30 SES 07 A, ESE and the Anthropocene
In an article on Bildung and modernity twenty years ago, the Dutch philosopher of education Geert Biesta (2002), situates the European Bildung tradition within a specific historical context, i.e. of the emerging democratic societies of the late 18th and 19th century. Here, the educated human being is not constituted by the adaptation to an existing “external order”, but is distinguished by being a citizen who can think for himself (sic.). Biesta´s more general point is that Bildung is an educational answer to a political question. “We need, in other words, to begin with a “diagnosis” of our time.” (s. 346).
In this paper I suggest that our time more than anything is distinguished by the irreversible impact the human species is making on the earth, designated as the era of the Anthropocene. According to Hamilton, Bonneuil, and Gemenne (2015, pp. 3–4), the Anthropocene thesis makes two powerful claims that should be addressed within the social sciences and the humanities. The first is the claim that human beings have become a telluric force. The second is that those inhabiting the Earth in the decades to come will face global environmental shifts of unprecedented scale and speed. The situation involves a number of concerns, like resource depletion, deforestation, species extinction, pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions, in short that the living conditions for all species on earth are degradating. In this paper I mostly refer to the climate crisis, because this prime example of changes within the planetary systems (Rockström, 2009) clearly brings in a sense of urgency. The situation calls, as institutions like IPCC stresses, for a rapid change of human systems and practices.
Following Biesta´s line of thought, the vital question this paper discuss, then, is what implications climate crisis may have for education and Bildung. What kind of Bildung might be needed and make sense in the current situation?
The link between a continental Bildung tradition and citizenship should not be considered to be exclusive, but distinguishes other conceptions of education as well, like the tradition of liberal education (see Schlottmann, 2012). In this paper I delimit the scope to the regional context I am situated in, that is the Scandinavian research field of environmental and sustainability education, and examine how education and Bildung is conceived of within the two most prominent positions developed here. This exploration is a background for discussing the central research question, but may in itself be considered to be a part of the scholarly contribution of the paper.
First is the action competence approach developed by a Danish research group during the 1980s, refined in research and development projects in the following decades with the last main contribution made in 2010. The second position is the Swedish pluralistic approach presented as late as in an anthology in 2019, but with a history going twenty years back.
As a Norwegian scholar, I consider these established positions within Scandinavian research, as resources to learn from and discuss with. Oddly enough, to my knowledge, they rarely refer to each other. Most striking is the lack of references to the action competence approach in the Swedish account due to the fact that it succeeds the Danish account. But, as publications from the Danish research group during the first decade of this century continued to come, even they rarely refer to the Swedish contributions. An implication of this is that strengths and limitations that may be disclosed when various approaches meet, are seldom made visible. I hope that this paper may contribute also to this.
This is a theoretical paper where I discuss a vital concern within environmental and sustainability education. The point of departure is the examination of two prominent positions within the field, that are discussed in the context of the Anthropocene. I examine key publications representing each of these positions with an attempt to clarify main tenets and claims, particularly regarding the purpose of education. Below are some of the key publications listed that has been examined so far, to be supplemented in the proceedings. This approach is guided by critical hermeneutics (Ricoeur, 1981) which implies that the explorations of the two positions that are discussed, also involve ideology critique, considering how positions within environmental and sustainability education may both reproduce and challenge hegemonic structures. The Danish position is here called the action competence approach (see Bruun Jensen & Schnack, 1994; Bruun Jensen & Schnack, 1997; Breiting, Hedegaard, Mogensen, Nielsen, & Schnack, 2009; Mogensen & Schnack, 2010). It has been developed during the 1980s and 1990s at the Centre for Environmental and Health Education at the Danish School of Educational Studies with Karsten Schnack, Bjarne Bruun Jensen, Bjarne Breiting, Finn Mogensen, and Jeppe Læssøe as some of the leading figures. The main perspective posited here was elaborated for many years with Mogensen & Schnack (2010) as a late, important contribution. The Swedish position is here labelled the pluralistic approach (see Sandell, Öhman, & Östman, 2003; Sandell, Öhman, & Östman, 2005; Van Poeck, Östman, & Öhman, 2019). It is historically linked to a national evaluation of Swedish environmental education carried out in the winter of 2000/2001 (Skolverket, 2001), mandated by the Swedish National Agency for Education. The project was led by the scholars Leif Östman and Johan Öhman, and involved both questionnaires and interviews, making practicing teachers the primary informants. The researchers identified three so-called selective traditions of teaching within environmental education among the teachers. In this paper I am not considering empirical aspects of this study, it is their normative justification of one of these three traditions that interests me. The paper cannot do justice to the richness of the account, but is limited to discuss aspects of this particular contribution.
