|Image courtesy of TDSB|
Moderator’s Note: I am posting a series of student blogs prepared for my University of Washington advanced seminar on “The Cultures and Politics of Environmental Justice”, which is still meeting for the Winter 2013 quarter. The current seminar is focused on the history, theory, and practice of environmental justice. The class read about environmental impact studies, President Clinton’s historic Executive Order 12898, and the science of risk assessment. In the process, we also examined indigenous perspectives and studies on structural violence and intergenerational historical trauma and how these can be integrated into the emerging more holistic models of cumulative risk.
We have explored the various roots and branches of the environmental justice movement including legendary precursors such as the farm worker, land grant, working-class, and civil rights movements. The seminar focused on the Chicana/o critique of mainstream and radical environmentalism by exploring such topics as the limits and contradictions of the natural resource conservation and wilderness preservation movements and the rise of ecofeminism, social ecology, eco-socialism, bioregionalism, anti-toxics and other radical and alternative schools of environmental action and organization. Finally, we focused on contemporary debates surrounding the conceptualization of “sustainability” and have been especially keen to explore the assemblages of race, class, gender, sexuality, and colonial forms of domination.
This is, admittedly, a very wide range of topics and readings, but the unifying themes of the seminar can be summarized in three basic principles: (1) The idea that biological and cultural diversity are inextricably interwoven; (2) The existence of indigenous social movements that express an alterNative epistemology rejecting culture/nature dualism in all its forms; and (3) The principle that not all human cultures are destructive in the relationships with the environment and that numerous indigenous and other local place-based communities can actually serve as inspirational models for human inhabitation of the earth in a manner that supports and increases biodiversity, ecosystem integrity, political autonomy, and cultural resilience.
It is therefore with a great sense of admiration and joy that I present these student-authored blogs on environmental justice. The second in the series is by another one of my white male students, Sean Anderson, who focuses on the topic of environmental education. Sean looks at several examples of innovative environmental education from the primary and secondary educational level through institutions of higher education and volunteer service organizations. On especially inspired example is St. Philip’s Academy in Newark, New Jersey, which promotes environmental education by “teaching young people about culture, diversity, and sustainability.”
|Image Credit: Soil Carbon Coalition|
Environmental Justice Education: The Next Generation
LINKING CULTURAL DIVERSITY AND SUSTAINABILITY THROUGH EDUCATION
Sean Anderson | Seattle, WA | March 6, 2013
In Ecological Literacy, David Orr argues that: “sustainability, citizenship, and real democracy are linked.” Orr pushes for the idea that the “modern psyche” in relation to citizenship – which is characterized by “Technological optimism, economic growth, and national power” – is responsible for the direction and momentum of the move towards a way of life that is not sustainable (Orr 4). This belief leads to the question of how we may begin to change the way things are going. David Orr outlines four strategies that may be used to initiate processes of change. The first three are “(1) those strategies that regard change as inevitable and strategy as a kind of midwifery; (2) those that rely on markets and economic self-interest; (3) [and] those that rely on public policy, government power, and regulation” (62). The inherent problem with each of these three sets of strategies is that they rely on change occurring out of repetition of what we have been doing – gently orienting the direction that society takes within the political and economic systems that are in place. There is no reason to believe that continuing these practices will result in any improvement of our situation. Finally, Orr gives a fourth, more ‘start at the beginning’, approach: Education.
Orr claims that: “we still educate at all levels as if no [environmental] crisis existed.” (83); there is clear evidence that there has been a push for environmental justice education in and out of schools. The factors that contribute to the various institutions for environmental justice education are critically intricate. In order to understand the different ways in which the institutions operate; they must be analyzed at the local, national, and international levels. This includes not only formal educational institutions such as universities and elementary schools but also environmental justice organizations, which have in their mission statements elements of education. There are a large number of such organizations. The purpose of these institutions, the outcomes of these institutions, and the changes through which these institutions have gone are essential considerations in the analysis of how well they perform the task of educating people in environmental justice. In considering the outcomes, it is important to emphasize for whom the outcomes are accessible and useful.
