Educating for Sustainability: A Systems Perspective

Jamie Samow
Department of Environmental Studies
This Master's Project is designed as a manual for sustainability educators who would like to incorporate a systems perspective into their work. It begins with an overview of sustainability education, a discussion of why a system's perspective would be of interest to sustainability educators, and an introduction to the main components of systems thinking. Following this is a thorough overview of complex systems theory, including the main characteristics of complex systems (including feedback, emergence, self-organization, and bifurcation events) and the laws governing complex systems (including limits to growth and the second law of thermodynamics). The final section of the Master's Project is a curriculum to teach systems through farm and garden-based education. Each lesson includes an activity related to plant science, ecosystem science, or the food system, and uses the activity to illuminate a concept central to systems theory. Throughout the work, the argument is made that a systems perspective is fundamental to sustainability education, and that farm and garden-based education is one method to teach about sustainability in a way that clearly illustrates the core tenets of systems theory.