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Frandy Introduction JSE Decolonization Issue PDF


Mas amas diehtá maid oarri borrá?

[How can a stranger know what a squirrel eats?]


Gal vuoigŋa voiŋŋa dovdá.

[Kindred spirits recognize each other.]


In leat mun jur du gámanjunnesuoidni.

[I am not the grass in your boots.]


—Sámi Proverbs


Today, as I write this on a chilly April morning in Kentucky, three well known Sámi activists (Beaska Niillas, Niillas Holmberg, & Aslak Heika Hætta Bjørn Fovssenis) blocked a backcountry road in Norway with a lávvu (a tipi-like tent used by reindeer herders) in protest of the development of Europe’s largest “wind park.” Constructed on Sámi lands to power Nordic infrastructure, such projects are known to destabilize crucial habitats, disrupt reindeer migration routes, bring settlers and heavy industry into Sámi territories, and destroy Sámi sacred and historic sites. With another massive wind-park project planned in Sweden, a proposed new arctic rail-line in Finland, and increasingly harsh restrictions on traditional fishing on the Deatnu River, in recent years colonization has found favor amongst settler populations whilst wearing a green mask. What is presented as “green salvation” too often is in effect “green colonialism.” Perhaps this should be of little surprise, since sustainability discourses have historically evolved within the context of colonial and capitalist states, and they are often complicit—if not overly weaponized—in the advancement of colonial agendas.

This world is one my family has long known. I grew up as a settler on Anishinaabe lands in northern Wisconsin, but I was raised with a strong sense of identity that connected me to my mixed Finnish and Sámi roots. Such an identity is complex for many of us in the Sámi American community, caught somewhere between settler and Indigenous, “real” Sámi and Sámi descendent, and the positives and negatives of non-recognition by outsiders (Jensen, forthcoming). Although Sámi American identity can take shape in many ways, for me at least, it has always come down to the environmental worldview and our ways of being in the world that I inherited from my father and his family that profoundly shaped who I am today. Our lives are still structured and shaped by the seasons and the weather, by maple runs and fish spawns, by wild berries and late frosts, by deer activity and bird migrations, by the depth of our relationship to snow and ice (which in the Sámi languages is known by hundreds of words), by the places we understand as important and sacred. The forest and waters are how we think, how we communicate, and who we are, in ways too profound and complex to fully elucidate here.

Most outsiders do not understand our values, our metaphors, our communication patterns, or senses of time, place, and self. And many refuse to believe us when we try to articulate these differences. With all due respect for the many celebrated Euro-American naturalists, our visions of sustaining our ways of life at best only partially overlap with theirs. When members of a colonial elite seek to sustain their own ways of life, they tend to devalue the Indigenous lifeways, traditional economies, environmental management strategies, and systems of governance. When we privilege the sustaining of colonial cultures, we destabilize Indigenous patterns of sustainability that have proven effective in maintaining Indigenous lifeways for millennia (Frandy & Cederström 2017, 224).

Although today this conversation might involve wind power or exogenous regulation of Indigenous fisheries, this is the same paternalistic discourse that formerly brought us hydroelectric dams, boarding schools, and forced assimilation to Western agricultural practices. My own Kemi Sámi ancestors, for instance, endured an economic and societal collapse following the encroachment of Finnish settlers from Savo (also my ancestors) in the 1700s. This encroachment led to the disappearance of the wild reindeer herds, upon which the community relied. For years, this collapse was attributed without evidence to “overhunting,” under the socially Darwinistic auspices that our traditional economic models were relics of the past and doomed to fail. Only in recent years has this assumption finally been called into question by scholars (Kent 2014, 30). There are certainly no shortage of stories in the world of abundant game disappearing shortly after settlers arrive and begin changing and managing the land in their own ways.

External regulation of traditional Indigenous land-use activities is a massive threat to the cultural and economic sustainability of Indigenous peoples. Sámi scholar Rauna Kuokkanen (2011) writes:

State laws often restrict subsistence activities—even when claiming to protect them—and usually conflict with customary laws accompanying subsistence…. The wildlife and game regulations under the guise of conservation, the establishment of parks, seasonal hunting closures, and moratoriums by the government imposed severe limitations on subsistence economies, radically altering the social and economic organization of indigenous societies. (223)

They tell us our ways of life cannot endure, when it is they who have salted their own earth and poisoned their own waters. They tell us they must claim control over Indigenous resources, because we must be saved from ourselves. They sometimes even speak with conviction and good intentions in their hearts, blind to their own ethnocentrism. How could they know otherwise, since most educational institutions privilege their own cultural lens and their own inherited vision of what sustainability means? But there are other ways.

Sustainability cannot exist outside cultural frameworks, and outside the disparities of power endemic to our world. Sustaining a resource requires making value-laden choices that are rooted in our own cultural experiences. We are not simply sustaining a forest; we are sustaining our relationships to the forest. And these relationships vary greatly across cultures. If one manages a forest to sustain pulpwood and timber, it will result in a different forest than if one manages it for medicines and birchbark. The results of these different management strategies are tangible. Tribally-managed forests, for instance, have significantly more biodiversity and resiliency than nearby state and federally run forests (Waller & Reo 2018; Loew 2013, 28-30). Such outcomes are not from disuse (an ideal emerging from the Western wilderness myth), but rather are created in part through cultural patterns of use, and through traditional systems that regulate use, sometimes called customary law.

Ingenious systems of environmental and economic protections exist in Indigenous cultures around the world, representing perhaps the most sophisticated and effective systems of sustainability on the planet. Indigenous cultures have long used concepts like off-seasons, sanctuary areas, the resting of forests or aquatic systems for recovery, and critical habitat protections (like shoreline protections and taboos against walking in rivers). Systems of wealth redistribution minimize the personal profitability of over-harvesting. Many peoples regard over-harvesting itself as taboo, which can lead to sickness or misfortune. Seven-generation models of thinking and the stigmatization of “making one’s mark on the world” help protect resources, and ceremonies help regenerate that which was harvested. Although Indigenous sustainabilities are not perfect systems, and Indigenous peoples also have histories of unsustainable practice and resource disputes, their many successes both past and present speak for themselves. The absence of Indigenous sustainabilities in formal policy is reflective of power disparities and the ethnocentric nature of sustainability discourse, and not of their efficacy to sustain our contemporary world. Unless we make moves to decolonize sustainability practice, we are more deeply entrenching ourselves in perpetuating the instabilities and injustices of a colonial world.

Decolonization is a multifaceted and complex process, involving a wide range of concepts, including the restoration of Indigenous lands to Indigenous control, improved recognition of tribal sovereignty, strengthening of Indigenous worldviews and knowledge traditions, cultivating cultural responsiveness in education and health care, aligning research methods with Indigenous cultural priorities and values, and more. In her discussion of decolonizing Pacific studies, Konai Helu Thaman writes:

For me, decolonizing Pacific studies is important because (1) it is about acknowledging and recognizing the dominance of western philosophy, content, and pedagogy in the lives and the education of Pacific peoples; (2) it is about valuing alternative ways of thinking about our world, particularly those rooted in the indigenous cultures of Oceanic peoples; and (3) it is about developing a new philosophy of education that is culturally inclusive and gender sensitive. (2003, 3)

Linda Tuhiwai Smith has written on the many “projects” that decolonizing methodologies involves (2012). Decolonizing sustainability education is similarly inclusive of multiple projects: increasing lands under Indigenous control and management; improving the reach of Indigenous treaty rights and tribal sovereignty; revitalizing Indigenous cultural practice; critiquing colonial-capitalist concepts of sustainability and education; understanding ethnocentrism and racism in STEM fields and research methodologies; creating space for Indigenous knowledge production and cultural worldview in historically Western institutions, or within new institutions of Indigenous design; validating Indigenous knowledge systems; and dismantling colonial systems. Though decolonization must be led by Indigenous peoples, settlers too have important roles to play in these efforts. Waziyatawin reminds us that “decolonization is a process for both the colonizer and the colonized” (2011).

This special issue of the Journal of Sustainability Education on the topic of Decolonization and Sustainability Education reflects many of these diverse projects. The issue is inclusive of Indigenous and allied voices, of academic and Indigenous discourses, of large-scale political actions and—what Jeff Corntassel calls—“everyday acts of resurgence.” The selections are arranged in ways that center Indigenous voices and the work on the ground that reinforces Indigenous sustainabilities and Indigenous-centered pedagogies. And collectively, these essays connect to the three proverbs that serve as an epigraph to this text, speaking to the non-understanding of outsiders, the kinship that exists across diverse Indigenous cultures, and the resilience of Indigenous peoples today.

The earliest essays in this issue focus on Indigenous and allied methods of community engagement. Michelle M. Jacob (Yakama) and Hobie Blackhorn’s (Northern Cheyenne) “Building an Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge Initiative at a Research University: Decolonization Notes from the Field” looks at an Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge (ITEK) initiative of their team’s own design at the University of Oregon. Detailing the process and challenges of forming a broad collaborative research coalition within a Western institution, Jacob and Blackhorn discuss how such initiatives must proceed with “care, respect, reciprocity, and in support of Indigenous self-determination.” As related collaborative and Indigenous-centered research projects blossom in university settings, the ITEK initiative serves as a valuable model to replicate and advance this work in other regional centers.

In “Ancient Wisdom, Modern Times: Decolonizing Education Paradigms in a Southwestern Tribal Community,” Carrie Calisay Cannon (Kiowa) details the Hualapai Ethnobotany Youth Project, a holistic cultural maintenance project designed through an ethnobotanical lens. The project revitalizes language, traditional knowledge, and intergenerational paradigms through the harvesting and use of traditional foods and plants. As Cannon notes, “Transferring ethnobotanical knowledge takes time.” Finding best practices to cultivate intergenerational models of traditional knowledge transmission is important to keep this knowledge alive, in use, and in growth.

Because settler students also have roles to play in decolonization, creating pedagogies that center Indigenous perspectives without romanticization remains important in creating allies. Thomas A. DuBois’ “Seeing Snow: A Siftr Challenge Aimed at Transforming Student Perceptions of the Winter Environment and Indigenous Traditional Knowledge” details his use of an educational technology, Siftr, to engage students in the use of Sámi snow and ice terminology. They learn to understand the practical value of the Sámi snow and ice lexicon in describing and understanding northern environments, and in doing so better understand their own positionalities and cultural upbringings in a broader world.

Marcus Cederström, Tim Frandy, and Colin Gioia Connors, in their contribution “Indigenous Sustainabilities: Decolonization, Education, and Collaboration at the Ojibwe Winter Games,” discuss a multi-year partnership between university folklorists and the Waaswaaganing (Lac du Flambeau) Anishinaabe to revitalize traditional wintertime competitions, and lay out a vision for effective collaboration and allyships with non-Indigenous partners. The piece explores how sustainability education is subject to culturally relative constructions of both sustainability and education, and how revitalization movements plant epistemological and ontological seeds in young people that are essential to strengthening Indigenous knowledge production in years to come.

The second subset of feature essays explore decolonization in terms of dismantling the colonial project. Climate change poses great challenges to issues of basic human security, as we enter a new and unprecedented era of climate refugees. In “Learning Sustainable Cultural Safety in a Crowded, Warming World,” Alexander K. Lautensach and Sabina W. Lautensach critique the monolithic and universal solutions that rely on growth and techno-optimism, and call for a “transition curriculum” that is more inclusive of the social, cultural and moral dimensions of sustainability.

Angela Barthes’ “The Hidden Curriculum of Sustainable Development: The Case of Curriculum Analysis in France” explores how curriculum transmits Western ethnocentric cultural values, relationships with knowledge, and colonial ideologies and logics. The dominant model of sustainability education, she concludes, “results in sustainable development being equated to a model of economic growth based on the Western one.” Andrew Bernier, in his contribution “How Matching Systems Thinking with Critical Pedagogy May Help Resist the Industrialization of Sustainability Education,” advances similar critiques of Western pedagogical models. Bernier looks at linear models for curriculum design and their relationships with industrial-style education and colonial-capitalism, positing that new models of systems curricula could assist in dismantling colonial models of education.

Linda Pope’s essay “Community-Based Learning: The Best Tool Ever Is Used by College Students to Build Tiny Houses for the Homeless” details a community-based tiny-house project in Portland designed to address homelessness. As Pope outlines, these tiny-house projects face barriers in zoning, regulations, and cultural perceptions over what places of residence should be. Such projects can offer practical housing solutions for low-income communities, but their destigmatization and use also resists the unsustainable excesses of overconsumption. Representing the Journal of Sustainability Education’s first ever fully bilingual presentation (the author fully translated his own work), Raúl Calixto Flores’ “Una Experiencia en Educación Ambiental con Estudiantes Universitarios” [“An Experience in Environmental Education with University Students”] explores the pedagogies of sustainability education in a Mexican university. While balancing the transmission of practical skills with creative thinking, such programs are essential to deal with the problems of globalization and neoliberalism in Mexico.

In the first of our issue’s reflection essays, Paulette Moore (Mohawk) addresses her time at Standing Rock in “Gratitude as Ceremony: A Practical Guide to Decolonization.” Embracing Mohawk discourses to conceptualize Standing Rock from a Mohawk perspective, Moore looks at human connection and disconnection to other human- and non-human persons. She offers the Mohawk Ohenton Karihwatehkwen, a ceremonial address to maintain our networks of relationalities, as an alternative to the disconnect present in contemporary colonial economic and ecological practice. “Making our minds one” serves as a practical paradigm for bringing sustainable and reciprocal relationships into the world.

Building upon the idea that sustainability connects to reciprocity, Eleva Potter and Jerry Jondreau’s (Keweenaw Bay Ojibwe) “The True Story of Place: Injecting Indigenous Knowledge into an Environmental Studies Course” details the integration of Ojibwe teachings and concepts of sustainability into Conserve School—an environmentally-focused school in northern Wisconsin. Participating in a ceremony before tapping maple trees deeply impacted how students understood both Ojibwe culture and their own sense of sustainable practice in today’s world.

Detailing the shift from cultural programming towards decolonizing pedagogies, Carol Ann Amour, Anthony Brazouski, Jason Dropik (Bad River Ojibwe), Jacob Jones, and Mark Powless’ (Oneida) “Our Ways: Culture as the Heart of the Indian Community School” taps into the innovative curricula at the Indian Community School of Milwaukee and its role in advancing cultural sustainability. This holistic and integrated learning environment allows for the restoration of traditional pedagogical structures (learning from elders, pedagogies of paying attention, independent pacing, introspection, teaching history “backwards”) that are difficult to support in Western educational contexts. The immersive cultural environment bears great promise in restoring Indigenous sustainabilities for future generations of students.

Finally, our issue concludes with three poems by Sámi American Ron Riekki. The poems tie together many of this issue’s themes: Indigenous identity and relationality, erasure of our ways of being, creating a pedagogy of stillness and silence, and recognizing the resilience of our ways in an imperiled world. Riekki writes, “we sit silently / waiting / to see if he will listen / to the trees / that speak / when you are wise enough to be still.” The world is talking to us, telling us exactly what we need to do to live sustainably with it. Can you not hear it? Try to quiet yourself and listen…


Cederström, B. Marcus and Tim Frandy. 2017. “Sustainable Power: Decolonizing Colonial Sustainabilities through Anishinaabe Birchbark Canoe Building.” With. In Going Beyond—Perceptions of Sustainability in Heritage Studies No. 2. Ed. Marie-Theres Albert.  Berlin: Springer: 217-230.

Jensen, Ellen Marie. Forthcoming. Diasporic Indigeneity and Storytelling Across Media: A Case  Study of Early 20th Century Sámi Immigrant Women. Dissertation.

Kent, Neil. 2014. The Sámi Peoples of the North: A Social and Cultural History. London, Hurst.

Kuokkanen, Rauna. 2011. “Indigenous Economies, Theories of Subsistence, and Women: Exploring the Social Economy Model for Indigenous Governance.” American Indian Quarterly 35.2: 215-240.

Loew, Patty. 2013. Indian Nations of Wisconsin: Histories of Endurance and Renewal. 2nd Ed.  Wisconsin Historical Society Press.

Thaman, Konai Helu. 2003. “Decolonizing Pacific Studies: Indigenous Perspectives, Knowledge, and Wisdom in Higher Education.” The Contemporary Pacific 15.1: 1-17.

Tuhiwai Smith, Linda. 2012. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples.   2nd ed. London: Zed Books.

Waller, Donald M. & Nicholas J. Reo. 2018. “First Stewards: Ecological Outcomes of Forest and Wildlife Stewardship by Indigenous Peoples of Wisconsin, USA.” Ecology and Society  23.1: 45.

Waziyatawin (Angela Wilson). 2011. “Understanding Colonizer Status.” Blog post. September 6.  https://unsettlingamerica.wordpress.com/2011/09/06/understanding-colonizer-status/

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Amour et al JSE March 2018 Decolonization Issue PDF

Abstract: Since the 1990s research has been telling us that indigenous students do better in school when they are connected to their cultures. Our experience affirms studies concluding that students who have strong connections to their culture are more resilient and have a stronger sense of efficacy.

Keywords: decolonization, tribal revitalization, indigenous education, community based education


“Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children.” -Sitting Bull


Since the 1990s research has been telling us that indigenous students do better in school when they are connected to their cultures. Our experience affirms studies concluding that students who have strong connections to their culture are more resilient and have a stronger sense of efficacy.

The growing movement in Indian country toward decolonization and the revitalization of tribal languages, tribal ways, and tribal knowledge has put that research into action and has given the Indian Community School (ICS) the courage to listen to tribal voices as we have developed and are introducing a curriculum that strengthens indigenous culture as the heart of our school. We knew that criticism might be strong from many directions. There is often contention about what is the “right way” to incorporate culture and argument about who gets to say what culture gets included.

But implementing such a curriculum makes sense in the context of sustainability. We think often of what actions will sustain our environment. But, if we do not also concern ourselves with sustaining culture, especially cultural knowledge that supports sustaining our environment, economics, and political sovereignty, we miss an opportunity to maximize our efforts. Indigenous thought sustains indigenous environments and traditional economies. If culture gets out of balance, so will our ability to maintain environments, our traditional foods, etc.

It’s not that we have had little Native culture in our programming. From its beginnings in the kitchens of the three founders of the school back in the 1970s, Indian Community School has valued indigenous ways. But as it has grown over the years to a K-8 school for 366 tribally-enrolled or descended students situated on a 178-acre parcel of land in an environmentally friendly building, ICS has made an increasing commitment to Native culture being part of everything we do.

Our current structure (occupied in 2007) was intentionally designed by a team, including an Oneida Nation architect, to enable native teaching and culturally based experiences. Sprawling windows, vaulted ceilings, and all-natural building materials important to the Tribes of Wisconsin bring the natural world in and afford all inside ongoing opportunities to be mindful or and make connections with Mother Earth.

In the fall of 2015, the ICS Board of Directors formally committed to culture being not just a part of school programming, or an isolated class, but being the heart of the school. They hired a consultant with many years of experience in indigenous education and specialized in community-based curriculum and program development. Together they agreed to develop their curriculum only after listening to a broad sampling of native voices in the state of Wisconsin.

This gained them powerful insights such as that from Mole Lake Tribal Chair, Chris McGeshick,

What should be in our schools should come from the elders. We also do things by the seasons. You have to learn about those different activities in different seasons. But that product that you’re generating through all of those seasons, helps you through that storytelling season. So if you do what you need to do, if you do the work you’re going to be there during that cold season listening to the stories, learning from those stories because you participated and you did your job. So you need to have that location where people can gather and not feel pressured to be an overachiever or be looked at as an underachiever.

Ojibwe elder and tribal attorney Richard Ackley suggested,

Paying attention is actually a skill that is an integral part of native tradition. To be a good hunter, you had to be very aware of your environment. You had to see what was really happening, what had changed. You weren’t just reading what a book told you should be happening or doing what a curriculum said you should be doing. You pay attention to the child and you see what he or she is ready for…. Could students move through a curriculum at various rates, in their own ways? Our journeys through life all begin in the same way and will all end the same, but the paths we follow will vary considerably. Are there ways that personal sovereignty can be built in and, perhaps, even encouraged?

