EE in Schools
EE in schools: what is the problem?
Rachel de Lacey
One of the problems when we start talking about environmental education is that there is a range of views and assumptions that are often made about the environment and people often fail to realise this. As a result they often refer to the same ideas but attach different meanings to what they say. In this regard Timothy O'Riordan categorises 'environmentalism' into two main categories which each contain two divisions. He places 'Gaianism' ("radical green philosophy") and 'Communalism' ("faith in the co-operative capabilities of societies to establish self-reliant communities based on renewable resource use and appropriate technologies") (O'Riordan, 1989, p. 85) under the nurturing 'Ecocentric' world view. In contrast with these is 'Technocentric' view. This is a 'manipulative mode' within which he positions an 'Accommodationist' position ("Faith in the adaptability of institutions and approaches to assessment and evaluation to accommodate environmental demands") (O'Riordan, 1989, p. 84) and the fourth perspective, 'Interventionism' ("Faith in the application of science, market forces, and managerial ingenuity") (O'Riordan, 1989, p. 85). I identify my own ideal position as a Communalist one, although, as O'Riordan states, we often adopt different stances in different circumstances and change through time.
O'Riordan's analysis can be applied to the Tblisi Declaration (UNESCO-UNEP, 1978) which arose from an intergovernmental conference at which delegates endorsed goals, objectives and principles for the development of worldwide environmental education. My reading of this document is that it contains a Communalist orientation, calling for new patterns of behaviour and a redistribution of wealth and power worldwide. It also clearly links culture, economic forces and political processes with the way humans treat the natural environment.
Despite the fact that there has been an international intergovernmental agreement about environmental education for close to thirty years, and that many aspects of this agreement can be found in the New Zealand Curriculum (Chapman, 1999), the impact of the declaration has not been great. In this essay I examine how schooling and the curriculum are structured in a way that does not make it easy to introduce environmental education into schools.
Print (1993) discusses the way we see and understand the curriculum in terms of five conceptions. These include an academic rationalist conception, cognitive processes conception, humanistic conception, social reconstructionist conception and a technological conception. The New Zealand curriculum strongly reflects the academic rationalist conception that emphasises the "knowledge, skills and values to be found in the various academic disciplines" (Print, 1993, p. 47). In conjunction with that it also reflects the cognitive processes conception, "to provide students with the necessary skills or processes to help them learn how to learn" and as well " to provide students with the opportunities to employ and enhance the variety of intellectual faculties that they possess" (Print, 1993, p. 49). Also of interest is the humanistic conception in which the curriculum provides opportunities to "enhance an individual's self-concept in order to achieve self-actualisation" (Print, 1993, p. 51). This conception is evident in much of the supporting material within the curriculum documents.
Print (1993) discusses how many real curricula draw on more than one of these conceptions in an eclectic model, whereby reflecting " two or more curriculum conceptions" (Print, 1993, p. 56). Each conception contains assumptions about what and how people (should) learn. One issue is that aspects of these conceptions can be in conflict with each other, for example, it is difficult to meet the learning needs of individuals (even if that is possible in a class of thirty children) within a curriculum that imposes learning objectives that all must meet. Environmental education does not always fit easily within this eclectic mix and environmental educators may need to give thought to how they reconcile environmental education with the curriculum.
