Ecological Democracy: An Environmental Approach to Citizenship Education

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    Ecological Democracy: AnEnvironmental Approach toCitizenship EducationNeil O. Houser aa University of OklahomaPublished online: 31 Jan 2012.

    To cite this article: Neil O. Houser (2009) Ecological Democracy: An EnvironmentalApproach to Citizenship Education, Theory & Research in Social Education, 37:2,192-214, DOI: 10.1080/00933104.2009.10473394

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  • 192 Spring 2009

    Theory and Research in Social EducationSpring 2009, Volume 37, Number 2 pp. 192-214 College and University Faculty Assemblyof National Council for the Social Studies

    Ecological Democracy:An Environmental Approach to Citizenship Education

    Neil O. HouserUniversity of Oklahoma

    Civic educators strive to develop the kinds of citizens who can identify and address the significant challenges of life in society. A case can be made that we have failed in this fundamental task. In spite of our efforts, contemporary societies seem ill-equipped to cope with the enormous social and environmental issues of our age. The problem is not merely with the broader population. Academics, too, have been unable or unwilling to assess the challenges we face. This essay explores the underlying nature of our contemporary situation and argues for a synthesis of citizenship education and ecological consciousness. The author suggests that civic education should be conducted within, rather than outside or beyond, a broader environmental context. Such an approach is imperative for the good of society and the health of the planet. The author argues that we can no longer afford anything less.

    Preparing the young for membership in society is a central function of education. For better or worse, education influences human perspectives, actions and relationships. As John Dewey observed nearly as century ago, Any education given by a group tends to socialize its members, but the quality and value of the socialization depends upon the habits and aims of the group (1916/1966, p. 83). Given the nature of the problems we currently face, it is important to ask what habits and aims influence education today and to assess their impact on the good of society and the health of the planet.

    Social studies, an important component of education in general, involves the preparation of citizens for membership in society.1 As declared in the 1916 National Education Association (NEA) report on the social studies, The keynote of education is social efficiency and the conscious and constant purpose [should be the] cultivation of good citizenship (p. 9). Civic educators have long sought to identify the challenges of life in society, the kinds of citizens needed to cope with these challenges, and ways to help students become these citizens.

    Today, citizenship education remains the primary aim of the

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    field. Much consideration is given to the preparation of citizens who can address the personal complications of everyday life as well as the broader problems facing our society and world (Evans, 2004; Hahn, 1991; Houser & Kuzmic, 2001; Ross, 2001; Stanley, 2001). As noted in the National Council for the Social Studies curriculum standards:

    The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.And because civic issuesare multidisciplinary in nature, understanding these issues and developing resolutions to them require multidisciplinary education. (NCSS, 1994, Executive Summary, paras. 4 & 5)

    A case can be made that we have failed in this fundamental task. In spite of our best efforts, contemporary societies and citizens seem ill-equipped to cope with the issues of our age. The problem is not merely that the general population has failed to learn from its mistakes, or that the forces of prejudice are stronger than realized, or even that capitalist greed and the corporate agenda may have finally overwhelmed our democratic ideals. While all of these are important factors, responsibility lies with political, economic, and academic leaders as well. We, too, have apparently been unable or unwilling to accurately assess our existing situation.

    This essay argues for a synthesis of ecological thought and citizenship education. The search for societal improvement remains imperative. However, I argue that this endeavor should be conducted within, rather than outside or beyond, a broader ecological context. First I identify the challenges we face and review the literature in ecological philosophy. This literature reveals deep connections between our current social and environmental dilemmas. Next I explore why these problems, compelling as they may be, remain difficult for many to understand and accept. Finally I focus on how citizenship educators might begin to address these pressing issues.

    Socioenvironmental Concerns and Relationships

    Significant social and environmental factors are becoming increasingly problematic, and hence increasingly familiar. Many are now aware of the alarming environmental statistics reported in sources such as Al Gores (2006) An Inconvenient Truth. We have also witnessed rising social tensions in the United States and the rest of the world. Within the last decade alone we have seen rapid population growth; excessive patterns of production and consumption; aggressive corporate globalization; devastating conflicts in Africa, Europe, and

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    the Middle East; catastrophic terrorism in Spain, Great Britain, and the United States; contentious military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq; soaring costs of food, oil and healthcare; loss of manufacturing jobs in industrialized nations; and vitriolic intolerance among religious fundamentalists. Nor are these tensions isolated among the poor. Today, some of the wealthiest nations on earth rank among its leaders in terms of violence, stress and anxiety, substance abuse, divorce, and suicide.

    No longer are these experiences remote to most Americans. Natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and economic challenges like the loss of jobs, the housing and lending crises, and the rising costs of oil and food have focused national attention not only on the weather but also on related issues of population growth, atmospheric accumulation of carbon dioxide, corporate arrogance and greed, and the inequitable treatment of poor and minority citizens by indifferent government officials. Few credible scientists doubt whether a lethal combination of social and environmental factors threatens not only our way of life but the very health of the planet. Yet, in spite of the evidence, widespread denial and confusion persist regarding the nature and causes of this critical situation.

