June 15th, 2014

The state of the field–how did we get here?

By Larry Frolich

Dear JSE….viewers? ……visitors? ….interactors?…

Well, we know “readers” doesn’t work anymore, and, what I believe will come to be known as the “landmark” issue of JSE, finally fulfills that promise, as we enter into a new world of asking our audience to interact with a rich and, we hope, game-changing content in this, our “State of The Field” issue, the first in a series on “Sustainability Education Across the Generations.”

This issue is a twist on the classic story of the journey taking us where we didn’t now we might go—in this case, we didn’t even know where the journey was supposed to start.  Originally, we conceived of one issue examining how ideas about sustainability education are changing as newer and younger scholars and practitioners enter into the mix.  But Guest Editor Jaimie Cloud was quick to point out that, if something is changing, first you better know where it’s at right now.  In our earlier editorial team meetings, we would ask, “How are the leaders of the field currently conceptualizing sustainability education,” and Jaimie would say, “there is just no there there, no consensus whatsoever.  We can’t reasonably answer that question, so we better find out.”

So, then we thought we would try to ask our contributors to tell us which group they belong to, but we soon discovered a problem in creating dichotomies about age or generation or experience—no one wants to be on either side of the fence.  How could we split our contributors correctly:  “old/young,” “experienced/novice,” “wise/innocent,” “up-and-coming/down-and-leaving,”  Quick informal polling told us that no one, but no one, likes being identified along these kinds of axes.  So, now we had a double problem.  We don’t know where the journey begins, and we don’t know who to ask.

We finally decided that we needed more pages..or that is, more screen-time…that we needed a first issue to define the starting point, and subsequent issues to ask where it’s going from there.  And that, whereas we could identify some key individuals to contribute their ideas of where the field is at right now, we should keep all our invitations open and avoid pigeon-holing anyone.  At the same time, we decided we should try to make our audience and contributors focus on some broad categories regarding the Content and Context of sustainability education, so that we could at least try to organize a comparison of their ideas.  The results are now in your hands, or at least before your eyes, depending on what kind of device you’re using.  (Yes, the ink might all be digital now, but the tiny screens have put it back in our hands—about 70% of current JSE viewers are now using  a portable phone or tablet).

The response from the Thought Leaders and Scholars has been, as you’ll see, fantastic.  We sent out a very broad invitation and call for this issue, but by no means do we believe that our results are all-inclusive and we hope this first attempt only opens the door, rather than closes anyone out.  If you have a well-developed set of “essential elements” of sustainability education that has not been included, please send it on to us and we’ll begin to expand the database.

You are invited to burrow into our interactive data base by selecting your “thought leaders” of interest and choosing a topic or two to compare.  Or you can just fill the infinite space on the edges of your screen by “selecting ‘em all” and then move around the 243 boxes that will appear.  And you can also visit the YouTube channel and watch the videos.  Or read through the expanded articles from the Table of Contents.  We invite you to immediately post your comments, and you can expect to see an open contribution database where you can fill in your own views, or your own analysis of how you see consensus among the current contributors, coming soon.

We’re not so naïve or conceited as to think that this issue will now define the essential elements of sustainability education.  But we do hope it serves to open the dialog.  As we begin to process all the data that is here, and the expanded articles and references that the contributors have provided, we do hope to establish benchmarks that colleges, schools, policy-makers, institutions and educators of all kinds, can use to help guide this greatest of all undertakings—bringing humanity into a future that will improve, rather than degrade quality of life.

Inasmuch as we might use the data presented here to work on consensus, we are already planning the follow-up issues to address how views are changing, how new ideas, new contexts, and a changing world, require an on-going process of self-evaluation .  Twenty years ago, very few people even perceived of a need for sustainability education, and now it is on the verge of being mainstreamed in many districts and institutions.

In a follow-up issue, then, expect us to ask readers to start critiquing and expanding the consensus.  If we now have a starting point, then maybe we can finally see where the journey might take us!

Please join me in giving a special thanks, not only to all the great contributors to this issue, but to an amazing editorial team, Rosemary Logan, Andrew Bernier, and most of all our Guest Editor, Jaimie Cloud.

Enjoy the starting point for a journey!



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