Education needs an ethical orientation that can help it grapple better with global environmental issues such as climate change and decreasing biodiversity, something called earth ethics. The term ethics is used in an unusual manner, to mean a normativity more basic than concrete norms, principles, or rules for living. The idea of earth is also used in an unusual way, as a kind of concealing, a refusal to disclose itself, while at the same time, constituting a kind of interference with the familiarity of the world. The idea of earth plays on the contrast between living on earth and living in the world. The latter involves the familiar concerns and actions of culture and work, of politics and economics. Earth ethics becomes a call to responsibility coming from the earth—a call to let the earth and earthlings be, to acknowledge their refusal to answer our questions or fit easily into our worldly projects, and to recognize their continuing mystery as beings with their own intrinsic worth. The idea of earth ethics is developed through attending to a set of human experiences. First is an experience of gratefulness toward the earth. This gratefulness not only reveals our finitude, but also our indebtedness to the grace-filled support the earth continually gives us for our worldly projects and concerns. This reveals earth as our home, a dwelling we share with other earthlings. This reveals earth’s fundamental fragility. What seems solid and dependable from a worldly perspective shows up as vulnerability from an earthly viewpoint. The experiences of gratefulness to and fragility of the earth gives rise to feeling a call to responsibility, the core of earth ethics. Earth ethics is a call of responsibility to the earth, one that grows out of our debt of gratitude and the earth’s fragility. It is this normative call that might guide education in its grappling with environmental issues.
Clarence W. Joldersma
Edgar J. González-Gaudiano and Ana Lucía Maldonado-González
Without having yet overcome the problems that gave rise to climate change, the field of environmental education faces new challenges because of the onslaughts of this phenomenon. Growing contingents of people in many parts of the world are periodically affected by extreme hydro-meteorological phenomena, such as severe droughts in Africa and increasingly intense cyclones that affect tropical coastal areas. These environmental threats can be aggravated by decades of investment in development programs at the global and local levels that end up affecting vulnerable populations the most. Its consequences have generated synergic processes of humanitarian emergencies of unprecedented magnitude, in the form of increasing waves of temporary or permanently displaced populations, because of disasters, water and food shortages, as well as armed conflicts and social violence that demand more resources to alleviate long-standing poverty and environmental degradation. This complex situation entails colossal challenges but also new opportunities to face processes of environmental education, which require a different strategic approach to trigger processes of social resilience when communities face adversities. This, in a stable, organized way and to allow societies to learn from them, encourages changes that the societies consider necessary to reduce their risks and vulnerabilities. Social resilience is not a state to be achieved, but a community process in continuous movement, in which various actors and social agents participate. Some of the community actions to be carried out during a social resilience capacity building process must be oriented toward mitigating physical and social vulnerability, adapting to the new conditions generated by climate change, and managing risks, among other actions that invite collective learning of lived experiences. For instance, a case study carried out with high school students in the municipalities of La Antigua, Cotaxtla, and Tlacotalpan in the state of Veracruz (Mexico) allowed researchers to better understand the social resilience construction processes. Initially, an attempt was made to analyze the social representation of climate change in communities vulnerable to floods resulting from extreme tropical storms. Subsequently, the way in which the students perceived their risks and their vulnerability was investigated, as well as the guidelines that govern the community behavior in the face of climate events with extreme values (magnitude, intensity, duration), which tended to exceed the capacities of communities to face them appropriately. Youngsters were chosen because they are a highly influential population in the promotion of social resilience, as they are often voluntarily and spontaneously involved in situations of community emergency. This has allowed an understanding of possible routes to undertake environmental education processes, aimed at strengthening capacities so that affected people can adapt to the changes and have strategies to reduce disaster risks in the face of specific critical events. Although the studies examined here are based on experiences in communities in the Mexican coastal areas of the Gulf of Mexico, the authors of this article are convinced that their findings can be useful in developing equivalent programs in communities that are similarly vulnerable.
Garden-based education is a philosophical orientation to teaching and learning that uses gardens as the milieu for student engagement through meaningful and relevant curricular and instructional integration in schools. In addition to their direct academic appeal in raising test scores and grades, particularly in science, language arts, and math, gardens on educational campuses, spanning pre-school through high school, are also utilized by educators for a variety of other outcomes. These include motivational engagement; social, moral, and emotional development; strengthening of institutional and community bonds; vocational skills development; food literacy; healthy eating habits; and holistic growth of children and youth. Moreover, garden-based education shows promise as a tangible and pragmatic solution to address problems of disaffection and disengagement among youth that has resulted in a school dropout crisis in many places. While specific to higher education, farm-based education and agriculture-based education that focus on growing food have parallel agendas. The vast array of outcomes linked with garden-based education may seem impressive. However, systematic research studies of garden-based education across sites to measure educational impact are missing, largely due to their marginalized status and the decentralized and localized nature of program implementation and professional training. While the idea of including gardens on educational campuses to grow food or to serve as a means of outdoor and nature education is not new, since the 1990s, there has been a surge of interest in using garden-based education across countries and continents. With its accessibility on school grounds, garden-based education intersects with parallel movements such as outdoor education, place-based education, experiential education, nature-based education, environmental education, and sustainability education. Manifested in a variety of grassroots practices that include slow food, community supported agriculture, edible schoolyards, global roots, indigenous cultural gardens, learning gardens, lifelab, living classrooms, multicultural school gardens, urban harvest, and more, gardens will likely continue to be of significance in education as there are growing uncertainties globally about food security and health matters related to climate change. Despite high stakes, standardized tests, and accountability measures that pose challenges to educators and proponents of school gardens in public schools, research shows their promise as laboratories for innovation and academic learning. Garden-based education would benefit if informed by longitudinal and large-scale research studies that demonstrate instructional and curricular rigor and integration and impact on learning outcomes. Drawing on critical and posthumanist theories that question the nature of schooling, and explicitly addressing issues of race, class, and perspectives of marginalized and indigenous scholars and practitioners would bring further credence. Practice-embedded research and co-production of knowledge that accepts complexity and conjunctive thinking, while also addressing culturally responsive pedagogy across socio-economic status, would enhance the viability of this growing movement.