There seems to be two striking similarities between the Danish and Swedish account examined here. Most decisive is the appeal to democracy as a main reference for environmental and sustainability education. Both the action competence approach developed by the Danish researchers and the Swedish pluralistic approach have the development of democratic citizens as an overall purpose. This also is the rationale of the other striking similarity - the prioritizing of conflicts of interests as the central recurring content issue in the educational practices. In both accounts, the student who can think for herself, is encouraged, in contrast with previous accounts within environmental education that reduce the educational task to moralism or correction of behavior. In the paper I align with a pluralistic approach promoting democracy. However, I suggest that this approach needs further elaboration. I suggest here to return to the so-called norm problem of education (Oettingen, 2010), by Kant formulated as the dilemma involved in leading another person to autonomy. What the norm problem demonstrates, is that education is thoroughly a normative practice. The question, then, is how this problem may be accommodated in times of climate crisis. What I here suggest, is that, in the Anthropocene, it is necessary to make the preservation of advantageous living conditions for present and future life on earth internal to the educational mandate of the school. Within international research this perspective aligns with the increased attention to the conception of the common good in education (Lotz-Sisitka, 2008). Such a position makes contradictions within current society visible, particularly between acknowledged threats and the lack of corresponding political action. The pluralism, involving disagreements and conflicts of interest, is further to be explored in education when priorities are to be made and general claims are to be expressed in actions.
Biesta, G. Bildung and Modernity: The Future of Bildung in a World of Difference. (2002). Studies in Philosophy and Education 21, 343–351. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1019874106870. Bruun Jensen, B. & Schnack, K. (1994). Action Competence as an Educational Challenge. In Bruun Jensen, B. & Schnack, K. (Eds.) (1994). Action and Action Competence as Key Concepts in Critical Pedagogy (pp. 5–18). Copenhagen: Royal Danish School of Educational Studies. Bruun Jensen, B. & Schnack, K. (1997) The Action Competence Approach in Environmental Education, Environmental Education Research, 3 (2), 163-178, DOI: 10.1080/1350462970030205. Breiting, S., Hedegaard, K., Mogensen, F., Nielsen, K. & Schnack, K. (2009). Action competence, Conflicting interests and Environmental education – The MUVIN Programme. Copenhagen: Danish School of Education. Hamilton, C., Bonneuil, C., & Gemenne, F. (Eds.) (2015). The Anthropocene and the global environmental crisis. Rethinking modernity in a new epoch. Routledge: New York. Jickling, B. (1992). Why I don’t want my children to be educated for sustainable development. The Journal of Environmental Education, 23(4), 5–8. Lotz-Sisitka, H. (2008). Utopianism and educational processes in the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. Canadian Journal of Environmental Education, 13(1), 134–152. Mogensen, F. & Schnack, K. (2010) The action competence approach and the ‘new’ discourses of education for sustainable development, competence and quality criteria, Environmental Education Research, 16 (1), 59-74. DOI: 10.1080/13504620903504032 Oettingen, A. von (2010). Almen pædagogik. Pædagogikkens grundlæggende spørgsmål [General pedagogics. The fundamental issues in education.] København: Gyldendal. Poeck, K. van, Östman, L, & Öhman, J. (2019). Sustainable Development Teaching. Ethical and Political challenges. Abingdon: Routledge. Ricoeur, P. (1981). Hermeneutics and the human sciences. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Sandell, K., Öhman, J., & Östman, L. (2003). Miljödidaktik. Naturen, skolan och demokratin [Environmental Didaktik, Nature, School, and Democracy]. Lund: Studentlitteratur. Sandell, K., Öhman, J., & Östman, L. (2005). Education for Sustainable Development. Nature, school and Democracy. Lund: Studentlitteratur. Skolverket (2001). Miljöundervisning och utbildning för hållbar utveckling i svensk skola. Diarienummer: 00:3041. Retrieved from: https://www.skolverket.se/download/18.6bfaca41169863e6a654566/1553957589997/pdf911.pdf Schlottmann, C. (2012). Conceptual challenges for environmental education. Advocacy, autonomy, implicit education & values. New York: Peter Lang. Sæther, E. & Kvamme O. (2019). Fagovergripende perspektiver i en bærekraftdidaktikk. In Kvamme, O. & Sæther, E. (Eds.) Bærekraftdidaktikk (pp. 191-214). Bergen: Fagbokforlaget. World Commission on Environment and Development (1987). Our common future. Retrieved from https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/5987our-common-future.pdf
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