. 268). (For similar views see Thomashow, 1996;
Naess, 1989).
Secondly,
the notion of cosmogenesis suggests that students be helped to understand the
dynamic and evolutionary nature of all reality, i.e. how evolution takes place
biologically, chemically, geologically and how this dynamic is also at work in
human culture and in a person’s maturing process. This view of reality greatly
differs from the predominantly static view of reality that is reflected in
creationism or intelligent design formulations and extends our understanding of
evolution beyond the notion of biological evolution on planet Earth. Rather,
natural, social and personal life are presented as one interrelated evolving
reality with a cosmic dimension.

A
biocentric worldview.
A biocentric
worldview places the Earth’s webbing of life, her cycling of matter and flow of
energy in a central position. Human life is derivative, for it depends on those
three life-support processes. Humans are considered a member of the web of
life, and together with other life forms constitute the Earth community. Their
task
is not to
subjugate or even manage Nature, but to manage with Nature (Botkin, 1990). Such a biocentric
consciousness is often present in primal peoples’ philosophies of which most
Native American cultures are a part. Chief Seattle’s often quoted statement is
an example, i.e. “We did not weave the
web of life; we are only a strand in it.”
It also appears in the Biophilia theory, which emphasizes the innateness
of humans to Nature (Wilson,
1996), the ecological unconscious theory, which considers the Earth to be
inscribed in us (Roszak, 1992), the affinity for life theory (Orr, 1994).

Educational
implications.
Placing the Earth’s
rather than humanity’s well-being at the center of learning and instruction
will, first of all, require the re-purposing of present learning and
instruction: predominantly
anthropocentric goals that focus on human welfare should be substituted for
biocentric goals that place the well-being of planet Earth and all her life
forms first. [2] Secondly, approaches to the teaching of the various school
subjects will need to be changed. For example,
in Social Studies, Economics, and
Technology classes, notions
of success, progress, and growth should be redefined to take
planetary well being into account. Students should be led to understand the
limitations of the GNP as a measurement of economic progress and to consider
Earth productivity measures, such as increases/decreases in fish stocks, in top
soil, in grasslands…., as an alternative (Berry, 1990) and to discuss the
contents of a General Progress Index, which would place greater emphasis on planetary
well-being than do the anthropocentrically oriented indices of Human
Development, Happiness or Well-being. In this way, they could come to
understand that human health is not possible on a sick planet and that economic
activities are to be subservient to the ecological requirements of a healthy
planet, an understanding that is in opposition to the still prevailing
neo-classical economic systems where ecological considerations take a secondary
place (Prugh, Constanza, & Daly,
2000).

In a language arts class, an educator
can contrast biocentrically-oriented metaphors, e.g. Nature as web, and as
mother, with anthropocentrically oriented metaphors, e.g. Nature as a machine,
and as a storehouse. These can be subjected to critical scrutiny to show how they
suggest different views of the Earth and of humans’ relationship with her. The
relationship with the Earth implied by everyday expressions, such as
“killing two birds with one stone”, which are anthropocentric in meaning, can
also be the focus of student discussion, leading to the identification of
substitute words that express less violence to Nature. The language arts
curriculum can also introduce biocentric ways of marking the term Earth, e.g. through capitalizing the
term, referring to Earth as a “she” or a “her”
(More advanced ways of marking can be found on www.ecolinguistics.org.).


Bioregional environmentalism
.
Bioregional environmentalism is the third ideological component of the CSE
framework. According to Canadian political scientist Robert Paehlke (1989), who
has tracked the history of the main political theories in North
America
over the last two centuries, environmentalism is emerging
as the organizing principle of societies in the 21st century. Though theories
of environmentalism vary in their emphases
, all
have in common the premise that the integrity of the natural environment is not
one issue among many, but the comprehensive frame for all other issues. They
also agree that societies are to be organized on the principle of Earth well
being because all life, including human life, depends upon the maintenance and
restoration of the Earth’s life-support processes and services.


