Activist training in the academy: Developing a master's program in Environmental Advocacy and Organizing at Antioch New England Graduate School

Steve Chase (2006)

This curriculum action research study begins by raising the question of whether environmental studies programs within higher education should launch activist training programs for public interest advocates and grassroots organizers working for nonprofit organizations focused on environmental protection, corporate accountability, and social justice. Answering that question in the affirmative, the study then focuses on the theoretical issues underlying the creation of activist training programs within the academy, specifically within environmental studies programs, and reports on a case study of the successful development of a master's program in Environmental Advocacy and Organizing. The first section on theoretical issues focuses first on the author's own evolution from a teacher focused primarily on critical pedagogy and citizenship education to one focused on expanding the activist training opportunities at his own graduate school and beyond. It goes on to make both the theoretical and historical case for activist training programs within higher education---including offering past examples from extension, service learning, and professional graduate programs. In the last part of this section, the study identifies 5 core curriculum content areas that are key to teaching environmental advocacy and organizing and then discusses the tradition of popular education as the most appropriate educational methodology for activist training programs. The second section reports on the case study of an insider action research project to develop and launch a new master's program in Environmental Advocacy and Organizing. This section presents the author's original proposal to the Faculty of the Department of Environmental Studies at Antioch New England Graduate School, explores their initial reactions, offers answers to key questions raised by the them, and, finally, describes the basic curricular design of the new program that welcomed its first cohort of students in Fall 2002 and has been directed by the author ever since. The aim of this study is to provide a useful guide for other educators in academia who might be interested in starting similar programs at their own schools, whether in the field of environmental studies or other disciplines.

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