There are innumerable institutions of formal education in which students may be expected to or can choose to learn about environmental justice; the access to and outcomes of these institutions differ from one case to another especially when contrasting elementary education with higher education. There are, however, few academic institutions, which specifically foster the development of a higher understanding of environmental injustices and what is being done or can be done to combat them side by side with other class work. Still, these institutions exist and vary from elementary schools with programs such as the EcoSPACES program at St. Philip’s Academy to higher education institutions such as the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy.
|'Edgeless School' Garden at St. Philip's Academy, Newark, NJ. Photo Courtesy of Taubman College, Univ. of Michigan|
St. Philip’s Academy in Newark, New Jersey is a great example of programs that are being implemented to teach young people about culture, diversity, and sustainability among many other important critical thinking concepts. Using a “family-style lunch program, rooftop garden, teaching kitchen and science lab...” students learn about the food they eat, leading to “an understanding of sustainability from seed to table.” (St. Philip’s Academy) From the description of the school’s academic programs, it appears to be following ideas similar to those outlined by David Orr. In the introduction to the first chapter Orr states that: “Until we see the crisis of sustainability as one with roots that extend from public policies and technology down into our assumptions about science, nature, culture, and human nature, we are not likely to extend our prospects much.” (1) The sentiment being expressed by both is that, in order for there to be change, those who seek change must alter the way that they socialize young people into their relationship with others and with the world around them.
St. Philip’s Academy not only teaches children concepts that can lead to sustainable and just lifestyles; it is located in an area where many children are not usually getting these kinds of opportunities. Newark, New Jersey has a significantly larger African American population than the state as a whole – 52.4% compared to 13.7% respectively in 2010 (US Census Bureau). Moreover, Newark’s percent of peoples below the poverty line is nearly three times that of the state as a whole, at 26.1% (US Census Bureau). This academy, therefore, is a perfect example of what needs to happen for low-income communities of color to learn about the issues, which are disproportionately effecting their own communities.
The University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy is a very interesting creation of the move towards looking at food in a different way that has an obvious emphasis on education. The University has an undergraduate program and multiple graduate programs dealing with this food education. The three year undergraduate program emphasizes the merging of “both science and humanities” to create a multidisciplinary study of “food production, processing, distribution and promotion”. (Universita degli Studi di Scienze Gastronomiche) There are currently four masters degree programs being offered in ‘Food Culture and Communications’, which emphasize the same mix of science and humanities. These programs welcome international students and are taught in English. Although this requires that the students be able to speak English; it is a huge step in the right direction to have an international institution with the aim of educating people about their food.
The founder of the University of Gastronomic Sciences, Carlo Petrini, is also the founder of the Slow Food Movement. The Slow Food Movement has grown out of an opposition to fast food – specifically a McDonald’s that opened in Italy – and, according to TIME Magazine, “dedicated itself to the protection of traditional foods and agricultural biodiversity.” Through this dedication, it has “changed the way we think about eating.” (Ducasse)
These formal institutions, however, are not the only institutions working towards an educated community in relation to food; moreover, they are not the most important. The Food Sovereignty Movement is another movement that is gaining ground for good reason in the minds of the masses. This movement, being carried by multiple groups around the world, is concentrated on giving back the right of the people to be sovereign; that is to make their own decisions, when it comes to their food. Importantly, this movement is also using education as a crucial tool in getting people organized and getting people to understand their part in the movement.
On the website for Grassroots International: Funding Global Movements for Social Change, there is a description of the book put out for the Food Sovereignty Movement Food for Thought and Action: A Food Sovereignty Curriculum. As the name suggests, this book’s purpose is to educate the public “to strengthen a growing food sovereignty movement that includes consumers, farmers, environmentalists and faith communities.” (Food For Thought and Action) This is idea is paramount. Not only must we educate people; we must all be educated in the ideas and beliefs of other groups.