    At the heart of the problem is a basic misunderstanding regarding the relationship that exists between humans and the environment. A vivid example involves U.S. Senator James Inhofe from the oil-producing State of Oklahoma. Former Chair of the U.S. Environment and Public Works Committee, Senator Inhofe received nearly $290,000 from oil and gas companies (including ExxonMobil) for his 2002 reelection campaign, and almost $450,000 from similar entities during the 2008 campaign finance cycle (Center for Responsive Politics, n.d., Industries section, para. 1). Regrettably, but not surprisingly, Inhofe continues to insist that global warming is a vast international hoax designed to destroy the American way of life (Inhofe, 2005, Floor speech, para. 1).

    What is the nature of the human-environment relationship? What insights can be gained from the literature in ecological philosophy? In spite of prevailing assumptions that seem to suggest otherwise, human communities and natural environments are deeply interconnected. Whether at the biological level of the planetary ecosystem or at the social and political levels of communities and nations, the actions of some cannot help but affect the circumstances of others. Nearly a century ago, classic social psychologist George Herbert Mead (1934/1962) discussed the profound reciprocal relationship between organisms and their environments:

    When a form develops a capacity, however this takes place, to deal with parts of the environment which its progenitors could

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    not deal with, it has to this degree created a new environment for itself. The ox that has a digestive organ capable of treating grass as a food adds a new food, and in adding this it adds a new object. The substance which was not food before becomes food now. The environment of the form has increased. The organism in a real sense is determinative of its environment. The situation is one in which there is action and reaction, and adaptation that changes the form must also change the environment. (p. 215)

    Gradually extending his thesis to humans, Mead went on to explain that as a person adjusts to a certain environment, the person changes as well. In the subsequent adjustment of the individual, the broader community is also affected. Although the effects may be slight, personal alterations invariably lead to modifications in the social environment and the world is accordingly a different world (Mead, 1934/1962, p. 215). Reciprocally, different worlds necessitate further adjustment, no matter how slight, of those who dwell within them.

    Along similar lines, Michaels and Carello (1981) demonstrate how the co-evolution of an organism and environment can form a distinctive ecological niche:

    An animals wings, gills, snout, or hands describe that animals environment. Likewise, a complete description of a niche describes the animal that occupies it. For example, if we specify in detail the niche of a fish (its medium, its predators and prey, its nest, etc.), we have in a way described the fish. Thus, just as the structure and functioning of an animal describes the environment, the particulars of the environment imply the structure and activities of its animal. (p. 14)

    This is a remarkable observation. The environment literally helps define the organism, and the organism literally helps define the environment. If this is the case, to care for ones environment truly is to care for oneself.

    Dewey and Bentley (1949) theorized about the continuous nature of reciprocal organism-environment relationships. Rather than isolated mechanical moments, such relationships are dynamic processes continued indefinitely in time and space. For Dewey and Bentley, they are transactional aspects of an inseparable whole. Such assertions seemed to anticipate later ecological claims that life and society must be understood as vast interdependent systems of systems (Capra, 1996; Maturana & Varela, 1980). Drawing on the literature in ecological philosophy, Capra observes the following:

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    The view that values are inherent in all of living nature is grounded in the deep ecological, or spiritual, experience that nature and self are one. This expansion of the self all the way to the identification with nature is the grounding of deep ecology. (1996, pp. 11-12)

    Deep ecologist Arne Naess shares a similar perspective:

    Care flows naturally if the self is widened and deepened so that protection of free Nature is felt and conceived as protection of ourselves.Just as we need no morals to make us breatheif your self in the wide sense embraces another being, you need no moral exhortation to show care.You care for yourself without feeling any moral pressure to do it.[If life] is experienced by the ecological self, our behavior naturally and beautifully follows norms of strict environmental ethics. (cited in Fox, 1990, p. 217)

    Compared with other academic traditions, the history of ecological philosophy is brief. Following the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution, Western political leaders generally believed civilization was on the right track. The Enlightenment had initiated a new humanism celebrating individual personhood unfettered by social responsibility (beyond a basic regard for life, liberty and property). The Industrial Revolution had firmly ensconced principles of efficiency, productivity and the manufacture of material goods. Occasional environmental concerns were dismissed as sentimental navet. Remarkable achievements in science and technology assuaged incipient fears and served to justify continued economic production and expansion.

    Then the unthinkable happened. In spite of the best efforts of the greatest minds of the 20th century, the world was at war. Twice within a single generation, the most powerful scientific, military, and technological forces in the Industrialized World engaged in all-out warfare. The effects were catastrophic. When the fighting ceased near the middle of the century, Europe and Japan lay in ruins. Political and business leaders pondered what had gone wrong, while the victims of the aggression were left to cope with the results.

    Fortunately, the political and business elite were not the only bystanders to consider the implications of this massive human aggression. These unprecedented events reinforced the need to strive for international peace and justice while catalyzing new intellectual disciplines concerned with the impact of human activity on the physical environment. A highly persuasive stance within the emerging ecological tradition was Aldo Leopolds (1949) egalitarian ecosystem

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    ethic, which asserted that anything is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise (pp. 224-5). While the implications of this position continue to be debated, Leopold is commonly credited with having introduced the plight of the biotic community to academic consciousness Mackie, 1998).2

    During the 1950s and 60s, Western societies became increasingly aware of abuses perpetrated in their names but without their consent, and environmentalists reactions became more nuanced and assertive. Writers like Rachel Carson (1962) raised public consciousness about the meaning and importance of the ecosystem, and ecological philosophers suggested that the Western orientation toward endless material progress was a major source of environmental distress. Author and activist Edward Abbey (1968) put the problem plainly: The question isnt whether the earth will survive, but whether people will.

