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.
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.
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.
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