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Living and teaching 'green'

07/17/2013

Education faculty member Susan Edgerton lives in a small, highly energy efficient house (above) built in the southern Green Mountains of Vermont. Located just 12 miles from MCLA, it doubles as a personal laboratory, where she learns about the new and old technologies - solar and firewood - that provide energy to her home.

Naturally, Edgerton's interest in preserving the Earth's resources carries over to the campus, but she also works on a national level to advance environmental education.

Not long after concluding a three-year term as vice president of the American Association for the Advancement of Curriculum Studies (AAACS), she began a two-year term last year as a program chair for the environmental education section of the curriculum division of the American Educational Research Association (AERA).

Preserving the planet, according to Edgerton, is a "monumental" task. What's more, the current education "reform," she said, is not only inappropriate, but in many ways calls for precisely the opposite of what is needed.

In April, she presented a paper on climate change education at AAACS in San Francisco, Calif. There's nothing, Edgerton said, that's more important to be talking about now.

"Whether one sees the purpose of schooling as preparation for life, for becoming a part of a democratic citizenry, or for workforce preparation makes little difference to the question of whether or not we should be educating for and about climate change," she said. "If we want to live, we must learn about and attend to this huge problem." 

At the same time, she said, an education for and about climate change and other environmental concerns is a preparation for life and for becoming a part of a democratic citizenry.

"Current reforms, however, are focused on workforce preparation, an educational agenda that has historically been mistaken time and time again. This agenda is based on an assumption that we can know what work will look like in the future," Edgerton pointed out. "We've never been very good at that, and - given the pace of change now - such an assumption is less justified than ever.

"But even more problematic is that the focus of this workforce-preparation agenda is on continued growth, which is wholly unsustainable. 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."

In addition to presenting her paper at AAACS, she also participated as a discussant for a large session on environmental education at the AERA conference, which immediately followed the AAACS meeting.

As an officer in the AAACS organization, Edgerton took the opportunity to create general sessions that were devoted to environmental education.

"I took on the AERA program chair work for a similar reason, and also to help educate myself better about what colleagues around the country are doing in that field," she added.

That involvement is important because, "I always learn a lot from others with related concerns. It's important to MCLA that faculty get this kind of external stimulation. They bring it back to campus colleagues and students, and everyone benefits."

That being said, there are few adequate justifications, Edgerton said, for making a long-distance flight. She is happy that next year's conference is closer - in Philadelphia, Pa. - to which she plans to take a train, instead.

"We need to find other ways, such as video-conferencing and more regional conferences, to meet with our professional colleagues than to dump huge percentages of our annual carbon footprints into the atmosphere with each and every trip."