    In the meantime, previously deposed business and political interests, encouraged by Cold War politics and capitalist ideology, gradually regrouped. Modifying their methods if not their motives, Western leaders added the development of massive weapons systems and sophisticated communications capabilities to the growing corporate agenda. These activities, combined with ongoing environmental destruction and rapid growth of the human population, further fueled the environmental debate.

    As the field continued to evolve, Arne Naess (1973) distinguished between what he called shallow and deep ecological movements. He characterized shallow ecology as a short-term anthropocentric approach focused on symptoms rather than underlying causes. Deep ecological reform was different. It offered an alternative way of viewing the world. From this perspective, both human and nonhuman life was considered inherently valuable beyond human utilitarian purposes (Mackie, 1998). Naess maintained that the diversity of life contributes to its inherent value, and that humans have no right to interfere with this richness except to satisfy vital needs. He argued that the flourishing of non-human life requires a smaller human population and that economic and technological policies must thus be changed. Naess held that ideological change is ultimately requireda shift toward appreciating quality and diversity of life rather than continuing to strive for quantitatively higher standards of living.

    Deep ecologists believe social domination and environmental degradation have co-evolved (Bookchin, 1990; Leopold, 1949; Merchant, 1994; Shepard, 1982; Spretnak, 1997; Warren, 1997). They generally agree that anthropocentrism, the view that humans are the origin and measure of all value, is the root to all ecological destruction (Mackie, 1998, p. 13). Devall and Sessions (1985) proposed two crucial

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    norms of deep ecology. First, we should strive for self realization, a sort of spiritual growth or unfolding leading from narrow, competing egos toward greater identification with others. Beginning with family and friends, self-identification should gradually be extended to incorporate local communities, humanity in general, and eventually even the nonhuman world. Second, we should adhere to the biocentric ethic, which asserts that all things in the biosphere have an equal right to live and blossom and to reach their own individual forms of unfolding and self-realization within the larger Self-realization (p. 67).3

    The capitalist economic system has contributed significantly to the co-evolution of social domination and environmental degradation. During the mid-1800s, growing concern was expressed about rapid soil depletion and large-scale transfer of nutrients from rural to urban areas in Europe and the United States (Foster, 1999). Marx saw these events as part of the broader capitalist process separating people from the sources of their livelihood and concentrating wealth gained through the exploitation of laborers in the hands of fewer and fewer individuals. He argued that the displacement of nutrients contributed to a growing "metabolic rift" between people and the earth, yet another step in the alienation of people from the sources of their being (Foster & Clark, 2004).

    The metabolic rift has steadily grown. Since the mid-1800s, European and North American countries have increasingly siphoned the resources of Asia, Africa, and South America, creating massive social and environmental imbalances. Foster and Clark (2004) use the term ecological imperialism to describe the process in which powerful industrial countries move resources and labor from the periphery to the center. They argue that unsustainable growth at the center of the system, enabled through ecological degradation of the periphery, is generating a planetary-scale set of ecological contradictions[that are] imperiling the entire biosphere (2004, p. 198). As always, the poor, people of color, women, and indigenous populations bear the brunt of the burden.

    But how does ecological imperialism work? Are all developing countries really as corrupt and inept as northern and western nations are led to believe? In a fascinating account of his career as chief economist of a major U.S. consulting firm, John Perkins (2004) explains how U.S.-based corporations intentionally secure inflated loans from international institutions (such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund) for countries clearly incapable of repaying them. According to Perkins, his job was to:

    encourage world leaders to become part of a vast network that promotes U.S. commercial interestsIn turn, they bolster their

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    political positions by bringing industrial parks, power plants, and airports to their people. (p. xiv)

    Perkins describes his job in detail:

    First, I was to justify huge international loans that would funnel money back to MAIN and other U.S. companiesthrough massive engineering and construction projects. Second, I would work to bankrupt the countries that received those loansso that they would be forever beholden to their creditors, and so they would present easy targets when we needed favors, including military bases, UN votes, or access to oil and other natural resources. (pp. 17-18)

    Beginning with the 1951 overthrow of Mohammad Mossadegh, the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran, Perkins cites numerous cases in which U.S. agencies have undermined, exploited or outright "replaced" international leaders for economic gain. Noting the long-term consequences of these actions, Perkins (2004) asserts:

    Today we see the results of this system run amok. Executives at our most respected companies hire people at near-slave wages to toil under inhuman conditions in Asian sweatshops. Oil companies wantonly pump toxins into rain forest rivers, consciously killing people, animals, and plants, and committing genocide among ancient cultures. The pharmaceutical industry denies life-saving medicines to millions of HIV-infected Africans. (p. xiv)

    Perkins continues:

    Out of every $100 worth of oil torn from the Amazon, less than $3 goes to the people who need the money most, those whose lives have been so adversely impacted by the dams, the drilling, and the pipelines, and who are dying from lack of edible food and potable water. All of those peopleare potential terrorists. Not because they believe in communism or anarchism or are intrinsically evil, but simply because they are desperate. (p. xxiv)

    Insights like these have prompted new ways of thinking about our social and environmental responsibilities. Today, the concept of the ecological footprint focuses attention on the impact of personal choices and national policies upon the environment (Wackernagel & Rees, 1996); similarily, the idea of ecological debt provides an alternative to conventional economics by suggesting that debts may

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    also be owed by the center to the periphery for the exploitation of labor and the destruction of vital natural resources (Foster & Clark, 2004).

