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Ecologies of Minds and Communities

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EDU 285: Ecologies of Minds and Communities

Jody Cohen

Spring Semester 2014: Monday-Wednesday, 12-1:30
One in a 360° cluster of courses on

co-taught with David Ross and Anne Dalke

 Password-protected file of readings

Our online forum

‘Ruins challenge us to re-imagine the world.’ (Woodward, Urban Wildscapes)


The central questions addressed by this course are: 

·      Who are we as human beings –children, young people, and adults from diverse communities – in relation to our environments, ‘cultural’ and ‘natural,’ and urban, suburban and rural?

·      What are the implications of  ‘who we are’ for teaching and learning ecological literacy across the age span? for developing a justice-infused, deeply imaginative, emotional, and impactful approach to environmental education? 


Current thinking about educating for ecological literacy includes two core ideas:  First, educators must attend to other dimensions in addition to the cognitive in teaching and learning; and secondly, it is crucial to directly address the relationship between ecology and social justice. If disconnected from what moves them, the literature suggests, learners are unlikely to retain or use environmental knowledge, to relate differently with the environment viscerally or politically. Environmental education is too often split off not only from its felt source, but also from matters of social justice, thus reifying a divide between “human society and culture” on the one hand and “nature” or “the environment” on the other.  This course weaves these strands together:  In order to elicit and develop diverse students’ ecological literacy, we will attend to “the distinctive features of students’ emotional and imaginative lives” (Judson), as well as to their community and cultural lives, including the raced, gendered, and classed dimensions of students’ experiences, concerns, and desires. 


This course, in other words, is about the fundamental diversity and interconnectedness of the natural world and of human beings and human systems, from the ‘ecology of our minds’ (Bateson) to the complex interrelatedness of culture, language, religion, and political and economic policy. The course will cultivate ecological literacy by attending to students’ distinctive ways of seeing and being in the context of communitarian questions of identity, access, and power.  As noted environmental educator David Orr argues, we have “focused on the symptoms, not the causes of biotic impoverishment. The former have to do with the vital signs of the planet. The latter have to do with the distribution of wealth, land ownership, greed, the organization of power, and the conduct of public business.”  With what intents, contents, and consequences can educators address these complex interrelations?  How can we re-imagine ecological literacy more deeply and fruitfully with and for diverse students and communities?  For example, how might de-industrialized spaces or other ‘ambiguous’ landscapes open up the meanings of ‘nature,’ ‘culture,’ and ‘community,’ challenging us to develop our ecological literacy to reflect and contribute to multiple perspectives?



As a group of learners, we will explore our connections with our environment via our senses, imaginations, and emotions as well as our intellects; simultaneously, we will attend to our experiences as diversely positioned learners as we are developing our philosophical and pragmatic approaches to teaching ecological literacy to others.  Key guides will include psychologist Edith Cobb on imagination; anthropologist Gregory Bateson on ‘an ecology of the mind’; environmental educators David Sobel and Gillian Judson on the multidimensionality of environmental teaching and learning; and activist Robert Figuero on educating for ecological justice.  Course assignments will engage us as diverse investigators of our own connectedness with our communities and environments, and as imaginers of ways to inspire and practice ecological literacy.


We will also have the opportunity to work closely at several points throughout the semester with our resident creative artist, Ava Blitz, an Eco-Artist who uses a variety of two- and three-dimensional approaches.


We’ll be using these full texts, available at Bryn Mawr Bookstore and on reserve at Canaday Library:

Gillian Judson, A New Approach to Ecological Education
Goleman, Bennett, and Barlow, Ecoliterate


Other readings are available via our online password-protected file.


I:  Human beings, ‘nature,’ ‘culture,’ and community

We begin by asking who we are as human beings – of different ages, identities, and communities, and as part of our ‘cultural’ and ‘natural’ environments?  This opening section of the course sets up frameworks in which we see human beings as physical and imaginative, social and emotional, spiritual and cultural beings – in ongoing relation to our environments.