Bioregional
environmentalism
adds the notion that humans are to be living within the opportunities and
limits of their local biophysical region, i.e.
the region that is typically determined by its watershed. Long-range planning, according
to bioregionalists, is to be done on the basis of maintaining and strengthening
the watershed rather than on the level of political jurisdictions of a state,
county or city, which often have come about by the vagaries of history.
Examples of such planning are the operations of the Oregon Watershed Councils
or New York City’s
watershed policies (Prugh et al. 2000). Another aspect of bioregional planning
and living is the reliance on local staples rather than their importation from
distant areas with the resulting increase in pollution and reduction of
strength of local economies. For example, apples grown locally should not be
imported from elsewhere simply because an ecologically inefficient pricing
system has made them cheaper to buy.
Living bioregionally also means that the inhabitants of the watershed
acquire a sense of place. This not only includes an awareness and appreciation
of the geological features of the watershed, but also of the flora and fauna of
the region and of the local cultural heritage which is based upon these
biophysical features.
(See Berry, 1990; Traina & Darley-Hill,
1995; Sale, 1991; Smith & Williams, 1999 for bioregional awareness indices).

Educational implications. Education based on bioregional
environmentalism would assist students in developing a sense of place. To this
end, emphasis would be placed on understanding and appreciating the immediate
surroundings of the bioregion and on maintaining and, as will often be the
case, restoring the local watershed. It would also mean helping students to
become rooted in the region, proudly making it part of their identities. (For
recent examples of such bioregional education, see Springer, 1994; Lappe &
Lappe, 2000; www.csf.org).

It must be
emphasized that bioregional education is not intended to be education for
chauvinism, ethnocentrism, isolation or autarchy, all forms of education in
which local issues are not connected with national and global concerns.
Authentic bioregionally oriented education should be like a local ecological
system, which is linked to larger ecosystems and, in final instance, with the
Earth’s total ecosystem. In the same way, education that emphasizes a sense of
place would help students to learn about the causes and consequences of local
social and ecological problems and challenges and to connect these to their
national and global counterparts. It would be global in scope. Bioregional
education would also prepare students for critical action and engagement in
events and processes. While learning to “think globally” they would also be encouraged
to “act locally” by joining locally or electronically based organizations that
work to promote a bioregional vision of sustainability. In thus linking social
and ecological problems and challenges, and in encouraging action to respond to
them, students will be more motivated and an already cooperative school climate
strengthened, perhaps even resulting in higher scores on standardized tests.
(See Lieberman, 1998 for test outcomes in EIC (Environment in Context)
Schools.)

Value Content.

In agreement with an
increasing number of educators, who acknowledge that education is not value
free (e.g. Freire, 1970; Apple, 2001), the second main component of the CSE
framework consists of four values: ecological sustainability, social justice,
active nonviolence and participatory decision-making. These four values, which
interact dynamically, will be defined and explained in terms of what they imply
for human relationships and extended, where practicable, to the Earth-human
relationships. Selected illustrations related to food will suggest how youngsters in the middle grades can be
helped to understand and appreciate these values as guides to action.

Ecological sustainability. Ecological sustainability is defined,
here, as the ability of the Earth and all her life to survive and thrive by
maintaining and strengthening the dynamic integrity of her cycling of matter,
webbing of life and flow of energy. It is the core value of the CSE
framework.

Applied
to an economy, ecological sustainability implies that an economy function in
support of the environment and that environmental factors take a leading role
in economic decision making (Chambers,
Simmons, & Wackernagel, 2001, p. 5-7). This view stands in
contrast to anthropocentric views in the technocratic sustainability
literature, which consider sustainable (economic) development as meeting “the needs of the present without
compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (WCED,
1987). [3] Ecological economists (Elkington, 1998; Daly, 1996; Hawken, 1993 and
other members of the International Society of Ecological Economists) have
pointed to the three minimum requirements of economies that are necessary to
sustain the Earth’s life-supporting processes, that is, they should not use up
all the resources that the global ecosystem provides; undermine the delivery by
the Earth of her ecological services of photosynthesis, atmospheric gas
regulation, climate and water regulation, soil formation and pest control, nor
overwhelm the waste-absorbing capacity of the Earth (Prugh et al., 2000). These minimum requirements are further
elaborated in the Earth Charter [4] which advocates that we protect

and restore the integrity of Earth’s ecological systems, with special concern
for biological diversity and the natural processes that sustain life (principle
5); prevent harm as the best method of environmental protection and, when
knowledge is limited, apply a precautionary approach (principle 6); adopt
patterns of production, consumption, and reproduction that safeguard Earth’s
regenerative capacities, human rights, and community well-being (principle 7) ;
and advance the study of ecological sustainability and promote the open
exchange and wide application of the knowledge acquired (Principle 8). [5] Ecological sustainability
also includes the notion of a thriving planet. That is, it is not sufficient to
ensure that the Earth’s life-support processes are not diminished; they must
also be strengthened. In their story of cosmogenesis, Swimme and Berry (1992) refer to this latter notion as
celebration, referring to the Universe as “a single, multiform, sequential,
celebratory event” (p. 264).

