March 28th, 2011

Implementing Education for Sustainable Development: The Potential use of Time-Honored Pedagogical Practice from the Progressive Era of Education

By Cosette Marie Armstrong

Education for sustainable development (ESD), a UN initiative, is an emerging field and a movement advocating for a reorientation of education. Integration of ESD has been slow, especially in higher education. The most notable progress is marked by campus greening and research initiatives, while pedagogical innovation, the topic of this paper, has been much slower to develop. Reid (2002) posits that the implementation challenge may be complicated by ESD’s lack of concrete direction, however, the possibilities of adopting time-honored educational practices for this purpose as well as allowing ESD to extend educational practice is compelling. The purpose of this paper is to explore some of those time-honored educational practices which may be highly symbiotic to ESD’s intent, specifically, those characteristic of the Progressive Era of Education (PEE) in the 1930’s. It could be easily argued that ESD is simply a second chapter in PEE. More importantly, since the two movements embody great kinship, the pedagogical predilections of ESD may be better understood by exploring those of PEE; namely, constructivism, and especially dialectical constructivism; learning characterized by active engagement and social interaction. The following discussion first explores pedagogical theories and strategies associated with ESD and then correlates those with that of PEE. Finally, a repertoire of practical action using constructivist teaching methods that may be taken into the classroom to implement ESD is outlined.

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