The ecopedagogy movement is an outgrowth of developments in critical pedagogy, a body of educational ideas and practices influenced by the philosopher, Paulo Freire. Following Freire, ecopedagogy's mission is to develop a robust appreciation for the collective potentials of being human and to foster social justice throughout the world, but it does so as part of a future-oriented, ecological political vision that radically opposes the globalization of ideologies such as neoliberalism and imperialism, on one hand, and attempts to foment forms of critical ecoliteracy, on the other.
Additionally, ecopedagogy has as one of its goals the realization of culturally relevant forms of knowledge grounded in normative concepts such as sustainability, planetarity (i.e. identifying as an earthling) and biophilia (i.e. love of all life).
Ecopedagogy began in a Latin American educational context, growing out of discussions conducted at the second Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1992. In this movement, intellectuals desired to make a systematic statement about the interrelationship between humanity and the Earth and to formulate a mission for education universally to integrate an ecological ethic. This statement would eventually be ratified as the Earth Charter in 2000. In 1999, the Instituto Paulo Freire, Brasil under the direction of Moacir Gadotti, along with the Earth Council and UNESCO, convened the First International Symposium on the Earth Charter in the Perspective of Education, which was quickly followed by the First International Forum on Ecopedagogy. These conferences led not only to the final formation of the Earth Charter Initiative but to key movement documents such as the Ecopedagogy Charter, as reiterated in Gadotti’s essay Pedagogy of the Earth and the Culture of Sustainability (2000). Gadotti and others in the Ecopedagogy movement have remained influential in advancing the Earth Charter Initiative and continue to mount ecopedagogy seminars, degree programs, workshops and other learning opportunities through an ever-growing number of international Paulo Freire Institutes.
Objectives and aims
As a form of critical theory of education, ecopedagogy works at a meta-level to offer dialectical critiques of environmental education and education for sustainable development as hegemonic forms of educational discourse that have been created by state agencies that seek to appear to be developing pedagogy relevant to alleviating our mounting global ecological crisis. While environmental education strategies undoubtedly accomplish much that is welcome and good from an ecopedagogical perspective, ecopedagogy questions (especially within the context of the United States) the ways in which environmental education is often reduced to forms of experiential pedagogy and outdoor education that may deal uncritically with the experience of “nature” proffered therein – an ideological zone of wilderness representations that are potentially informed by a mélange of racist, sexist, classist and speciesist values. Further, ecopedagogy has begun to pose problems into the way environmental education has become tethered to state and corporate-sponsored science and social studies standards, or otherwise fails to articulate the political need for widespread knowledge of the ways in which modern society and industrial culture promote unsustainable lifestyles, even as it remains marginalized in the research, teacher-training and educational leadership programs of graduate schools of education. Likewise, while ecopedagogy seeks to utilize the ongoing United Nations Decade of Educational for Sustainable Development (2005–2015) to make strategic interventions on behalf of the oppressed, ecopedagogy also attempts to generate conscientization upon the concept of sustainable development and thereby uncloak it of the sort of the widespread ambiguity that it presently maintains.
Differences in use of the term
A growing number of texts utilize the terminology of ecopedagogy, without a clear relationship to the ecopedagogy movement described here. These include works by Ahlberg (1998); Jardine (2000); Petrina (2000); Yang & Hung (2004); and Payne (2005). The work of Lummis (2002) shares some sympathies, such as a critical theory approach. The earliest use of the term "ecopedagogy" may have been by de Haan (1984) in a now little known German text. Shortly thereafter, in the first known English use of the term, Gronemeyer (1987) described ecopedagogy as the merging of environmentalist politics and adult education. Ironically, at the same time it was coined by Freire’s friend-cum-critic Ivan Illich (1988) to describe an educational process in which educators and educands become inscribed in abstract pedagogical systems, resulting in pedagogy as an end and not a means. As used by Illich, ecopedagogy is represented by forms of education that seek the total administration of life through mandatory pedagogical experiences of systemization. As such, he believed that the movements for lifelong education and the creation of global classrooms (Illich & Verne, 1981) by bureaucratic educational institutions exemplified such approaches, though he was also critical of popular environmentalist pedagogy attempting to mobilize people’s sentiments for solutions to problems such as global warming, hunger, and rain forest destruction. Illich’s point was that such an ecopedagogy works on a problems/solutions axis that implies a global managerialism that is abhorrent to truly sustainable living in the world. This is a vastly different idea from the way the term and concept is being defined and utilized in critical education circles today, though it is potentially of great importance for the future development of the ecopedagogy movement on the whole.
While Paulo Freire was himself at work on a book of ecopedagogy upon his death in 1997, parts of which are included in his posthumous Pedagogy of Indignation (2004), and important books on ecopedagogy such as Francisco Gutierrez and Cruz Prado’s Ecopedagogy and Planetary Citizenship (1999) or Moacir Gadotti's Pedagogy of the Earth (2000) have thus far been published in Portuguese, and Richard Kahn's Critical Pedagogy, Ecoliteracy, and Planetary Crisis: The Ecopedagogy Movement have appeared in English, ecopedagogy should not be misconstrued as the theories or practices developed by any particular set of individuals. Rather, akin to the World Social Forum and other related forms of contemporary popular education strategies, the Ecopedagogy movement is best perceived as a loosely knit, worldwide association of critical educators, theorists, non-governmental and governmental organizations, grassroots activists and concerned citizens engaged in ongoing dialogue and political action that is attempting to develop ecopedagogical praxis in relation to the needs of particular places, groups and time periods.