    Thus, we have seen a gradual awakening of critical consciousness regarding vital connections between humans and the environment, and deep ecologists have taken a lead. In spite of specific differences, deep ecologists generally agree that: (1) anthropocentrism strongly influences ecological destruction; (2) both the physical symptoms and underlying philosophical causes of environmental degradation must be addressed; (3) there is an inherent value in the richness and diversity of all living organisms on earth; (4) humans have no right to interfere with the richness and diversity of life except to satisfy vital needs; (5) environmental stability will require substantive changes in our political, economic, and technological perspectives and policies; (6) ecological health will ultimately require an ideological shift toward quality of life rather than quantitatively higher standards of living; (7) transcendent self realization and the biocentric ethic are important goals toward which we should strive; and (8) only a revolution or paradigm shift from the social-industrial paradigm to a socioecological worldview can save the planet from further destruction (Mackie, 1998).

    In a sense, deep ecology offers a redefinition of the relationship between humans and the environment, and thus a redefinition of humanity itself. Goodlad (2001) observes that human domination has alienated us not only from one another but also from other life forms, from our natural heritage, and so from the very essence of what it means to be human (p. 72). Alternatively, Thomashow (1995) suggests that an ecological worldview may lead to new ways of understanding personal identity and to the development of an ecological identity capable of impacting human-environment attitudes and relationships (p. 2).

    Not surprisingly, ecological philosophers also envision a role for schools. Theobald and Tanabe (2001) argue that failure to address tensions between economics and the environment persists in U.S. schools because the power to determine economic activity has shifted from a democratic electorate to powerful transnational corporations. Driven by the profit motive, a growth imperative, and an adversarial competitive orientation, corporate culture is antithetical to the principles of democracy and the sustainability of the environment (Foster & Clark, 2004; Perkins, 2004; Theobald & Tanabe, 2001). Ecological philosophers call on educators to present viable alternatives for our continued survival.

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    Why These Problems are Difficult to Understand and Accept

    Understanding a problem is an important first step in addressing that problem. So why are the relationships between humans and the environment so difficult to understand? Why do countless educated Americans continue to deny fundamental connections between people and the earth? Part of the challenge involves the way we view the world. According to Capra (1996), there are profound inconsistencies between our perceptions of the world and the nature of the world:

    The more we study the major problems of our time, the more we come to realize that they cannot be understood in isolation. They are systemic problems, which means that they are interconnected and interdependent. For example, stabilizing world population will be possible only when poverty is reduced worldwide. The extinction of animal and plant species on a massive scale will continue as long as the Southern Hemisphere is burdened by massive debts. Scarcities of resources and environmental degradation combine with rapidly expanding populations to lead to the breakdown of local communities and to the ethnic and tribal violence that has become the main characteristic of the post-cold war era. Ultimately these problems must be seen as just different facets of one single crisis, which is largely a crisis of perception. It derives from the fact that most of us, and especially our large social institutions, subscribe to the concepts of an outdated worldview, a perception of reality inadequate for dealing with our overpopulated, globally interconnected world. (pp. 3-4, emphasis added)

    Capra asserts that modern mechanistic and hierarchical views of the world are misconstrued. He insists that the world can more accurately be understood as a vast web of organic systems based on horizontal rather than hierarchical interconnections and interdependencies. For Capra, the prevailing mechanistic view of an organic world constitutes a serious crisis of perception. He describes the evolution of this crisis:

    In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.the notion of an organic, living, and spiritual universe was replaced by that of the world as a machine, and the world machine became the dominant metaphor of the modern era.Galileo banned quality from science, restricting it to the study of phenomena that could be measured and quantified....Descartes created the method of analytic thinking, which consists in breaking up complex phenomena into pieces to understand the behavior of the whole

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    from the properties of its parts.The conceptual framework.was completed triumphantly by Isaac Newton, whose grand synthesis, Newtonian mechanics, was the crowning achievement of seventeenth-century science. (pp. 19-20)

    Of course, the mere existence of analysis and hierarchy is not the problem. The difficulty is not with their presence but with their prevalence. Because many of our current imbalances have developed slowly over a period of centuries, there is a widespread lack of awareness of their existence, much less their problematic nature. Nonetheless, heavy reliance on dualistic thinking has emphasized isolation and competition at the expense of connectedness and community. Unfortunately, there is but a short distance between dualistic thinking and hierarchical thinking, and hierarchical thinking has provided an intellectual foundation for domination and control.