The other curricula
In classrooms, educators teach from the curriculum documents set out by the Ministry of Education, but this is not the only thing they teach. Eisner (1979) identifies three curricula that all schools teach. These are the the 'explicit', the 'implicit' and the 'null' curricula. The explicit curriculum is concerned with the teaching of goals and objectives from the different subjects (mathematics, science, social studies etc.). The implicit curriculum is concerned with such factors as the attitudes, values and philosophies, both those of the teachers in classrooms and also those evident in school organisation and management. Social values produced in texts and other material presented to the children also contribute to this implicit curriculum and these may at times contradict what is explicitly taught. Eisner (1979) argues that this set of messages "socialize children to a set of expectations that some argue are profoundly more powerful and longer lasting than what is intentionally taught or what the explicit curriculum of the school publicly provides" (Eisner, 1979, p. 213). Eisner (1979) also discusses how, through promoting extrinsically motivated behaviour management programmes, schools tend to "foster compliant behaviour" (Eisner, 1979, 214) and motivate children to learn extrinsically (wanting to learn only if they know that the will be rewarded in some way by the teacher. This of course sets children up to not only be extrinsically motivated in school but also in their future life in society. Another aspect of the implicit curriculum is the amount of time that is allocated to the different subjects within the curriculum. "Although such decisions are not intended to reflect to students' value judgements about the significance of various subject areas, in fact, they do" (Eisner, 1979, p. 217). The core subjects (maths, reading) are often taught in the morning, while other subjects such as the arts are taught in the afternoon. Eisner (1979) discusses how this reinforces "the belief that the arts do not require rigorous and demanding thought and that they are really unimportant aspects of the school programme" (Eisner, 1979, p. 217).
This is an interesting analysis for environmental educators. Environmental education is marginalised by being optional in both teacher education and in schools, sending a clear message about its value without a word being said.
Throughout their school life students will be immersed in both the implicit and explicit curriculum. They will also experience a wide range of teachers all of whom have their own differing values, beliefs and philosophies. This wide exposure may help the child to make their own decisions and develop personal philosophies and the stance they may take towards the world and the environment. In general though, these implicit messages reinforce rather than challenge existing mainstream social values.
Eisner's (1979) third 'curriculum' is the null curriculum. What schools (or education authorities on their behalf) choose not to teach at all. This is just as much a conscious and political decision as what is explicitly taught. Environmental education might be thought of as on the fringe of this Null curriculum, as is Maori language and perhaps any subject area that contains a social critique.
The role of schools
Looking at the curriculum as contained in the formal curriculum statements does not really capture what schools do then. Eisner's analysis (and this informs Print's work) provides a wider set of ideas for thinking about why programmes in schools do not always have the effects we hope for. Understanding what schools do is helped by stepping back and looking at the hidden messages and what has not been said. In this regard it has been said that; "Education is like a football in the sense that different people prefer the game to be played in different ways" (Kemmis, Cole and Suggett, 1994, p. 128). Kemmis, Cole and Suggett (1983) discuss in their writing, three wider orientations to schooling. The first is the vocational/neo-classical - "In which education is understood as a preparation for work" (Kemmis, Cole and Suggett, 1994, p. 129). The second is the liberal/progressive orientation - "A preparation for life rather than work" (Kemmis, Cole & Suggett, 1983, p. 129). Thirdly there is the socially-critical orientation, intended to "engage social issues and give students experience in working on them" (Kemmis, Cole & Suggett, 1994, p. 129 ).
It is the liberal/progressive orientation that is a predominant approach in education where teachers see education as "for the 'whole person' rather than instrumental; as personal value to be developed rather than as a set of tools to be used in work" Kemmis, Cole, and Suggett, 1994, p. 129).
Kemmis, Cole and Suggett suggest though, that this liberal/progressive approach (which is consistent with the humanistic curriculum conception) disguises the social realities in which there are winners and losers, by pretending that everyone can 'succeed' if they work hard enough. In response, they advocate the socially critical orientation and this is at the same time the orientation that fits most closely with the intentions of environmental education and the most difficult to undertake in schools. Having said that though, the curriculum and the role of schools is marked by tensions and contradictions. Often many of these things are happening at the same time and the overall impact is difficult to see from up close.
In spite of the statement in the New Zealand Curriculum Framework that the "the individual child is at the centre of all teaching and learning" (Ministry of Education, 1993, p. 6) it has been argued that the education system is structured towards a market driven regime focussed on efficiency, accountability and "contestability" (Codd, 1999, p. 46). Within this ideology the end product becomes more important than the learning process within formal schooling. While the Ministry claims that this "provides a balance between the interests of individual students and the requirements of society and the economy" (Ministry of Education, 1993, p. 1), it is this outputs-based agenda that drives the objectives-based curriculum. The student is expected to reach the objectives within the curriculum areas and is supposedly assessed against these objectives. As Eisner (1979) discusses, most of this is extrinsically motivated. All this is driven by what has been referred to as the "ethics of economic rationalism" (Codd, 1999, p. 46-47). Other results of this are the creation of artificial competition for resources through the use of 'contestable funding' pools and competition between educational institutions at all levels that Codd (1999) has described as a culture of distrust. These educational structures and the ideology behind them are in complete opposition to the goals and intentions of environmental education.
