Greening European Geography Curricula - HERODOT Network for ...

Greening European Geography Curricula - HERODOT Network for ...

Europeanisation of Geographical Education

Session: European Dimension in Geography,

HEROdot.NET, Tartu, Estonia, 23-29th, June, 2004


the European Curriculum

Martin Haigh

(Oxford Brookes University, UK)

Europe aspires to become a knowledge-driven society but what

is the character of the ‘knowledge’ that Europe really needs?

United Nations Resolution 57/254

‘United Nations Decade of

Education for Sustainable


• challenges educators to help learners create a better &

more sustainable world

• Kofi Annan: “Sustainable development will not happen of

its own accord. We need a break with the harmful

practices of the past...”

• ESD involves “learning how to make decisions that

consider the long-term future of the economy, ecology &

equity of all communities”

• UNESCO, 2003.

European Year of

Citizenship through Education”

(Council of Europe, 2005)

Education for Democratic Citizenship (EDC)

project - 3 issues:

1. what knowledge, skills & attitudes do

individuals need to be effective Europeans?

2. how can these be developed?

3. how can people learn to transmit this body

of knowledge, skills & attitudes?


– combines the study of environments & societies

– & should play a key role in EDC & ESD

How should be that knowledge?

• “The knowledge” –

– London taxi drivers must learn ‘the knowledge’, - the

geography, map-routes, & streets of the metropolis,

the rules that govern their use & the transport of


– London’s Hindu community: knowledge comes from

the books called ‘knowledge’, the four holy Vedas.

• John Vernon (1973) compared:

– ‘map consciousness’, where knowledge divides the

world into discrete functional units,

– ‘integrative’ or ‘garden consciousness’, which can find

the infinite in the smallest soil aggregate.

Vernon explored this ‘schizophrenia’ through American

culture & poetry.

Empathy & Education

Elie Weisel, Nobel Prize Laureate & Holocaust survivor, on war criminals:

• “They did not come from the underworld; some came from the

best and most prestigious universities... they had degrees and

even doctorates in medicine, philosophy, jurisprudence and

theology. In other words, they were not shielded by their

education. What was wrong with it? It emphasised theories

instead of values, concepts rather than human beings,

abstraction rather than consciousness, answers instead of

questions, ideology and efficiency rather than conscience”

(Weisel 1990, p.1.).

Koehler (1995) compares knowledge production through education & training:

• “Education, like water, serves many life-supporting needs, but

only if … acquired in a usable form. Training, like a well, is

direct and useful... In the past, education was derided for its

dreamy quality, for turning out people who could not build or

even describe what they dreamed. Training, on the other hand,

was faulted for losing sight of its goals ... Trainees could build

a better conveyor belt, but they didn't or couldn't care whose

bodies were on it or why “ (Koehler, 1995, p1).

Curricula: Problems in Education

UK School Geography textbooks create a ‘worldview

dominated by the North versus the South’.

European content 51% (1991), 45% (1995) ..

• BUT Europe outside the UK -

European curricula: trapped in

the Industrial Age & Nation State

Our curricula still teach young people that they are both different and separate from their

neighbours & that this makes them superior.

Today’s education favours the corporate world of work more than the Nation State, but it

still trains people to work on ‘Koehler’s conveyor belt’.

Our education system:

• promotes the myth of technology as saviour,

• conflates growth with development,

• equates abundance with well-being,

• relies on the market to achieve equity & social justice

• continues to ignore the rights, not merely of

humanity’s future generations but all other species.

Current educational structures fail to nurture a learner’s

appreciation for the systems of this living world &

even provide an ‘encouragement to disdain them’

(Smith, 2002, p.7).

Self-destruction of our Life

Support System

1. The air that we breathe, the water that we drink, the

soils where we grow 99% of our food, & the sewage

farms that help us cope with our wastes are powered by

living systems of bacteria and plants, about which we

know little & over which we have little control.

2. The world is in the grip of a mass extinction of species

that is driven by the human impact on the biosphere.

– Recent estimates suggest that global land use changes may

have resulted in the extinction of 1-29% of all species in

affected biomes;

– if tropical deforestation progresses at current rates of 0.43%yr,

a further 6.3% of all species will disappear

– Given current minimal estimates for climate change:

– 24% (Range: 15-37%) of all species may be extinct by 2050

(Thomas et al. 2004).

“The consequences of our failing to

stop the loss of biodiversity are too

awful to contemplate. Our highest

priority should be to guarantee the

health and effective functioning of

the Earth’s life support systems – on

land, the seas and in the air” .

• “Every individual.. has an obligation

and an interest in changing outlooks

through education and by example,

thereby helping to end thoughtless

or deliberate waste and destruction”.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan (2004, p1):

Recycling Used Land

Land means a lot to people.. they may not be

making more - but a lot is being destroyed.

Surface mining destroys land rather completely

• No-one is quite sure how to restore it afterwards.

