Less Doom and Gloom

7 Apr


Ever since I could remember I knew my dream job would involve ‘saving the planet’. In my work I feel a sense of hope, purpose and inspiration about what I do and the reason I do it. Not everyone is as lucky to know what their ‘thing’ in life is.

Despite this there have been times when the doom and gloom associated with environmental work has made me doubt if I was spending my time wisely. In fact, the immensity of our environmental predicament has been counterproductive for action by individuals and whole societies through a process which Steve Vanderheiden terms ‘pessimistic defeatism’ – shutting out critical information that cannot be constructively dealt with.

It was not until recently that I came across Daniella Tilbury’s work documenting the transition of environmental education from traditional to critical, that I felt I finally understood. It’s only one small table published in 2005 but its impact on my own outlook has been so profound that I wanted to share it (you can see it below).

In order for students to understand environmental challenges they must be exposed to the current reality that faces humanity. Confronting a ‘disorienting dilemma’ is a critical stage in transformational learning as outlined by Jack Mezirow, for instance. However, it is important that we take students beyond the bad news too. We need to be able to arm them with constructive responses that address their concerns and which they can use with confidence. They too want to leave our courses with a sense of hope and empowerment.

Seeing people a critical part of the solution rather than the problem is a subtle change, but  this perspective might be a re-framing that supports the resilience of those working in the field.

Comparing traditional and critical approaches to environmental education published by Tilbury and Cooke in 2005.

Traditional Critical
Passing on knowledge and raising awareness of issues Understanding and getting to the root of issues
Teaching attitudes and values Encouraging values clarification
Seeing people as the problem Seeing people as agents of change
Single actions Learning for Change
More focus on individual and personal change More focus on structural and institutional change
Integration Innovation
Problem-solving Creating alternative futures
Sending messages Creating opportunities for reflection, negotiation and participation