Although it is present in most curriculum statements, Environmental Education has no particular position within the curriculum and has been declared as voluntary in the Guidelines for Environmental Education in New Zealand Schools (Ministry of Education, 1999). While the documents are written in a way that allows scope for teachers to build upon issues that they feel are important to the education of children, and while "(t)he New Zealand Curriculum contains skills that are congruent with many of the goals of the Tblisi Declaration. They are spread out through a range of subjects." (Chapman, 1999, p. 271). Thus, while Environmental Education can be used to fuse together the curriculum areas (cross-curricular links) and to develop meaningful learning contexts, this is difficult given that the values that underpin the explicit curriculum, the implicit curriculum, and the orientation of schooling as a whole, are often in opposition to the motives behind environmental education.
Although there is space to work within the curriculum it remains challenging finding the time for becoming informed on global and local environmental issues before planning, teaching and assessing new topics, especially given the time devoted to the so called 'core' subjects (maths, reading...). But there are other challenges for teachers make a start on environmental education. These include finding the resources and links within the existing curriculum and then incorporating all this into daily teaching within meaningful contexts that link to real life. The opportunities to do this are there but this work takes effort, passion and dedication to initiate.
It must be kept in mind that there is a range of environmental philosophical beliefs which form a continuum from the Technocentric Intervention to the Ecocentric Gaianism. These background philosophies can provide further confusion when the same language is used by people who have quite different beliefs and therefore mean different things. Despite all these complexities, the school curriculum does provide room for environmental issues, global and local, to be addressed both explicitly and implicitly. Educators can use the curriculum to weave the teaching and learning of environmental education through all seven-subject curriculum areas.
Rachel de Lacey is a teacher education student at Massey University College of Education. Her article is an abridged version of an essay submitted in the environmental education paper she is completing.
In her essay, Rachel identifies some of the challenges facing teachers wishing to begin teaching environmental education. The first of these is the work required to learn about issues that are not always easy to unpack, and then to develop the resources and materials needed to undertake the topic in class.
A second set of challenges is that teachers and schools transmit a range of messages through their 'implicit curriculum' which Rachel argues are often more powerful than what is taught. Behind this statement is the suggestion that we need to think about how to combat these other messages that we may not initially even be conscious of transmitting.
There are perhaps two other issues hinted at in Rachel's analysis. One is that since environmental education is optional there may not be much support for innovation in this area within the school. There may also be opposition from outside the school in the wider community. Even people who express concern for the environment may come from different philosophical perspectives.
These are issues that it is hoped to address through the material posted in this forum and a start on this is made in the piece entitled Some hints for sound and safe practice.
Chapman, D. J. (1999). So you want to teach FOR the Environment. Environmental Education Research 5(3).
Codd, J (1999). Educational Reform, accountability and the culture of distrust. New Zealand Journal Educational Studies, 34 (1), pp 45 - 53.
Eisner, E W. (1979). The three curricular that all schools teach. The Educational Imagination. New York: MacMilliam, pp 74 - 89.
Kemmis, S., Cole, P. & Suggett, D. in Elizabeth Hatton (Ed). 1994. Understanding Teaching: Curriculum and the social context of schooling.
UNESCO-UNEP (1978) The Tbilisi Declaration Connect 111 (1), pp 1-8.
Ministry of Education (1999). Guidelines for Environmental Education in New Zealand Schools. New Zealand: Learning Media.
Print, M (1993). Curriculum development and design; Chapter 2. St Lenards, Australia. Unwin & Allen.