Sustainability in Education


Wildwood as a learning lab

St. Louis now has higher education degrees in sustainability at both the bachelor’s (Washington University’s U College) and master’s levels (St. Louis University). I thought–we need an associate’s level degree in this region too.  Why not at St. Louis Community College?

A conversation is underway for an AA or AS in Environmental Science.  We plan to offer this program at our LEED-Gold Wildwood campus. As part of that conversation, I am suggesting that we also find a way to have the larger perspective of sustainability in this planning.  I believe we need to blend the sciences AND the social sciences and humanities.  To truly focus on the social importance of the triad of sustainability (Environmental integrity, economic vitality and social equity), we need to consider the human spirit and condition as part of our integrated ecosystem studies.  We also need to bridge the divide between education and training—education as mind-expanding and training as mere practice.  I want to see a program that inspires students from all walks of life to take classes for curiosity, for a certificate, or degree.   They might be  dual-registered high school students or employees from industry wanting to expand their awareness and skills.  If a student wants mainly to attain a skill (say, how to complete a Greenhouse Gas Inventory), he or she can begin with a focused plan.  But then say the issues raised on just how to collect the data and then what to do with it for GHG emissions reduction lead the learner to ask the BIGGER questions of HOW and WHY emissions are generated (public policy supporting job expansion without consideration for health issues stemming from industrial waste or human behaviors to drive alone)?  Maybe this person could participate in those broader discussions.  Or say a student wants to initially learn about global issues, but then passionately wants to DO something (be concretely trained to make a difference)? If curriculum was like a highway with many paths to a destination, lifelong learning would be more accessible and appealing for a much broader audience.  There once may have been a place for the Ivory Towers, but with today’s urgent global issues like climate change, we must prepare students to have an action plan for their lives and wisdom to make the hard decisions in store for all of us.

On the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) curriculum forum, I read John Gerber’s (University of Massachusetts)  comments for sustainability education in particular, but for our consideration for education in general: 

We need an education of rigorous intellectual activity motivated by awe and wonder. This kind of learning should be nurtured by an environment of community caring where thinkings and feelings are both honored, and the values of happiness, health, friendship, love, justice, freedom, responsibility, democracy, and productive work are explicit, desired outcomes of coherent learning. Thought is necessary to this kind of learning, but thought “alone” (either separate from feeling) or “alone” (outside of a community) is simply not enough. Thinking and feeling must be done in the company of other humans, working and learning to heal ourselves, our communities, our planet – together” (J. Gerber, 1997 March).

As we continue our discussions at the college for this new Associates degree or consider certificates for sustainability, I will offer John’s suggestion that we keep our curriculum socially-engaging and well-balanced as his thoughts below suggest.                                                                                                

Sustainability in Education will require the integration of thinking and feeling, mind and body, science and spirit, knowledge and values, head and heart (Gerber, 2011 May ).


3 responses to “Sustainability in Education

  1. Donna Halsband

    Excellent! I like the holistic approach! And the possible new program!

  2. Katy Mike Smaistrla

    This post reminded me of a recent article by Paul Ehrlich published in the Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences. When asked how environmental science should be made an important focus of everyone’s education, he suggested 1.) starting early, 2.) tying environmental issues to standard parts of curricula, 3.) revising teacher education, 4.) reforming university curricula, and 5.) thinking beyond schooling to 6.) make environmental education global.

    “…Merely acquiring knowledge is of course not enough. Grasping key topics is essential for critical assessment of environmental issues. …. schooling is not enough. Beyond schooling, continuing public education is necessary for the survival of civilization, and it must be continuing. …”

    I can’t wait to see how the STLCC District develops the Associates degree, and how the District continues to provide the community with ongoing public education!

  3. Peggy,

    I like your example of the Greenhouse Gas Inventory. I had not considered how it applies to many levels of government, corporations and society.

    Great article.


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