The following are suggestive of educational
activities that can be used to help urban pre-adolescents understand and
experience ecological sustainability. [6] Pictures
of dead zones caused by the runoff of pesticides and nitrates, as the leftovers
of nitrogen fertilizers (e.g. in the Gulf of Mexico)
and pictures of clear rivers near organic farms with no pesticides or
fertilizers can be used to introduce the differences between unsustainable and
sustainable agriculture. Students can, then, be asked to read case studies of farmers who stopped
productivist agriculture and went to multifunctional or sustainable agriculture
(See case studies in Lappe & Lappe 2000). Questions based on these accounts
could have students determine how the two approaches to farming were different;
the difficulties the farmers faced in each case; the results of both approaches
and why farmers chose these different approaches.

A third activity would be to have students
working in groups to prepare a report on
one of the major food sources
, e.g. agriculture, animal husbandry,
aquaculture, and genetically modified food production, indicating what it is,
who owns it, and how it is financed. Group reports would be followed by a
discussion of the extent to which each food source is ecologically sustainable,
and as a way of demonstrating their learning the groups would then draw a
concept map, schematically representing the relationships between the various
aspects of the food sources they had researched. Finally, students can be asked to identify
two places from which they may purchase food in their neighborhood, to research
the source of this food and determine its sustainability (i.e. of the food
source).

Social
justice.
Social justice is a value
that refers to the right relations between humans in their various social
groupings be they based upon income, gender, geography, race, religion. Right
relations means upholding the rights of all, without discrimination, to a
natural and social environment supportive of a human quality of life.
Generally, when these relations refer to fair sharing of resources, they are
called distributive or economic justice; to non-discriminatory siting of major
polluting or NIMBY (Not in My BackYard) facilities, environmental justice [7];
to fair decision-making in the distribution of those resources, democratic
justice.

There has been a clear progression in
the refinement of our understanding of the relationship between social justice
and ecological sustainability. In 1975, the Nairobi Assembly of the World
Council of Churches included in its principles of environmental action the
promotion of a “sustainable, just, and participatory society.” The World Conservation Union’s (IUCN, 1987)
report, “Conservation With Equity”, and
NGO contributions at the 1992 Earth Summit emphasized the value of sufficiency
as a standard for organized sharing and noted that basic floors and definite
ceilings should be set for equitable and “fair” consumption, arguing that the
Earth is able to provide for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed, a
norm reflected in the often-quoted statement “Live simply, so that others can
simply live.” Social justice was extended from fairness in consumption to
fairness in decision-making about consumption by Hessel (cited in Dernbach,
2002), who points to the need for “Socially just participation (my italics) in decisions about how to obtain
sustenance and to manage community life for the good in common and the good of
the commons” (p. 596-7). Finally, according to the Earth Charter March 2000
benchmark draft, the eradication of poverty should be considered an ethical,
social and environmental imperative (Principle 9) and economic activities and
institutions at all levels should promote human development in an equitable and
sustainable manner (Principle 10). Thus,
social justice has developed from the notions of distributive justice and
sufficiency to that of democratic justice and, most recently, to the notion of
integrated social justice where equity and sustainability are considered
essential.

Again, examples related to food can
be used to help youngsters understand the various types of social justice. To introduce students to the notion of economic justice, a large pizza pie can
be brought into the class by the teacher and students divided into two groups
representing the North or high-income countries (20% of the students in the
class) and the South or low-income countries (80% of the students in the
class). Then, the pizza is divided in two parts, 80% of the pizza going to the
North or high income countries which only make up 20% of the world population and
the remaining 20% going the South or low-income countries which make up 80% of
the world population. Student groups could first discuss how they feel about
the apportionment of the food and why. Reports of their small group discussions
should be shared with the whole class.
Using ideas provided by students, the teacher could then lead a class
discussion to help students clarify their understanding of economic justice.
Students can also consider the apportionment of the pizza pie from a local
level. Are there groups in their local community that would receive the smaller
piece of pizza? the larger piece? In a
final exercise in this introduction to the notion of economic justice, student
groups can be asked to discuss why food is distributed inequitably, whether the
uneven distribution and access to food is acceptable and if not, to list the
reasons why.

