Can Environmental Responsibility be Taught?
Academic Discipline: Education/Sociology
Course Name: Education/Sociology
Assignment Subject: Can environmental responsibility be taught?
Academic Level: Undergraduate-3rd Year
Referencing Style: APA
Word Count: 1,864
Teachers in natural sciences, politics, history, social studies, as well as the arts and literature are already debating the degree to which education curricula should be oriented toward social transformation (Lehtonen, Salonen, & Cantell, 2019), and to what extent is it their responsibility to impart not only knowledge and facts, but also values (Dewi & Primayana, 2019). The currents of research associated with environmental education, in particular the possibility of integrating curricula with the aim of teaching environmental responsibility (Aarnio-Linnanvuori, 2019), includes environmental ethics, citizenship education, and education for sustainable development. In this paper, it will be argued that, while these currents may appear to have different objectives and values, they have to be combined in order to contribute to the construction of an eco-citizenship identity in a way that will develop the emancipation, responsibility, and commitment (Levy, Oliveira, & Harris, 2021) of the future generation of eco citizens.
Definition and scope
Teaching environmental responsibility refers to advocating specific initiatives such as reducing direct and indirect consumption, reducing and recycling waste, minimizing the frequency and quantity of the polluting modes of transport, solidarity and environmental justice (Alexander et al., 2021), and the political, economic, and cultural links to the environment (Lehtonen, Salonen, & Cantell, 2019). Teaching environmental responsibility as such requires implementing specific teaching methods (Aarnio-Linnanvuori, 2019), which engage the subjects, in particular by inviting them to challenge the social, economic, and political systems, and question their values (Olsen et al., 2020). On the one hand, it is suggested that this should be independent of school disciplines (for example, by parents and the community). On the other, teaching environmental responsibility should be already addressed in schools by teaching the roots of participatory and “deliberative democracy” (Devaney et al., 2020). This means favouring action over knowledge (Alexander et al., 2021) in a way that explicitly addresses personal and societal principles and morals, but also interdependence and interdisciplinarity (Olsen et al., 2020) in the face of the rapidly changing world.
Citizen participation is, in all discourse, particularly in the field of the environment and sustainable development, a deliberative aim whose objective is the formation of an enlightened public opinion, preparing future generations to participate in the consultative processes (Parra et al., 2020), and acting in an emancipatory aim which seeks to integrate collective awareness to induce the transformation of socio-environmental realities (Cachelin & Nicolosi, 2022) which are taking the society on the path to an environmental crisis (Levy, Oliveira, & Harris, 2021). This is not a question of transmitting knowledge or facts (Devaney et al., 2020) so much as teaching a new generation how to apply that knowledge so that they can appropriate the different principles and values (Aarnio-Linnanvuori, 2019) and understand how they can contribute to tackling the emerging issues.
The difference between teaching environmental science and teaching environmental responsibility
The notion of responsibility is often attached to a context or an area (Cachelin & Nicolosi, 2022), namely moral and social responsibility (Alexander et al., 2021) with respect to our surroundings and the resources we need for our survival. In the beginning, parents, the extended family, and the community are largely responsible for setting the children on the right path, who, upon being formally educated, would then become responsible adults (Levy, Oliveira, & Harris, 2021) who understand how their contribution (or lack of) affects society at large. At the same time, parents teaching environmental responsibility early on is not a guarantee (Zhang & Gibson, 2021) that they will become socially and environmentally responsible adults. And, along the same lines, a lack of awareness about environmental responsibility in childhood does not mean that, through the course of their life, these persons would not find their own path to environmental awareness and responsibility.
The case of environmental responsibility, as opposed to teaching environmental science, requires taking ethics into consideration (Aarnio-Linnanvuori, 2019), meaning responsibility which becomes a societal requirement (Parra et al., 2021), widely accepted as a norm. A good example of this is the recent shift in environmental consciousness (Olsen et al., 2020) and the subsequent actions which are no longer seen as radical but mainstream. As such, teaching ethics in schools might refer to constructing an ethical frame of mind (Aarnio-Linnanvuori, 2019), so that students gradually understand how their everyday habits impact the environment. For example, this means teaching them to be ethical consumers, teaching them about carbon footprint, how to calculate it, and how to reduce their emissions (Franch, 2020) by making alternative dietary, travel, and consumption choices. It can also refer to teaching them about their career prospects, and how to align their interests and ambitions (Lehtonen, Salonen, & Cantell, 2019) with environmental responsibility and sustainability. Teaching environmental responsibility as such should combine ethics within the educational process through self-realization (Zhang & Gibson, 2021) and a critical view of societal norms (Dewi & Primayana, 2019).
Another aspect of teaching considers teaching the psychosocial attitudes (Cachelin & Nicolosi, 2022) that favour responsibility. This refers to teaching how to forge strong connections in both the human and the non-human environment (Lehtonen, Salonen, & Cantell, 2019), especially the importance of the connection to the rest of the living world as a way of its safeguarding and preservation. For example, teaching students to be empathetic and how to relate (Aarnio-Linnanvuori, 2019) to the living world would result in mindful and considerate (Olsen et al., 2020) future citizens. This would help contribute to their abilities to build a favourable perception of the environment (Zhang & Gibson, 2021) and, ideally, internalize the imparted values and principles.