Much reclaimed land degrades or

remains a cost for a host

community coping with:

– thinning soils,

– cracked drains,

– poor vegetation growth.

Real reclamation means

establishing lands that are not

‘sustainable’ but self-sustaining.

• ‘Self-sustaining’ may be defined

as an economic after use - but if

not - then it must be defined in

terms of natural control.

In the former coal-lands of Britain?

Nature is the only system

capable of sustaining itself.

• Humility: 1st lesson of landscape reconstruction

• Humans cannot create self-sustaining nature.

• Nature is too complicated & too little understood.

• The best that can be done is to try & help nature self-create itself.

• This is less 'engineering' & more midwifery.

Building a

Cradle for


• Land reclamation is neither about building new lands nor

reconstructing the environment, nor building ecosystems from

their simple component parts. Such talk is self-delusion.

• Land reclamation is about building a cradle for nature.

• The hope is that this cradle will suffice to nurture an infant

natural geosystem & help it take positive & gentle, not

destructive & violent, control of its habitat.

• Aim - create the preconditions for nature to reconstruct itself.

Calls for ESD

• COPERNICUS Campus Charter charges Universities to

promote environmental literacy & the practice of

environmental ethics in society “Education at all levels,

especially university education for the training of

decision-makers & teachers, should be oriented towards

sustainable development & foster environmentally aware

attitudes...” (COPERNICUS, 1993, p1).

• UNESCO: “Calls on educators, Governments & all

stakeholders to: review the programmes & curricula of

schools & universities, in order to better address the

challenges & opportunities of sustainable development,

with a focus on: creating learning modules which bring

skills, knowledge, reflections, ethics & values together in

a balanced way” (UNESCO, 2002, p1).

Will our society allow Nature to take

priority over immediate social desires?

• “Our legal system fosters a sense of human rights,

with other than human beings having no inherent

rights. Our economic system is based on the

exploitation of the Earth in all its geobiological

systems. Commercial rights to profit prevail over the

urgent needs of natural systems for survival”..

• Our route towards becoming a viable species is “to

shift from a human-centred to an Earth-centred norm

of reality and value”. (T. M. Berry 1999).

UNESCO’s 10 ESD priorities:

poverty alleviation, gender equity,

natural resources – but not the security of nature,

human - but not ecosystem health, rural issues,

human rights – but not those of other organisms,

peace, and multicultural understanding.

Worthy but short-sighted enough for ESD to fall short of

its most essential goal.

Anthropocentrism in ESD

Sustaining Life through



The Way Ahead

Capra (1996) commends we study the world through:

‣ Systems Thinking (once a geographers playground)

‣ Deep Ecology –intuition of seeing oneself within nature.

Arguably, this movement reflects a shift in our society away

‣ from the current materialistic, mechanistic, world-view &

‣ to another founded on ecological systems thinking.






with the biosphere.

social Self

1. family of humanity

- sharing history & cultural beliefs,

2. biological species

- sharing an ecological role & impacts

-in the ecosystem it inhabits

Personal self –

1.component in an ecosystem

2. individual wholeness in own right,

3. colony of many billion quasi-independent cells



Reconnecting with Reality

1 st Goal of ESD

Kofi Annan’s 2001 Dhaka speech argues:

“Our biggest challenge in this new century is

to take an idea that sounds abstract –

sustainable development – and turn it into

reality for all the world’s people” (Annan, 2001, p2) .

But, how do you persuade EU undergraduates,

born & raised in an urban / suburban

environment that the natural world, which

they take for granted, is real & matters to


Reconnecting with Reality

Planting trees helps reduce our input of atmospheric carbon

dioxide by locking up carbon in timber & soil.

• Each year, students on the Gaia module plant 250 trees

on campus so keeping it the only ‘carbon neutral’

course. A university should practice what it preaches.

Activity has wider educational objectives.

• Major challenge of ESD is to help people reconnect with

their natural world. This exercise requires learners to get

involved - ‘to get their hands dirty’.

• It also asks learners to write their most sincere hope for

the future & attach this message to the trees they plant.

• 2004’s wishes included hopes that human actions will

not destroy our world & that humans would treat their

fellows with more consideration & respect.

Asked to reflect upon the purpose for this activity:

• Many judged that it helped them repay a debt to Nature

• Others -it helped them think about their role in the world.

Europe would be a Europe of knowledge?

European Citizenship aims to encourage inclusivity, intercultural

understanding & to help people live together

BUT Humans are not the only stakeholders of Europe.

ESD - Education for sustainable development

must rise above the human & help humans

live with the Earth - their life support system.

Geography’s traditions of holism, systems thinking &

fieldwork could provide a vehicle for bringing such

an education to all European citizens?

Geography aspires to be: ‘an integrating study of

the Earth in its comprehensive extent… as a single

reality (Berry, 1999, p86).

‣ Can we make this reality ‘real’ to learners in our


‣ Fieldwork may be our key?

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