Ecopedagogy movement


The Ecopedagogy movement is an outgrowth of developments in critical pedagogy, a body of educational ideas and practices influenced by the philosopher, Paulo Freire. Following Freire, ecopedagogy's mission is to develop a robust appreciation for the collective potentials of being human and to foster social justice throughout the world, but it does so as part of a future-oriented, ecological political vision that radically opposes the globalization of ideologies such as neoliberalism and imperialism, on the one hand, and which attempts to foment forms of critical ecoliteracy, on the other. Additionally, ecopedagogy has as one of its goals the realization of culturally relevant forms of knowledge grounded in normative concepts such as sustainability, planetarity (i.e. identifying as an earthling), and biophilia (i.e. love of life). While Paulo Freire was himself at work on a book of ecopedagogy upon his death in 1997, parts of which are included in his posthumous Pedagogy of Indignation (2004), and important books on ecopedagogy such as Francisco Gutierrez and Cruz Prado’s Ecopedagogy and Planetary Citizenship (1999) and Moacir Gadotti's Pedagogy of the Earth (2000) have thus far been published in Portuguese, ecopedagogy should not be misconstrued as the theories or practices developed by any particular set of individuals. Rather, akin to the World Social Forum and other related forms of contemporary popular education strategies, the Ecopedagogy movement is best perceived as a loosely knit, worldwide association of critical educators, theorists, non-governmental and governmental organizations, grassroots activists and concerned citizens engaged in ongoing dialogue and political action that is attempting to develop ecopedagogical praxis in relation to the needs of particular places, groups, and time periods.

Early History

Ecopedagogy began in a Latin American educational context, growing out of discussions conducted at the first Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1992, in which movement intellectuals desired to make a systematic statement about the interrelationship between humanity and the Earth and formulate a mission for education to universally integrate an ecological ethic – a document that would eventually be ratified as the Earth Charter in 2000. In 1999, the Instituto Paulo Freire, Brasil under the direction of Moacir Gadotti, along with the Earth Council and UNESCO, convened the First International Symposium on the Earth Charter in the Perspective of Education, which was quickly followed by the First International Forum on Ecopedagogy. These conferences led not only to the final formation of the Earth Charter Initiative but to key movement documents such as the Ecopedagogy Charter, as reiterated in Gadotti’s essay Pedagogy of the Earth and the Culture of Sustainability (2000). Gadotti and others in the Ecopedagogy movement have remained influential in advancing the Earth Charter Initiative and continue to mount ecopedagogy seminars, degree programs, workshops and other learning opportunities through an ever-growing number of international Paulo Freire Institutes.

Objectives and Aims

As a form of critical theory of education, ecopedagogy works at a meta-level to offer dialectical critiques of environmental education and education for sustainable development as hegemonic forms of educational discourse that have been created by state agencies that seek to appear to be developing pedagogy relevant to alleviating our mounting global ecological crisis. While environmental education strategies undoubtedly accomplish much that is welcome and good from an ecopedagogical perspective, ecopedagogy questions (especially within the context of the United States) the ways in which environmental education is often reduced to forms of experiential pedagogy and outdoor education that may deal uncritically with the experience of “nature” proffered therein – an ideological zone of wilderness representations that are potentially informed by a mélange of racist, sexist, classist and speciesist values. Further, ecopedagogy has begun to pose problems into the way environmental education has become tethered to state and corporate-sponsored science and social studies standards, or otherwise fails to articulate the political need for widespread knowledge of the ways in which modern society and industrial culture promote unsustainable lifestyles, even as it remains marginalized in the research, teacher-training and educational leadership programs of graduate schools of education. Likewise, while ecopedagogy seeks to utilize the ongoing United Nations Decade of Educational for Sustainable Development (2005-2015) to make strategic interventions on behalf of the oppressed, ecopedagogy also attempts to generate conscientization upon the concept of sustainable development and thereby uncloak it of the sort of the widespread ambiguity that it presently maintains. The work of Richard Kahn is a leading example of how the Ecopedagogy movement is being reinterpreted in the above manner for a North American and European context. With Levana Saxon, he has co-founded Ecopedagogy Association International which serves as the home for the Green Theory & Praxis Journal and is a primary hub for coordinating work on ecopedagogy around the world.