As
for
environmental injustice,
students can be
asked to identify sites in their community where food-processing plants are
located or where food-related toxic wastes have been dumped. Working in groups
they can find out why/how this came to be. These local case studies can then be
used as a basis for a discussion on environmental justice and on ways to
redress this local injustice. (See the
section on participatory decision making for an example of how students can be
introduced to the notion of democratic justice.)

Active nonviolence. Active nonviolence refers to active resistance
to social and

ecological evils in order to reduce or remove them. A total
of over 250 forms of nonviolent protest have been identified. [8] These include
marches, boycotts, picketing, sit-ins and prayer vigils. In his advice to the
anti-globalization movement—many people prefer to emphasize the movement’s
positive goals and label it the social justice movement-- David Cortright
(2002) emphasizes the importance of nonviolent action in demonstrations and
other forms of assertive action, pointing out that it ensures morality of
action and generates political support. He writes:

The choice
of nonviolence should not be left to chance. It must be integrated into every
element of the global justice movement. It should be publicly proclaimed as the
movement’s guiding principle and method…… The most radical and effective forms
of social action are those that heighten the contrast between the just demands
of the global justice movement and the brutal actions of the police. Only by
preserving nonviolent discipline can the movement occupy and hold the moral
high ground and win political support for necessary social change (p.13-4).

Nonviolent
action changes the consciousness of persons and organizations involved as
became evident in the civil rights movement in the USA (www.thekingcenter.com). By exercising
self-control and not engaging in violent responses to the various forms of
discrimination, black Americans gained self-esteem and strength. Their changed
consciousness gradually changed the consciousness of those in power, both
locally and federally. The latter were forced to reflect on the nonviolent
strength and courage of the black population and came to recognize the
injustices that had been perpetrated upon their fellow Americans.

Examples that show how social violence leads to
ecological degradation abound though the connection does not seem to be usually
made in the peace education literature (cf. for example, Steger & Ling
1999; www.thekingcenter.com). Wars are probably the most dramatic examples,
and while their short-term ecological effects are directly and immediately
observable, their long-term effects are not. Consider, for example, the future
consequences on the land, water and air of the depleted uranium tipped bombs
used in the war on Kosovo, including the unloading of unused bombs in the
Adriatic sea as planes returned from Kosovo to Italy. Social violence on a smaller scale, such as
conflicts between neighborhood gangs, can also have adverse impacts on the
local ecology, when, as a result of these fights, arson increases air pollution
or the dumping of undesirable objects in the local waters increases water
pollution. Violent behavior among humans both during war and non-war situations
may also lead to cruelty to animals, who are part of the local ecology. The
Earth Charter’s principle 15 reminds us that violence towards animals should be
avoided and that all living beings are to be treated with respect and
consideration.

Teaching students the skills necessary to resolve
conflicts nonviolently is one approach to teaching active nonviolence. Many
schools in the USA
have programs in conflict resolution to
reduce fighting and violence among students. Students, faculty, and parents are
trained to make these programs work, as is the case with the STOP program of
Educators for Social Responsibility.
Students can also study the civil
rights movement
in the USA
and the Gandhi independence movement in India and evaluate its
effectiveness . A third example would be to study
food riots.
Students can analyze cases of historical and recent food riots
to consider their effectiveness in the short and long term. They may then
devise a role-play of the situations that led to a food riot devising a
nonviolent approach to resolving the problem. The debriefing after the role
plays should also include a discussion of the potential short and long term
effects of this alternative approach to resolving the problem.

Participatory decision-making.
Participatory decision-making ensures that all stakeholders in a particular
issue are represented in a fair and effective way. As noted earlier
participatory decision-making is a form of democratic justice. The Earth
Charter’s principle 13 lists the following characteristics of a fair and
effective decision-making process. It refers to the

(1) need for transparency
and accountability in governance, for access to justice and to eliminate
corruption in all public and private institutions; (2) the right of everyone to
clear and timely information; (3) freedom of opinion, expression, peaceful
assembly, association and dissent; and (4) effective and efficient access to
administrative and independent judicial review.