- Illich most likely was aware of the use by Gronemeyer, as she is listed a few years later in a chapter that he provided for Wolfgang Sachs's The Development Dictionary (1992). As someone immersed in German environmental debates, it is also quite possible that Illich was familiar with the term as used by de Haan.
- Ahlberg, M. 1998. Ecopedagogy and Ecodidactics: Education for Sustainable Development, Good Environment and Good Life. Bulletins of the Faculty of Education. No: 69.University of Joensuu.
- de Haan, G. 1984. Die Schwierigkeiten der Padagogik. In Beer & de Haan (Eds.), Okopadagogik. Aufstehen gegen den Untergang der Natur. Weinheim, Basel: Beltz: pp. 77–91.
- Freire, P. 2004. Pedagogy of Indignation. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.
- Gadotti, M. 2003. Pedagogy of the Earth and the Culture of Sustainability. Paper presented at Lifelong Learning, Participatory Democracy and Social Change: Local and Global Perspectives conference, Toronto, Canada.
- ---. 2000. Pedagogia da Terra. São Paulo, Brazil: Peiropolis.
- Grigorov, S. 2012. International Handbook of Ecopedagogy for Students, Educators and Parents. A Project for a New Eco-Sustainable Civilization. BCSLDE, Sofia. Free for download at: www.bcslde.org
- Grigorov, S & Fleuri, R. 2012. Ecopedagogy: educating for a new eco-social intercultural perspective. Visão Global, UNOESC, Florianopolis. Free for download at: http://editora.unoesc.edu.br/index.php/visaoglobal/article/view/3435/1534 and http://www.academia.edu/4111655/Grigorov_S_and_Fleuri_R._2012._Ecopedagogy_educating_for_a_new_eco-social_intercultural_perspective._Visao_Global_UNOESC_Florianopolis
- Gronemeyer, M. 1987. Ecological Education a Failing Practice? Or: Is the Ecological Movement an Educational Movement? In W. Lierman & J. Kulich (Eds.), Adult Education and the Challenge of the 1990s. London: Croom Helm.
- Gutierrez, F. & C. Prado. 1999. Ecopedagogia e Cidadania Planetaria. São Paulo, Brazil: Cortez.
- Illich, I. 1988. Ecopedagogia. Alternativas II. Mexico: Joaquín Mortiz / Planeta.
- Illich, I. & E. Verne. 1981. Imprisoned in the Global Classroom. London: Writers & Readers.
- Jardine, D. W. 2000. “Under the Tough Old Stars”: Ecopedagogical Essays. Brandon, Vermont: Solomon Press.
- Kahn, R. 2010. Love Hurts: Ecopedagogy Between Avatars and Elegies. Teacher Education Quarterly, Vol. 37, No. 4 (Fall).
- ---. 2010. Critical Pedagogy, Ecoliteracy, and Planetary Crisis: The Ecopedagogy Movement. New York: Peter Lang.
- ---. 2009. Producing Crisis: Green Consumerism as an Ecopedagogical Issue. In J. Sandlin and P. McLaren (Eds.), Critical Pedagogies of Consumption: Living and Learning Beyond the Shopocalypse. New York: Routledge.
- ---. 2008. Towards Ecopedagogy: Weaving a Broad-based Pedagogy of Liberation for Animals, Nature and the Oppressed Peoples of the Earth. In A. Darder, R. Torres and M. Baltodano (Eds.), The Critical Pedagogy Reader (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.
- ---. 2007. The Ecopedagogy Movement: From Global Ecological Crisis to Cosmological, Technological and Organizational Transformation in Education. Doctoral Dissertation (Committee: Douglas Kellner, Chair; Peter McLaren; and Steven Best), Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, University of California, Los Angeles.
- ---. 2006. The Educative Potential of Ecological Militancy in an Age of Big Oil: Towards a Marcusean ecopedagogy. Policy Futures in Education, 4(1), pp. 31–44 http://dx.doi.org/10.2304/pfie.2006.4.1.31
- Lummis, G. 2002. Globalisation: Building a Partnership Ethic for an Ecopedagogy in Western Australia. The Australian Journal of Teacher Education 27(1).
- Magalhaes, H. G. D. 2005. Ecopedagogia y Utopia. Educação Temática Digital, Campinas 7(1): pp. 53–60.
- Payne, P. 2005. Growing Up Green. Journal of the HEIA 12(3): 2–12.
- Petrina, S. 2000. The Political Ecology of Design and Technology Education: An Inquiry into Methods. International Journal of Technology and Design Education 10(3): pp. 207–237.
- Yang, S. K. & R. Hung. 2004. Towards Construction of an Ecopedagogy Based on the Philosophy of Ecocentrism. Journal of Taiwan Normal University 49(2).