Feminist environmental education :towards radical transformation of human-earth relations

DeBoer, Kristin Ann
Cindy Thomashow, MST., MEd
Department of Environmental Studies
In this thesis I set out to explore the issues, values and concerns feminists bring to the practice of environmental education. The intent of the inquiry was to research how feminism influences the way environmental educators address the socio-ecological crisis. The intersection of feminism and environmental education is rarely articulated in the literature of either movements. Therefore, my research sought out the loved experiences of environmental educators who believe that feminism affects the content, method and application of their teaching. Through in-depth interviews, I asked twelve environmental educators to explain the impact of feminism in their philosophy of education, pedagogy and application of education to society. In my research and literature review I interpreted several commonalities between principles in ecofeminist theory, feminist pedagogy and the environmental education movement. These movements are concerned with understanding social and ecological systems, an interdisciplinary approach to education, problem-solving, ethics and values, and praxis. My research revealed a distinct tone and purpose when these environmental educational attributes are practiced with a feminist orientation. Feminist theory helps students understand social and ecological systems by challenging dominant assumptions about human relationships to nature, especially as they relate to gender and value dualisms. Feminist environmental educators promote an interdisciplinary approach to eduation that is fundamentally based on establishing connections to between diverse perspectives. These educators also incorporate bodies of knowledge that are often suppressed by partriarchal education, including self-knowledge, multi-cultural knowledge, and women's knowledge. In problem solving feminism highlights the need for critical investigation of issues, dealing with power relations and encouraging respectful communication about controversial issues. Feminist environmental educators infuse learning with ethics and values that are rooted in mutual and caring relationships to the Earth community. And, finally these educators are concerned with balancing reflection with action in a holistic vision of a sustainability and community. Above all, I found that feminism is significant in envrionmental education because it informs a radical challenge to dominant ways of relating to the Earth and its people, that is through domination, oppression and exploitation. In its place feminist environmental educators offer a hopeful but rigorous path of finding more life-affirming ways of living on Earth and with each other.

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