The benefits of participatory decision-making are many.
It builds companionship, trust, cohesion, and unity. It leads to a readiness to
dialogue with openness to listen, and by using the insights and abilities of
many it will often produce a better result.

The process of participatory decision-making depends very
much on the culture and the approach to socio-economic development of a
particular society. In large nation-states in Western societies, such
decision-making mostly takes place by representative government while smaller
jurisdictions, such as the Cantons in Switzerland, are able to achieve
this in direct assembly. In non-Western agricultural societies, participatory
decision-making can take place in a great variety of ways. An Ashanti chief in Ghana who consults with his elders
is one example. Having an assembly of villagers together in a long house in Sumatra to decide issues of social or ecological
importance is another. Whatever the cultural form for decision-making, however,
to be participatory the process must be characterized by the above conditions,
outlined by the Earth Charter, and the outcome must benefit all the
stakeholders. As for participatory decision-making on a global level, one can
look to the United Nations. There 191 member states in the hundreds of UN and
UN affiliated agencies struggle to decide how best to develop international
processes and institutions to ensure a sustainable future of planet and people.
Borrowing from Barber’s concept of strong democracy, Prugh et al. (2000) argue
that local politics or civic engagement on the local level is the best
preparation for decision making on a global scale in respect to sustainable
future issues.

Participatory decision-making is
generally considered to take place only among humans, but according to CSE, all
living creatures have the right to participate in the decision-making process
in matters pertaining to their well-being. This form of participatory
decision-making is called biocratic (Berry, 1990). The Endangered Species Act is an example of
biocracy in that the law is giving an endangered species the right to be heard
(to vote) through the voices of its protectors (Daly & Cobb, 1989; Steger
& Ling, 1999).

Case studies of communal approaches to
food production, access, distribution, which highlight participatory
decision-making in communities in various continents in overcoming hunger and
landlessness can be used to help students understand the meaning and value of
participatory decision-making. They can serve as the basis for developing
role-plays, which would provide students experience in joint decision-making
and an understanding of democratic justice. Debriefing after the role-plays
would consider the advantages of participatory decision-making. Further
discussion would have students imagine the consequences should certain groups
involved in the stories and the role plays not be given an equal opportunity.
The micro-credit movement of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, the preservation
of seed ownership by the Navdanya movement in India, the green consumer
campaign by the Co-op America organization, the banning or at least the
labeling of genetically modified foods by many Vermont towns in their Annual
Town Meetings (www.ise.org) provide the basis for such role plays (Lappe &
Lappe 2002).

THE CONTEXTUAL SUSTAINABILITY EDUCATION
FRAMEWORK

Figure 1

The ideological foundations and value
concepts that constitute the CSE framework are schematically represented in
Figure 1 in three concentric circles that show the relationship among the
values and between the values and the foundations. Ecological sustainability is
in the inner circle. It is surrounded by the other three values in the second
circle to indicate that ecological sustainability is the core value but that it
can only be realized in the context of a society
characterized by its supportive values - social justice, active non-violence
and participatory decision-making. The
three ideological foundations, cosmogenesis, biocentrism and bioregionalism,
are located in the outer ring to indicate that the four values are to be rooted
in these foundational beliefs.

IMPLEMENTING
CONTEXTUAL SUSTAINABILITY EDUCATION

While the activities described above can
be organized by individual teachers, in order for CSE to be integrated into the
curriculum of a school district in a coherent and systematic fashion, a
trans-disciplinary standard is necessary.

Rationale

While the USA has been the forerunner in
setting standards in education (Sacks, 1999; Elementary and Secondary Education
Act of 2001), it seems that the adoption of standards in education is now
spreading to many other countries.
Standards provide teachers with guidelines for organizing the main
contents of the curriculum and for determining the levels of performance to be
achieved in those content areas. For the latter purpose standards are
translated into rubrics that spell out in great detail the required components
of a project or program. Used as a measure
of educational progress, standards also provide school systems with a basis for
making schools accountable. Progress is usually measured by high-stakes tests,
which, together with other assessment measures, determine whether students are
below the standard, approaching the standard, meeting the standard or exceeding
the standard and, therefore, whether or not they can be promoted. Increasingly,
these tests include more free response questions than multiple choice questions
which far better measure a student’s understanding of a particular topic.
Teachers are mandated to teach according to those standards that are specific to
their particular subject area, though often with little curriculum support and
staff development. As a result and because of an overemphasis on high-stakes
tests, teachers “teach to the tests” overusing review books and sample tests
rather than engaging in education for critical thinking and action that leads
to an informed and involved citizenry.