    Although modernist views have been highly problematic, novelist/provocateur Daniel Quinn (1992, 1996) suggests that our difficulties may extend farther back than many have imagined. Among other things, Quinn explores the processes by which ancient agriculturists, once a tiny fraction of the human community, gradually expanded and imposed their ways of life upon others. Initial efforts to accommodate a growing populationthe inevitable consequence of an expanding food supplyled to increasingly aggressive efforts to acquire additional land and resources. In turn, these additional resources supported the growing population. The inexorable need for further resources eventually led to the development of totalitarian agricultural practices. Like other totalitarian entities, this new and growing culture utilized specialized mechanisms to eliminate its competition, including the annihilation of competing perspectives and life-styles. What began as a novel way of life gradually evolved into a dominant worldview based on principles of acquisition, expansion, consumption, and control.

    After thousands of years of expansion, this acquisitive agricultural worldview has finally prevailed on every continentnorth, south, east and west. While other cultural distinctions may persist, few remaining members of the human community have been able to resist adopting the basic premises of totalitarian agriculture. With time and repetition, a basic orientation anathema to human sustainability has become not merely the prevalent way of life, but the only way of life acceptable to its proponents. Totalitarian agriculture continues to expand, passing from generation to generation through mechanisms of social transmission and cultural invasion. The supreme irony, for Quinn, is that the destruction of alternative cultural perspectives has left us with only one right way to liveand such uniformity is the single greatest threat to the community of life (1992, p. 205; see also

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    Shepard, 1982, for a complementary account).4The sheer historical expanse of this evolutionary process offers

    further insight as to how it is possible for current problems to be so recognizable yet so difficult to understand and accept. Contemporary perspectives are often supported by ideal assumptions that have become so ingrained as to have become institutionalized, and hence invisible to their adherents. Unseen historical influences can hinder the development of awareness needed for effective personal, social, and political change. Although many of our problems are the result of conscious indiscretions, others can involve a genuine lack of awareness (Anyon, 1979; Baldwin, 1988; Freire, 1970; McIntosh, 1989). Unfortunately, the institutionalized mechanisms of social and environmental domination are among the factors about which many remain unaware.

    Part of the problem with any system of thought is that it can prevent its adherents from seeing their actions for what they are, rendering invisible the conceptual foundations of the issues they face. Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann (1966), authors of The Social Construction of Knowledge, explain that humans often construct explanations that legitimize their own perspectives while discrediting the views of others.5 With the passage of time, these explanations come to be seen as objective facts rather than social constructions. This is the process of reification:

    Reification is the apprehension of the products of human activity as if they were something else than human productssuch as facts of nature, results of cosmic laws, or manifestations of divine will. Reification implies that man is capable of forgetting his own authorship of the human world. (p. 89)

    Once subjective beliefs are construed as objective realityas simply the way things arefurther examination is naturally considered pointless. As long as no serious threat is posed which challenges the perception that existing beliefs are objectively real, it is possible to act confidently and unreflectively on the basis of these assumptions. Unfortunately, our current issues do pose a serious threata threat that is challenging the very core of our thinking.

    A defining moment in Robert Pirsigs (1974) Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance occurred when the protagonist, a troubled philosophy student at the University of Chicago, realized that the chairman of his committee, brilliant though he may have been, failed to perceive construction as construction. In the post-structural idiom, he failed to recognize human authorship as text, perceiving it instead as objective reality. Failure to recognize construction as construction is a liability of literal thinkers in general. Unfortunately, many such

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    thinkers hold influential positions in business, politics, and even academe, as in the case of the senator from Oklahoma.

    Human ecologist Paul Shepard (1982) argues that such thinkers have been arrested in adolescence with regard to their socio-environmental development. Secluded in privilege, they appear remarkably unconcerned with global conditions that have compelled countless others to begin questioning their most fundamental beliefs. Part of the problem may be that critical reflection entails more than just intelligence. It also requires honesty, empathy and a capacity for systemic evaluation. Clearly, there are still powerful individuals who continue to act with great confidence on the basis of narrow views and unexamined assumptions.

    What Social Studies Educators Can Do to Help

    What does all of this suggest for the social studies? What does it mean for the preparation of citizens capable of addressing the problems of today? While the challenges may be significant, I believe it is imperative that citizenship education be located within a broader context of environmental sustainability. A comprehensive examination of curriculum and instruction is beyond the scope of this paper; however, it is possible to begin to consider what it might mean to invest the social studies with ecological consciousness.

    As previously noted, the field has long focused on the development of citizens who understand society in order to improve society. During the first half of the 20th century, protest against prevailing ideologies of business, cultural uniformity, and narrowly materialistic life styles centered attention on the need for social change and educational reform. This was a primary thrust of the progressive movement, embodied in the efforts of John Dewey, Charles Beard, and Harold Rugg, and immortalized in George Counts (1932) plea: Dare the schools build a new social order? Although progressive efforts were hampered during the Red Scare, World War II, and the early phases of the Cold War, proponents of social and educational improvement persisted, and new forms of advocacy emerged during the Civil Rights Movements of the 1960s and 70s.

