Uncovering Sustainability in the Curriculum

I ran across this article today about sustainability curriculum by Daniel Sherman of the University of Puget Sound. I’m psyched to find it because the article explains why sustainability cannot just be shoved into an existing curriculum- be still my heart.  Here’s the gist of it:

Hey! My old library books!

Sherman describes the hardships of inserting new material into an existing program:

Faculty often speak of “coverage” when there is a movement afoot to add something to the curriculum.  Champions of the movement demand more coverage of the favored topic, ideas, skills, or perspectives in the curriculum, while the unconverted emit exasperated sighs—arguing either that there is no room in their curriculum to cover anything else or that the proposed addition does not fit what they typically cover.

Most courses don’t have any extra time or space to fill.  Many professors have been teaching for years, tweaking and altering course content in order to provide the best education they can.  How open to new, untested material do you think they would be? On top of that, how many teachers are actually able to go through an entire textbook front to back in one term? Not many.  There isn’t enough time for the material they’re familiar with, let alone sustainability material they haven’t taught before.

Then there’s the problem of public perceptions of sustainability. What is it in the first place? According to the article, 90% of respondents associated it with recycling or some other practice, while the other 10% properly (excuse my snobbishness) associated it with “conservation” or “systems thinking.”  How can we ask teachers to teach a concept when a good number of them simply think it’s about putting aluminum cans in the right bin?

That’s why any class worth it’s salt will have been designed from the ground up around sustainability.  You need the right professors with the right skills teaching the right curriculum if you want to have any success educating in the new millennium.

Who in the United States is doing it right?  Off the top of my head, Bainbridge Graduate Institute (Full disclosure, I’m currently a student there and it’s awesome), Presidio, Marlboro, and Dominican are probably the only schools I know of that are the true leaders in Sustainability and CSR education.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Alex, you make a good point about tacking on new ideas to existing curriculum. Most of the time it just won’t work – especially for big ideas like sustainability. The entire curriculum needs to be rethought, as has been done at BGI and other schools.

    The problem with incorporating sustainability is, as you said, a lack of understanding of what it is all about. I think systems thinking is the best way to frame it. It would be wise to avoid any of the loaded terms that environmentalists love (environmentalism being one of those words), lest we relegate sustainability to just another niche market. Systems thinking encompasses what it is all about – looking at problems through a bigger lens that captures more of what is involved and affected.

    Nice post Alex. I hope you keep the blog going.


  2. […] EcoErudition Sustainability in Academia Skip to content HomeAbout ← Uncovering Sustainability in the Curriculum […]


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