We called this first phase “Listening to Tribal Voices” and had hoped to hear from at least 100 Native people across the state. Amazingly, at the end of nine months of talking circles, informal lunches, and individual interviews, we had listened to more than 800 tribal voices. Professor Anton Treuer (March 2017), Ojibwe, commented about such investigations: “In spite of 500 pretty rough years, Anishinaabeg have shown remarkable resilience and adaptability. But when does code-switching to make it in the rest of the world simply become assimilation? How much can a people change and still be the same people, recognizable to their ancestors? By taking a deeper look at the cultural tools still in our hands and the language that gives them life, let’s explore what indigenous healing can really do for each of us as individuals and collectively as a people.” Because of the commitment of time and resources by the ICS Board and staff, the cultural tools, powerful tools, and guiding principles remain with us today and will continue into the future.

The “Listening to Tribal Voices” questions were purposefully kept open-ended so as not to lead responses:

  1. Why is it important for Native students to learn about their language and culture?
  2. What should Native students know and/or be able to do by the end of eighth grade?
  3. How can we help students learn those things?

Each session was recorded. A representative from the school’s administration attended sessions to demonstrate the school’s strong commitment and sincere interest. A board member or two attended often as well. The project consultant and coordinator facilitated every session.

ICS interviewers listened to students at the school. They listened to parents and grandparents in the Milwaukee community. But they also traveled to all of the tribal communities throughout the entire state. They listened to traditional teachers and leaders. They listened to professional Native educators. The project coordinator didn’t begin to organize the material or begin working on curriculum until the listening process was completed and all responses were transcribed.

Most of those responding said that Native language was a priority. “The culture is in the language,” said Joe Chosa, an Ojibwe elder in Lac du Flambeau. Other responses were unique. In fact, one exciting and promising idea came up only once. A tribal education worker in Red Cliff offered the idea of teaching history backwards to “get students hooked.” He suggested starting with issues that involved family members. “’That’s my uncle,’ they’ll say. ‘Or that was my grandfather.’” Because of the personal connection, students will want to go back and find out about the treaties that allowed the Gurnoe decision, for example, to be made. Then they will dig deeper to find out how and why the treaty-making process began.

With so many diverging ideas, all of the data were initially reviewed, “for the purpose of identifying patterns and themes within the material” (Leedy & Ormrod, 2010, p. 108). The following themes emerged: Language, Living in a Good Way, Stories, Tribal Connections, Connections to Mother Earth, Tribal Government, Treaties, Indian Law and Policy, and Sovereignty. We literally cut each interview apart and stakeholders were invited to place discrete items into the themes where they seemed to fit most. Groups included the ICS board, faculty, students, and the Native Community in the Milwaukee area. Much discussion accompanied this process and we kept revising until we had reached consensus.

Themes were labeled as “strands” of curricular framework. In alignment with the backward design approach of curriculum development, overarching expected outcomes of each strand were identified beginning with eighth grade and working downward to K4 (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005). At ICS, all students take one of three Native languages (Menominee, Ojibwe, or Oneida), so the Native language and culture teachers were the first contributors to outcome review and development. After revisions of the teachers, student and staff input was gathered, modifications were made. This was a time-consuming process, but it helped us eliminate repetition and be more concise and clear. We kept the number of outcomes for each strand manageable- four to seven. Only after all of this input did we bring the outcomes to the board for approval. Mostly, because of the collaborative process, the board unanimously approved what had become known as the “Our Ways” curriculum.

Dr. Mark Powless, ICS’s Interim Culture Coordinator and community member, offered the “Our Ways” name for a program being built concurrently with the curriculum. An Oneida phrase, tsi> niyukwalihot<, reflects the collaborative and extensive processes by which the curriculum was developed as well as the cultural approach to supporting that curriculum through active engagement with cultural practices, teachings, and people. This program includes extensive print and media resources as well as materials like baskets, medicines, and drums. Additionally, the ICS Culture Coordinator and Our Ways Assistant lead and support Our Ways curricular activities and culture in general. The center of Our Ways is a beautiful room, housing those resources, providing space for cultural meetings, events, teachings, and meals. When you walk into the Our Ways room, you immediately realize its purpose is to build resilience, to heal, and to provide an alternative to the colonization often sensed within a contemporary school setting.

We then built the scope and sequence for our curriculum by meeting with each grade level teaching team individually. The project coordinator talked with teachers about what activities they were already doing to reach the outcomes for each strand of the curriculum. We went back to the interviews seeking other suggested activities, which were assigned to appropriate grade levels. We tried to keep in mind that “learning is maximized when valid and reliable knowledge is combined with authentic experience” (Brazouski, 2015, p. 250). We also wanted to ensure fidelity as well as accuracy of the translation of key findings. We agreed that our scope and sequence provides one way to reach the Our Ways outcomes, but if teachers had other ideas that better suited the needs of their students, they should feel free to use them. Though teachers are expected to support students work toward the established outcomes, the specific scope and sequence is suggested, not mandated.

The underlying organizational culture was being leveraged as a professional learning community where all members of the school and community contributed equally and collectively to the task at hand (DuFour et. All, 1998, 2008). Following the individual team meetings and after modifications were made, the faculty gathered and reviewed the entire scope and sequence in small mixed grade groups. Each group took one strand of the curriculum and carefully discussed grade level appropriateness, cultural accuracy, and relevance to reaching the outcomes. Final edits were incorporated into the curriculum as it was posted online for all faculty to access and print if they wished.

The 2017-18 school year is a field testing year. We are encouraging teachers to keep notes about what activities are helpful, and which activities should be revised or replaced. The project coordinator is conducting extensive formative evaluations of the program and perceptions. The curriculum is accessible online and Tribal Voices learning links to collective video and audio files of tribal elders and traditional teachers have been added. For example, the “food sovereignty” link in the curriculum takes the reader to an Ojibwe elder in Lac du Flambeau talking about what that means and why it is important in efforts to decolonize.

We are introducing one strand of the curriculum each month, but teachers do not need to use the curriculum sequentially or in a prescribed manner. We are encouraging teachers to integrate the Our Ways curriculum with the academic curriculum and to use outcomes and their supporting activities any time they connect well with math, or science, or art, or literacy. We have made a conscious decision not to wait until every aspect of the curriculum has been developed and included in a written document. We were strongly urged to take this course of action by one of our elder Oneida tribal voices: “We have to share what we know. We can’t keep waiting until we have it perfect.”

Culture is not a curriculum, especially not a written curriculum, and we have waited too long to embrace that idea. While we have waited to have the perfect curriculum, one with no errors or incomplete information, or one that pleases everyone, we have missed opportunities to help young Ojibwe, Oneida, Potawatomi, or Ho Chunk identify with their cultures, their heritages, their histories, their tribal Nations’ accomplishments and contributions. Our curriculum is not definitive. It is a living document which provides support for us as we work to develop resilience in our students and to decolonize our thinking and our approach. It is not, nor ever will be, definitive or without error, but it is a tool to help us reach our goal of seeing that culture is the heart of our school. We are working hard to make it the best tool we can. We hope it will never be finished.

We are also working hard not to stifle the good work that teachers have already been doing. One of our fourth grade teachers, Jacob Jones, has been keeping a school garden with fourth grade students and others for more than ten years. They grow the “Three Sisters”: corn, bean, and squash. They grow ode’iminan (strawberries) and many other plants, including traditional asema (tobacco). They have been learning the traditional way to offer asema before planting and harvesting.   The work they are doing satisfies objectives in the Connections to Mother Earth strand of the Our Ways curriculum:

  • Participate in and describe the process of raising traditional foods and medicines.
  • Explain the processes, traditional protocols, and ceremonies that are important to remember in traditional harvest of animals, plants, medicines, and construction materials.
  • Articulate what it means to be connected to Mother Earth and why that is important to cultural identity, living in a good way, and tribal sovereignty.

They also help to meet objectives in the Living in a Good Way strand:

  • Identify and explain traditional aspects of living in a good way.
  • Describe important spiritual traditions of their cultural group(s), e.g., naming ceremonies, the green corn ceremony.
  • Explain their role as Native persons in larger society and describe how they will carry out their responsibilities.

This fall, Jacob attended a conference on food sovereignty at the Oneida Nation and learned many strategies to incorporate with ICS students in the school garden. We have also since planted fifty sugar maple trees so that, when the time is right, students will be able to learn about tapping the trees and harvesting sap to make maple syrup and maple sugar.

Clearly, this project has taken time to implement, but we made a commitment to being collaborative throughout and accepted that as a condition of the project. As Chief Dan George of the Tsleil-Waututh nation said, “Can we talk of integration until there is integration of hearts and minds? Unless you have this, you only have physical presence, and the walls between us are as high as the mountain range.” In our continuing efforts to decolonize, we also heeded the words of Freire (1968), “The oppressors do not favor promoting the community as a whole, but rather selected leaders” (p. #). We consciously chose to pay attention to the community as a whole. If culture is truly to be the heart of our school, we believe that we need to work in a cultural way. That includes taking the time necessary for everyone in our circle to have voice, and not only must we listen, but we must also respect and consider each voice. “Leaders who do not act dialogically, but insist on imposing their decisions, do not organize the people –they manipulate them. They do not liberate, nor are they liberated: they oppress” (Freire, 2015, p. #). We have made a commitment to listening and to working collaboratively. If our goal is de-colonize and to strengthen culture as the heart of our school, we can do nothing less.


Brazouski, A.  E.  (2015).  A Phenomenological case study of leadership impacting the implementation of standards-based grading in a public high school.  Milwaukee, WI:  Cardinal Stritch University.

DuFour, R. & Eaker, R. (1998). Professional learning communities at work: Best practices for enhancing student achievement. Bloomington, IN: National Education Service.

DuFour, R., DuFour, R. & Eaker, R. (2008). Revisiting professional learning communities at work: New insights for improving schools. Bloomington, IN: National Education Service.

Freire, P. (2005) Pedagogy of the oppressed. 30th Anniversary edition. New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd.

Leedy, P.D. & Ormrod, J. E. (2010). Practical research: Planning and design (Ninth edition). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill.

Treuer.  A. (2017, March).  Opening the cultural toolbox: Language revitalization, decolonization, and healing.  Keynote address presented at the Anishinaabemowin Teg 23rd Annual Language Conference. Kedawin Convention Center: Saulte St. Marie, MI.

Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J.  (2005). Understanding by design. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

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Flores JSE Feb Decolonizing Issue 2018 PDF

Abstract: The educational experience described in this article was developed in the course “Social and Cultural Contexts of Teaching” for the Sociology of Education bachelor’s degree at the National Pedagogical University, Mexico. In this course, students are expected to develop favorable attitudes toward the environment. The student’s defined environmental problems made a diagnosis and elaborated a case study, to discuss concrete solutions in their community. The educational experience included several moments: framing, joint planning of individual and group activities, and development of the case study. The balance of the results of the course was favorable; the group learned to work cooperatively, mutual trust prevailed within the teams, group agreements were respected, the group goal was clearly defined, and a case study was delineated and developed.


Keywords:  University, environmental education, teaching, learners



In recent years, it has become evident that the health of the biosphere is perishable due to its high fragility and it runs the risk of disappearing, affecting each of the living beings that coexist on planet Earth. Among the effects caused by environmental problems are environmental pollution in the atmosphere, hydrosphere and lithosphere; and the loss of ecosystems with the consequent extinction of species. All these problems are related to the human species: the loss of life quality and the harmful effects on human health; the vast social inequalities, poverty, and undernourishment, among other aspects. The environmental impact can be severe, moderate or mild. Particular attention is paid to environmental changes that are irreversible, such as severe disturbances in soils, groundwater contamination or climate change.

How do we train university students to face these and other environmental problems? The answer is not simple, and in the educational field, it is necessary to review pedagogy and environmental education, with a sustainable orientation.

In this article, educational experience is described, carried out with a group of students of the Sociology of Education bachelor’s degree from the National Pedagogical University, Mexico.

1. Background

The National Pedagogical University is a public university that focusses on educational research throughout Mexico. The research was carried out in the Ajusco unit, located in the south of Mexico City within a protected area “The Oaks.” This natural area includes 25.01 hectares of geological, ecological, hydrological and landscaping importance because it shelters a great variety of endemic plants of this zone of the stony ground; even, some of these can be seen on the grounds of the university itself. On the other hand, with the increase of the vehicular traffic on the road to the Ajusco, the problem of the noise and air pollution has increased in this area of Mexico City.

The students of this university have not studied any subject related to environmental education; however, they possess a set of knowledge related to the problems of the environment, derived mainly from information transmitted by the media and comments from their teachers.

The educational experience was developed in the “Social and Cultural Contexts of Teaching” course of the Sociology of Education degree. In this course, it is expected to contribute to the development of favorable attitudes to the environment. The course was designed taking the environmental problems that affect the students in their daily lives as a point of reference.

2. Theoretical referents

Sustainable development implies a new worldview, new ways to relate to nature, which involves transformations in the scientific, technological, social, political, economic, cultural and educational areas. Based on Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit agreements (UNEP, 1992), sustainable development has seen strong growth in education. The perspective of sustainability in environmental education entails the understanding of environmental behaviors, to generate educational proposals that affect the construction of an environmental citizenship, in which, knowledge, attitudes and sustainable values are prioritized.

Education is crucial in fostering the ideals of sustainability. Education for Sustainability (ESD) is a process of learning how to make decisions that consider the long-term futures of the economy, ecology, the equitable development of all communities as well as the promotion of their cultures (Besong and Holland, 2015, p.8).

Since the nineteen seventies, in Mexico, there were several actions to incorporate the environmental dimension in some university careers. In the search for educational alternatives to achieve training by the requirements of 21stcentury societies, environmental pedagogy and environmental education are used.

The environmental pedagogy (Sureda y Colomb, 1989) is part of an educational movement linked to the recovery of human rights by living in a healthy and safe environment. This pedagogy makes evident that there is a manifest imbalance in the environmental problem, a product of a commercial vision, which has given rise to what some authors, like Leff (1998) call “crisis of civilization”.

Teaching strategies for environmental education must provide learners with learning experiences and opportunities to confront their views and values related to the environmental issues for them to address the environmental issues (Sanera, 1998). Environmental education is oriented towards the holistic understanding of the environment, based on environmental pedagogy. “Environmental education entails a new pedagogy, which arises from the need to orient education within the social context and in the ecological and cultural reality where the subjects and actors of educational process are located” (Leff, 1998, p. 218).

There is a theoretical-methodological dialogue between those who are part of the field of environmental education; dialogue that propitiates the construction of new objects of study and the reflection on new practices (Calixto, 2013).

Environmental education proposes the analysis of the future societies in their multiple relationships with the environment. The environment is full of subjective meanings, from which human beings develop their actions, generating educational proposals that affect the construction of environmental citizenship.

Environmental education questions the processes of modernization, which reify the subject and mold a type personality, where it does not go deeper than its productive, consumerist and pragmatic values, identifying the human being by its consumption power. One of the strategies that can be developed in the training of university students is the case study because the training requires the “close examination of people, topics, issues, or programs” (Hays, 2004, p. 218).

At the Technological Institute of Higher Studies of Mexico (ITESM, 2011) case studies are classified as strategies and didactic techniques of values, incident, reasoned solution, mentalization, thematic and real search.

Yin (2002) defines case as a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context, especially when the boundaries between a phenomenon and context are not clear and the researcher has little control over the phenomenon and context (p. 13)

In the educational experience described in this article, the group worked with the “real-life search case,” in which the students delimited real situations, made a diagnosis and elaborated the case study, to discuss concrete solutions, based on environmental pedagogy (Sureda and Colomb, 1989) and on sustainable rationality (Leff, 1998), in which the formation of an ethical commitment to the environment stands out.

3.  Process of systematization of the educational experience

Through a field diary, the work carried out in the course was recorded, writing the main activities and results obtained in a digital folder, which allowed the student’s educational experience to be recovered around local environmental problems.

From the recognition of the environmental crisis and a specific environmental problem (nature-society), students are offered to do the development of case studies of the environmental problems of their community. The educational practice comprises various moments: framing, joint planning of individual, team and group activities, development of the case study.

3.1 Frame. The framing is a pedagogical agreement in which the activities that correspond to the teacher and the students are delimited; a participative work environment is promoted, to influence the interest and commitment of the students.

The teacher has the role of mediator, to foster the interest and commitment of the students. That is, activities are oriented to encourage the capacity to learn. In mediation, it is necessary to listen, understand, communicate and respect the different ways to learn and these means are individual, team and group activities.

Teaching mediation encourages students to work together in a climate of empathy, tolerance, trust, and commitment to achieve the proposed goals. It is not easy to achieve this, there are several resistances in the students, as well as institutional conditions that limit the cooperative work. Among the students’ resistance is the difficulty of effective communication, indecision in decision making, relationships based only on empathy and not on the development of tasks; among the limiting conditions are the rigid hours of sessions, the large group, and situation of irregular students who do not finish the course.

3.2 Joint planning of individual, team and group activities. Individual activities involve students reviewing their prior knowledge of course subjects (environmental education, environment, civilizatory crisis, environmental crisis, environmental problems: culture, society, economy, nature); the teacher makes an exploration of this knowledge and revises what knowledge is useful for the elaboration of conceptual maps, argumentative essays and critical analyses (individual work).

Some teams of four or five are formed. The students make conceptual maps and are presented inside each team; they draw up a series of conclusions that are exposed to the group. Teams change members in each of the sessions to work with different materials (teamwork).

The students integrate to different teams, according to the environmental problem that seems most interesting and essential to diagnose and work the case study. The members of each team decide the environmental problem, and the diagnostic techniques they will use, exposing their questions and progress to the whole group (group work).

3.3 Development of the case study. The stages of the case study are diagnosis, delimitation, and characterization.

The first stage of the case study corresponds to the design of diagnostic techniques; it entails a plan, a set of operations to be carried out to obtain strategies of application and construction of instruments. The plan can be more or less structured according to the technique or techniques selected. Students choose the techniques (quantitative, qualitative, mixed or projective) from two conditions: isomorphism  and the objectivity of the data. The first condition refers to the requirement to adopt the techniques of analysis to the type of theoretical propositions. Then,the students take into account the most relevant aspects that they must diagnose.  These aspects can be denominated as factors, variables or indicators, according to the theoretical position that they assume.

The process of methodological design depends first on the epistemological perspective with which the diagnosis is to be carried out and its purposes approached. Their epistemological bent, in brief, underlie the inquiry project they conceptualize and operate (Yazan, 2015).

The epistemological perspective that the students assume is positivist, interpretative or critical. In the first perspective, the obtaining of the data starts from the perception and speaks precisely of the information, that is, of what is given directly by the experience. Carefully crafted instruments collect data. In the second perspective, students assume that there is no given, but there must always be a certain interpretation or construction. One cannot simply collect the data; these are built based on a process of interpretation, with qualitative tools. And in the third perspective, students take as a reference that knowledge is obtained by a social construction, in which the subjects involved in the problem to be diagnosed, establish a dialectical relationship with reality. This practice involves a process of reflection and analysis to influence as far as possible with the implementation of actions. This last perspective is the most congruent with popular environmental education and is promoted in teacher mediation.

All techniques chosen by students are tested in the group; the process of elaborating and designing the diagnostic techniques does not culminate with their choice, but it must be verified that they are well designed; the revision of the instruments and its “piloting” is with students from other groups. All these activities are done so that the results obtained are as close as possible to reality. Methodological design leads to define how the information can be obtained. The information types can be: numeric or textual. The sources, origin or forms in which such data are produced are primary (such as survey, interview, observation, testing and projective techniques, discussion group, etc.) or secondary: quantitative data (statistics or censuses) or qualitative data (minutes, journals, records, memoirs, documents, among others).

Once the way in which the information is obtained is defined, the application strategy is determined. A proper diagnosis includes not only a technique, but it is convenient to design and perform several tests or use different techniques, to achieve a diagnosis as reliable as possible. Objectivity must be sought, for this in the design of the instruments, their validation, reliability, and significance are sought.