Notwithstanding this ever widening use
(and abuse) of standards, veteran standards expert Robert J. Marzano (cited in
Scherer, 2001) and others have pointed out that there is a lack of “focus and coherence” in the present
standards. From the perspective of CSE, this may be because technical standards
in the subject areas are not related to the larger social and ecological issues
of the present and future. The challenge, therefore, is to develop a coherent
set of standards that is organized according to a principle that is able to
make this link and to provide students with an understanding of these issues as
they relate to and are manifest in the various subject areas that make up the
school curriculum. To some extent this
challenge is met by the Applied Learning standards and by STS (Science,
Technology and Society) modules that relate subject-specific standards to
society. However, they lack a wider vision, are often only tangentially covered
in a school’s curriculum and not systematically included in tests. As for the
programs that were and are developed by the US Global Change Research Program
(Mortensen, 2000), however laudable, they are outside a school’s curriculum and
do not possess a strong cohesive framework that integrates social and
ecological reality.


What is needed, therefore, is a trans-disciplinary standard that will
enable students to make those links, both intellectually, affectively, and
behaviorally. The CSE framework could bring such focus and coherence to the
standards movement providing it with direction, motivation and inspiration.
Unlike the pragmatic approach recommended by some whereby one is advised to
relate environmental education instruction to standards now required by the
schools (Bentley, 1998), CSE is presented as an overarching standard - a
comprehensive frame for the other standards, providing an integrated
perspective on social and ecological values by which students can critically
assess past, present and future events, processes, technologies presented by
the specific standards in the subject area.

The standard.

Formulated for the middle grades, the CSE standard
reads as follows. Students will

(1) develop an understanding of the
connections between social and ecological processes and events

(2) become aware of their assumptions
about social and ecological issues and of the values that underlie those
assumptions

(3) be able to critically assess the
benefits and/or ill effects on society and the environment of biocentric and
anthropocentric world views

(4) recognize and appreciate their
identity as Earth and Universe beings, i.e. their ecological selves

(5)
assess
events, trends, technologies, actions using the values of ecological
sustainability, social justice, active non-violence and participatory decision
making to determine their adverse or beneficial impacts on the well-being of
planet, people and other species and their contribution to social and
ecological peace

(6) develop and apply a vision of
socially and ecologically sustainable futures based upon the five values that
directs their basic decisions in respect to personal, economic and political
matters.


The placement of the CSE standard in a
particular curriculum is important. Subject matter in middle schools is
organized either in an integrated curriculum with team teaching and block
scheduling or in a subject specific curriculum with the school day broken down
into short periods devoted to one subject area. In either type of curriculum
the CSE standard should be the introductory standard. However, in a school with
an integrated curriculum, where teachers jointly devise their curriculum units
based upon the standards in their particular areas, there is more likely to be
a need for a common framework or organizing principle that would make their
collaboration more effective. Thus, the CSE standard is more likely to be
adopted and implemented at the beginning of units of learning in such schools
than in schools with subject-specific curricula. Of course, if a school’s
mission statement were structured on the basis of the CSE framework, teaching
to the CSE standard would be greatly facilitated across the curriculum areas.

The name of the
standard is also important. It must be labeled in terms that clearly reflect
its content. With this in mind the CSE standard could be labeled as “Envisioning a Sustainable Future”, “The
Sustainability and Peace (S&P) Standard”, “The Earth and Peace Literacy
(EPL) Standard”. The latter label has been used by the author for several years
and is the basis for a module he has developed for the beginning of the school
year (Verhagen 1999).

Each standard consists of content,
curriculum support and methods of assessment (American Federation of Teachers,
2001). The content of the CSE
standard is based on the foundations and values described in earlier sections
of this chapter. They, in turn, determine its learning objectives, i.e. having
students (1) understand the Universe story and its implications for their
identity, (2) develop a biocentric worldview and (3) understand how to live
bioregionally.

