Post-Sustainability and Environmental Education: Remaking Education for the Future, edited by Bob Jickling and Stephen Sterling, London, Palgrave Macmillan, 2017Published in May 2019 DOI: https://doi.org/10.24384/x25h-5m25
Post-Sustainability and Environmental Education: Remaking Education for the Future, edited by Bob Jickling and Stephen Sterling, London, Palgrave Macmillan, 2017, 155pp., £49.99 (softcover), ISBN 978-3-319-84619-4, £49.99 (hardcover), ISBN 978-3-319-51321-8, £39.99 (eBook), ISBN 978-3-319-51322-5
This compilation of essays by educators from around the world casts a critical eye over Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) and in doing so, endeavours to re-evaluate the future of education itself. This, editor Bob Jickling claims, is “more than just timely. It is urgent” (p.xiii). It is hard to disagree when confronted with intensifying global challenges such as climate change, biodiversity loss and rising inequality. With scant solutions in sight, we might blame Western education systems for causing these crises, or at least for failing to inspire the creative and courageous action necessary to overcome them. As environmentalist David Orr stresses in the foreword:
Without exaggeration it will come down to whether students come through their formal schooling as more clever vandals of the Earth and of each other or as loving, caring, compassionate, and competent healers, restorers, builders, and midwives to a decent, durable, and beautiful future (pp.ix-x).
In contrast to other recent literature on the topic, this book is neither a collection of ESD case studies, nor an instructive guide to best practice, but rather a philosophical exploration of new, alternative visions for education. It is firmly positioned post-2014, which marked the end of the United Nation’s Decade of ESD – an ambitious, global exercise that amounted to little more than “business as usual in the end” (Huckle and Wals, 2015, p492). These essays offer an essential pause and opportunity to reflect before we rush onward with yet another decade of the same.
ESD attempts to impart a higher purpose to higher education but is often misunderstood or undervalued. Competing for precious time and resources, it is often consigned to the margins of mainstream education or confounded with other related domains such as Environmental Education (Fiselier, Longhurst and Gough, 2018). Considering the multitude of similar terms (e.g., Learning for Sustainability, Sustainability Education, Education for Global Citizenship, etc.), readers might appreciate why the editors urge us to stop creating and arguing over neologisms or “empty signifiers” (p.4). Instead, we are encouraged to take a step back and wonder whether the very existence of ESD points to two big questions:
- Is there something fundamentally wrong with education?
- If so, how can we remake it? (p.6)
What Jickling and Sterling offer here is by no means a roadmap to the future. Some chapters hint at what a reformed education system might look like, but the intention is to invite deep contemplation rather than offer concrete solutions. It is a call for readers to embrace imagination, hope, courage, rebellion, and new ways of thinking and being in the world.
The bulk of the book is divided into four sections, each containing two chapters from established educators and researchers who reflect on their own experiences and discoveries. In ‘Part I: Remaking Education’, Jickling and Sterling persuasively criticize neoliberal influences on the provision, perception and purpose of education and explore alternatives with an ecological, humanistic and transformative focus. In ‘Part II: Critique and Proposition’ Blenkinsop and Morse curiously draw on the work of absurdist philosopher Albert Camus to conceptualise the image of a “creative, rebel teacher” (p.50), whilst Lotz-Sisitka sketches a vision of education aligned to the common good. In ‘Part III: Experience and Relation’ Bonnett argues that education should place human-nature relationships at its centre and Le Grange recommends rethinking or even moving beyond the idea of sustainability. In ‘Part IV: Education Through Action’, Sauvé’s beautifully written chapter considers how formal education could take inspiration from informal learning and collective action, which is complemented by González-Gaudiano and Gutiérrez-Pérez’ call for a “new epistemology of resilience” as a tool for social empowerment (p.135).
Though this is not a historical account, the authors do examine the past – the powerful forces that led us to where we are today, and the philosophers and theorists that have been overlooked in our quest for solutions. Claiming “deconstruction is a prelude to reconstruction” (p.2), the book looks backwards in order to propose new ways forward. It offers criticisms of dominant Western worldviews and market driven education systems, whilst also addressing the flaws in the concept of sustainable development. There are strong themes interwoven throughout the alternatives offered. Unfortunately, this means the text is frequently repetitive, with collaborators reaching similar conclusions via different paths or describing comparable theories in different ways. Nevertheless, particularly fascinating are the recurring notions of embedding emotion, compassion and empathy in learning; harnessing the transformative potential of education; embracing relationality and nurturing relationships with nature; and valuing different ontologies as well as epistemologies. These themes were recently echoed in the latest special issue of the Journal of Transformative Education: ‘Transformative Sustainability Education’ which celebrates perspectives that delegitimise the status quo and
pedagogies that are related, emotional, spiritual, imaginative, embodied […] that embrace the whole person while also understanding and cultivating wholeness more broadly as intrarelationship with the living world (Burns, 2018, p.279).
These ideas are potentially interconnected; is it possible to enrich human-nature relationality without compassion, empathy or transforming ways of knowing or being? Can we truly understand the significance of these relationships without acknowledging the exploitative and destructive power of unchecked capitalism or without provoking difficult emotional responses?
Fitting all this into just 145 pages is ambitious. Indeed, the authors appear overconfident in their opinions and assertions, but as a provocation rather than a set of instructions, this tactic works. One concern is the occasional disconnect between the authors and editors. For example, despite Jickling and Sterling criticising the sheer number of ESD-related buzzwords, some of the authors are guilty of this themselves; Bonnett’s chapter introduces the idea of “authentic education” (p.79), whilst González-Gaudiano and Gutiérrez-Pérez employ the term “resilient education” (p.125). Additionally, whilst this book is certainly thought-provoking, readers will probably be left wondering how to implement change. A useful follow-up might concentrate more on praxis than philosophy.
This book will likely appeal to education theorists, practitioners and researchers with an involvement or interest in ESD and philosophy. Most of all, it should interest those ‘rebel teachers’ who are:
prepared to name, resist, and denounce those things that they cannot accept and to propose and enact those visions for education that they can say yes to (p.142).
Heather Burns (2018), Thematic Analysis: Transformative Sustainability Education, Journal of Transformative Education, 16:4, pp.277-279, https://doi.org/10.1177/1541344618796996
Evelien S. Fiselier, James W.S. Longhurst and Georgina K. Gough, (2018) Exploring the current position of ESD in UK higher education institutions, International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 19:2, pp.393-412, https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSHE-06-2017-0084
John Huckle and Arjen E.J. Wals (2015) The UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development: Business as usual in the end, Environmental Education Research, 21:3, pp.491-505, https://doi.org/10.1080/13504622.2015.1011084