In the second stage, the delimitation of the “case”, the review, organization, and analysis of the information collected has proceeded Thus, according to the techniques and instruments used, a descriptive, interpretative or critical analysis is carried out, tending to find the relevant aspects of the case. In this way, particularizes in the case’s characteristics in order to have more elements to define its components, find its causes, establish networks of consequences and propose possible forms of action.

In the third stage, we move on to the process of organization, systematization, and presentation of the case, activities that involve a process of dialogic construction, to articulate the components of the case and be able to present them to the group. The construction of a case involves putting into practice the lessons learned; it is suggested that the “case” be precise, congruent and real. That is to say, only include the information that is necessary and corresponds to the situation, illustrated with diagrams, charts, figures, maps, tables, graphs, images, photographs, among other resources that give the possibility of having a clear vision of the problem. In the case studies, the anonymity of the informants was taken care of as the institutions involved, unless the participants expressed a contrary desire.

The case study, in addition to developing reporting experience, project and proposal writing skills, fosters collaborative work, contributes to joint decision-making, and recognizes the feelings and emotions that are part of their values ​​and attitudes.

The teams conform according to the development of the course; these are dynamic and formed through the free choice of students. Tasks and responsibilities are distributed to each team member. The members of each team commit to the application of the instruments of the techniques they have chosen. Additional aspects of methodological design are given by external restrictions: budget, time, a social, political and cultural moment of diagnosis.

The form of the organization of each team determined how to solve doubts and possible conflicts that may arise. The team was also responsible for keeping track and feeding back the contents. Each student performs an individual work that joins the work of others, to constitute teamwork.

Participatory work requires more effort; it is achieved with the sum of the activities of each student individually and as a team and group activities; this is possible when personal involvement occurs and contributes to the experience of belonging to a group. Participatory work occurs when students share goals, and the group goal establishes a certain degree of organization to achieve cooperation and an attitude of mutual help.

The promotion of participatory work results from the addition and integration of individual, team and group work, facilitated by the teacher’s meditation. This mediation implies, among other things, constant feedback, which facilitates the identification of problems and overcoming resistance to cooperative work.

“The results propitiated dialogue and shared learning, it is the result of the meeting of students, who seek the meaning of meanings” (Freire, 1984).

In methodological design, the process of analysis of results must be foreseen. This process of analysis forms the basis of the presentation of the “case” that each team presents to the group.

4. Results

In work carried out, several results were obtained, mainly in three areas of learning: attitudinal, conceptual and methodological.

4.1 The attitudinal area. It refers to how the students express themselves to the different situations posed, in which the attitudes they have about the environment are revealed.

The students at the beginning had a series of hostile attitudes regarding the integration of the team, and the development of a practical work outside the University; among other attitudes that were observed:

  • Apathy to intervene in the analysis and discussion
  • Disinterest in listening to the opinions and proposals of the other students
  • Without motivation to carry out the activities
  • Little interest in making agreements in a consensual manner
  • Resistance to integrating into different teams

These attitudes were gradually changing, when a participatory learning climate was favored, in which the students planned the activities and had a horizontal communication for the choice of the method, contents, and context of the case study.

4.2 The conceptual area. It includes the incorporation of new attributes to the concepts that students already possess, in such a way that they improve or enrich their knowledge, with new data, facts, concepts, theories, and arguments.

In the conceptual area, the students had little knowledge of environmental education and did not know the perspective of environmental sociology. At the beginning of the course most of the students manifested a series of doubts that persisted for several classes. These doubts were resolved as the planned tasks were developed. For example, regarding the conceptual area, the following questions were identified among others:

  • What are the origins of environmental problems?
  • What is an environmental problem?
  • What is environmental education?
  • What do ideological and political actors have to do with environmental problems?
  • What proposal does environmental education have regarding environmental problems?

These doubts were resolved gradually, as a result of working in teams and the group; a primary reading for the analysis and discussion of the role of environmental sociology was that of José Luis Lezama (2004) in “The social and political construction of the environment.” In this work the author argues that the social construction of environmental problems derives from values, influenced by political and ideological factors, that have to do with specific ways of living and perceiving problems. Another book consulted was of Ulrich Beck (1992) “Society at risk: Towards a new modernity”, to point out that to analyze environmental problems it is necessary to mediate tangible symbols, such as those that are experienced daily in the city from Mexico.

4.3 The methodological area. It refers to the learning of procedures, methods, strategies, techniques, instruments. and skills applied in the development of the case study. The students had diverse concerns because they were not sure of being able to carry out the case study; this is how several resistances were presented, among others:

  • The initial exercises were not completed in time, in which an environmental problem was selected and then problematized in a specific context.
  • They expressed the ignorance of the basic techniques of investigation, proving later that if they knew and handled them.
  • They manifested a series of difficulties in carrying out fieldwork; most of these difficulties were quickly resolved.

These resistances were gradually overcome, except for two difficulties, which constituted challenging obstacles to overcome:

  • Difficulties in understanding information of the proposed readings.
  • Difficulties in writing texts.

However, the students were enthusiastic about the task of developing practical work, which involved consensus decision-making and collaborative learning. The realization of the case study in a context that they knew facilitated them to identify the characteristics and conditions of the community.

The students gradually became aware that we are all part of the environmental problems, but we are also part of the solution. They considered that in their professional training it is necessary to learn to work collaboratively, know how to generate proposals, provide ideas for the members of society to be informed, or have the elements to know the real causes of environmental problems and take actions to improve the conditions of the environment. For this, integrative environmental education provides the theoretical and conceptual tools to develop a holistic vision of the environment in which the interactions of the different components that favor the permanence of environmental problems are observed; a critical analysis of environmental problems is encouraged by stating that they have a social, political and economic dimension, which goes beyond physical facts.

The students were organized into various teams to review the course materials and the development of conceptual maps, argumentative essays, and critical analyses. Other teams were set up for the design and development of diagnostic techniques. These last teams were formed of three, four and five students. The balance of the results of the course was favorable; the group learned to work cooperatively, mutual trust prevailed within the teams, group agreements were respected, the group goal was defined, and a case study was delineated and developed.

The results of the course are interpreted from the observation of student activities in a checklist with different features of cooperative work, in which three levels are identified: 1 minimum 2 regular and 3 high.

Table 1. Checklist..

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Flores (Spanish) JSE Feb Decolonizing Issue 2018 PDF

Resumen: La experiencia educativa que se describe en este artículo se desarrolló en el curso “Contextos sociales y culturales de la enseñanza” de la licenciatura de Sociología de la Educación en la Universidad Pedagógica Nacional, México. En este curso, se espera que los estudiantes desarrollen actitudes favorable hacia el medio ambiente; los estudiantes delimitaron problemas ambientales, hicieron un diagnóstico y elaboraron un estudio de caso, para discutir soluciones concretas. Desde el reconocimiento de la crisis ambiental y un problema ambiental específico, los estudiantes desarrollan un estudio de caso de un problema ambiental de su comunidad. La experiencia educativa comprende varios momentos: encuadre, planificación conjunta de actividades individuales, grupales y desarrollo del estudio de caso. El balance de los resultados del curso fue favorable; el grupo aprendió a trabajar de forma cooperativa, prevaleció la confianza mutua dentro de los equipos, se respetaron los acuerdos grupales, se definió claramente el objetivo del grupo y se delineó y desarrolló un estudio de caso.


Palabras clave: Universidad, educación ambiental, enseñanza, estudiantes



En la sociedad moderna se ha priviligiado la idea de que la naturaleza es un bien inagotable, gratuito y eterno. Sin embargo, en los últimos años se ha hecho evidente que la biosfera es un elemento perecedero debido a su gran fragilidad y corre el riesgo de desaparecer, afectando a cada uno de los seres vivos que coexisten en el planeta Tierra.

Entre los efectos que ocasionan los problemas ambientales, se encuentran la contaminación en la atmósfera, hidrosfera y litosfera; y la pérdida de los ecosistemas con la consecuente extinción de especies. Todos estos problemas vinculados con el género humano, en la pérdida de la calidad de vida y en efectos nocivos para la salud humana que se manifiestan en las grandes desigualdades sociales, pobreza, desnutrición, entre otros aspectos más.  El impacto ambiental puede ser grave, moderado, o leve. Se otorga especial atención a los cambios ambientales que son irreversibles, como son las perturbaciones graves en los suelos, la contaminación de los mantos freáticos o el cambio climático.

¿Cómo formar a los estudiantes universitarios para afrontar éstos y otros problemas ambientales? La respuesta no es sencilla, y en el campo educativo, se requiere de la revisión de la pedagogía y educación ambiental, con una orientación sustentable.

En este artículo se describe una experiencia educativa, realizada con un grupo de estudiantes de la licenciatura en sociología de la educación de la Universidad Pedagógica Nacional.

1. Antecedentes

Las instalaciones de la Universidad Pedagógica Nacional limitan al oeste con un área natural protegida “Los “Encinos”, de 25.01 hectáreas, de importancia geológica, ecológica, hidrológica y paisajista, porque alberga una gran variedad de especies de plantas endémicas de la zona de los pedregales, e incluso, algunas de éstas se pueden observar en los terrenos de la propia universidad.  Por otra parte, en los últimos años, al aumentar el tránsito vehicular en la carretera al Ajusco, se ha incrementado el problema de la contaminación auditiva y del aire en esta zona de la ciudad de México.

Los estudiantes de esta universidad, en su formación universitaria no han cursado una asignatura relacionada con la educación ambiental; sin embargo, poseen un conjunto de conocimientos referidos a los problemas del medio ambiente, derivados principalmente de la información transmitida por los medios de comunicación y comentarios de sus docentes.

La experiencia educativa se desarrolló en el curso de “Contextos sociales y culturales de la docencia” de la licenciatura en Sociología de la Educación, de la UPN. En este curso, se espera contribuir en el desarrollo de actitudes favorables hacia el medio ambiente; el curso se diseñó tomando como punto de referencia un problema ambiental que afecta a los estudiantes en su vida cotidiana como un marco de referencia.

2. Referentes teóricos

El desarrollo sostenible implica una nueva visión del mundo, una nuevas forma de relacionar a la naturaleza, que implican transformaciones en diferentes áreas, tales como científica, tecnológica, social, política, económica, cultural y educativa.

A partir de los acuerdos de la Cumbre de la Tierra de Río de Janeiro (UNESCO, 1992), el desarrollo sostenible, en los últimos 25 años ha tenido un fuerte crecimiento en el ámbito educativo.

La perspectiva de la sustentabilidad conlleva la comprensión de los comportamientos ambientales, para generar propuestas educativas que incidan en la construcción de una ciudadanía ambiental, en la que se prioriza los saberes, conocimientos, actitudes y valores sustentables.

La educación es crucial para fomentar los ideales de la sostenibilidad. [Educación para la sostenibilidad] La EDS es un proceso de aprendizaje de cómo tomar decisiones que consideran el futuro a largo plazo de la economía, la ecología, el desarrollo equitativo de todas las comunidades, así como la promoción de sus culturas (Besong and Holland, 2015, p.8).

Desde la década de los setenta del siglo pasado, en México se dieron varias acciones para incorporar la dimensión ambiental en algunas carreras universitarias.

En la búsqueda de alternativas educativas para lograr una educación de acuerdo con los requisitos de las sociedades del siglo XXI, se utiliza la pedagogía ambiental y la educación ambiental.

La pedagogía ambiental se inscribe en un movimiento educativo vinculado a la recuperación de los derechos del ser humano por habitar en un medio ambiente sano y seguro; esta pedagogía hace evidente que existe un desequilibrio manifiesto en la problemática ambiental, producto de una visión mercantil, que ha dado origen a lo que algunos autores, como Enrique Leff (1998), denominan ” crisis de civilización”.

Las estrategias de enseñanza para la educación ambiental deben proporcionar a los estudiantes experiencias de aprendizaje y oportunidades para confrontar sus propios puntos de vista y valores relacionados con los problemas ambientales para que puedan abordar los problemas ambientales (Sanera, 1998).

La educación ambiental está orientada a la comprensión holística del medio ambiente, basada en la pedagogía ambiental. “La educación ambiental implica una nueva pedagogía, que surge de la necesidad de orientar la educación en el contexto social y en la realidad ecológica y cultural donde se ubican los sujetos y actores del proceso educativo” (Leff, 1998, p.218).

Existe un diálogo teórico-metodológico entre quienes forman parte del campo de la educación ambiental; diálogo que propicia la construcción de nuevos objetos de estudio y la reflexión sobre nuevas prácticas (Calixto, 2013).

La educación ambiental se propone el análisis del devenir de las sociedades en sus múltiples relaciones con el medio ambiente; el medio ambiente está lleno de significados subjetivos, a partir de los cuales los seres humanos desarrollan sus acciones, generando propuestas educativas que inciden en la construcción de una ciudadanía ambiental.

La educación ambiental cuestiona los procesos de modernización, que cosifican al sujeto y moldean un tipo de personalidad, donde no va más allá de sus valores productivos, consumistas y pragmáticos, identificando al ser humano por su poder de consumo. Una de las estrategias que se pueden desarrollar en la capacitación de estudiantes universitarios es el estudio de caso, porque la capacitación requiere el “examen minucioso de personas, temas, problemas o programas” (Hays, 2004, p.218).

En el Instituto Tecnológico de Estudios Superiores de México, ITESM (2011) clasifican los estudios de casos como estrategias y técnicas didácticas en caso de valores, incidente, solución razonada, mentalización, temático y búsqueda real.

Yin (2002) define al estudio de caso como define el caso como un fenómeno contemporáneo dentro de su contexto de vida real, especialmente cuando las fronteras entre un fenómeno y el contexto no son claras y el investigador tiene poco control sobre el fenómeno y el contexto (p. 13).

En esta experiencia educativa, se trabajó con el grupo el caso de búsqueda real, para que los estudiantes delimitaran situaciones reales, realizan un diagnóstico y elabora el caso, para discutir soluciones concretas.

3. Proceso de sistematización de la experiencia educativa

A través de un diario de campo se registró el trabajo realizado en el curso, anotando las principales actividades y resultados obtenidos en una carpeta digital, que permitió recuperar la práctica educativa de los estudiantes en torno a los problemas ambientales locales.

A partir del reconocimiento de la crisis ambiental y de un problema ambiental específico; se propone a los estudiantes la elaboración de estudios de caso de los problemas ambientales de su comunidad. La práctica educativa comprende varios momentos: encuadre; planeación conjunta de actividades individuales, en equipo y grupales; diagnóstico, delimitación y caracterización del estudio de caso.

3.1 El encuadre. Es un contrato pedagógico en el que se delimitan las actividades que le corresponden al docente y los estudiantes; se fomenta un ambiente de trabajo participativo, para incidir en el interés y compromiso de los estudiantes.

Al docente le corresponde el papel de mediador, para fomentar el interés y el compromiso de los de los estudiantes; es decir se orientan las actividades para fomentar la capacidad de aprender. En la mediación se requiere escuchar, comprender, comunicar y respetar las distintas vías para aprender y estos medios son las actividades individuales, en equipo y en grupo.

La mediación docente propicia que los estudiantes trabajen juntos en un clima de empatía, tolerancia, confianza y compromiso para alcanzar las metas propuestas.  No es tarea fácil lograrlo, existen varias resistencias en los estudiantes, así como condiciones institucionales que limitan el trabajo cooperativo. Entre las resistencias de los estudiantes, se encuentran la dificultad de lograr una comunicación efectiva, indecisión en la toma de decisiones, relaciones basadas en solo en la empatía y no en el desarrollo de las tareas; entre las condiciones limitantes, se tiene horarios rígidos de sesiones, grupo numeroso, situaciones de estudiantes irregulares que no concluyen el curso.

3.2 Planeación conjunta de actividades individuales, en equipo y grupales. Las actividades individuales implican que los estudiantes revisen los conocimientos previos que poseen respecto a los temas del curso; el docente hace una exploración de estos conocimientos y revisa que conocimientos les son útiles para la elaboración de mapas conceptuales, los ensayos argumentativos y los análisis críticos (trabajo individual).

Se forman varios equipos de cuatro o cinco integrantes. Los mapas conceptuales elaborados son presentados al interior de cada equipo, redactan una serie de conclusiones que son expuestas al grupo. Los equipos cambian de integrantes en cada una de las sesiones para trabajar con distintos materiales (trabajo en equipo).

Los estudiantes se integran a diversos equipos, de acuerdo al problema ambiental que les parece más interesante y/o importante para diagnosticar y trabajar el estudio de caso. Los integrantes de cada equipo deciden el problema ambiental, y las técnicas de diagnóstico que utilizarán, exponiendo sus preguntas y avances a todo el grupo (trabajo grupal).

3.3 Desarrollo del estudio de caso.  Las etapas del estudio de caso son: diagnóstico, delimitación y caracterización.

La primera etapa del estudio de caso, corresponde al diseño de las técnicas de diagnóstico; conlleva un plan, un conjunto de operaciones a realizar para obtener estrategias de aplicación y de construcción de instrumentos.  El plan puede ser más o menos estructurado según la técnica o técnicas seleccionadas. Los estudiantes eligen las técnicas a partir de dos condiciones: la isomorfa (el requisito de adecuar las técnicas de análisis al tipo de proposiciones teóricas) y la objetividad de los datos; los estudiantes toman en cuenta los aspectos más relevantes que deben de diagnosticar; estos aspectos pueden denominarse como factores, variables o indicadores, de acuerdo a la posición teórica que asuman.

El proceso de diseño metodológico depende en primer lugar de la perspectiva epistemológica con que se aborde el diagnóstico por realizar y de sus propósitos. En su vertiente epistemológica en resumen, subyacen al proyecto de investigación que conceptualizan y operan. (Yazan, 2015).

La perspectiva epistemológica que asumen los estudiantes, generalmente es positivista, interpretativa o crítica. En la primera perspectiva, la obtención de los datos parte de la percepción, y habla precisamente de la información, o sea, de lo dado directamente por la experiencia, se colecta los datos por medio de instrumentos cuidadosamente elaborados; en la segunda perspectiva los estudiantes parten, de que no existe lo dado, sino que siempre debe haber una cierta interpretación o construcción, no se puede recoger simplemente los datos, éstos se construyen con base a un proceso de interpretación, con herramientas cualitativas; y en la tercera perspectiva, los estudiantes toman como referencia que el conocimiento es obtenido por una construcción social, en la que los sujetos participantes en el problema por diagnosticar, establecen una relación dialéctica con la realidad, que implica proceso de reflexión y análisis para incidir en la medida de lo posible con la implementación de acciones. Esta última perspectiva es la más congruente con la educación popular ambiental y que se fomenta en la mediación docente.

Todas las técnicas elegidas por los estudiantes, se ponen a prueba en el grupo; el proceso de elaboración y diseño de las técnicas de diagnóstico no culmina con su elección, sino que hay que comprobar que estén bien diseñadas. Proceso que se realiza en el grupo, con la revisión de los instrumentos, y su pilotaje con estudiantes de otros grupos. Todas estas actividades   se realiza con el fin de que los resultados que se obtengan sean lo más cercano posible a la realidad. El diseño metodológico conduce a definir de qué manera se podrá obtener la información. Los tipos de información pueden ser: numérica o textual. Mientras que las fuentes, origen o formas como se producen esos datos es primaria (como la encuesta, entrevista, observación, pruebas y técnicas proyectivas, grupo de discusión, etc.) o secundaria: datos cuantitativos (estadísticas o censos) o bien cualitativos (actas, diarios, registros, memorias, documentos, entre otros).

Una vez definida la manera como se va a obtener la información se pasa a determinar la estrategia de aplicación. Un buen diagnóstico incluye no sólo una técnica, sino que es conveniente diseñar y realizar varias pruebas o usar diferentes técnicas, a fin de lograr un diagnóstico lo más confiable posible. Se debe de buscar la objetividad, para ello en el diseño de los instrumentos se busca su validación, confiabilidad y significancia.