The experiences of volunteers who have participated in organizations such as WWOOF and Peace Corps also show clearly that the people of the host farms or countries, respectively, are not the only people who are receiving help. These organizations along with many others like them have the wonderful byproduct, whether it is an explicit goal or not, of creating or nourishing a strong relationship between the volunteers and the people that they help. Meanwhile, these volunteers gain skills that can be useful when they return home or go on to a new project.
Although WWOOF is an international organization operating in countries all over the world, it is a much better resource for staying closer to home and learn about sustainable lifestyles locally. This is due to the policy on membership, which requires volunteers to pay a small fee for each national organization that they choose to join. This is not to prevent volunteers from traveling, however. Anyone who is able to spare the membership fee, 30 – 40 dollars for WWOOF USA, is welcome to join. By dedicating themselves to their mission “to link visitors with organic farmers, promote an educational exchange, and build a global community conscious of ecological farming practices” (WWOOF around the world) the organization shows an understanding that education is the key to successful social change.
WWOOF, in addition to connecting volunteers to farms where they can learn about farming, organic growing, and sustainability among many other things, also provides resources to any interested individual through their website so that people have the opportunity to self educate to a degree using the knowledge of people who are actually practicing the lifestyles. This includes resources such as that featured on the homepage of their website, a forum called Permies.com. This forum allows visitors to ask any question pertaining to, or not, permaculture.
Permaculture is an example of one way that people are making an attempt at actually living sustainably. According to permaculture.org, “Permaculture is an ecological design system for sustainability in all aspects of human endeavor. It teaches us how build natural homes, grow our own food, restore diminished landscapes and ecosystems, catch rainwater, build communities and much more.” (Permaculture Institute) It is important to note the use of the verb ‘teaches’. This group, in addition to the others I have mentioned, is pushing for an educational program as the answer to our need for change. This is not only my interpretation; the website goes on to explain that “The Permaculture Institute is an educational non-profit”. (Permaculture Institute) This permaculture education occupies a large portion of the website. Although participants are expected to pay for transportation and tuition, it would be an excellent choice for someone who wants to be educated about sustainable living but cannot go to a university for one of a variety of reasons.
Peace Corps is a well known resource for volunteers to find purpose in helping those in other countries who wish to be helped; however, the individuals who do the volunteering also receive an education from the experience. In fact, coupled with classes from a participating university, Peace Corps is a way for students to get hands on work to complete a master’s degree. According to the Peace Corps website as well as literature received from the Peace Corps representative at the University of Washington, the last of the three goals in the Peace Corps mission is to “[help] promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.” (Peace Corps) Although it is not the only thing that volunteers do, agriculture is one of the six areas in which volunteers can be trained to work. The training occurs both inside of a classroom for the first three months and outside of the classroom doing hands on work and talking with local peoples throughout the experience. During this time, volunteers helping in agricultural areas “work with small farmers to increase food production while promoting environmental conservation practices.” (Peace Corps) These volunteers would likely learn about many of the same practices emphasized in WWOOF volunteering. According to the website, “40 percent of Volunteers are involved in some capacity to support food security through projects in health and nutrition, agriculture, and the environment.” (Peace Corps) This shows a strong dedication to environmental justice by the organization as well as a willingness to learn about these issues by the hosts. As a whole, I see it as an educational experience for everyone involved.
Given the financial compensation for volunteering with Peace Corps – they give an allowance for food and housing based on location and pay a lump sum at the end of the service – it may seem to be a very accessible source of education. However, it is only a reasonable choice for those who are able to leave their home for over two years: excluding parents and other caregivers or anyone who is depended on by others. Moreover, even if the Peace Corps is a good fit for volunteers; the individuals are not always a good fit for Peace Corps. Anyone wishing to apply must fill out an extensive application online and go through the process; but only a small percent are accepted.