Differences in Use of the Term

A growing number of texts utilize the terminology of “ecopedagogy,” without a clear relationship to or awareness of the Ecopedagogy movement. These include works by Ahlberg (1998); Jardine (2000); Petrina (2000); Lummis (2002); and Yang & Hung (2004). Ironically, the concept of “ecopedagogy” was probably coined by Freire's friend-cum-critic Ivan Illich in 1988 to describe an educational process in which educators and educands become inscribed in abstract pedagogical systems, resulting in pedagogy as an end and not a means. As used by Illich, ecopedagogy is represented by forms of education that seek the total administration of life through mandatory pedagogical experiences of systemization. As such, he believed that the movements for life-long education and the creation of “global classrooms” (Illich & Verne, 1981) by bureaucratic educational institutions exemplified such approaches, though he was also critical of popular environmentalist pedagogy attempting to mobilize people's sentiments for "solutions" to "problems" such as global warming, hunger and rainforest destruction. Illich's point was that an ecopedagogy works on a problems/solutions axis that implies a global managerialism that is abhorrent to truly sustainable living in the world. This is a vastly different idea from the way the term and concept is being defined and utilized in critical education circles today, though it is potentially of great importance for the future development of ecopedagogy on the whole.


Ahlberg, M. 1998. Ecopedagogy and Ecodidactics: Education for Sustainable Development, Good Environment and Good Life. Bulletins of the Faculty of Education. No: 69.University of Joensuu.

Freire, P. 2004. Pedagogy of Indignation. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.

Gadotti, M. 2003. Pedagogy of the Earth and the Culture of Sustainability. Paper presented at Lifelong Learning, Participatory Democracy and Social Change: Local and Global Perspectives conference, Toronto, Canada.

---. 2000. Pedagogia da Terra. Sao Paulo, Brazil: Peiropolis.

Gutierrez, F. & C. Prado. 1999. Ecopedagogia e Cidadania Planetaria. Sao Paulo, Brazil: Cortez.

Illich, I. 1988. Ecopedagogia. Alternativas II. Mexico: Joaquín Mortiz / Planeta.

Illich, I. & E. Verne. 1981. Imprisoned in the Global Classroom. London: Writers & Readers.

Jardine, D. W. 2000. “Under the Tough Old Stars”: Ecopedagogical Essays. Brandon, Vermont: Solomon Press.

Kahn, R. 2008. Towards Ecopedagogy: Weaving a Broad-based Pedagogy of Liberation for Animals, Nature and the Oppressed Peoples of the Earth In A. Darder, R. Torres and M. Baltodano, The Critical Pedagogy Reader (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.

---. 2007. The Ecopedagogy Movement: From Global Ecological Crisis to Cosmological, Technological and Organizational Transformation in Education. Doctoral Dissertation (Committee: Douglas Kellner, Chair; Peter McLaren; and Steven Best), Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, University of California, Los Angeles.

---. 2006. The Educative Potential of Ecological Militancy in an Age of Big Oil: Towards a Marcusean ecopedagogy. Policy Futures in Education, 4(1), pp. 31-44

Lummis, G. 2002. Globalisation: Buidling a Partnership Ethic for an Ecopedagogy in Western Australia. The Australian Journal of Teacher Education 27(1).

Magalhaes, H. G. D. 2005. Ecopedagogia y Utopia. Educação Temática Digital, Campinas 7(1): pp. 53-60.

Petrina, S. 2000. The Political Ecology of Design and Technology Education: An Inquiry into Methods. International Journal of Technology and Design Education 10(3): pp. 207-237.

Yang, S. K. & R. Hung. 2004. Towards Construction of an Ecopedagogy Based on the Philosophy of Ecocentrism. Journal of Taiwan Normal University 49(2).

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