En la segunda etapa, de delimitación del “caso”, se procede a la revisión, organización y análisis de la información recabada; de acuerdo a las técnicas e instrumentos utilizados se procede a un análisis descriptivo, interpretativo o crítico; tendiente a encontrar los aspectos relevantes del “caso”, afín de particularizar sus características y contar con mayor elementos para definir sus componentes, encontrar sus causas, establecer las redes de consecuencias y plantear posibles vías de acción.

En la tercera etapa, se pasa al proceso de organización, sistematización y presentación del “caso”, actividades que implican un proceso de construcción dialógico, a fin de ir articulando los componentes del “caso” y poderlos presentar al grupo. La construcción de un “caso” implica poner en práctica los aprendizajes obtenidos, se sugiere que el “caso” sea preciso, congruente y real. Es decir solo incluir la información necesaria y que corresponda a la situación, ilustrada con esquemas, cuadros, figuras, mapas, tablas, gráficas, imágenes, fotografías, entre otros recursos, que den la posibilidad de tener una visión clara del problema.

En los estudios de caso se cuidó el anonimato de los informantes; como las instituciones implicadas, salvo que se exprese de los participantes el deseo contrario.

El estudio de caso, además de desarrollar las habilidades de redacción de informes, proyectos y propuesta; fomenta el trabajo colaborativo, contribuye a la toma de decisiones de forma conjunta, y a reconocer los sentimientos y emociones que forman parte de sus valores y actitudes.

Los equipos se conforman de acuerdo al desarrollo del curso; éstos son dinámicos, se forman por medio de la libre elección de los estudiantes. Se distribuyen las tareas y responsabilidades en cada miembro del equipo. Los integrantes de cada equipo se comprometen a la aplicación de los instrumentos de las técnicas que han elegido; aspectos adicionales del diseño metodológico están dados por las restricciones externas: el presupuesto, el tiempo, el momento social, político y cultural del diagnóstico.

Se atiende a la forma de organización de cada equipo, para resolver dudas y los posibles conflictos que puedan surgir. Así como llevar un seguimiento y retroalimentar los contenidos. Cada estudiante realiza un trabajo individual que se suma al trabajo de los demás, para constituir el trabajo en equipo.

El trabajo participativo, requiere de un mayor esfuerzo, se logran con la suma de las actividades de cada estudiante de forma individual y en equipo; y las actividades en grupo, esto es posible cuando ocurre una implicación personal y la vivencia de pertenencia a un grupo.

El trabajo participativo ocurre cuando los estudiantes comparten objetivos y la meta grupal; se establece cierto grado de organización para lograr la cooperación y una actitud de ayuda mutua.

El fomento del trabajo participativo resulta de la suma e integración de los trabajos individual, en equipo y en grupo, propiciado por la mediación docente. Esta mediación implica entre otras cuestiones, una retroalimentación constante, que facilite la identificación de problemas y la superación de las resistencias hacia el trabajo cooperativo.

En el diseño metodológico se debe prever el proceso de análisis de resultados. Este proceso de análisis, constituye la base de la presentación del “caso”, que cada equipo presenta al grupo.

4. Resultados

En el trabajo realizado se obtuvieron diversos resultados, principalmente en tres ámbitos de aprendizaje: actitudinal, conceptual y metodológico.

4.1 El ámbito actitudinal.  Se refiere a las formas como los estudiantes se expresan a las diferentes situaciones planteadas, en las que se ponen de manifiesto las valoraciones que poseen sobre el medio ambiente.

Los estudiantes al inicio tenían una serie de actitudes no favorable en torno a la integración del equipo, y al desarrollo de un trabajo práctico fuera de la Universidad; entre otras actitudes se observaron:

  • Apatía para intervenir en el análisis y discusión
  • Desinterés por escuchar las opiniones y propuestas de los otros estudiantes
  • Sin una motivación para realizar las actividades
  • Poco interés en la toma de acuerdos en forma consensada
  • Resistencia para integrarse en equipos diferentes

Estas actitudes fueron cambiando gradualmente, cuando se propició un clima de aprendizaje participativo,  en la que los estudiantes planearon las actividades y tuvieron una comunicación horizontal para la elección del método, contenidos y contexto del estudio de caso.

4.2 El ámbito conceptual. Comprende loa incorporación de nuevos atributos a los conceptos que los estudiantes ya poseen, de tal forma que mejoran o enriquecen sus conocimientos, con nuevos datos, hechos, conceptos, teorías y argumentos.

El ámbito conceptual. Los estudiantes tenían pocos conocimientos de educación ambiental y no conocían la perspectiva de la sociología ambiental; al inicio del curso la mayoría de los estudiantes manifestaron una serie de dudas que persistieron por varias clases; estas dudas se fueron resolviendo a medida que se desarrollaban las tareas planeadas; así por ejemplo respecto al ámbito conceptual, se identificaron entre otras las siguientes interrogantes:

  • ¿Cuál es el origen de los problemas ambientales?
  • ¿Qué es un problema ambiental?
  • ¿Qué es la educación ambiental?
  • ¿Qué tienen que ver los actores ideológicos y políticos con los problemas ambientales?
  • ¿Qué propuestas tiene la educación ambiental ante los problemas ambientales?

Estas dudas fueron resueltas gradualmente, como resultado del trabajo  en equipos y en grupo; una lectura básica para el análisis y discusión del papel de la sociología ambiental, fue el de José Luis Lezama (2004) “La construcción social y política del medio ambiente”; en esta obra el autor plantea que la construcción   social de los problemas ambientales se deriva de los valores, influidos por factores políticos e ideológicos, que tienen que ver con maneras específicas de vivir y percibir problemas; otro libro consultado fue el de Ulrich Beck (1992) “La sociedad en riesgo: Hacia una nueva modernidad”, para señalar que para analizar los problemas ambientales es necesaria la mediación de símbolos tangibles, como los que se viven de forma cotidiana en la ciudad de México.

4.3 El ámbito procedimental.  Se refiere al aprendizaje de procedimientos, métodos, estrategias, técnicas, instrumentos y habilidades aplicadas en el desarrollo del estudio de caso. Los estudiantes tenían diversas inquietudes, debido a que no tenían la seguridad de poder realizar el estudio de caso; es así, como se presentaron varias resistencias, entre otras:

  • No concluían a tiempo los ejercicios iniciales, en los que se seleccionaba un problema ambiental y después se problematizaba en un contexto específico.
  • Expresaban el desconocimiento de las técnicas básicas de investigación, comprobándose después que si las conocían y manejaban.
  • Manifestaban una serie de dificultades para realizar el trabajo de campo; la mayoría de estas dificultadas se resolvieron fácilmente.

Estas resistencias se superaron gradualmente, pero no así dos dificultades en la formación de los estudiantes, que constituyeron un obstáculo difícil de superar:

  • Dificultades en la comprensión de información de las lecturas propuestas.
  • Dificultades en la redacción de textos.

Sin embargo, los estudiantes se entusiasmaron con la tarea de desarrollar un trabajo práctico, que implicaba la toma de decisiones consensuada y el aprendizaje colaborativo.

La realización del estudio de caso en un contexto que conocían, les facilito identificar las características y condiciones de la comunidad.

Los estudiantes de forma gradual fueron tomando conciencia de que todos somos parte de..

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Lautensach JSE March 2018 Decolonization Issue PDF

Link to the Decolonizing and Sustainability Education TOC


Among all the pressing needs for educational innovations that we face today, arguably the most imperative is the need to elicit learners’ active collaboration towards a ‘Great Transition’ into a secure and sustainable future for humanity. Among the numerous challenges that this endeavour entails, the anticipated arrival of unprecedented numbers of climate refugees will severely challenge the capacities of host institutions to maintain human security – connecting to a second pressing need, namely to promote and maintain cultural safety for newcomers and hosts. We focus on the question how compatible those two educational projects might be. To what extent could a Transition curriculum include and inform a curriculum for cultural safety, and how could a curriculum devoted to the principles of decolonisation internalise the need for living within our means? Neither one can be successful without the other. In general the two educational projects are reconcilable and inform and reinforce each other. However, some specific objectives of the Transition curriculum, mainly in the affective domain, require careful attention to cultural differences and reasoned compromise.


This essay is based on earlier work by the authors that was presented at the International Conference on Education in Stockholm on 5 June 2017.


Key Words: Cultural safety, Human Security, Decolonization, Great Transition, Anthropocene, Curriculum



Since the ground breaking publications by Rachel Carson and the Club of Rome half a century ago the emergence of diverse environmental threats to a sustainable future for human civilisations has been well recognised, although their significance was slow to permeate into most people’s awareness. Acknowledging the realisation that threats to ecological integrity sooner or later ramify into threats to human security was held back by an array of counterproductive mental habits, cognitive dysfunctions and moral ineptitudes, all culturally reinforced and perpetuated (Rees, 2010; Lautensach, 2010).[i] Those impediments, along with sophisticated ideological campaigning by corporate interests (Oreskes & Conway, 2010), made it difficult for people to recognise the importance of emerging dysfunctions of environmental support structures and to interpret them as threats to the sustainable security of human populations.

With the 1994 report by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP, 1994) and the much-cited Brundtland report (WCED, 1987) the linkage between ecological integrity and human security began to gain wider recognition.  By then the global environmental crisis had gained a magnitude that made it increasingly impossible for corporate-controlled media to ignore or deny (Beder, 2006; Oreskes & Conway, 2010). The new era of the Anthropocene has seen increasing demands on ecosystems, coupled with a decrease in the support capacity of those ecosystems due to their ongoing deterioration, continuously reducing the availability of resources per capita in many regions (WWF, 2016). Anthropogenic warming and its effects on regional climates are changing our physical and ecological environments in ways that we are just beginning to understand, although it is likely that agricultural productivity, biodiversity and public health will all be negatively affected. Human security will be further weakened through knock-on effects on socio-political structures, national and regional economies and healthcare systems. The increasing awareness of a world in environmental crisis has convinced many people that a systematic, organised strategy is necessary to ensure humanity’s ‘Great Transition’[ii] to a sustainable future of acceptable quality, and many governments are making constructive efforts (Potter, 1988; Rees, 2014; Raskin, 2016). Now, Denmark proceeds towards total independence from fossil fuels, France has a Ministry for Ecological Transition, and Norway built the world’s first ‘ecological’ prison.

Yet, because of the widespread and chronic failures of many governments to proactively address the worsening global environmental crisis in a timely fashion (Lautensach & Lautensach, 2014a), the remaining options have been reduced mainly to mitigation and adaptation. A transition to some kind of sustainable global situation is inevitable and can no longer be painless, but some strategic choices and opportunities remain to avoid the worst (Rees, 2014).[iii] Instead of a grand collapse we will probably face differentiated disintegration, which creates room for creative counterstrategies, based on an alternative successful praxis.

In education, the growing recognition that further ‘development’ depends essentially on ecological integrity, and that the two were to some extent interdependent, convinced many practitioners that a successful transition to a sustainable future of acceptable quality required new approaches. Those efforts entered the mainstream with UNESCO’s Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD), which helped to move education for sustainability into the awareness of many educators and into the front and centre of curriculum reform (United Nations, 2005). However, DESD also reinforced some conceptual interpretations of sustainability education that are proving less than helpful. One is a pronounced bias towards universal solutions of standardised ‘development’ in the face of a global diversity of cultures and traditions, inspired by a monolithic vision of beneficent modernity and dubious interpretations of sustainability. Another is its persistent reliance on the ideology of growth and blind techno-optimism (e.g. in its preoccupation with technical innovations to ‘eradicate poverty’) (Lautensach & Lautensach, 2014b). The influence of the DESD is exemplified by the new public school curriculum for the Canadian province of British Columbia. It addresses sustainability in only four places (a regrettably low coverage), all under the headings of design, technology and science (Province of BC, 2017).

The influence of techno-optimism has moved many educationists to prioritise scientific and technological approaches to sustainability (such as alternative energy, recycling, conservation, etc.) in the development of new curricula and innovative teaching strategies. They aim to promote sustainable lifestyles, to explain the reasons for their importance, and to advocate the urgency of the issues to accomplish the Great Transition. Other approaches for ‘Transition education’ address the need to include the social, cultural and moral dimensions of sustainability (Stone & Barlow, 2010; Lautensach, 2010; Orr, 2004; Parkin, 2010). Yet those approaches are largely characterised by a ‘one size fits all’ rationale that rarely recognises the implications of cultural diversity and postcolonial inequities of power.

In contrast, educational agenda towards decolonisation have from their inception focused squarely on the diversity of cultures, and on issues of injustice in the socio-cultural relationships and power structures that govern diverse postcolonial societies. To be effective towards strengthening “the meaningful and active resistance to the forces of colonialism that perpetuate the subjugation and/or exploitation of our minds, bodies, and lands,” (Waziyatawin & Yellow Bird, 2012: 3) educational approaches must take into account the situations and concerns of ethno-cultural minorities in today’s classrooms (Harrison et al, 2013). Those agenda include accommodating cultural diversity and addressing its problematic interactions with monolithic modernity, along with a fierce dedication to justice in its distributive, restorative and procedural interpretations (Strega & Brown, 2015). Additional urgency is imparted by the increased mobility of families and the increasing displacement of entire peoples by climate change and violent conflicts.

One aspect of today’s postcolonial societies that renders their decolonisation imperative is the widespread and persistent lack of cultural safety among colonised peoples. Originated among nursing educators in Aotearoa/New Zealand, cultural safety practices have contributed to the success of educational decolonising efforts in diverse settings (Ramsden, 2005; Harrison et al., 2013).[iv] Concern for the cultural safety of students and teachers arose from applications of the justice principle to postcolonial classrooms where indigenous minorities often ended up marginalised and disadvantaged. Their disproportionately low success rate, lower state of health and poor professional opportunities were identified as manifestations of longstanding institutional injustice rooted in racial prejudice and oppressive colonial traditions. Operatively speaking, they were not made to feel culturally safe. The cultural safety of learners depends on the effective teaching of a person or family from another culture by a teacher who has undertaken a process of reflection on his or her own cultural identity, recognizing the impact of the teacher’s culture on his or her own classroom practice (NCNZ, 2011: 7) and applying effective intercultural competencies. Culturally safe education is free of “any action that diminishes, demeans or disempowers the cultural identity and well being of an individual” or group (NAHO, 2006: 3). Cultural safety can transform power imbalances, neutralize institutional discrimination, and address the effects of colonization (Ramsden, 2005). For those reasons one might consider culturally safe education a necessary condition for any educational achievement by culturally marginalized students. The heightened multicultural pressures in present-day schools provide an added incentive. Beyond schooling, an education for cultural safety can make a substantial contribution towards the peaceful resolution of intercultural tensions in wider society by ‘preparing to be offended’ (Lautensach & Lautensach, 2015).

The literature on cultural safety and decolonisation shows little awareness of the threats to human welfare that arise from the crisis of sustainability, despite its strong humanist ideals and despite the fact that those threats inequitably affect the world’s poorest. This essay will juxtapose education for cultural safety as a representative of decolonising pedagogies against the widespread mainstream of sustainability education that pursues a unified, ecologically inspired vision of a ‘Great Transition’ for all. As the preceding summaries show, both serve essential purposes; but the differences in priorities and approaches presented in the respective literature indicate the possibility of a deeper rift in aims and value priorities. The main question addressed in this essay is: To what extent does this perceived rift indicate fundamental incompatibilities between the two educational agenda? Given the overarching priority of sustainability education at this time, as well as the importance of cultural safety for educational success, reassurance is needed that the aims and methods of one curriculum do not conflict with the success of the other. We are developing a project to test this hypothesis using quantitative empirical data in our home region of northwestern British Columbia. In this paper we take a theoretical approach to compare and evaluate learning outcomes that are used in sustainability education and cultural safety education, respectively. Our objective is to assess the possible extent of conceptual and moral contradictions as well as the potential for mutual reinforcement.

We reviewed the literature and the authors’ personal practice to identify the major learning outcomes and pedagogical strategies of the two curricula. Curricula include learning outcomes in the cognitive and the affective domains; the latter includes attitudes, values, beliefs and motivations. The learning outcomes and strategies apply both to public schooling and to teacher education. Each outcome or strategy was assessed for its possible effects and dependence on the other curriculum.

Curriculum for Cultural Safety: A Brief Overview

Learning Outcomes

The following learning outcomes were compiled from a cursory literature review (Krathwohl, 1964; Noddings, 1995; Schonert-Reichl & Hymel, 2007; Gay, 2010; Lautensach & Lautensach, 2011a; Brewer & McCabe, 2014; Brown & Krasteva, 2014). They are organised into three stages according to Ramsden’s (2005) developmental model, and a section on strategies.

Cultural Awareness & Sensitivity:

Social-Emotional Learning focuses on happiness, “caring and supportive interpersonal relationships, empathy and care for others, making responsible decisions, and desisting from risky and health-compromising behaviours” (Schonert-Reichl & Hymel 2007: 21).

Demonstrate awareness of the importance of cultural safety; show interest in issues and policies relating to cultural safety; show respect for beliefs and values in others that disagree with one’s own; show concern for the welfare of others; become adept at identifying possible causes of inadvertent offence proactively; demonstrate commitment to social improvement.

Cultural Competencies:

Demonstrate skills for intercultural communication, leadership, conflict resolution, negotiating value differences, establishing a joint culture of tolerance and fairness;

Explicate and analyse the hidden curriculum for its messages (e.g. cultural parochialism, contradictions); safely discuss perceptions on discriminatory attitudes encountered in the community and in the curriculum; explore and discuss the potential of culturally responsive local self government; reconcile conflicting moral priorities in the pursuit of cultural safety (e.g. tolerance and justice); prioritise non-violence as a moral principle; explore and adopt non-violent alternatives to conflict resolution.

Achieving Cultural Safety: (Lautensach & Lautensach, 2011a)

Explain alternative moral theories and principles, as well as moral and logical reasoning; compare and evaluate possible strategies to make education culturally safe and to educate for cultural safety in wider society; empower learners to tolerate inadvertent cultural offence, to appreciate the benefits of cultural pluralism & of limiting cultural relativism; help peers understand how they can adopt culturally safe practices and why they should.

Educational Strategies

In addition to the above learning outcomes, the following contextual and pedagogical strategies are recommended (Lautensach & Lautensach, 2011a; Meyers, 1993; Meyer et al, 2014; Gay, 2010; Noddings, 1995):

Alleviate teachers’ uncertainties about their job security; strengthen teachers’ confidence with value education (especially through modeling); address controversial issues; allow cultural groups to define their own learning space in the classroom; infuse curriculum with minority languages from the community and their cultural traditions; implement affirmative action wherever the consensus calls for it; implement diverse collaborative styles; allow students to collaboratively construct learning goals; create a safe forum for personal stories; enable students to make authentic connections to learning and to each other; remove the air of illegitimacy about caring, including the deconstruction of cultural stereotypes about gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic status.

Mainstream Sustainability Education: Analysis of Compatibility

The learning outcomes are organised here under six major educational aims, hallmarks of a transition curriculum that we have worked with for some years (Lautensach, 2010). They are listed below, along with conducive learning outcomes and strategies, followed by evaluative comments how each aim reconciles with cultural safety. The six aims apply also to teacher education, with a special emphasis on epistemological skills, philosophical foundations, comprehensive content knowledge, well-rounded ethics and active participation in professional communities of practice focusing on sustainability education (Lloyd et al, 2011; Santone et al, 2014; Cloud, 2014).

For the sake of brevity, only a small selection from a much larger body of curriculum content is given, adequate for the analysis at hand. (Cloud, 2014; Parkin, 2010; Welzer, 2016; Potter, 1988; Orr, 2004; Lloyd et al, 2011; Oakes & Lipton, 2007; Jones et al, 2010; Senge, 2014; McKibben, 2010; Lautensach, 2010; Lautensach & Lautensach, 2011b; Lautensach 2013; Sipos et al., 2008).

