Critical reflections on professional education for the environment
Full recordShow full item record
AbstractEvidence exists to suggest that in Australia many environmental issues remain unresolved even though the community has apparently become more environmentally aware. Although universities have undertaken responsibility to educate future environmental professionals to address this concern, there are numerous tensions underpinning professional environmental education. This folio explores my perceptions of these tensions and their effect on my professional practice as an academic. I refer to this as the relationships among theories and practices experienced in my work. Four perspectives are taken in this research as I appraise professional environmental education. This Dissertation (Vol. 1) focuses on views informing my professional environmental education, inclusive of my own reflexivity. From interviews with students, academics, professionals and environmentalists, and other sources of information, I consider various tensions arising from what I regard as dehumanising social and political forces. The conventional elite and authoritative roles for universities and professionals dominate most participants' understanding of professional activities. Professional practices often endorse these conventions. Juxtaposed to this authoritative view of professional education, and prescribing a different interpretation for professional practice, is my theoretical position informed by criticality and a need to challenge the status quo. I suggest that Leopold's The Land Ethic is an exemplar of criticality and a suitable basis for examining professional environmental education. The Land Ethic is used as a foundation to my thesis because it encapsulates suitable arguments to examine ideologies supportive of my understanding of professional environmental education. My thesis investigates the nature of participants' (including my own) understanding of their land ethic or land ethics suggesting that interpretations of 'place' provide an emotional and ethical appreciation of the land. I suggest that 'place', as a culturally derived construct, is central to the concept of a land ethic or land ethics, and a characteristic of an environmental ethic or ethics. To incorporate these different perspectives into professional environmental education perhaps land could be viewed, not just as a 'client' as in Schön's (1983) reflective contract, but expanded so that professionals form ethical partnerships with the land, which implies a greater equity between roles and responsibilities. This perspective challenges elite interpretations of the roles for environmental professionals by asking them to be advocates for their land, and to work with the land. Searching for my own land ethic or land ethics has promoted a discourse that encompasses a language of possibility and opportunity. This language of possibility and opportunity stands in contrast to the constraining language of reproduction that has promoted stasis. My reflexivity, a holistic and ecological view that in this thesis is an expression of my searching for a land ethic or land ethics, has encouraged me to develop critical and ethical questions to challenge my professional environmental education practice. As such the process of theorising about my theory and practice has been personally transformative as it encourages my development as a 'critical person'. Elective 1 (Vol. 2 ) reviews public information promoting a selected range of Australian environmental courses. Analysis demonstrates environmental courses are mainly technocratic, promoting technical-scientific and vocational perspectives. This orientation, I consider, is aligned to an emerging corporate agenda as universities attempt to be more accountable to the government within a competitive market dominated by economic interests. Elective 2 (Vol. 2 ) considers the providers of professional environmental education where I explore a diversity of tensions undermining current academic life found in many Australian universities. I suggest that corporatisation and vocationalisation dominate university culture to such an extent that any examination of professional environmental education is prejudiced. Professional environmental education appears to be biased toward maintaining the status quo. My conclusion is that professional environmental education does not promote graduates as 'critical persons' (Barnett 1997), and this may affect graduates' understandings of the purpose and aspirations of environmental professionalism. I suggest that elite and technical understandings of professionalism may affect the professionals' ability to implement environmental policy. Australia has an admirable record of developing environmental policy. However, public concern about a lack of resolution for many environmental issues suggests that professionals may be struggling to successfully implement policy in any meaningful way. Such challenges for environmental professionals may be a result of a professional environmental education that does not engage graduates within ideas that professional practice may require community participation and collaboration as key themes. Elective 3 (Vol. 2) is a case study investigating the development of conservation policies by the Ballarat community. The case demonstrates how the dominant social paradigm informs community views about environmental issues emphasising a technical emphasis and hierarchical arrangements of power and authority between local government and the community. The community view appears to be that environmental action should be mainly individualistic and behaviourist, which I suggest may have resulted from a technical framework for environmental knowledge. The community view of environmental issues resonates with the dominant view promoted by professional environmental education in most universities. In conclusion, my thesis is a representation of my challenges to critically engage in possible relationships among theories, practices and circumstances in my workplace, with a view to addressing what I perceive as a 'gap' between my own theory and practice. The motivation for this critical examination is to question the purpose of my professional environmental education practice in relation to the challenges of my emergent environmental ideology. The difficulty of promoting my critical theorising in a traditional small science faculty, within a corporate university, with my scientific background, is acknowledged. Nevertheless, based on my own experiences, I recommend that academics involved in professional environmental education should be encouraged to explore relationships between their own theories and practices in their own professional settings. I suggest that the search for a land ethic or land ethics, and one's 'place' in the 'land', can be an effective platform for this process.