    Eventually, new disciplines such as anthropology, gender and cultural studies, and even the arts were added to the conversation, creating a multiplicity of voices within the social studies. Today, literature in the field addresses issues as diverse as the role of discourse in democratic societies (Cherryholmes, 1980; Giroux, 1988), the merits of social critique and critical reflection (Ellsworth, 1992; Hahn, 1991; McIntosh, 1989), use of the arts in social education (Eisner, 1991; Houser, 2005), the role of care in civic society (Noddings, 1992), and the importance of diversity in complex communities (Banks, 1987;

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    Bickmore, 1999; Greene, 1988; Nieto, 2000; Sleeter & Grant, 1994). Further issues include problems of liberal democracy (Parker, 1996, 2002; Ross, 2001), the threats of multinational corporations and media conglomerations (Foster & Clark, 2004; Herman & Chomsky, 1988; McChesney, 1999; Perkins, 2004), the need for a sense of possibility and hope (Freire, 1992; Giroux, 1988), civic education in a postcolonial era (Cary, 2001; Kincaid, 1988), and postmodern analyses of power and knowledge embedded in modern consciousness (Gruenewald, 2004; Vinson, 1999).6

    Informed by countless perspectives, the field has continued to search for better means of social improvement through citizenship education. Yet, in spite of important curricular and pedagogical advances, the field remains decidedly anthropocentric in nature. Of course, the problem is not simply that social studies focuses on society. This makes perfect sense. Rather, the problem is that most of the work in the field has tended to conceive of society as if humanity were separate from the world in which we live. The vast majority of the scholarship precludes serious attention to the reciprocal relationships between humans and the earth, thus contributing to the crisis of perception that plagues modern society.7

    Again, where does this leave us? How can citizenship education incorporate ecological consciousness without diverting valuable attention from social and cultural conditions that remain far from resolved? To address this critical question, I want to offer an illustrative example, a sort of thought experiment based on existing work in civic education.

    Drawing on a wide body of literature, Walter Parker has identified four conceptions of democratic citizenship, including: (1) Liberal democracy, (2) Participatory democracy, (3) Associative democracy, and (4) Multicultural democracy. Grounded in Enlightenment era principles, liberal democracy is portrayed as a political stance that celebrates individual liberty, popular sovereignty, law, and equality before the law (Parker, 1996, p. 189). The primary aim of liberal democracy is to secure rights and freedoms for the individual. Parker suggests this does not go far enough. Societies are more than collections of individuals, and any organization that focuses exclusively on its individual components cannot adequately address its larger systemic needs. Parkers concern is that liberal democracy can promote extreme individualism at the expense of the common good. The problem is that individualisms reliance on representative government is so complete that active citizen participation in the civic culture becomes superfluous (1996, p. 189). Citizens become isolated and insulated from the daily processes of democratic life (Barber, 1984; Hess, 1979; Parker, 1996; Phillips, 1993).

    A second conception is participatory democracy (Parker, 1996),

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    which is akin to what Barber (1984) has called strong democracy. Unlike weaker liberal approaches that leave the work of democracy to elected officials, participatory democracy calls on all citizens to engage in meaningful civic activity. While members of a strong participatory democracy understand the need for competent representatives, they recognize that this is but a fraction of the work that is required to maintain a healthy society. Advocates of participatory democracy envision self-governing communities of citizens made capable of common purpose and mutual action by virtue of their civic attitudes and participatory institutions (Barber, 1984, p. 117).

    A third conception is associative democracy. Instead of viewing democracy as a finished achievement, here it is seen as a lived social phenomenon, as an evolving complex of social relations enacted in everyday life. According to Dewey, A democracy is more than a form of government; it is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience (1916/1966, p. 87). For Dewey, the measure of a democratic community involved the abundance and diversity of shared interests existing within a particular group as well as the extent to which those interests were communicated and exchanged with others outside that particular group:

    In any social group whateverwe find some interest held in common, and we find a certain amount of interaction and cooperative intercourse with other groups. From these two traits we derive our standard. How numerous and varied are the interests which are consciously shared? How full and free is the interplay with other forms of association?....In order to have a large number of values in common, all the members of the group must have an equable opportunity to receive and to take from others. There must be a large variety of shared undertakings and experiences. Otherwise, the influences which educate some into masters, educate others into slaves. (Dewey, 1916/1966, pp. 83-84)

    Since interpersonal associations continue to evolve, Parker (1996) refers to Deweys associative democracy as creative democracy. Democracy is not so much a finished product, says Parker, as a creative social process adapting to evolving concerns and conditions. Associative democracy is creative by nature.

    Finally, multicultural democracy utilizes and extends each of the previous conceptions (Fraser, 1993; Parker, 2002; West, 1993). It seeks to ensure personal rights and freedoms while advocating strong civic participation and acknowledging that democracy is an important mode of associated living. However, multicultural democracy goes even farther, striving to address the juncture of democracy and

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    diversity (Parker, 1996, p. 192). Multicultural democracy seeks to affirm a broader cross-section of people and ideas, and to ensure full and equal enfranchisement among all individuals and groups in the commonwealth (Parker, 2002). This conception advocates the development of critical consciousness while nurturing the capacity to care for others and to engage in rational moral deliberation (Freire, 1970; Gutmann & Thompson, 1996; hooks, 1984; West, 1993). Multicultural democracy asks: Who is and is not participating and on whose terms? and How wide is the path? (Parker, 1996, p. 192). Essentially, multicultural democracy seeks to expand the circle of we.