Adopt a concept of progress that is informed by sustainability
Demonstrate ecological literacy in its diverse transdisciplinary, cognitive and affective aspects (Nichols, 2010; Simmons, 2014); critically analyse manifestations of the growth paradigm; apply ecological principles and the theory of adaptive systems to the dynamics and sustainable well-being of human populations in social-ecological systems and a reductive economy; ask “what is growing, where, for whom, and at what cost?” (Parkin, 2010: 73); distinguish the ideals of acceptable survival from the mere survival of the greatest number; explore and adopt sustainable and equitable alternatives in health care; explain historical case studies of sustainability challenges; nurture respect for nature, for precaution and for small enterprise; adopt the principles of sufficiency within limits of growth, of justice and restraint, and of holistic economic cost assessment; starting from earth systems science, consider the Gaia model to enrich one’s personal environmental ethic.

These outcomes are not in direct conflict with cultural safety. Yet, potential points of conflicts exist between culturally contingent views about progress and survival, utility of nature and non-humans, and the limits of humanism.

Replace anthropocentrism with an ecocentrist environmental ethic.

Distinguish between statements of value and of fact; distinguish ontologically subjective concepts (e.g. the right to a clean environment) from ontologically objective ones (e.g. the limits of carrying capacity); adopt a perspective of holistic valuing of nature and of regarding humans as an integral part of nature (as is evident in many indigenous belief systems); describe the function of ecological communities inside and outside of the human body; demonstrate resistance against the dominant custom of commodifying nature (and almost everything else) and exploiting it purely for human ends; learn how to convince others to adopt sustainable values; reconcile one’s aspirations towards personal freedom with the constraints of social justice, ecological limits and the rights of non-humans; describe the natural environment using metaphors of personhood and moral standing, connecting with indigenous mythologies; demonstrate empathy, fairness and friendship for non-human animals, other life forms, ecosystems and landscapes.

As with the preceding aim, a potential for disagreement arises from conflicting worldviews and assumptions about the position of humans in nature. Particular sources of controversy are presented by religious claims to hegemony – but then such ambitions often threaten cultural safety as well (Kivel, 2013).

Acquire the cognitive and affective skills required to collaboratively meet the challenges.

Apply footprint analysis to development issues and their implications; practice ethical reasoning and metaethical analysis; develop your own learning skills and attitudes; become more perceptive of and adaptive to environmental and social change; contribute to sustainable waste management for your family and community (the ‘six Rs of sustainability’: reduce, reuse/repurpose, recycle, refuse, rethink, rot) and explicate their importance; develop informed skepsis towards unsubstantiated propositions, dogmatism and demagoguery, including appeals to ‘common sense’, ‘rationality’, ‘realism’ and ‘human nature’; broaden your scientific understanding of nature; complement expertise in sustainable lifestyles with well-reasoned explanations why they are important and to what extent they might help; develop reflective analysis, especially one’s own habits of mind and points of view; recognise and revise those unquestioned assumptions and habits of thinking that lead well-intentioned people into ecologically catastrophic decisions; acquire learning skills at the individual as well as social levels and extend them to teaching others.

These skills do not conflict with those required for cultural safety. In fact, they are likely to reinforce them – except perhaps when the learner’s newly developed skepsis and critical thinking turns towards religious dogma and unquestioned cultural traditions.

Acquire a vision for and awareness of the future that includes change and sustainable solutions.

Visualise utopias that transcend the ‘present-plus’ pretences of ‘futuropathic’ agents; experience self efficacy in activist ‘communities of practice’ committed to Transition goals; cultivate informed courage over defeatism; recognise and appreciate quality over quantity in human endeavours; become aware of anthropogenic environmental change and ecological overshoot and how they affect the prospects and human security of communities; support projects that are planned within ecological limits and critique constructively those that are not; evaluate innovations by asking “and then what?” and “who benefits?”.

It seems inconceivable how any culture would envision the future entirely as a continuation of the present. On the other hand, many cultures harbour similar ideals about a more just, humane and secure future, and their moral codes are informed by those aspirations. In the context of visioning utopias, the potential for mutual reinforcement between the two curricula seems to outweigh any potential for conflict.

Adopt a non-parochialist view of environmental values and academic inquiry.

Reconcile moral pluralism with the primacy of sustainability, i.e. the imperatives of universal behaviour change towards sustainable norms; adopt values of global humanism, tempered with ecological holism; show your affiliation to your home place, tempered with appreciation of the rest of the world; adopt an ethic of cultural pluralism and social justice, tempered with respect for universal human rights; support local ‘slow’ movements over conventional modern ‘development’; adopt a global vision of causes, effects and interdependence and pay attention to local implications; share local resources equitably and sustainably.

Depending on how strongly a person adheres to the specific norms and principles dictated by their culture, there is potential for conflict with the openness and conceptual flexibility advocated in this aim. Every culture contains by definition an element of parochialism, which manifests in the discussions about headscarves and other cultural symbols in the public sphere. However, as both cultural safety and social sustainability depend on the parties’ abilities to overcome rigid mindsets and finding common ground, there is also a potential for synergy. A particular culture may also be expected to give up more than its fair share of values for the sake of universal ideals such as human rights and dignity.  A functional code of cultural pluralism may only demand that “we need fully to understand and appreciate the viewpoint of a particular standard before we judge it as inadequate” (Gbadegesin, 2009: 32).

Become liberated from exploitative dependencies.

Analyse the reasons for the failure of mainstream education to bring about substantial Transition..

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Illustration of bulltje, by Snowbunnies.

DuBois JSE March 2018 Decolonizing Issue PDF

Link to Decolonizing and Sustainability Education TOC


Abstract: This paper introduces an experiential learning assignment “Snow Challenge 2015” incorporated into an undergraduate-level interdisciplinary humanities and social science-based course focusing on a single Arctic Indigenous culture: the Sámi [Lapps] of Finland, Norway, Sweden, and the Kola Peninsula. The assignment used the open-source app Siftr and an accompanying open-access informational website on Sámi snow terms to allow students to apply Lule Sámi snow terminology to snow phenomena they observed in and around their home campuses and neighborhoods. The assignment’s goal was to enhance student learning related to each of the four categories of environmental literacy presented in Hollweg et al.’s (2011) framework: knowledge, attitudes, competencies, and behaviors. A content analysis of a random sampling of student essays written at the conclusion of the assignment showed significant enhancement of student learning, particularly in the areas of attitudes and competencies. The assignment helped model for students the value and nature of an Indigenous-centered curriculum and the pragmatic nature of Indigenous traditional knowledge in living effectively within a winter environment.


Keywords: Environmental literacy, traditional knowledge, Arctic cultures, Sámi studies, Siftr, experiential learning, locative technologies



During the winter of 2015, a class of 104 American college students at three different universities used the easy-to-use, open-source app Siftr to apply Lule Sámi snow terms to the visible landscape around them. Using personal cell phones or cameras to capture images of real-life snow conditions and then geolocating the images on a publically accessible map using the Siftr app, students involved in the assignment “Snow Challenge 2015” created a nuanced visual record of local snow conditions in and around Columbus Ohio, Madison Wisconsin, and Minneapolis Minnesota for a period of one month during the winter of 2015, while also learning about the utility and expressive potential of snow lexicon in a living Arctic language. The assignment helped American students “see snow” in a Sámi way and share their learning with the broader world, one that also came to include non-student interloper participants in places as far away as New Hampshire and Iceland. In a culminating individually written essay, students examined representations of snow and snow events (like winter storms) in journalistic media and interviewed one person outside of the course regarding attitudes toward snow and winter weather.

Background: Sámi Snow Research and Its Aims

Sámi (formerly called “Lapp”) people, the recognized Indigenous population of Finland, Norway, Sweden, and the Kola Peninsula of Russia, speak or have spoken a number of closely related but distinct Finno-Ugric languages, some eleven of which are known to modern linguists today. Most of these languages are endangered or nearly extinct, due to the past assimilative politics of Nordic governments and educational systems during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. A few, like Northern Sámi and Lule Sámi, have populations of speakers numbering in the thousands. Others, like Ume Sámi and Ter Sámi, are spoken today by fewer than a hundred speakers. Under colonial pressure, many Sámi communities underwent language shift to a majority language already generations ago.

Sámi scholars, writing in northern Sámi, Nordic colonial languages, and occasionally English, have explored with elegance and precision the rich array of terms that people speaking various Sámi languages have developed in connection with snow. Cultural exploration and lexical identification of phenomena related to snow—including forms of snow precipitation, its characteristics in winter weather events, its distribution or change while lying on the ground or on ice, and ways it can be moved or marked by wind, animals’ feet, and successive processes of melting and freezing—has occurred over many centuries in Sámi languages, and remains an evolving and productive area of lexicon today (Eira et al. 2010). Formal linguistic research into snow lexicon in Sámi languages began already in the 1920s, as Konrad Nielsen conducted fieldwork for his authoritative dictionary of North Sámi, a work that remains a valuable resource for scholars today, particularly those wishing to examine Sámi languages from a historical perspective (Magga 2006). Israel Ruong (1969), the first Sámi person to earn a doctorate, wrote insightfully about Sámi traditional livelihoods and the terms used in daily life, including various snow terms in his introduction to Sámi culture. Historical linguists have discovered sometimes startling continuities for many of the terms recorded and defined in dictionaries like Nielsen’s: the North Sámi term čiegar, for instance, (or its cognate, the Lule Sámi tjiegar) today refers to snow lying on the ground that has been extensively pawed up by reindeer in their search for underlying food to graze on. The term has cognates in all other Sámi languages as well as in the more distant Finno-Ugric languages Khanty, Mansi, and Kamassian (Álgu-tietokanta Čiegar; see also discussion, Magga 2014: 42).

Čiegar, photo taken near Pielpajärvi, Finland. Photo by DuBois.

Given what is known about the migration and divergence of Finno-Ugric languages, the term must be thousands of years old. On the other hand, sometimes the words found in Sámi languages differ strongly from each other and indicate divergent developments. The South Sámi term tsoevtse, for instance, refers to a patch of snow that remains unmelted on a hillside during the late spring or the summer (Magga 2014: 32). The equivalent concept occurs in Lule Sámi language with the cognate word tsuobttsa (Álgu-tietokanta Tsuobttsa) but the word in North Sámi for such a snow patch is entirely different: jassa (Álgu-tietokanta Jassa). Both terms are ancient and have cognates widely in other Sámi languages or in Uralic languages from eastern Siberia, but their meanings vary: the North Sámi cognate of tsoevtse, for instance, cuokca, refers not to a patch of lingering snow on the ground but to a bridge over a river formed of snow and ice (Álgu-tietokanta Cuokca). Studying the interrelations of words in various Sámi languages can allow scholars to theorize regarding the ancient connections of Sámi communities and their relations with their environment and neighboring cultures (Aikio 2004).

Landscape showing snow patches, jassa, coastal Finnmark, Norway. Photo by DuBois

In the mid-1970s, as a new generation of Sámi scholars arose with the twin aspirations of deepening empirical understandings of Sámi culture and valorizing what was at the time a stigmatized and marginalized traditional culture, Nielsen’s earlier fieldwork became a resource for new diachronic and comparative studies. Interviewing older Sámi in various locales across Sápmi, the young scholars measured the degree to which earlier documented terms persisted in active use and ways in which snow lexicon varied locally and in relation to livelihood (Østby et al.) On the basis of this empirical data, they began to write studies that brought out distinctive local terminology related to snow and winter weather (e.g., Svonni 1981), and they revealed the ongoing significance of snow lexicon, particularly among Sámi involved in livelihoods that depended on a close monitoring of the local environment and conditions, including hunting, trapping, and reindeer husbandry (Eira 1984). Nils Jernsletten explored the rich lexical elaboration that Sámi languages display in relation to various specific livelihoods, not only in relation to topics like snow terminology, but also in terms of reindeer terminology and fish and seal characteristics and behavior (Jernsletten 1994, 1997). For a broader, non-Sámi Nordic readership, this research became vividly and evocatively illustrated in the work of lexicographer Yngve Ryd, who interviewed Johan Rassa, a Lule Sámi reindeer herder, and created a book full of photographs and descriptions that covers hundreds of specific Lule Sámi snow terms in a work with a deceptively simple Swedish title: Snö (snow) (Ryd 2001, retitled 2007). In the years since Ryd’s work, Ole Henrik Magga has written actively on the topic (2006, 2014) as has Anders Kintel (2010) and the team of Inger Marie Gaup Eira, Ole Henrik Magga, and Nils Isak Eira (2010). In his 2014 study of South Sámi snow terms, Magga surveys a hundred different snow terms, some fifty of which have no cognates in any other Sámi languages. This fact underscores the importance of localized, language-specific studies that involve close discussion with native speakers involved in or familiar with traditional activities.

This Sámi research should not be separated from the important Sámi agenda that motivated it. The rising scholars of the mid-1970s that embraced snow research can be seen as part of a broader artistic and intellectual movement within the Sámi community that became known by the somewhat mysterious acronym ČSV (Stordahl 1997, Kalstad 2013, Brantenberg 2014, Keviselie 2017). For Sámi of the ČSV generation, celebrating unique or highly recognizable aspects of Sámi culture became a way of embracing an enduring Sámi identity and the right of Sámi people to continue their traditions and ways of life, goals stated explicitly in a 1980 joint statement of the Nordic Sámi Council (Thuen 1995:41-42). For many of this generation, study of Sámi lexical complexity fit directly into the statement’s call for the recognition and advancement of Sámi languages, demonstrating the distinctiveness of Sámi linguistic and cultural identity.

Closely connected with the goal of valorizing Sámi language was the recognition of it as a crucial link between modern Sámi and their ancestral culture. Whether through focusing on acts of intergenerational transferral of knowledge and worldview facilitated by Sámi language, as Harald Gaski (1999) does in his classic and seminal essay “A Language to Catch Birds with” or through the conscious “recovery” of a sense of Sámi continuity entailed by learning Sámi language or conducting research on Sámi topics (see discussion, DuBois 2017: 103-128), the Sámi languages have played, and continue to play, a central role in Sámi cultural activism. In a context in which Sámi language was standardly portrayed as a hindrance or primitive relic, something to be set aside in favor of the idioms of the majority culture, studies that underscore the intrinsic sophistication and expressive potential of Sámi languages become highly attractive. It may be that snow terminology has held particular appeal in this context since snow was something that was once equated with the supposedly miserable life of Sámi as viewed by outsiders. By “owning” a concept that was once used to denigrate Sámi culture, Sámi reappropriate it as a symbol of Sámi identity and confidence.

A further stated or apparent goal of Sámi snow research has been to help establish and develop the idea of Sámi traditional knowledge as a valid and equal counterpart to Western science. Because claims to scientific authority are often directly linked to the generation of policies and practices regarding environmental management in Arctic areas, a recognition of the rigor and validity of Sámi traditional knowledge as an Indigenous form of science holds potential to improve Sámi access to decision-making regarding environmental questions in Sápmi. Eira et al.’s (2010) analysis of operative empirical categories underlying Sámi snow lexicon aims to demonstrate the pragmatic, evidence-based nature of snow terms. As Sámi scholars show, knowledge is not simply discrete items of fact, but practices about what to notice, how to describe, and how to analyse. Through examining Sámi snow terminology, the researcher can arrive at the ways in which Sámi people have perceived and analyzed their environment over time. The characteristics of snow that are noted become sources of insight in themselves. For instance, an English speaker might not at first think of animal tracks as a component of snow. But once one surveys the stunning array of specific terms that Sámi have developed to describe the specific tracks of specific animals in specific types of snow, one can better appreciate the fact that for Sámi, winter was a prime season for trapping. With tracks easier to find and analyze, food resources for target animals more limited, and fur quality better, the winter was an ideal period for harvesting animals through traps and snares. Learning the term radnu for the tracks of a hare following its established daily route, as the student KennyECSnow did when posting a 3/1/2015 image (albeit of rabbit tracks; an interesting adaptation!), helps underscore the fact that what we refer to as a component of “snow” is culturally variable.

These viewpoints have been powerfully advanced in Sámi scholarship on traditional knowledge. Lars-Nila Lasko’s (1993) edited anthology of essays and Elina Helander’s (1996) edited volume contribute important insights into the workings and meanings of Sámi knowledge systems. Jelena Porsanger and Gunvor Guttorm’s (2011) edited volume provides substantive guidance for the development of ethical and effective frameworks for the collection, documentation, analysis, and use of Sámi traditional knowledge in scientific contexts. Asbjørn Aaheim’s (2009) edited volume looks at ways in which Sámi traditional knowledge can contribute to research aimed at understanding and mitigating climate change in Arctic areas, and Tim Frandy (2013) has demonstrated the resilience of Sámi traditional knowledge in comparison with lab-based Western biology in understanding complex multivariable processes of ecological change.

A final element to note in contemporary Sámi interest in snow lexicon is its value in helping articulate and populate a decolonized, Sámi-centered, holistic Sámi educational program. Jan Henry Keskitalo (2009) argues eloquently for Sámi schooling that is not simply a translation of majority culture content into Sámi language but rather, an integrated, culturally-nuanced approach that places Sámi concepts and experiences as central in students’ educational experience. Asta Mitkijá Balto (2008) presents frameworks for incorporating Sámi traditional knowledge into Sámi educational systems as an act of decolonization. Elisabeth Utsi Gaup (2009) demonstrates how curricular materials focusing on Sámi landscape and environment can be incorporated into Sámi language teaching. In connection with snow lexicon in particular, Sverre Porsanger et al. (2009) offer curricular materials to introduce Sámi snow terms and meanings in elementary and secondary school contexts. This Sámi initiative can be understood in a broader context of Indigenous educational sovereignty as developed and practiced by Indigenous communities in other parts of the world, including the Upper Midwest (Cederström et al. 2016 ).

Combatting the Snow Skeptics

This important trend within Sámi studies also happens to intersect with, and in some cases run afoul of, a widespread, and often pernicious, discussion within linguistic circles about the words that Arctic cultures have for snow. The discussion, initiated in the 1980s by anthropologist Laura Martin (1986), usefully called attention to the inaccurate ways in which anthropology and linguistics textbooks of the time exaggerated or misrepresented details of Eskimo (Inuit and Yup’ik) snow-related lexicon as examples of the ways in which languages become adapted to environmental conditions. Martin’s valuable, but in some ways flawed, analysis focused particularly on the desire of Western scholars to impress their readers through referring to the lexical elaboration of snow terminology in Arctic cultures in numerical terms, as if it were possible to concretely define an exact number of distinct lexical items referring to snow in any given culture. While making these hortatory observations, Martin asserted (erroneously) in a footnote that Eskimo languages only have two distinct roots for snow and therefore presumably lack any of the lexical elaboration or semantic complexity that linguists and anthropologists had standardly credited them with. Her study was taken up and polemicized by a linguist working primarily on English, Geoffrey Pullum (1991), who described the clichéd assertion of Eskimo lexical richness in the area of snow terminology as “the great Eskimo vocabulary hoax.” From there, linguists turned direction, abandoning the cliché of Eskimo lexical elaboration for what became an equally clichéd assertion of the lack of Eskimo lexical elaboration, one that, to readers uninformed in Eskimo languages and not following the fine points of linguists’ arguments, seemed to suggest that speakers of Eskimo languages took scarcely any notice of the snow that they have lived with for large parts of the year over many centuries. The assertion that Eskimo languages lacked such elaborate lexicon was in turn assumed in simplistic fashion to apply to all Arctic cultures, so that Sámi research on snow lexicon is often greeted with skepticism or disdain in English-speaking majority culture circles.

While linguists and journalists without specialization in Eskimo languages today continue to repeat Martin’s assertion that Eskimo languages have only two roots for snow (Martin 1986, Pullum 1991, 2011, 2013, Nunberg 1996), scholars with knowledge of Inuit and Yup’ik languages (Woodbury 1991, Kaplan 2003, Krupnik and Müller-Wille 2010), or people who have read and digested their findings (Robson 2012, 2013) have consistently, though often gently, pushed back, identifying multiple roots for snow in various Eskimo languages, and stressing the fact that such is to be expected in cultures that live and deal with snow for much of the year.