Luckily, there is also a plethora of alternatives to serving in Peace Corps that have opportunities for those who may not be able to go into Peace Corps due to time constraints, not getting accepted, or any other reason they may have. The book Alternatives to the Peace Corps: A Guide to Global Volunteer Opportunities, published by Food First, catalogs many of these opportunities nationally and internationally. Many of these opportunities provide financial assistance in a variety of forms – making financial status less of a hindrance to being able to learn about environmental justice, food sovereignty, and many other movements.
Although this book includes organizations that allow volunteers to participate in a variety of national and global justice movements, education in environmental justice is still one of the prominent features. One that stands out is The Food Project whose mission, according to their entry in Alternatives to the Peace Corps, “is to create a thoughtful and productive community of youth and adults from diverse backgrounds working together to build a sustainable food system.” (Hachmyer 95) Volunteers simultaneously help out on farms for residents and “learn about sustainable agricultural practices and food-systems, as well as food-security issues.” (Hachmyer 95) Although this is not one of the many opportunities with financial assistance available; it is a minimal time commitment; the age limitations are not inhibiting; and it is within the United States. This is one of many widely varying opportunities available in the book that can be found online for an extremely low price – especially if you do not mind an older edition of the book.
Each of these examples reveal how there is a very popular and growing movement toward education as the primary mode of social change for environmental justice. Each of the major movements discussed, along with many others that I have not discussed, value education as a particularly important aspect of their mission. Every formal as well as informal institution that I have looked into with an emphasis on environmental justice, including plenty that are not included here, have emphasized education in their missions or programs. This is a sign of a new view towards how we socialize our youth as well as how we allow ourselves to be socialized, having opportunities from early schooling to post-graduation for people to learn about how their food is grown, how it can be done sustainably, what will happen if it is not done in that way, and how they can do it themselves from a rural farm to an urban environment.
Of course not everyone has the opportunity to choose to go to an elementary school where these programs are offered or take time out of their week, month, or year to go volunteer with one of the organizations discussed; and this is a problem that must be addressed if the movements are to reach everyone. However, knowing that these options are available to many of us, it is the responsibility of the individuals and the parents to place themselves and the next generation in a situation in which they are able to gain this knowledge.
Ducasse, Alain. “The Slow Revolutionary.” TIME. 03 Oct 2004: n. page. Web. 4 Mar. 2013. <http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,708942,00.html>.
“Food For Thought and Action: A Food Sovereignty Curriculum.” Grassroots International. N.p., 04 Mar 2013. Web. 4 Mar 2013. <http://www.grassrootsonline.org/publications/educational-resources/food-thought-action-a-food-sovereignty-curriculum>.
Hachmyer, Caitlin. Alternatives to the Peace Corps. 12th ed. Oakland: Food First Books, 2008. 1-130. Print.
Orr, David. Ecological Literacy. New York: State University of New York Press, Albany, 1992. 1-179. Print.
Peace Corps. N.p., 04 Mar 2013. Web. 4 Mar 2013. <http://www.peacecorps.gov/>.
“Permaculture Forums at Permies.” Permies: a big crowd of permaculture goofballs. N.p., 04 Mar 2013. Web. 4 Mar 2013. <http://www.permies.com/forums>.
Permaculture Institute. N.p., 04 Mar 2013. Web. 4 Mar 2013. <http://www.permaculture.org/nm/index.php/site/index/>.
St. Philip’s Academy: an independent, coeducational K-8 school located in Newark, New Jersey. N.p., 04 Mar 2013. Web. 4 Mar 2013. <http://www.stphilipsacademy.org/>.
Universita degli Studi di Scienze Gastronomiche. N.p., 04 Mar 2013. Web. 4 Mar 2013. <http://www.unisg.it/en/>.
United States of America. US Census Bureau. Newark (city) QuickFacts from the US Census Bureau. 2013. Web. <http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/34/3451000.html>.
WWOOF around the world. N.p., 31 Aug 2012. Web. 4 Mar 2013. <http://www.wwoof.org/>.