Educating for complexity

The story of ecological science and the story of political advocacy often live in a house called environmental education. The larger community of education is unsure about both of these tenants. Often one of the renters takes over the house, advocating while pretending to educate.

Ecological science is a selective epistemology based on a Cartesian story of ontology. Due to its broad scope and reductive paradigms, current methods of ecological science simplify the context specific, non-linear, subjective and the dynamic nature of the earth. As a result, ecological science presents a provisional and limited view of the world. The mistaken assumption that it alone can direct our ethics leads to advocacy and positivism within environmental education.

The story of political advocacy is directly involved as a tool to promote various environmental agendas. As this revolves around ‘environmentally responsible’ behaviour, educators often overlook the fact that it entails advocating specific values and behaviours. A value-fair approach could address this however it can be interpreted as ‘relativism’ where all views are treated as valid and therefore, no decision can be made.

There is another story that has been sitting outside: the story of place based education. This practice emphasizes the concept of place as the basis for educational pedagogy. It can counter abstraction and advocacy by inscribing us in a relational way of being. Case examples will be provided from my work as an educator at the Kananaskis Field Station in Alberta and as a park interpreter with Vancouver parks.