As Kaplan (2003) puts it in reference to Inupiaq snow lexicon:

Even if we exclude the sorts of terms that some have suggested should not count in our tally of snow terms, it still appears that Inupiaq at least has an extensive vocabulary for snow and ice. It would surely be a surprise if Inuit people did not pay special attention to snow and ice, which are important features of the landscape throughout most of the year. Weather conditions and the state of frozen moisture underfoot are of utmost importance to travelers, hunters, and others, for whom faulty judgment of the terrain can have severe consequences. This particular semantic area demonstrates the detailed knowledge that many Inupiat have about their natural environment, and the example could have easily been something other than snow.

Yet the desire not to be caught in a “hoax” leads many American readers today to discount the notion that Eskimo languages, or indeed any Arctic language has multiple words for snow of any sort. Most unfortunate are assertions that aver that English is superior to Arctic languages in its elaboration of snow lexicon, or mocking spoof lists of purported Eskimo words like Phil James’s “The Eskimos’ Hundred Words for Snow,” which includes entries like “hiryla snow in beards” and “wa-ter melted snow.” Such attempts at humor trivialize another culture’s traditional knowledge, while suggesting that there is really very little of real importance that can be said about snow at all. One of the reasons for creating a snow assignment in a Sámi culture course was to reverse this unfortunate and rather absurd tendency in majority-culture musings about Arctic Indigenous cultures.

The Assignment: Snow Challenge 2015

Snow Challenge 2015 was designed to be part of a one-semester course entitled “Sámi Culture, Yesterday and Today,” taught regularly at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the winter (actually in what is called the “spring semester,” although it takes place mostly in the winter). The course’s 2015 iteration was shared electronically with the Ohio State University and the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities through a program called the Big Academic Alliance CourseShare. Although taught in Madison, students in Columbus and Minneapolis participated through watching streamed video and accessing a single course website. One of the benefits of the assignment was that it allowed students in different locations to share information about local weather conditions and to compare notes on the snows of 2015, i.e., to “talk about the weather,” but in a more complex and purposeful way than that phrase often connotes.

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Pope JSE March 2018 Decolonizing Issue PDF

Link to Issue Table of Contents

Abstract: Two tiny houses were constructed for the homeless at Dignity Village, Portland, Oregon, by Portland Community College students in two sustainability courses over 6 terms, using different approaches. By engaging the business community at large, various non-profits, parents of the students, and residents of the homeless village, the idea of community-based learning (CBL) was embraced by the instructor. CBL created an environment in which lack of experience and wide cultural variation were transformed into a cooperative community of inspiration.

Keywords: tiny houses, homelessness, community-based learning



The homeless: On any given night in the United States, 554,000 people are homeless (The Week Staff, 2018). This means these individuals do not have permanent shelter. The Native American population in Portland, Oregon, is 58,135, the ninth largest urban Indian population in the United States (NACMC, n.d.). Although only 2% of the overall homeless population in the U.S. is Native American (Statistic Brain, 2018), in 2003, 90,000 Native Americans were homeless in the United States (USCCR, 2003). “Urban Natives” often include some individuals that are the third generation of homeless in their family (Expert Panel, 2012). According to NoiseCat (2017), “Native men, women and children occupy the most severely overcrowded and rundown homes in the United States – but their plight is largely ignored.”

It is possible that every city in the United States has a percentage of their population designated as homeless. A constant stream of new homeless persons is created as job opportunities diminish and affordable housing becomes scarce. Housing costs are at an all-time high with little attention being given to affordable housing (“Ending Homelessness,” 2016). No full-time employee earning minimum wages in the United States can afford a one-bedroom apartment (Reslock, 2016). Over 391,000 individuals are reported as sleeping in shelters, with more than 173,000 sleeping in their cars or outdoors (Reslock, 2016). Numbers vary dramatically depending upon year and agency doing the reporting. Drug and Alcohol (2011) reported 2 million homeless in 2009. In Multnomah County, Oregon, which includes Portland, the location of this project almost 4,200 homeless are reported (Harbarber, 2017; Bolton, 2017). However, the large number that took advantage of extra shelter space provided this past winter in Portland might indicate that the numbers are much higher. Overall, homeless statistics underestimate the actual number of homeless due to students that couch-surf with friends, and families that share homes and apartments with one or more other families (“Ending Homelessness,” 2016; Elliott, 2017).

Most people shun the homeless thinking they are drug addicts or alcoholics, but only about one-third of all homeless have any substance abuse issues (Drug and Alcohol, 2011) indicating that common perceptions may not be appropriate. A recent survey (Brown, 2016) of the homeless in Portland, Oregon, found that they are our neighbors. When a person loses access to housing, they stay in the neighborhood; this is their home. That information should also change our overall perceptions of the homeless. Native Americans frequently do not have a specific neighborhood or community in urban settings (USICH, 2012).

Tiny houses for the homeless: Cities across the country are attempting to address the issue by providing temporary shelters, often clustered together in villages. The City of Portland, Oregon calls its temporary 6 ft. x 8 ft. to as large as 8 ft. x 10 ft. structures sleeping pods. In most cities, current building codes do not allow homes smaller than 200 to 400 sq. ft. (Turner, 2017). The sleeping pod designation allows the structures to circumvent the local building codes (Elliott, 2017). They may or may not be adequately insulated.

Dignity Village in Portland, Oregon, was founded in 2000, and is the longest running village of its kind, the nation’s first tiny house village for the homeless (Xie, 2017; Turner, 2017). Many cities across the nation are building similar communities (Xie, 2017; Erickson, 2015) (Table 1.) The shelters are often constructed by volunteers and exhibit a wide range of quality. The sleeping pods at Dignity Village are 15-17 years old, and many are in need of repair or replacement.

Table 1. Tiny house community examples across the United States.

An overall Portland, Oregon city plan includes the initial construction of sleeping pods with the intention of upgrading the structures to tiny houses in the future. The sleeping pods provide shelter, privacy, and a safe place to store personal belongings. They are clustered in villages with a community center that provides cooking and showering facilities. Most villages, at least in Portland, hire a service for portable toilets; some villages have at least one telephone and computer access. Some have readily available access to social programs to help the residents get re-established. Fully insulated tiny houses are usually larger than the sleeping pods and may contain a kitchen and or bathroom.

Tiny Houses in General: Most city building codes make it illegal to site tiny houses due to three obstacles: the minimum size requirement of 200 to 400 sq. ft. (depending upon the city); the municipal water and sewer connection regulations; and the plumbing and heating requirements (Turner, 2017). However, an International Residential Code (IRC) has been put forward and it states: “Every dwelling unit shall have at least one habitable room that shall not have less than 70 square feet” (Turner 2017; “Minimum Sizes, 2017”). This action was specifically intended to provide the legal framework that cities and states can adopt, encouraging the legalization of the tiny house movement. The state of Maine has adopted a tiny house building code (Bayly, 2017), and the state of Oregon is in process of passing a building code for tiny houses (Friedman, 2017). Many are reluctant to pass the new bill in Oregon due to uncertainty in safety hazards. However, cities will be able to adopt stricter rules should they choose to do so.

Many people attracted to tiny houses wish to return to a simpler or communal life. Others want to reduce their carbon footprint: tiny houses are built with sustainability in mind (Seaquist et al., 2016; Carlin, 2014). For example, a sustainable lifestyle may include the use of repurposed materials, and due to size of the tiny house, their energy requirements are greatly reduced. Some are interested in tiny houses for financial reasons (e.g., students and seniors) (Priesnitz, 2014; Seaquist et al., 2016). There are many reasons to promote this housing option.

As the city of Portland is establishing guidelines for sleeping pods for the homeless, it has simultaneously expedited the change in regulations to allow anyone to reside in a tiny house. This will change the landscape of tiny home ownership and will slow the constant flow of residents into the homeless situation. Legalizing tiny houses is a huge step towards ending homelessness, because even in areas of the country where employment is available, affordable housing may not be (Moreno, 2018). Tiny house communities can prevent those with jobs from entering the houseless category, and simultaneously provide a stepping stone out of homelessness.

“My tiny house experience has been one of the best experiences of my life. After experiencing homelessness once myself, this sustainability class has given me skills to better help myself and those around me. Homeless is a stage of life. Not a person.” Student reflection, 2017

Community-based Learning (CBL): Community and volunteers play a large role in the construction of the sleeping pods and tiny houses for the homeless. CBL is a means by which academic coursework can engage student learning through community engagement. It provides a framework that is mutually beneficial, embracing a variety of partnerships. Instructors and students engage with community groups to address community-identified needs, creating positive social change and a sense of civic agency (“What is Community-Based Learning,” n.d.). There are many names for CBL: “community science; participatory research and learning; social learning; sustainability learning; and community-based research” are just some of them (Thomsen, 2008). Service to the community is proving to be a very powerful pedagogy contributing to student learning through a vast number of possibilities (Zlotkowski & Duffy, 2010). In describing the effectiveness of CBL, Zlotkowski and Duffy (2010) remark that “learning – deep learning, learning that matters, learning that lasts – is not something that instructors do to students or even that students do for themselves. Rather it is the product of action in a context shaped by goals, performance, feedback, time horizon, and community,” and is “an educational resource whose time has come.”

Portland Community College (PCC) sustainability students and the author gained CBL experience by building planter-benches for a local community center. Students became familiar with the ReBuilding Center (see description under partnerships), and the idea that it is possible to just take on a project, even when participants have limited experience related to the project.

“When I first walked into the sustainability class I thought it would be just like any other environmental science class. I was wrong.” (Student reflection, 2017)

Once a community-based learning project has been embraced, instructors may feel that from that point forward students are let down if confined to their chairs in the classroom. There are many challenges to CBL; it is very labor intensive: planning; acquiring materials; revising plans and schedules; flexibly reorganizing in ways that allow for student creativity, etc. And yet the rewards from the enhanced experiences are heart-meltingly beyond words. The CBL design process is iterative. At least some planning is necessary before the course begins and a general plan laid out. But many changes should be expected throughout the course; adjustments will need to be made constantly; and then revisions are incorporated for subsequent terms or years (Marienau and Reed, 2008). Expecting the unexpected becomes routine on a weekly basis. CBL becomes an exploration of possibilities. The “benefits of CBL include enhanced academic achievement and self-esteem, improved decision-making skills, the development of a sense of civic responsibility, and advances in moral reasoning” (Lee et al., 2016).

“I learned that we don’t have to wait until we are experts before starting a project and working as a team is really enjoyable. We are better as a community!” (Student reflection, 2017).

“The most important thing I walked away from this experience was how to effectively work in a large group of people.” (Student reflection, 2017).

Bringing it all together: There is a growing interest in the construction of tiny houses for the homeless: from elementary school kids (Building Tiny Houses, 2017), to high school (Bray and Stevick, 2017) and college students (O’Donnell, 2016; Pope, 2016). Most references recommend that a well-defined plan is essential to any CBL project. In the author’s case an opportunity presented itself two days before the start of the term, 6 days before the first class. While it goes without saying that there are advantages to a well-thought out plan, the author can highly recommend the opposite. If none of the details are established, participants become even more engaged because they take ownership of the project for themselves. If a fully developed plan had been required, this opportunity would have been missed. There is something quite empowering that comes from jumping into a project and figuring it out as it progresses. This project brought together Portland Community College students from two courses in sustainability (as well as some of their parents), businesses, non-profits, and the homeless community of Dignity Village in Portland, Oregon across 6 academic terms. Many of the students remarked that the experience was life changing.

“I learned how to build a tiny house having no knowledge on construction. I made myself useful by grabbing a saw and cutting wood even though I was really scared. Someone had to do it. I started to trust my classmates … I had to have someone hold the wood for me. After that I felt like I can do anything.” (Student reflection, 2017).


Partnerships are essential in community-based learning projects. Partnerships are one of the main reasons for developing the project in the first place. The most important partnership occurs between the students themselves as they form teams, share knowledge, and teach each other what to do. In most terms, 3 or 4 students from a class of 24 had experience in construction. They became the trainers for everyone else. Often students just had to figure it out on their own. Very few of the participants really knew what they were doing. Innovation and cooperation were the most important qualities that students brought to the program. For example, one student became frustrated when nails always became bent as he tried to hammer them into the wood. He could get them started, but then would hammer from an angle and cause the nail to bend. So, he formed a team with another student: he got the nails started, the other student finished them off. There is always more than one way to solve a problem. CBL provides an opportunity for individual creativity to be expressed.

“Drills have always seemed scary to me because of the noise they make and how powerful they seem. The drilling also needed to be done at a height that caused me to get on a ladder, which was something else that I feared. After being trained as a spotter, I became a bit more comfortable with standing high and drilling nails in. Thanks to a classmate who showed me this. There is no such thing as a ‘man’s job.’ The tiny house has helped me with feeling more independent and confident as a woman.” (Student reflection, 2017).

We might not have started the project without the help of the parents of students. “My Dad is a carpenter,” and “Mine is an electrician!” Some parents just wanted to help physically, some financially. Their presence provided a grounding for the rest of the students. They brought their own tools, supplies and sometimes their co-workers. The tiny house projects became intergenerational projects. What is intergenerational learning? According to Corcoran and Hollingshead (2014), it represents “different generations and different age groups learning through shared experiences and training activities designed to develop academic knowledge and skills for addressing the challenges of sustainability.” By working together, new solutions for a sustainable world will be discovered when we build on each other’s strengths.

Architectural plans were necessary before the tiny house construction could begin. For the first year, the Tumbleweed XS house plans (~60 square feet) were investigated (Pope, 2016), but Dignity Village vetoed that idea due to the extreme small size. The architectural firm Communitecture (Lakeman, 2016) provided custom plans for an 8 ft. by 14 ft. tiny house that would meet the minimum size requirements for the Village. The second year, this was combined with the prefabricated methods described by an online designer, Michael Jansen (2009-2011).

Portland is fortunate in that it has the ReBuilding Center. This amazing organization deconstructs buildings when they are being torn down and replaced by other construction projects. The materials recovered in the process are sold in the ReBuilding Center facility at significantly lower prices than what you would pay for new materials. The proceeds cover their expenses and funds projects for the homeless. The ReBuilding Center provided many of the required building supplies for free. This included most of the lumber, all the doors and windows, and miscellaneous other supplies (for example tile for the kitchen countertop).

Many items still needed to be purchased and those were primarily acquired from Home Depot. Their Pro-desk supplied moral support and answers to millions of questions, and they gave a discount on all materials since it was a project for the homeless. If you are associated with a non-profit, they have a grant program for even larger projects, especially if veterans are the beneficiaries. Carpeting and wood flooring materials were provided by The Floor Depot. Paint for both inside and the exterior were purchased (with a discount) from MetroPaint (n.d.), a facility that takes latex paint from the local recycling center and remixes it to a standardized set of colors. The cost is substantially less than retail. And coffee was available from Starbucks for free, also on a weekly basis. Students had a $25 activity fee for the course, which was used for small items needed weekly. These funds also covered the expense of weekly snacks. Doing construction work for 4-5 hours burns many calories! Students that can’t normally afford breakfast can’t function in these demanding projects without adequate nourishment. It was important to provide healthy snacks for everyone to enjoy.

The residents at Dignity Village were also invaluable. Two to three residents helped each week to keep the students on schedule, providing expertise, guidance through the process, and making sure village rules were adhered to. Many residents were knowledgeable construction workers, and others just wanted to help. When the residents interacted with the students, this changed students’ perception of the homeless. It was always a positive benefit.

Whatever expenses remained at the end of the term were covered by Portland Community College. The Associated Students of Portland Community College (ASPCC), The Green Initiative Fund (TGIF), and the Math and Sciences Department at Cascade campus covered these remaining expenses. If you wish to build a tiny house for yourself, the materials for an average tiny house are $10,000 to $15,000. Our houses cost approximately $3,000 each.

Students and their families were ready, as were Dignity Village workers. Sources for supplies had been located (usually figured out and purchased just hours before they were needed). A place to build, plans, and extra financial support for the extras had been acquired. Now all that was needed was the determination to do it. There was plenty of that every term.


The goals and methods varied between the two years. The first year each week built on the previous weeks’ work. There was no way to determine how long it would take to build the house, so each week expressed what was possible that week. When the house was started the second year, it was expected that it would be easier; after all, the first house had provided experience. Surprisingly, it was just a new set of challenges! Thinking that experience would easily guide the project the second year may have been a hindrance!

Each 10-week academic course was divided into two halves. One 5-week block was used for the 10 lectures. The other 5 weeks were spent building the tiny house, 4 hours per week (20 hours per term). The houses required approximately 3 terms in order to complete each house. This included only the time doing construction and not any of the time required to plan for the week, acquire the necessary building materials, and get them transported to Dignity Village where the construction would take place. Luckily, the author owned a small truck that was in constant use. Some weeks the rental of a U-Haul sized truck was necessary (they also provided a discount). Occasionally, the U-Haul truck became a “dry-room” when painting was on the schedule, and the weather was not being cooperative. The second year, a storage container company (Suddath Corporation, 2017) donated the use of one of their containers for the year. This provided a way to move supplies around and much needed storage on-site at Dignity Village. It also became a dry space in which to work during the rainy season. This was an extremely beneficial addition to the procedure from the previous year.

Year one

All of the experiences for the first year have been described in great detail in “From Birdhouses to Tiny Houses: Courage Changes Everything” (Pope, 2016). The sustainability courses were composed of 4-hour classes. The last half-hour of lecture days was saved to continue to make plans for the construction periods. It took the first week on site just to build the foundational platform. Ideally this foundation is built from three 4 in. x 6 in. boards, 14 ft. long, and inserted into the metal brackets on cement pier blocks, creating a solid base about 17 in. from the ground (Figure 1). The sub-floor/foundation of the house was made from 2 in. by 6 in. lumber, covered with plywood on each side and filled with insulation. It was a joy to see 10 or 15 students all hammering at once as they attached the plywood to this section of the tiny house. This platform was attached to the base and formed the foundation of the tiny house. Refer to Pope (2016) for the detailed description and all materials required.

Figure 1. Attaching the foundation to the base of the tiny house.

“I can still see the look on everyone’s face staring at the floor we had just built. It was in that moment that the house became a true reality for us students. Here was a floor, and we built it.” (Student reflection, 2016).

In week 2 the students learned how to do the framing (Keep it level, square, and straight. Measure twice!). The first-floor framing was completed the subsequent week. At this point the house began to take shape, and this added greatly to the excitement and enthusiasm of the students. Week 4, the loft floor was built, the second-floor framing completed, and the roof rafters cut. Week 5 it was important to get the house closed in before the winter break. Plywood was attached to the side walls all the way around and a giant blue tarp provided a roof and shelter from the wind and rain while students worked. That is as far as the project got the first term. When making plans and schedules, don’t forget to multiply by at least three or four. Everything takes much longer than you expect.

In the winter term, the roof was put in place, and the windows installed. Luckily, an electrician–Dad was available to help with the electrical wiring. Most tiny house construction manuals do not describe how to do the electrical aspects due to the potential dangers involved. Minimal electrical directions are included in the tiny house book by the author (Pope, 2016) because..

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Link to Issue Table of Contents

Cannon JSE March 2018 Decolonization Issue PDF

Abstract: For millennia, education for the Hualapai Tribal people was learned through intergenerational lessons taught with the family. This provided younger generations with the skills and knowledge needed to thrive in harsh desert environments. Over the past centuries tribal education has undergone numerous transitions. For the past twelve years the Hualapai Ethnobotany Youth Project has implemented an intergenerational learning program with the elders and youth of the tribal community to instill the centuries old knowledge that could only have been obtained through generations of experience. The program looks to new ways in modern times to teach the old ways in maintaining the continuity of knowledge that only the grandparents can remember.

Keywords: Hualapai, Ethnobotany, Bilingual, Arizona, Grand Canyon, Culture


To the untrained observer traveling the landscape of Northwestern Arizona, the land may appear dry, desolate, and devoid of life. The Hualapai people, however, know the true bounty locked inside the dry desert façade. An ongoing ethnobotanical project in the Hualapai community in northwestern Arizona is providing structured and consistent methods where elders can share their knowledge of plants and land in English and in their heritage language to tribal youth. Through field trips and classroom-based teaching, participants are using modern teaching practices alongside ancient traditional ways of knowing.

