Protecting the planet through education


At first glance, one might wonder how someone who earned a pair of chemistry degrees ended up completing a Ph.D. in curriculum theory. But her interests in education and science are interrelated, explained Dr. Susan Edgerton, chair of MCLA's education department.

In fact, according to Edgerton, several of the most urgent issues in education these days include: education for "a tough new planet"; climate change and environmental education; and the problem of the corporate-driven state and federal audit culture.

An important question for educators to ask, she said, is, "What does it mean to live sustainably, both as individuals and as a society?"

To that end, Edgerton, along with colleagues Dr. Ellen Barber, an education professor, Dr. Matt Silliman, philosophy professor, and Dr. Elena Traister, a professor of environmental science, have been discussing the creation of an honors/capstone course in environmental education that would be based in humanities, the sciences and pedagogy, and have a field component.

According to Edgerton, education for and about climate change and other environmental concerns is preparation for life and for becoming a part of a democratic citizenry.

Last spring, climate-change education was the topic of a paper she presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Curriculum Studies in San Francisco, Calif.

"If we want to live, we must learn about and attend to this huge problem," Edgerton said. However, "Even if lessons about climate change are built into the new curriculum, covert and overt messages about what it means to be educated, what constitutes 'the good life,' and about our relationships to one another and the non-human natural world are promoting a way of life that is anything but sustainable."

Also of concern, said Edgerton, is the growing problem of poverty and its impact on education.

"Schools are not to blame for expanding poverty, but teachers are treated as though they are. This is a smokescreen intended to deflect attention away from the real causes and consequences of poverty, away from the economic system that fuels it, and away from the real solutions.  But even if they aren't responsible for creating the problems, teachers do need to understand all of these issues," Edgerton said.

A high school science teacher of chemistry, physics and anthropology before she decided to earn her doctorate at Louisiana State University, Edgerton taught "The Nature of Human Nature," as well as a graduate course in curriculum theory for MCLA's Master's of Education program over the fall semester.

"Our faculty is one of the primary reasons I chose to come to MCLA when I did nine years ago. Environmental sustainability, critical pedagogy, the need for teachers to understand research, education for social justice, and the significance of the arts as a language for learning are some of the values that we hold in common and that our coursework reflects," she said.

There are ample opportunities in MCLA's M.Ed. program for students to explore the practical kinds of problems they face and must address, Edgerton said.

"At the same time, we help them contextualize those problems historically, philosophically, politically in ways that can help them make sense of their work in schools so that they may develop more confidence to shape their particular situations.

"Our program is also built with a specific awareness and disposition to honor a liberal arts education," she continued. "Altogether, I think these qualities make ours an unusual and attractive program for teachers seeking a master's degree."