Teaching environmental responsibility means simultaneously focusing on making the students understand the management of the limited collective natural resources (Parra et al., 2020) using awareness that goes far beyond disciplinary teaching. In other words, it is not a matter of merely relaying scientific facts (which the courses in natural sciences already do), but combining action and critical reflection (Olsen et al., 2020). Current educational actions are often based on the aspect of responsibility countered by guilt (Aarnio-Linnanvuori, 2019), meaning transferring responsibilities to subsequent generations (Lehtonen, Salonen, & Cantell, 2019). However, French (2020) and Aarnio-Linnanvuori (2019), among others, distinguish between education “about” the environment, and education “for” the environment. In this way, in the context of teaching, responsibility means taking an interdisciplinary approach (Olsen et al., 2020).
In addition to curricula in science and technology, teaching environmental responsibility refers to making students understand the production of energy (Parra et al., 2020), sourcing, access, conservation, and especially renewable energy sources. It also entails understanding the natural resource cycles, responsible waste and wastewater treatment (Parra et al., 2020) and long-term resource management (Lehtonen, Salonen, & Cantell, 2019), the impact of environmental pollution and degradation on the quality of water, soil, and air (Dewi & Primayana, 2019). While considered by most to already fall within the domain of science education, teaching responsibility specifically means referencing the social values and the aspects of applicability to human needs (Cachelin & Nicolosi, 2022). More precisely, it involves a critical analysis of the vision of a sustainable future and of the significance of the practices associated with it that both current and future generations have to exercise (Alexander et al, 2021). Such a critical approach has not sufficiently penetrated the field of educational practices (Devaney et al., 2020). Teaching environmental responsibility means teaching students to analyze the values (Zhang & Gibson, 2021) and the underlying practices that result from it.
Teaching eco-citizenship to new generations
With regard to environmental education or education for sustainable development, teaching environmental responsibility appears to be at the crossroads of environmental education, thus giving rise to the proposal of eco-citizenship (Levy, Oliveira, & Harris, 2021). Namely, teaching environmental responsibility must contribute to the emergence of citizen awareness and acknowledgment (Devaney et al., 2020), inserting them into a body of knowledge (Franch, 2020), and being able to convince, independently make informative and responsible decisions, and to act by contributing to the local and global communities in a meaningful way. By stimulating critical thinking, teaching environmental responsibility can be an exercise of an enlightened democracy (Parra et al., 2020) for future citizens.
With a view to enriching environmental science education with socially responsible citizenship (Devaney et al., 2020), and more specifically the establishment of the future eco-citizen (Franch, 2020), taking socio-ecological issues into account requires the integration of objectives (Cachelin & Nicolosi, 2022) into science curricula, such as education relating to the pressing environmental issues and the need to act (Zhang & Gibson, 2021) in order to avert the climate crisis. The current context of understanding the roots, causes, and consequences of environmental issues (Alexander et al., 2021) requires reframing not only science education but education in general. New proposals have been directed at focusing educational effort, not only on the relationship to the environment, but also on the strengthening of the network of relationships in the living environment (Zhang & Gibson, 2021) aimed toward the goal of sustainability.
Educating students so that they would become environmentally responsible adults requires imparting principles and values (Parra et al., 2020) so that they understand their role in society (Devaney et al., 2020), not only in the future as adults, but right now, as students, and as young citizens. This has to take on a particular dimension, as, to be clear, education with the aim of creating environmentally responsible citizens of the future is different from education for sustainable development. Considering education as a fundamental instrument for the protection of the environment and for sustainable development, would ideally incorporate the principles of environmental responsibility into education for sustainable development in formal education systems (Aarnio-Linnanvuori, 2019).
When it comes to teaching environmental responsibility, the main challenges lie in the existing tensions that are at work between research aimed at imparting knowledge (Zhang & Gibson, 2021), understanding and action expressed through the curriculum (Dewi & Primayana, 2019), and teaching commitment and environmental consciousness (Aarnio-Linnanvuori, 2019). Teaching this as an interdisciplinary subject matter (Olsen et al., 2020) falls within the scope of socially active issues, which are also considered an educational issue for the citizens of the future (Zhang & Gibson, 2021) who will, with the right frame of mind, and the right knowledge, contribute to building a truly sustainable world (Parra et al., 2020). For example, when students are taught to be environmentally responsible, this concerns all aspects of their lives, including their future choice of a career, their personal and public life, as well as individual and collective consciousness (Franche, 2020). As such, the choice of an approach induces strong consequences if left unaddressed or inadequately addressed.
In the process of teaching, students should be encouraged by teachers to create a critical perspective on society and on the established modern societal norms (Cachelin & Nicolosi, 2022), namely the harmful practices on a mass scale, and be able to challenge in an informative and knowledgeable way (Alexander et al., 2021) the dominant discourses and practices. In conclusion, although it is a complex subject to tackle, and especially to implement, not only can environmental responsibility be taught, but it should be taught as part of the curriculum at all levels of education, and building upon the acquired knowledge.
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