Western Grand Canyon, Hualapai Indian Reservation, Photo by Carrie Cannon

Hualapai formal education over the last 100 plus years has as many twists and turns as the course of the Colorado River itself, which comprises 108 miles of the reservation’s boundary. The Hualapai people are an Indian tribe native to the Southwest. Traditionally they organized themselves among 14 different tribal bands that each subsisted within their own territory encompassing a seven million acre region of Northwestern AZ from the south rim of the Grand Canyon and Colorado River, southward to the Bill Williams and Santa Maria Rivers. In 1871 after years of war with the U.S. Cavalry, the Hualapai were defeated and rounded up into a temporary reservation. By 1883 an official reservation was established for the tribe, one seventh the size of their ancestral land base. In 1901, an Indian boarding school was opened on the reservation. Assimilation was a policy adopted by the U.S. government which intended to absorb Native Americans into mainstream American Life.

These assimilation policies developed shortly following the Indian wars when Native Americans were no longer deemed a threat to non-Native peoples. In 1892, Congress passed the Appropriations Act which made Indian education compulsory. Indian children were rounded up and forced to attend Indian boarding schools away from their families where they learned reading, writing, arithmetic, and trade skills in the English language to become “productive American citizens.”

Hualapai children at the Truxton Canon boarding school. Children attended from 1901 to 1937.

During this era, the federal government’s approach to education was to strip Indian children of their culture and heritage so they could become acculturated into white society. English was mandatory and the Hualapai language was forbidden to be spoken.

Some half a century later, in the fall of 1975, Hualapai Indian children were subject to a second round of assimilation, only this time in the reverse order! Children that attended the Peach Springs Bilingual/Bicultural School from 1975-2000 were taught Hualapai language, culture, ethnobotany, zoology, and ethnogeography.

Photograph of students and staff on a Bilingual School Program River Trip outing down the Colorado River. Photo Courtesy HDCR Library.

In pre-contact times the Hualapai survived off of seasonally available wild plants and animals, and farmed where adequate water resources were available. They had elaborate trade networks with surrounding Tribes including the Mojave, Havasupai, Hopi, and Paiute, with their trade goods reaching as far as the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Rio Grande valley to the east (Stein 2002).

When the Bilingual School was founded, the Hualapai team of teachers that developed the curriculum had the forethought to teach what was relevant from the Hualapai perspective. In large part, this involved teaching the ethnobotanical knowledge. Initial Hualapai efforts at formal language development and maintenance began at the Peach Springs Elementary Public School, which instituted the Hualapai Bilingual Bicultural Program in 1978 (Funded by the Title VII, Bilingual Education Act).

The Hualapai Bilingual/Bicultural Education Program was initiated in 1975 when Japanese linguist, Akira Yamamoto, began to learn and document the Hualapai language and culture. In doing so he also created curriculum materials that could be utilized to ensure children could maintain their heritage language (Watahomigie & Yamamoto, 1987). The program initiated with a three-year grant from Title VII, the Bilingual Education Act, to develop an orthography, a dictionary, as well as instructional materials in Hualapai. In the three years that followed, (1978-1980) the Hualapai Social Studies Curriculum Guide, a Language Arts Curriculum Guide, the Hualapai Reference Grammar and publications about the local area were produced and staff training was provided.

During the first workshop, participants were involved in identifying Hualapai characteristic ways of teaching and learning. These then became the foundation for the later development of curricula, materials, identified educational goals, the school’s philosophy, as well as instructional practices (Watahomigie & McCarty, 1994). In addition, community needs assessments were conducted to ensure feedback was taken into consideration. Parents as well as tribal elders were asked to evaluate the program and include their own viewpoints on education. The more the program was able to develop, community support grew.

The curriculum and instructional content of the Bilingual program was presented in both English and Hualapai. A concurrent approach to bilingual education was utilized whereby central concepts, vocabulary, language patterns and skills were intended to be developed and reinforced in English and the heritage language (University of Washington Center for Multicultural Education).

In addition to instituting the Hualapai language in the school setting, this nationally acclaimed program developed a Hualapai orthography and instructional units, which paralleled the content of the standard English-only curriculum. Bilingual curriculum books were developed to be culturally relevant and taught about the local flora, fauna, geography, land sites, and the meanings of petroglyphs and pictographs within ancestral tribal lands.

Sample of Bilingual School Curriculum Books, left to right H’de (Prickly Pear Cactus), Hualapai Ethnobotany, Manad (Banana Yucca), and Ko’ (Pinon Nut). Photos Courtesy HDCR Library.

Field trips and hands on activities were a regular component to the Bilingual School. Former attendee and Hualapai Tribal member Pearl Sullivan had fond memories of these outings. She shared that “They took us to all the rock writing sites and we got to learn all about our land, that was the best part, getting out and doing things, not just random things either, things that pertain to who we are as Hualapai” (Sullivan Personal Communication, 2018).

The Hualapai Bilingual Program in the Peach Springs Elementary School was cut in the 1990’s after a gradual decline due to the lack of support as the school went through significant leadership and directional changes. It should be noted that the new leadership at the school was non Hualapai and lacked Hualapai tribal support. This also coincided with proposition 203 English Only legislation that passed in the State of Arizona in 2000.

When the Bilingual School discontinued in Peach Springs, there was no longer formal programming to transmit the language, ethnobotany, and land based knowledge to youth.

It has only been approximately 140 years since Hualapai people were living entirely off the land.  Even after Hualapai tribal members were forced to take up wage labor employment beginning in the late 1880’s it was not uncommon for members of households to continue many traditional subsistence practices to supplement livelihoods well into the 20th century.

The “Hualapai Ethnobotany Youth Project” arose as elders of the community expressed concern that many youth were not learning about their landscape.  Hualapai elders began to acknowledge and discuss that ethnobotanical knowledge was in grave danger of fading away if not passed on to the next generation.  Jorigine Paya, one of the elder instructors of the Project has shared her memories with youth participants: “I remember when growing up with my paternal grandparents, we harvested a lot of the traditional food plants such as the prickly pear, mescal, banana yucca, sumac berries, and the Indian tea. We prepared it in different ways depending on the plant, or if it was in the form where it was ripe, and ready for harvest, we ate it right there as it was. For the mesquite beans we would gather a lot to where we would make flour, also we made dumplings in boiled water from rolled balls of mesquite bean flour. And we would eat these foods, and never did we have a problem with diabetes” (Paya Personal Communication 2015).

Hualapai elder instructor Jorigine Paya harvesting Indian tea on a Hualapai Ethnobotany Youth Project field trip. Photo by Carrie Cannon

The purpose of the Hualapai Ethnobotany Youth Project is to share in the transmission of ethnobotanical knowledge with community tribal members, while promoting knowledge of traditional harvesting practices and the Hualapai language. All of the elder instructors of the project are fluent Hualapai speakers. They teach the youth the tribal names of the plants, which often describe something about the plant. Elder instructor Lucille Watahomigie uses repetition to teach the youth the plant names, “Aha, repeat it again, Aha, this is the name for the Cottonwood; “Ha” meaning water indicates this plant is named for the knowledge that it grows by the water.” On a trip into Peach Springs Canyon, within the Grand Canyon, Lucille points to the cattail, “Hamsi’iv, Hamsi’iv, say it again, this name has the word Hamsi’ in it, meaning “star.” When that cattail goes to seed, and the fluffy seeds drift away on a breeze, look at the shape, it resembles a star,” she tells the participants.

Today, the majority of Tribal members live on the reservation in the capital town of Peach Springs, and have little time in the modern world to travel and harvest the traditional foods. This makes teaching the traditional ways difficult for most families, especially since many of the bands are removed from their ancestral lands. Today the Tribe relies upon tribal elders to share knowledge to youth through intergenerational classes facilitated by the Hualapai Department of Cultural Resources (HDCR).

The Hualapai Ethnobotany Youth Project is an intergenerational program designed to provide elders with an opportunity to share their plant and land based knowledge with Hualapai youth. After school and on weekends, for a few hours a week, the cell phones, TVs, and text messaging are dialed down, and the focus is brought back to the land- to an ancient knowledge, to a tribal technology that served the Hualapai for hundreds of generations, and which brought power and life to the people.

HDCR Staff member Drake Havatone in the center with Hualapai Ethnobotany Youth Project participants wearing their Cliffrose bark vest and skirt, from left to right, Spirit Wolf Havatone, Lone Wolf Havatone, Spring Havatone, and Running Wolf Havatone. Photo by Carrie Cannon

Since the Hualapai Ethnobotany Youth project began in 2006, students have been involved in harvesting many plants including the mescal agave, wild turnip, cholla cactus buds, sumac berries, wild grapes, banana yucca fruit, prickly pear, mesquite beans, and piñon nuts. Twice a month down at the Hualapai Cultural Center between 15-30 tribal youth ranging in age from 7 to 15, meet with the 5 elder instructors. Activities include a full day field trip followed later in the month by a class session at the Cultural Center where students learn how to prepare what they have harvested for consumption or craft. On the field trips, students learn the plant identification, growing habitats, harvesting season, uses for medicinal, dietary, or utilitarian purposes, and Hualapai and English plant names. The plants are harvested when seasonally available and used for demonstrations in food preparation, basketry making, cradleboard construction, and making of traditional garb such as the cliffrose bark skirt and shirt.

In 2013, the idea was presented to gather multiple species of the mescal agave, as would have been done in ancestral times. Students continued the accustomed practice of harvesting Agave utahensis on the Reservation within Peach Springs Canyon, a side Canyon within the greater Grand Canyon. Then students went on a field trip to Lake Havasu, AZ to visit an archeological mescal agave pit roasting site as part of a joint effort with the Bureau of Land Management staff. Here they gathered Agave mckelvyana. Later as the season progressed Agave parryi was harvested outside of Seligman, AZ and the Native American Club from the local Kingman High School came along to learn from the Hualapai Ethnobotany Youth Project. At the annual Pai Language Immersion Camp held on the reservation, the Hualapai Ethnobotany Youth had the chance to roast the 3 different species and compare and contrast the taste and texture.

Ethnobotany elder instructor Frank Mapatis harvesting mescal agave with Ethnobotany Youth Project participant, Phyna Cook in Peach Springs Canyon, Hualapai Reservation. Photo by Carrie Cannon

Transferring ethnobotanical knowledge takes time. It is an all day effort to harvest enough mescal agave to do a traditional roast. When you talk to a Tribal elder they will tell you, “you don’t just harvest it and you’re done.” After you pry the agave rosettes from the ground, you take it back to the community and it is another day long effort to remove all the green thorny leaves to prepare the agave hearts for roasting. Then you prepare the pit, gather the rocks, the juniper wood, the barrel cactus that you de-thorn, slice, and place in the pit. When the fire is lit, and all the coals have burned down, the mescal is placed in the earthen oven and buried over night; it is unearthed the very next day with great anticipation. Students and elders of the ethnobotany project are involved in each stage of this process. The effort is rewarded with a taste of sweet, juicy, calcium-rich roasted mescal that has a flavor like nothing else in the world. In each stage of the process, the elders speak in the tribal language, they say prayers, and they instruct tribal youth on the traditional tribal philosophies.

Photos of Ethnobotany Project elders and youth participants processing mescal agave and barrel cactus, and preparing the roasting pit for the 24 hour traditional mescal agave roast. Photos by Carrie Cannon

Altitudes within the ancestral Hualapai territory range between 2,000 and 7,000 ft.  This wide range of elevations contains a diverse landscape with rivers, springs, canyons, cliffs, flats, valleys, mountains, and desert.  As a result of the tremendous diversity in the landscape, a great variety of plants were available throughout the year encompassing both Mojave and Sonoran Desert species.

Hualapais subsisted through hunting, small scale agriculture where water was available, and through gathering seasonally available plant resources.  The traditional subsistence lifestyle followed an annual sequence of resource use and movement focused on several key plant foods.  This included a concentrated effort on a mescal agave harvest in the spring, as well as wild onions, turnips, and cholla buds.  Following the mescal agave harvest, families and large camps moved to basin floors to gather several different grass-like species which provided seeds rich in protein and carbohydrates.  By midsummer, fruits of several cacti species ripened and Hualapai camps shifted back into the canyons and foot hills.  Late summer and early fall provided mesquite bean pods and banana yucca fruits, and efforts were also devoted to nut and berry gathering including the piñon.

Ethnobotany Project instructor and Tribal elder Malinda Powskey came from the last family from the Big Sandy River Band still living off the land and maintaining many of the old ways. “I am a member of the Big Sandy River Band of Hualapai. My family came from the last member of that Band to still live down there.  When we teach the plants to the children we also teach them the place names in the Hualapai language, ‘Wikman’ that is Valentine AZ, meaning Falling Rocks, ‘Ivthi Gatanavkwa’ is Kingman, that means Surrounded by Creosote, and there is ‘Hakdagwiva’ the name for Peach Springs, meaning Surrounded by Springs, and ‘Hak Skela,’ today that’s the Big Sandy River, it means ‘The Open Water.’ If our children lose the knowledge of place names, they lose part of their history, where they come from. In the teaching of the ethnobotany to the children we had in mind to teach those places to our children too, because the plants are not just separate entities, they are part of the land just like the people” (Malinda Powskey, Personal Communication).

The Big Sandy River lies within the southernmost reaches of ancestral Hualapai territory extending into the northern stretch of the Sonoran desert, in the vicinity of present day Wikieup, AZ. Raised in this region, Malinda remembered harvesting the sweet ripe fruit of the Saguaro cactus in June. Long wooden poles were lashed together to make an “i:isiqlab” or a Saguaro knocking pole used to tap the fruit down from the tall cacti. The fruit can be eaten fresh, seeds and all, or the juice and seeds separated to yield a festive beverage. In the autumn, Malinda helped her family harvest traditional garden crops of corn, beans, and squash yielded from gardens irrigated by the river. In the spring time the mescal agave flower stalks began to emerge and were ready for harvest. As a young girl she learned from her family the way to pry the agave from the ground, and cut off the spiny green leaves to yield the white colored heart which is then roasted in an earthen oven. Now, as an instructor, she shares with the Ethnobotany Youth Project the precise manner in which to roast the agave. Stones are placed in the four directions of the roasting pit representing the cardinal directions, and the youngest child present that was born in the summer time is selected to light the fire to ensure the agave burns nice and hot.

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Potter & Jondreau JSE Feb 2018 Decolonizing Issue PDF


Ojibwe education is used at Conserve School, an environmental semester school, to help high school students better understand diverse perspectives on stewardship and to explore the history, cultures and place of the Northwoods of Wisconsin. In the Environmental Stewardship class, students learn about indigenous history, culture and environmental perspectives from a local Ojibwe educator. The students use this perspective to help them appreciate their place at Conserve School and explore their own environmental ethics. Students also participate in Ojibwe seasonal celebrations to better comprehend how place and people are interrelated.


Key words: Indigenous Education, Traditional Ecological Knowledge, Environmental Education, K-12 education


Conserve School is an environmentally-focused semester school nestled in the Northwoods of Wisconsin whose mission is to inspire environmental stewardship. To help further this goal, each of the 60 students takes the Environmental Stewardship course. Traditionally, this course has focused on famous environmentalists such as Aldo Leopold and delved into topics such as resource management and land conservation. Last year the curriculum for this course was revamped in order  to better address the Conserve School Learning Goals of: comprehending the complex meanings of sustainability and stewardship; understanding and critically evaluating the complexities of environmental issues, including their ethical dimensions; advocating effectively for what students believe is just; recognizing and critically examining environmental issues across cultures and disciplines; and understanding the ecology, history, and cultures of the Northwoods from the local to the global levels. This curriculum update also allows the course to better reflect the backgrounds and experiences of a diverse student body and better explain the full history of the Northwoods through utilizing Ojibwe education.

Ojibwe Education at Conserve School

Conserve School was started in 200 through a trust gifted by James Lowenstein. It is a private non-profit semester school. Each fall and spring semester around 60 students spend four months at Conserve School to be immersed in the study and practice of environmental stewardship. Students take courses in art, English, history, science, Spanish and outdoor skills, exploring these   subjects through an environmental lens. The Environmental Stewardship course provides students with the opportunity to dive deeper into environmental issues, understand their environmental ethics and explore how they can best be environmental advocates. To better address Conserve School’s Learning Goals and represent our diverse student population, indigenous education and environmental justice has been incorporated into the curriculum. Examining environmental issues from multiple perspectives helps students better understand the complexity of these issues, how ethics inform perspectives on issues and how perspectives vary based on cultures and disciplines. Addressing Ojibwe history and perspectives in the course especially addresses the Learning Goal on understanding the ecology, history and cultures of the Northwoods. Students learn more about the full story of the Northwoods through learning from Ojibwe educator Jerry Jondreau, writing their own land ethic while considering Indigenous perspectives and participating in Ojibwe seasonal celebrations.

Jerry Jondreau is the Director of Recruitment at the School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science at Michigan Technological University and is a member of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community. At the beginning of each semester Jerry is invited to speak to the entire Conserve School student body to welcome them to Ojibwe land, give a brief history of the Ojibwe people in Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota and also relate an Indigenous view on the environment and stewardship.

When Jerry speaks to the students, he first describes the history of the Ojibwe people. He explains that the Anishinaabek Nation is comprised of three nations, Ojibwe (Chippewa), Odawa (Ottawa), Bodawaadomi (Potawatomi), that were originally part of a long and arduous migration from the East coast. The history dates back to a place now known as the Labrador Peninsula, which is located in Canada. Through a series of prophecies brought amongst the people, the Anishinaabek Nation set out to find the land where food grows upon the water, now known as manoomin or wild rice. To respect the oral tradition of the Anishinaabek, Ojibwe people will not retell this history via text. What is important to understand is that the present distribution of the Anishinaabek people spans from Michigan to North Dakota and into a large portion of Canada, which to this day, comprises one of the largest Indigenous nations in North America.

Jerry further explains that the land that is in discussion related to Conserve School falls into the homelands of the Ojibwe people from present day Michigan and Wisconsin. The Ojibwe culture is steeped in a way of life that is still alive today. The cosmology of the Ojibwe is rooted in an understanding that all things are connected and that human existence is predicated on the gifts of all other beings. This understanding creates the foundation by which the Ojibwe conduct their existence today. The Original Treaty between humans and all creation provided a culture that acknowledges the interdependence of everything and forged the responsibility of human beings to become stewards of place and the protectors of life. Through ceremony, dance, music, feasts, reciprocity, and traditions, these responsibilities are still carried forward.

Students are often surprised to learn that Conserve School is on ceded territory. Jerry illustrates this by explaining Treaties, specifically the 1842 Treaty of LaPointe, when lands were ceded to the United States government by the Lake Superior Ojibwe while usufructuary rights (hunting, fishing, and gathering) were retained within the contract. The ceded territories associated with this treaty span from the western Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Northern Wisconsin, and Eastern Minnesota. These rights retained within the Treaty were cemented in the U.S. Constitution under the Supremacy Clause (Article VI, Clause 2) which states that Treaties are the Supreme Law of the Land. Jerry also shows a short documentary about how his grandfather was arrested by the Michigan DNR for harvesting fish that were out of season in regards to state regulations but were harvested legally under treaty rights.

Lastly, Jerry describes how the concept of land conservation and stewardship was an integral component of Ojibwe life. The lands of Conserve School fall within the ceded territory and understanding that the U.S. Constitution invokes that Supremacy Clause, it is important that the students of Conserve School be exposed to the original land ethic embodied by the Ojibwe culture. The history associated with the treatment of the Ojibwe people including the confinement of Ojibwe people to reservations, cultural erasure, assimilative policies, judicial persecution, and the continued battle to maintain Treaty Rights are important backdrops to understanding the privilege experienced today during the conservation movement and the associated impediments to the revitalization of the Ojibwe culture.