    Multicultural conceptions of democracy not only allow but advocate social and cultural differences. While diversity is not always easy, it is vital to the preservation of complex communities (Deloria, 1999; Greene, 1988; Nieto, 2000). According to Parker (1996):

    A new sense of citizenship needs to be forged, one that embraces individual difference, group difference, and political community all at once. In order to do this, democrats will not be able merely to replace liberalisms excessive self-interest with a new politics of group self-interest. That would be no gain. Pluralism itself needs to be reformulated.The perilous challenge is to recognize individual and group identities without etching them in primordial stone, and to unite them in a democratic moral discourse that is capable of embracing more than mere rights talk. Here is Deweys vision of a larger public that embraces the little publics. (pp. 193-194)

    This valuable taxonomy has been useful to many educators, including myself. Because it integrates and expands existing possibilities, it lends itself to further adaptation regarding the synthesis of ecological consciousness and civic education.

    Returning to the idea of a thought experiment, what if a fifth democratic conception was to emerge from the previous four? We might call this idea ecological democracy.8 Such an approach would strongly consider the merits of personal freedom, social equality, and popular sovereignty in liberal democracy, while questioning its problematic tendency toward individual minimalism at the expense of community identification and civic participation. With regard to strong or participatory democracy, ecological democracy would contemplate the importance of popular involvement in policy deliberation and community activism. With respect to associative democracy, this approach would seriously study the notion of democracy as a creative mode of daily social interaction. Finally, ecological democracy would pay close attention to the vital commitments of multicultural

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    democracy to critical consciousness and the inherent value of plurality in complex societies.

    However, while an ecological democracy would consider each of these important principles, such an approach would go even farther. Resisting modernist anthropocentric assumptions, an ecological approach to democracy would acknowledge the transactional nature of organism-environment relationships between humans and nonhuman life. Students of ecological democracy would contemplate the proposition that humanity is not located outside, beyond or above, but within the environmental matrix that supports and contains it. Informed members of an ecological democracy would reflect on the proposal that the health of the environment is central to the health of the organism just as the health of the organism is central to the health of the environment. Since each organism constitutes the environment of other organisms, the ecological democrat would seriously consider the proposition that to care for life is to care for ones self and that to care for oneself is to care for life.

    But how would ecological democracy work? What would it entail? For obvious reasons, such a democracy would have to function as a representative system. Both the nature of the constituency (the entire web of life) and the sheer logistics of contemporary society would necessitate such an approach.

    With regard to representation, good delegates are effective precisely because they understand and care about their constituents. They watch, listen, and learn from the community so they can advocate effectively for its needs, including the needs of those who cannot formally represent themselves. Similarly, human representatives in an ecological democracy would need to learn from their constituents through empathetic observation and genuine appreciation of the communities they serve. In the case of ecological democracy, the constituency would be even larger, more inclusive, and more vulnerable than other democratic populations. Here, work for justice and equality would be reinforced by the broader effort to ensure continuation of the entire community of life.

    Like participatory and associative notions of democracy, ecological democracy would be understood as more than a political system. Rather, it would be seen as a thoroughly participatory mode of living. While ecological sensibilities would certainly inform governmental structures, they would also influence the creative processes of social interaction. Formal political activity would be recognized merely as the beginning rather than the end of civic responsibility. Utilization of representative processes, while necessary, would not replace the broader exercise of democratic living. Unlike anemic liberal minimalism, informed members of an ecological democracy would appreciate the need to engage in all aspects of democratic life. They

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    would recognize the importance of personal involvement in creating a more just and sustainable society and world.

    Again, ecological democracy would embrace the entire web of life. Acknowledging the centrality of diversity in complex communities, citizens would learn to appreciate social and biological plurality in the most generous sense of the term. While continuing to address basic societal needs, participants would question the artificial separation of humanity from the rest of the community. Since human "being" involves care for others, human "development" in the widest sense, would entail increased appreciation of human plurality and an enlarged capacity to care for the entire community of life. Ecological democracy would prepare citizens not only for the complexities of diverse human interaction, but also for vital relationships that exist between people and the earth. This would be the ultimate expansion of the circle of we.

    To conclude the thought experiment, let us consider a specific example of civic education in practice. In a recent study, Westheimer and Kahne (2004) examined two social studies programs. Their respective goals, approaches, and outcomes were described in detail. The first program emphasized civic participation as the essence of good citizenship, while the second focused on the merits of working for social justice. The researchers report that the program emphasizing civic participation did indeed help students understand the value and processes of social participation (e.g., related to community meetings and service activities). However, it did not help them consider the causes or solutions of many important structural problems. Conversely, the program focusing on social justice helped students recognize instances of injustice in their lives, understand systemic causes of these experiences, and take action to address those causes. It also helped them learn that the personal is political, that personal experiences and behavior both result from, and are indicators of, broader political forces (2004, p. 259). However, this program was not particularly effective in helping students learn to work together to achieve the changes they envisioned. Westheimer and Kahne (2004) conclude that effective collaboration for social justice will require explicit attention to both of these aims.9

    What if these aims were combined and included in our program designed to teach about ecological democracy? What if students were taught to identify unjust social and environmental conditions in their own lives and the lives of others, to analyze structural causes and systemic connections underlying those conditions, and to work collaboratively to address these factors in order to create a more just and sustainable society and world? Such an approach would integrate and extend Parkers (1996, 2002) democratic taxonomy, synthesize the civic participation and justice-oriented perspectives of Westheimer

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    and Kahne (2004), and challenge the pernicious human-environment dualism that has led us to the brink of disaster.