A second major learning objective would
be to help students develop an understanding of each of the values, their
behavioral and affective implications and the reciprocal nature of ecological
sustainability and social justice,
active non-violence and participatory decision-making. Thirdly, as suggested by
the UNESCO work plan of 1997, they should learn to use these values to envision
“ alternative ways of development and living, evaluating alternative visions,
learning how to negotiate and justify choices between visions” (Mortensen,
2000, p.34).

Curriculum support for the CSE standard should include
a selection of topics related to the components of the framework. (For lists of
such topics, see, for example, Chiras,
1994; Huckle & Sterling, 1996; Sitarz, 1998; Verhagen, 1999; Wheeler,
2001; Tilbury, Stevenson, Fien, &
Schreuder, 2002; the many links on the website of the Sustainability Education
Center <www.sustained.org>. The
CSE standard would utilize the “process of interactional discovery” as a method of assessment, i.e. students’
oral interaction in class and their written reflections in a journal (Dawson cited in Jacobs,
2001). In addition, their achievement could be further assessed by
administering a survey at the beginning of the school year and one at the end,
the comparison of which would be a more scientific way of determining the
impact of the CSE standard upon their thinking and affect.

Working Through
Major Educational Organizations

To implement the CSE standard in the
middle grades it is essential to work through national or local organizations
dealing with teacher accreditation, middle schools and the various subject
areas such as science, language arts….

Teacher accreditation organizations. In the United
States of America
it is the task of the
National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) to set standards
according to which a teacher education department is evaluated and accredited.
NCATE’s membership includes national organizations of colleges, teacher unions,
and specialty organizations, such as the North American Association of
Environmental Education (NAAEE).

Among the
six standards it uses for institutional accreditation, it emphasizes the
importance of the one that deals with the
“conceptual framework(s)” which an institution has to develop. This
standard could serve as an entry point for the inclusion of the CSE framework,
which could then spell out a teacher’s ecological responsibilities and provide
a framework for course development. Thus, the standard would enhance
NCATE’s “Vision for a Professional
Teacher for the 21st Century” which defines a professional teacher is a one who
has developed the knowledge and skills “to succeed as a responsible citizen (my italics) and a contributor to the new
economy” (NCATE, 2002, p. 4).

National middle schools associations or federations.
In the United States of America, the organization that deals with middle
schools is called the National Middle School Association (NMSA) Its website (www.nmsa.org) reports that it has over 30,000
members representing principals, teachers, central office personnel,
professors, college students, parents, community leaders, and educational
consultants across the United States, Canada, and 45 other countries. NMSA
“welcomes and provides support to anyone interested in the health and education
of young adolescents”. Its list of publications contains a Watershed document
for integrative learning (Springer, 1994), which could serve as a basis for
introducing the CSE framework.

Standard setting committees of professional organizations. The principal national professional
organizations of teachers engaged in the teaching of science, math, language
arts, social studies have standard-setting committees which employ a draft
consultation process to develop their particular standards, both content and
performance standards. A minimalist way to participate in their drafting
processes is to present comments, particularly by pointing to the need for a
standard that can bring coherence among the often long lists of subject
specific standards. A middle way to make presentations at the conferences of
their professional organizations, so that members themselves can either engage
in drafting or in commenting on a CSE standard.
A maximalist approach is to become a member of the consultation draft
committee and actually engage in negotiating an introductory CSE standard.

CONCLUSION

To restate the challenge issued at the
beginning of the chapter, the state of the Planet requires that we re-consider
our relationships, our goals and our manner of living. The Worldwatch Institute
(2001) adds to this the broader imperative to “accelerate the shift to
sustainability”. CSE, an integrated framework for social and ecological peace
education, intends to provide an educational response to this challenge. It
outlines a cohesive set of values and foundational beliefs that is intended to
shape a contemporary understanding of peace that takes into account both social
and ecological realities. While
the Earth Charter
principle 16 defines peace as “wholeness created
by right relationships with oneself, other persons, other cultures, other life,
Earth, and the larger whole of which all are a part,” CSE defines peace as
contextual sustainability, pointing to the social and ecological context within
which this wholeness is made possible.