In investigating the relationship between people and our environments, we ask questions like:  How are outdoor spaces – in cities as well as suburbs, rural areas, and wilderness - continually being defined by and defining the experiences of differently aged, classed, raced, abled, and gendered human beings? For example, how might different kinds of outdoor spaces problematize accepted boundaries between nature and culture, and challenge us to see, describe, and use these spaces in new ways?


Week 1

Wed., Jan. 22:

Read Freire, “The Importance of the Act of Reading” (our password-protected file of readings)

Process Camden field trip #1


Week 2

Mon., Jan. 27:

Read Bateson, Mind and Nature, excerpt; Sobel, Childhood and Nature, chap. 2; Baines, Urban Wildscapes, Foreword (password-protected file)


Wed., Jan. 29:

Read Cobb, Ecology of Imagination in Childhood, chap. 1; Daloz, Learning Toward an Ecological Consciousness, chap. 2 (password-protected file)


**Autobiographical piece due Tues., Feb. 4 at 5 pm, posted on our serendip site: a slice of autobiography (using photos or other visuals if you’d like to) in which you explore some aspect of your own early relationship with your ‘environment’/‘nature’/community, considering this in terms of how the environment shaped you and/or how you shaped the environment.  

You can take this as an opportunity to write a completely different piece from the one you wrote on 'belonging,' OR you might build on that piece in some way (e.g. take a piece of what you wrote and expand on it in relation to this question of your "early relationship with environment...").  

OR you could use our readings as a jumping off point for reconsidering your own experiences (e.g. the idea that "everyone needs a ditch" from Sobel or Bateson's close attention to something like a conch shell).  

OR you could step back and write a more critical piece about the issue of childhood experiences and relationship with "environment," again using some of the readings/ideas we've been talking about in class and/or using your own and your classmates 'belonging' pieces as texts to consider.

TAG your post as EDUCATION.


Week 3

Mon., Feb. 3

snow day!


Wed., Feb. 5

Class with Ava: processing Tinicum responses.

Week 4

By Sunday at 5 pm, please post a response to one or both of the chapters in Urban Wildscapes, addressing the question of how these readings inform/expand/raise questions about your understanding of learning environmentally, or learning in relation to the environment. 

TAG these posts Education, please, and take a few minutes to read each other's posts; and remember that commenting in response to someone's post is a legitimate way to post.

Mon., Feb. 10

Read Edensor et. al and Mugford, Urban Wildscapes, chaps. 4 & 5 (password-protected file)

Wed., Feb. 12

Read Freeman and Tranter, Children and Their Urban Environment, chap. 9; Gardner, Linking Activism, chap. 1 (password-protected file)


**Children’s lit project due Tuesday, Feb. 18 @ 11:59 pm posted on serendip:  Select one or several children’s/young adult’s (chapter) books and do an interpretive reading of the text(s) in terms of children, ‘the environment’/’nature’ and the relationship between children and their environments/nature.  Include a synopsis of the text(s) along with your analysis of its significance in relation to ecological thinking.


II: Environmental education and ecological literacy

In this section we investigate the background and context of  ‘environmental education’ and ‘ecological literacy’:  How have these been variously conceptualized and implemented?  What kinds of approaches have been ‘successful’ or not?   Who defines ‘success’ in this field, with what objectives and means of assessing?


Week 5

Mon., Feb. 17

Read Social Justice, Peace, and Environmental Education, Greenwood, Manteaw, and Smith, chapter 6;

Bowers, “Steps to the Recovery of Ecological Intelligence”;

Gardner, Linking Activism, chap. 4 (password-protected file)  


Wed., Feb. 19

Read Arregun-Anderson & Kennedy, “Deliberate Language Planning in Environmental Education” (password-protected file)


Week 6

Mon., Feb. 24

Read Saylan and Blumstein, chaps. 5; Royt, "Introduction" (password-protected file)


Wed., Feb. 26

Read Lapayese (password-protected file)


Week 7


Take a few minutes to look at each other's posts.

Mon., March 3:

Debrief Camden trip:


New Jersey Dept. of Environmental Protection. Camden Waterfront South Air Toxics Project Final Report. August 2005.

Luke W. Cole and Caroline Farrell. Structural Racism, Structural Pollution and the Need for a New Paradigm. Washington University Journal of Law & Policy 20 (2006): 265-282.

