In Ecological Literacy, David Orr writes,

The crisis of sustainability, the fit between humanity and its habitat, is manifest in varying ways and degrees everywhere on earth. It is not only a feature on the public agenda; for all practical purposes it is the agenda. . . . Sustainability is about the terms and conditions of human survival, and yet we still educate at all levels as if no such crisis existed (83).

Part of my purpose in this webtext is to argue that there is an intimate connection between our work as teachers and scholars and the various environmental problems that Orr refers to as the crisis of sustainability. This connection is not just a matter of our collective complicity in contributing to an economic system that encourages an ecologically destructive lifestyle; it is a more fundamental matter of the beliefs and values that form the foundation of our educational system. As C. A. Bowers (1995) points out,

The progressive and modernizing nature of beliefs and values promoted in public schools and universities make sense only within the context of the myth of social progress. This myth, as we are now beginning to understand, is predicated on an anthropocentric view of the universe and the further assumption that our rationally-based technology will always enable us to overcome the breakdowns and shortages connected with the natural world (4).

Bowers reminds us that these beliefs were formed "during a period of Western history when the plenitude of the natural environment seemed to hold out the promise of unlimited economic expansion and social progress" (1993, p. 3). But these cultural beliefs in "progress, individualism, and rational processes" will have dire consequences as the sustaining capacity of ecosystems is exceeded. Bowers (1993) points to these consequences in this way:

If the thinking that guides educational reform does not take into account how the cultural beliefs and practices passed on through schooling relate to the deepening ecological crisis, then these efforts may actually strengthen the cultural orientation that is undermining the sustaining capacities of natural systems on which all life depends (1).

The task, then, is to re-imagine and restructure our curricular and pedagogical practices in ways that challenge these beliefs in progress, individualism, and rationality and foster new ways of understanding the relationship between humans and the natural world they inhabit. But to fulfill that task, I believe, requires first re-imagining the literate self.

Return to Introduction.