CSE aims to be
transformative rather reformist. It challenges the foundations of most
contemporary educational efforts, the goals of which do not explicitly and
substantially include a vision for a sustainable future. It points to questions
educators ought to ask in respect to the contested meanings of progress,
freedom, sustainability (Davison 2001). It is explicitly biocentric and as such
represents a shift away from the still prevalent mechanistic and
anthropocentric paradigm that shapes education in general, and, to a lesser
extent, environmental education. This paradigm shift means that education’s
mode of learning and instruction is to be re-oriented and re-purposed. Only
such re-purposed education is able to contribute to the profound transformation
of consciousness that is needed in the face of the enormous ecological and
social challenges that humanity faces in the 21st century (Berry, 1990;
O’Sullivan, 1999).

Furthermore, while the CSE framework is offered as a means of
linking the educational efforts of peace and environmental education, it also
allows for the inclusion of a broad range of perspectives and multiple
knowledge bases, such as civics/patriotism education, global/development
education, character/moral education. By expanding their goals to include those
of the CSE framework, these concentrations will be enhanced while at the same
time contributing their own theoretical and practical disciplinary achievements
to CSE. Finally, the CSE framework is a dynamic framework that is to be refined
by ongoing re-conceptualization and reflection not only of educational theory
and practice but also of the evolving character of sustainability theory and
practice. It is hoped that it will lead to the “stimulation of an ethos/system,
within which continuous motivation, renewal and rebirth can occur” (Dottin,
2001) and that it will, thus, contribute to the necessary “eco-social
revitalization of education and culture that can solve the accumulating modern
crises of ecological degradation and social inequities both within and between
nations” (Bowers, 1997).

FRANS C. VERHAGEN is an environmental sociologist with
a background in divinity. He earned a Masters degree in International Affairs
and a PhD in applied sociology from Columbia University. He is presently the director
of sustainability education and research with Earth and Peace Education
Associates International (EPE) in New York City
<www.globalepe.org> He has
taught Earth Science in NYC public schools for seventeen years, during which time he developed the
Earth Community School model of secondary education. He has founded and chaired
several environmental organizations and since 1989 has been producer and host
of a monthly program dealing with the fundamentals of environmentalism and
sustainable living for public access TV. He can be reached at gaia1@rcn.com.

END NOTES

1 The expression Unity of Being refers to the unity that
exists in the Universe, while the expression Unity of Beings refers to the
unity of the web of life on planet Earth.

2
It is the absence or presence of this biocentric orientation that determines whether a
particular type of sustainability education approach is reformist or
transformative.

3 Being a political compromise, the
term “sustainable development” carries an “intentional fuzziness” (IUCN, 2002).
Given its “ambiguities and tensions” Bonnet (1999) argues that it cannot be
taken as “a statement of policy”, but that sustainability as “ a frame of mind”
may have positive and wide-reaching educational implications.” This view of
sustainability as a frame of mind is similar to CSE’s concept of ecological
self.

4 Based on a global consensus, the Earth
Charter is a promising statement of an integrated set of values, which is
intended to provide humanity with an ethical guide for dealing with its present
and future social and ecological problems and challenges. It is also to become
a basic document in sustainability education, giving its curriculum an
integrated value base. See Chapter
and www.earthcharter.org.

5 While these requirements outline the general contents of ecological
sustainability, as the authors of IUCN (2002) demonstrate and as Chapter argues, implementing ecological sustainability is
always a matter of local adaptation.

6 The author recognizes that pedagogical tasks and
activities, such as those provided here
and elsewhere in the chapter for illustrative purposes, will be implemented in educational systems
that are still mostly based upon implicitly held mechanistic, technocratic,
linear, fragmentary values that support a world that is deeply ecologically
unsustainable, socially unjust within and between countries, technologically
oriented, and politically dominated by large transnational corporations.
However, it is his belief that this does not discount the need to introduce
students to these basic beliefs and values nor their effectiveness in
initiating behavior changes in their lives.

7 Extending the value of justice to
the Earth to emphasize fairness to the Earth community and the Earth’s
life-support processes is called Earth justice (Rasmussen 1996). The term
eco-justice seems to be used interchangeably with Earth justice. Strictly
speaking, this type of justice is part of the ethical dimension of ecological
sustainability.

8 The King
Center for Nonviolent Social Change in
Atlanta (www.thekingcenter.com)
has translated the 250 forms into six principles and associated steps for
achieving nonviolence.

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