Blue Jersey Mom. EcoJustice: Environmental Racism, Camden, NJ, and the St. Lawrence Cement Plant. Dec. 7, 2009


Wed., March 5

Read: Taylor, "Evolution of Environmental Activism, Research, and Scholarship"

Class with Dorceta Taylor

**Problem analysis due Thurs., March 6 by 12 am, posted on serendip:  We’ve been reading and discussing the challenges and potentialities of what’s variously called “environmental education,” “learning for ecological literacy,” and “educating for sustainability.”  Locate a key challenge in this field, and offer a focused analysis of the “problem” that clarifies relevant setting(s), key stakeholders/players, and critical tensions or conflicts; us this analysis to carve out what you see as one or several promising directions for change. (approx. 5 pp.)


Spring break!


III:  Implications for teaching and learning  

For this section of the course we consider curriculum and pedagogy in relation to learners’ identities and developmental trajectories as these intersect with their environments – both ‘natural’ and human-made elements of the outdoor spaces and communities they live in and have access to.


Week 8:  Focus on K-12 education

Mon., March 17

Read Sobel, Children and Nature, chap. 3; Louv, “De-Central Park” (password-protected file)


Wed., March 19

Read Sobel, chap. 6


Week 9

Mon., March 24

Read Judson, A New Approach to Ecological Education, pp. 7-63


Wed., March 26

Read Judson, A New Approach to Ecological Education, chap. 4


Week 10

Mon., March 31

Read Judson, A New Approach to Ecological Education, chap. 5 and EITHER chap. 6 OR chap. 7


Wed., April 2

Read Goleman, Bennett & Barlow, Ecoliterate, pp. 1-42


Week 11:

Mon., April 7

Read Goleman, Bennett & Barlow, Ecoliterate, Parts II and III

POST by Sun. @ 5:  Consider our field trips to Camden, Harriton, the Shonibare exhibit, and the Wissahickon, as well as our current readings in Ecoliterate.  What are some ways we might think about outdoor spaces as sites of learning/education?


Wed., April 9

Read Goleman, Bennett & Barlow, Ecoliterate, chaps. 8 and 9


Week 12

POST by Sun. @ 5:  open response to the readings for Mon.

Mon., April 14

Read Chase, “Changing the Nature of Environmental Studies”; Di Chiro, “Teaching Urban Ecology” (password-protected file)


Wed., April 16

Read Chase, “Changing the Nature of Environmental Studies”; Di Chiro, “Teaching Urban Ecology” (password-protected file)

Week 13

 Mon., April 21

Read Tuck (password-protected file)

Work on Camden lesson plans

Wed., April 23

Visit Arnecliffe to learn about/participate in Ava's casting work

Week 14

Mon., April 28

** Work on/finish Camden lesson plans

** Review the Tuck article.  Select one piece from the work we've read this semester - a piece that really resonated for you - and review that as well, looking at it through the lens of Tuck's framework of damage/desire and "complex personhood."  Bring your thinking about this to class on Monday, and we'll discuss.

Wed., April 30

Conversation across classes about our 360 learning experiences

Final 360 evaluations


** Your curriculum unit/program plan/broader map or argument paper is due on serendip Fri., May 2 by 11:59 pm:

Option 1:  Develop a curriculum unit or other plan for a program related to environmental education/ecological literacy for people from a demographic and context of your choice. 

Describe the context! This should be a setting you're at least somewhat familiar with, and could be our shared setting at Sacred Heart.

Include an in-depth rationale in which you draw on our readings, posts, and other sources to inform your thinking about pedagogy and curriculum. 

You may choose to use any of the lesson planning we've done together this semester, and the children’s/YA book(s) you (or your classmates) wrote about earlier in the semester; and of course feel free to use outdoor spaces and multiple media and to draw on/work with learners’ multiple ways of thinking, learning, and expressing themselves.

Option 2:  Write a broader map or argument for how we can more fully and powerfully do environmental education in our K-12 schools and/or colleges and/or communities.  Feel free to address this question broadly, or to focus on a smaller target group, try to be both idealistic and realistic in your proposal, and again draw on our sources as helpful to your thinking.