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Challenging the Nature—Culture Binary Through Urban Environmental Education  

Marijke Hecht

Environmental conditions facing our local and global communities in the early 21st-century demand an urgent shift in education toward fostering healthy multispecies communities through stronger relationships between human and more-than-human beings. Environmental education, which has long pushed for interdisciplinary pedagogies that connect people and place, is well positioned to serve this aim. However, for the field to continue to develop and meet the challenges of the 21st century, it needs to address its roots as an outgrowth of science education where entrenched Eurocentric perspectives, such as human exceptionalism and the persistence of a nature–culture binary, are pervasive. These perspectives contribute significantly to the ongoing extraction of natural resources and degradation of habitats, which are tied to pressing environmental issues such as climate change and biodiversity loss. For environmental education to effectively impact learning in ways that lead toward a lasting protection of people and the planet, the field must be more critical of its roots and practices. Urban environmental education, which takes place where the majority of people live globally and in landscapes where humans and more-than-human beings are in close proximity, has the potential to challenge existing practices and continue to grow the field. Rethinking the nature–culture binary and the insistence on human exceptionalism are necessary for transformational improvements to the local landscape and planetary health. Two existing approaches that can support field-level change are critical place-based and Indigenous L/land-based pedagogies, which are drawn from different traditions but both support the transformation of relations between human and more-than-human beings. However, this requires an interrogation of if and/or how non-Indigenous scholars might take up Indigenous philosophies and pedagogies respectfully and ethically.