Before students come to Conserve School they are asked to read “The Land Ethic” by Aldo Leopold. After Jerry’s talk they are asked to write their own version of a land ethic and detail who or what has influenced their point of view. Here are a few excerpts:

Nature does not offer resources, but rather relatives to every being. This is a prominent value in the Ojibwe culture. This was also one of the values that stood out to me when Jerry Jondreau gave a presentation about his culture. He explained that what one takes from nature, one has to return, otherwise, this is considered stealing. This opened my eyes about my perspective on nature. All my life, I have always known the definition of stealing and that it is immoral. However, what startled me was that I never applied to the land. Somehow, as I grew up, I lost how to apply the same basic morals to the land around me. I learned from Jerry that nature and its resources are relatives that one should share a connection with. I still continue to learn how to apply deep connections to land, and therefore truly practicing my land ethic.

Stewardship class has created and influenced my land ethic. The most influential piece had to be having Mr. Jondeau of the Ojibwe tribe speak to us about how he views the land. How their tribe sees the land as family, friends, actual living beings instead of the usual western, economic, way of seeing the land as just entities for sale and possession.

Last week a guest speaker named Jerry Jondreau, an Ojibwe forester and activist, came in to talk to us for stewardship class. What he had to say really touched my heart. He talked about the land and how him and his people interact with it. He explained that they treat the land as if it is a relative in their family. And that whenever they take something from the land, they always give something in return. It was truly inspiring to hear him speak. And I knew once I heard what he had to say that I wanted to grow and learn from what he said and to treat the Earth with just as much love and respect.

Students are further exposed to Ojibway history, culture and perspectives on stewardship through participating in maple syruping and wild ricing.

Seasonal Celebrations

Jerry also helps the students understand the story of this place by explaining the importance of wild rice and maple sugar to the Ojibwe people. Last spring Jerry and the father of an Ojibwe student, Damon Panek, shared a maple sugaring ceremony with the students and staff.

Damon Panek explains the Syruping ceremony

Jerry Jondreau describing Ojibwe history


The opening prayer of the maple syrup celebration was said in Ojibwe by Damon followed by an English translation. Then Jerry and Damon explained how they create a reciprocal relationship with maple trees by offering them a gift in return for their sap. A plate for the forest was created by putting venison, maple syrup and berries on a piece of birch bark. Each student also had an opportunity to add to the plate by putting a pinch of tobacco on it. The plate is then placed in a tree and then all of the participants are able to partake in the feast by trying the wild rice with maple syrup and berries.

Students taking part in the offering for the trees

After the feast was given, students were taught how to tap the trees by drilling a hole in a healthy, large tree and putting a spile in the hole and hanging a bucket from the spile. Once the sap started flowing, students helped to collect it and brought it to the boiler where it evaporated into maple syrup that was enjoyed in the dining hall on pancakes. This was an important experience for students to understand the history of the Northwoods including Indigenous knowledge and gratitude for the natural world and the resources that we are able to harvest right in our back-yard.


Students learning how to tap the maple trees


By injecting Indigenous knowledge into the Environmental Stewardship class at Conserve School, students are better able to understand diverse stories of place, consider a new perspective as they create their own land ethic and understand how culture, history, place and stewardship are interrelated. The hope is that this experience will inspire the students to learn more about the full stories of the places where they’re from and that this knowledge will help them better understand diverse perspectives on stewardship.

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Barthes JSE March 2018 Decolonizing Issue PDF


The concept of sustainable development has become a commonplace of most discourses, and education for sustainable development (ESD) is now considered essential in the education of future citizens, even though there is debate over ‘mainstream’ versus ‘alternative’ curriculum orientations (Morris 2002; Moroye 2009; Foster 2011; Farey 2012; Reid, & Dillon 2015) or over the instrumentalization of curriculum policy and practice for economic purposes. (Fien 1991, Greenall, Gough & Robottom 1993; Jickling & Wals 2008). Thus, ESD was one of the key themes discussed during the 2015 World Environmental Education Congress (Reid, 2016). But actors involved in ESD research, particularly in France, driven by this innovation dynamic and an apparent social consensus concerning the necessity of ESD, tend to forget the need to understand the social implications of those innovations. Paradoxically, French researchers, confronted with increasingly targeted and utilitarian studies, also tend to be caught up in this situation. Describing the changes that occur in education for sustainable development, in school or non-school settings, does not involve the same work as trying to understand its meaning or the social issues it raises. The concept of hidden curriculum is useful for identifying the meaning and the social implications of ESD, and should, therefore, be considered in any reflection on ESD in France. Understanding the hidden curriculum in ESD constitutes a preliminary step for any didactic or pedagogical analysis or proposal. Since it is true that every curriculum has three aspects (real, formal, hidden) (Perrenoud 1993), the hidden curriculum is particularly important in ESD (but not really identified in France) due to its basic orientation: ESD is associated with a strong commitment to certain “values” (citizenship, responsibility, solidarity, etc.) and with a determination to change behaviours “for the better” – which is expressed in the phrase “best practices”.

This article provides an analysis of the ESD curriculum in France, based on a methodology that takes into account the main work conducted on ESD in the framework of French research programs, and on the hidden curriculum triangle. A diachronic analysis of the curriculum helps to understand the school forms chosen in the context of curriculum changes, which then helps to identify the value systems driving those choices. We identify the characteristics of curricula that shed light on the value system generated by these new curricula.

  1. A theoretical framework analysis for “hidden curriculum”

First, we discuss the different theoretical dimensions of a curriculum as used here to develop our analyses of education for sustainable development curricula in France.

1.1 Genesis of the concept and its plural dimensions

Emile Durkheim (1992, 1st ed. 1922) noted that one learns more at school than what is explicitly included in school curricula. He was referring to the system of rules associated with the school form that contributes to instilling in children a sense of discipline and described a system of moral education that produces a given value system. Philip Jackson (1968) formalized and developed this idea by extending it to the values of respect for authority, courtesy, and cooperation among peers. According to Dreeben (1968), the hidden curriculum has a function of social regulation in that it prepares students – who all have different social backgrounds and parental antecedents – to be taught a common culture, a system of norms that prepare all students for participation in public and productive domains. The hidden curriculum teaches students to form specific social relations, to “submerge much of their personal identity” and to accept the legitimacy of categorical treatment.

Vallance (1973) formalized the notion of a hidden curriculum by identifying its three main components: 1) the contexts of schooling, including the student-teacher interaction unit, classroom structure and the whole organizational pattern of the educational establishment as a microcosm of the social value system. 2) The processes operating in and through schools, including the acquisition of values, socialization, and maintenance of the class structure. 3) Schools are thus considered as places where pedagogical ideologies are applied in order to maintain the existence of dominant cultures. Bowles and Gintis (1976), Willis (1977) and Gorden (1984) explained that the hidden curriculum had the function of maintaining a society’s class structure. Jean Anyon (1980) indicated in this respect that the hidden curriculum of schoolwork is tacit preparation for relating to the process of production in a particular way.

The concept thus gradually shifted the intentional but hidden dimension of a curriculum. Lynch (1989) explained that the universality of education, which removes particularisms, serves to maintain social inequalities among students. Wren (1999) and Giroux (2001) explain how the curriculum not only provides instructions but also teaches norms and principles experienced by students throughout their education life. Margolis (2001) explained that organized schooling is a reproduction of social organization and its “hegemonic” nature.

1.2 Definition of the legitimate knowledge to be taught

“What is the most valuable knowledge to be taught?” This seems a commonplace question but it is one that clearly raises the issue of the value of the knowledge taught, and which can be considered central to any political analysis of education. In this regard, what counts as legitimate knowledge at school is clearly a social construct (Bernstein 1996; Forquin 2008; Young 1971; Young 1998), that is to say, the product of a selection. This implies the existence of agencies whose purpose is to select, to prioritize and to justify specific contents, i.e. academic knowledge, which differs from other types of knowledge available in society due to its social status and the ways it is constructed. Young (1971), developed the idea of the stratification of academic knowledge and argued that school curricula and the criteria for deciding what knowledge should legitimately be included in them reflect the relations between education and society as a whole. Thus, a curriculum is a set of knowledge and skills selected by interest groups and must, therefore, be interpreted as a stakeholder in an ideological process. In this context, ideology is a set of ideas, beliefs, and values that emerge from an identified interest group. White (1983) pointed out in this regard that there was no “ideologically and politically innocent curriculum”, and that any curriculum definition is inextricably linked to issues of social class, culture, gender and power

This posture is indicative of the relation between socially constructed knowledge and the powers that be, who claim for themselves the ability to select knowledge that serves their own interests; which raises the question of who constructs the curriculum, and why? This leads us to analyze both the hegemonic forms of knowledge that operate in social reality and in collaborative, passive or resistant social dynamics. These forms are related to social organization, social realities of gender, ethnic origin, social categories and specific situations (war, for example). Thus, the concept of hidden curriculum was introduced, curriculum whose main objective is the preservation of the order it is intended to generate. According to Bernstein (1996), the hidden curriculum serves to reproduce the cultural capital of certain interest groups. McLaren (2007) has argued that the hidden curriculum is a means of keeping students in line with the dominant ideologies.

  1. Methodology

2.1 Hidden curriculum triangle

The history of the concept of hidden curriculum thus shows that it contains several dimensions.

Based on the theoretical elements discussed above, we suggest a framework for studying the hidden curriculum of sustainable development. The first element of the framework consists of identifying the possible changes in the forms of organized schooling associated with the introduction of a curriculum, and of analyzing it in terms of the rules and norms implemented in order to establish the value system associated with it. We are referring here to a “system of moral education associated with the curriculum” (Jackson 1968), which is linked to an implicit form of organized schooling. The second element consists of identifying the contents that are taught and those that are not, that is to say, it represents an effort to understand the curriculum choices as having sense and an intentional societal function. Understanding the hidden curriculum thus involves clarifying this intentionality, its main actors, and its objectives. The third element examines how a hidden curriculum establishes a system of values. This value system has an impact on individuality (identity, behavior and so forth), and, because it arises from an interest group, its purpose is to generate a dominant ideology, a common culture and a system of norms, which all have a function that must be viewed as part of historical processes.

2.2. Case study in France

Now that I have clarified the various components of hidden curricula, I introduce a case study.

In order to identify the ESD-related hidden curriculum in the French context, I did an analysis of all the studies conducted between 2009 and 2014 in the framework of the French research project on “Education for sustainable development (ANR ED2AO). The corpus consists of the following:

  • The ANR ED2AO proceeding work: 12 chapters in 4 books (Legardez & Simonneaux, 2011; Girault & Alpe, 2011; Bader, 2011, Diemer, 2013);
  • 11 papers presented at the mid-term conference; and 8 papers presented at an international conference (ACFAS, 2012);
  • 19 papers (listed in bibliography) published in a special issue of the journal “Penser l’éducation”
  • 26 papers published in the final conference of the ED2AO research program (Lange, 2013; 2015);
  • 17 articles published in various scientific journals (listed in the bibliography) linked to the ANR ED2AO researchers (2011-2015)

A word occurrence analysis of all the above-mentioned publications was then performed using the Tropes software. I then created a file of the words identified through the analysis and isolated those that referred to the hidden curriculum triangle, that is to say, those referring to the form of organized schooling and to curriculum choices. I used word occurrence method, referring to social representation theory in education (Barthes & Alpe, 2016). I thus consider that highest numbers of occurrences in papers are indicators of the importance of elements analysed. Then, I evaluated the total number of occurrences of each word in each publication and listed each word in decreasing order of occurrence. I sometimes grouped occurrences, using synonyms or closely connected terms. For example: “project” was linked to an institutional project category such as “Agenda 21”, or “regional project”. This technique allows us to deal with less vocabulary.

The following stage consisted of selecting the most used words, concentrating our analysis on the first top deciles in the list of words. The latter was established by researchers and based on scientific works in environmental education (not published). I selected the most used words as well as those that are new in the vocabulary and then attempted to identify and understand the political significance of their emergence.

2.3. Results

I selected 14 words before examining their meaning and implications, particularly in relation to the ESD curriculum in France.

In table 1, relative to the form of organized schooling, there are 7 recurring keywords: project, partnership, association, disciplines (interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary – disciplinary, disciplinary brakes … etc.), co-construction, locations (including local roots, local particularities, locally, territories, local development ….), new teaching methods (Serious games…).

In table 2, relative to curriculum choices, there are 7 recurring keywords: behavior, act, governance, eco-efficiency (including sorting waste, carpooling, energy efficiency, etc.), communication (including awareness, communicating), responsibility (accountability, involving people) development (growth, economy, development, etc.).

I used the words that occur the most as a basis for identifying the value system, which is the third element necessary for understanding the hidden curriculum. Then, according to the epistemology of the hidden curriculum, I answer the following questions:

  • What value system is generated by the main curricular choices?
  • In what contexts and in which social projects do the value systems fit, considering the fact that the legitimacy of ESD is socially constructed and that it is at the center of the political analysis of education?
  • What ideology do these curriculum changes transmit? And what interest groups benefit from those changes?
  1. Discussion

To answer the three questions above, using methods of word occurrences, I extract indicators considering   hidden curriculum triangle. Then, discussion is about emerging indicators for each summit of it (Evolution of school form; curriculum choice, and system of values) with the aim of bringing elements of answers. For instance, the main indicators concerning evolution of school form accompanying ESD are dynamics of projects, partnerships, and transdisciplinary. Then I discuss what that means in term of ideology and political choices. In the same way, main indicators of curriculum choices are a form of rejection of theoretical knowledge and a lack of knowledge problematization, as well as negation of the distance between social practices and the knowledge to be taught. Concerning the third summit, I extract the persistence of an “economistic” conception of development and the fact that sustainable development is a seemingly unquestionable framework of interpretation of the global situation. All these elements lead to understand what ideology do these changes transmit such as (shortly) an intangible context of the western economic development model

3.1 School form: what changes can be identified in school form following the introduction of ESD in the French curriculum?

Publications from ANR ED2AO show that new recommendations have emerged, which could ultimately change the school form, in parallel with the implementation of ESD; Two, in particular, dominate: The dynamics of projects associated with partnership, and transdisciplinary.

3.1.1 The dynamics of projects and partnerships

A number of publications testify to the engineering project dynamics associated with education for sustainable development: the Agenda 21 initiatives undertaken in secondary schools in France (Lange 2013; Lebatteux 2011), the emergence of regional ESD projects (e.g. Jeziorski 2013; Peltier 2013; Pommier 2013), survey-based pedagogical approaches (Chevallard, Ladage 2011), the involvement of populations in action projects (e.g. Dussaux 2013; Leininger-Frézal 2013), etc. The term “project” associated with issues of education occurs 206 times in the proceedings of the mid-term conference of the ANR ED2AO program (Alpe, Girault 2011).

Our analysis shows that the term ” ESD ” is frequently associated with “project-based pedagogy”, but does this really reflect a change in the schooling form? Project-based teaching has existed in many forms for a long time and has only challenged the schooling form on minor points: class’ involvement with external actors, the relative autonomy of the pupils, etc. The novelty here resides in part in the multi-partnership dimension of projects and its legislative and incentive frameworks. Indeed, action for sustainable development is implemented in the form of local agendas, with the involvement, in various ways, of the local authorities. Through their role as funders, the local authorities generate partnerships between primary, intermediate and high schools, universities and local actors (such as associations). Thus, the educational action is organized partly around those projects. Public policies on sustainable development are implemented locally thanks to the involvement of associations, who respond to local calls for tender. The necessary studies are then conducted with the participation of students (who get involved through internships, tutored and personal projects). The alleged expertise of the teachers and lecturers and their institutional participation in the project ensure the latter’s legitimacy. In return, an association experienced in the implementation of sustainable development measures engage students in a concrete sustainable development project that has value for their future integration in society. As many publications have shown, ESD – more even than environmental education, places emphasis on the principle of partnership between educational institutions, local authorities and associations (Ernteins 2006; Ferrer-Ballas et al. 2008; Adomßent et al. 2007; Sterling, Scott 2011; Barthes and Champollion 2012). This idea of partnership implies that of educational co-construction, a notion that gives rise to strong reservations pertaining both to the question of ethics in education and the legitimacy of teaching contents (Sauvé 2001; Alpe 2006; Barthes, Bader, Alpe 2012).

But actions involving multi-stakeholder partnerships were already undertaken in the past, and so the novelty resides mainly in the nature of the partners and in their power of influence: financial (local authorities granting subsidies) and ideological (associations that legitimize themselves with the tacit consent of the other partners). If the form of schooling undergoes changes under this influence, it will, therefore, be because the power to define the knowledge to be taught partially escapes it.

3.1.2 Trandisciplinarity

Many publications highlight the transdisciplinary nature of ESD or examine the supposed changes in the boundaries between disciplines or the difficulties in involving various disciplines in ESD (e.g. Barroca-Paccard, Orange-Ravachol, Gouyon 2013; Diemer 2011; Floro 2013; Jeziorski 2013; Tutiaux-Guillon 2012; Urgelli, Simonneaux, Le Marec 2011).

According to B. Nicolescu’s definition (2008), “As the prefix “trans” indicates, transdisciplinarity concerns that which is at once between the disciplines, across the different disciplines, and beyond all discipline. Its goal is the understanding of the present world, of which one of the imperatives is the unity of knowledge.”

Unfortunately, this ambition seems unrealistic. What I observe are efforts to cross combine different disciplinary approaches. In practice, this means defining the content to be taught first, on the basis of objects of teaching that are a direct reflection of social practices; objects towards which strictly disciplinary approaches (in the educational sense of the term) can be made to converge.

In fact, this is all part of a discourse that attempts to justify certain specific aspects of ESD practices: involvement of a large number of non-expert stakeholders, a lack of epistemological reflection, a tendency towards relativism, and others. Indeed, the French consider that the emergence and development of “educations for” necessitates changes in the form of schooling (Barthes, 2014); changes that call into question the foundations of the old French model. Indeed, the latter is challenged on two fronts: first of all, the skill-based model arising from the business world (Ropé and Tanguy 1994), and second of all, the “de-schooling” of teaching, which increasingly involves utilitarian and developmentalist partnership projects, and which, as it assumes new forms, accepts many diverse participants.

3.2 Contents: What are the dominant choices in terms of curriculum, and why?

Here two dominant features emerge:

3.2.1    Knowledge is not at the centre of the educational project

As many studies on ESD curricula have shown, scientific knowledge is not at the heart of the educational project (e.g.Lebatteux 2011, 2013; Orange-Ravachol, Doussot 2013; Plazy 2013).

This tendency was discussed and highlighted in Volume 11 of the journal “Education relative à l’environnement: Regards–Recherches–Réflexions”, which contains selected papers presented and discussed during the International colloquium, “Reporting on knowledge and education related to the environment and sustainable development”, during the 80th Congress of the Acfas, and in the publication “Education, environnement et développement durable, vers une écocitoyenneté critique” (Bader, Sauvé 2011). The main objective of pedagogical outputs seems to be, both behavioral (focused on best practices) and developmentalist (centered on the direct economic value of knowledge). These practices are expected to cause a change in learners’ relationship to the world and to promote change in societal logics.

From an epistemological viewpoint, the aim – explicit or implicit – of most ESD actors is to construct an intermediate reference framework to legitimize a choice of teaching contents: the knowledge chosen in priority is that which seems useful in terms of justifying the social normalization process associated with sustainable development as a political project.

The selected knowledge is divided into different categories according to its degree of immediate operationality: it mostly underpins practice, which has several consequences;

  • A form of rejection of more theoretical knowledge;
  • A lack of knowledge problematization, which goes against the civic educational approaches that aim at promoting deliberative (Legardez 2006; Legardez, Simonneaux 2011) or critical thinking (Robottom, Hart 1993), even though they are often formulated in relation to sustainable development. Knowledge is, instead, presented as self-evident, and is therefore not discussed (Barthes, Jeziorski 2012). What is excluded is the scientific debate about the uncertain nature of the scientific knowledge that could serve as a reference. Reduced to its most basic expression, scientific knowledge serves as an alibi, and any confrontation between scientific paradigms is systematically..
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