    Nor would such an approach diminish the importance of traditional social studies disciplines. Rather than displacing the disciplines, serious examination of the connections between humans and the environment would require an even deeper understanding of the historical processes, geographical relationships, economic principles, and political arrangements that impact our lives. As new ideas like the ecological footprint and ecological debt are added to the familiar mix of supply and demand, gross national product and national debt, there will be an even greater need for original thinking to help young citizens interpret and appreciate the world we inhabit.

    In sum, members of an ecological democracy would strive to understand, appreciate and advocate for the entire web of life. This would represent the ultimate expansion of the circle of we. Such thinking is not mere sentimental navet or postmodern fantasy, any more than ancient speculations regarding heliocentric planetary systems were the ravings of lunatics, or the contemporary concerns of thoughtful citizens and scientists are part of a vast international hoax. Rather, such thinking draws on ancient wisdom (Deloria, 1999; Quinn, 1996; Shepard, 1982; Some, 1994), solid scientific analysis (Capra, 1996; Dewey & Bentley, 1949; Maturana & Varela, 1980; Michaels & Carello, 1981), and exemplary scholarship in social psychology, ecological philosophy, and civic education (Dewey, 1916/1966; Evans, 2004; Leopold, 1949; Mead, 1934/1962; Naess, 1973; Parker, 1996, 2002) to imagine a more just, democratic and sustainable world.10

    The problems we face are substantial, but citizenship education is problem-centered by nature. Civic educators understand that the examination of difficult issues can be a delicate matter requiring thought and sensitivity. In spite of the difficulties, this is what we have always done. We have pushed ourselves and our students to become better citizens of our society and world. Perhaps never before has there been a greater need to understand the challenges we encounter or to imagine creative alternatives for a brighter future.

    Notes

    I would like to thank Steven Mackie for his insight and courage, which have inspired my own inquiry into the realm of ecological philosophy.

    1The concept citizen has been problematic, often denoting membership and exclusion. My intent is more closely aligned with the idea of the community-, global-, or cosmological citizen than with the notion of national citizenship as traditionally defined.

    2Vigorous debate continues over the claim that all things in the biosphere (such

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    as cancer or AIDS) have the right to live and to blossom.3Several variations of deep ecology have emerged. Two of these are social

    ecology (Bookchin, 1990) and ecological feminist philosophy (Merchant, 1994; Warren, 1997). Although similar in many ways, social ecology has concentrated on general connections between human oppression and human domination of the environment, while ecological feminist philosophy has paid specific attention to the co-evolution of male domination of women and human domination of the earth, noting their mutual reinforcement throughout history.

    4Among other things, Shepard explores how the development of monotheism has contributed to the difficulty of understanding and accepting natural connections between humans and the environment.

    5This is closely related to Friedrich Engels notion of false-consciousness and Jean Paul Sartres concept of bad faith.

    6Gruenewald (2004) warns against the normalization of environmental education. Over time, adjectival or hyphenated educations (such as special-education and multicultural-education) have been subjected to the sort of disciplinary activity in which marginalized agents are neutralizedand neutralize themselvesthrough sustained efforts to achieve normality (Foucault, 1977). In schools, normalization often occurs through curricular and pedagogical alignment with mainstream, market-driven standards and practices. As alignment is achieved, alternative approaches begin to reinforce the very assumptions and approaches that necessitated their development in the first place. In this regard, I can envision tangible risks in attempting to incorporate meaningful ecological education into mainstream social studies.

    7This claim is based on a comprehensive review of every issue of Theory and Research in Social Education, Social Education, and The Social Studies published between 1996 and 2008. The review included a survey of titles and abstracts as well as in-depth analysis of each article that addressed explicit relationships between social education and ecological responsibility. Even when environmental issues were raised (in geography-related discussions of natural resources, for example), humans were frequently cast in proprietary roles, and the physical environment was often treated as little more than a precious commodity. Notable exceptions exist within the field, but this scholarship is typically published in other venues (e.g., Bowers, 2001).

    8The term ecological democracy has been used elsewhere (e.g., Faber, 1998), but the concept presented in this paper is my own.

    9Westheimer and Kahne (2004) resist the idea of personal responsibility as the sole emphasis of citizenship education. They argue that a political emphasis on the individual can actually undermine community, which is, after all, the primary unit of analysis for the social studies.

    10See Mackie (1998) for a fascinating account of his efforts, as a first year high school teacher, to incorporate environmental education within the social studies curriculum.

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    NEIL O. HOUSER is Professor of Social Studies and Art Education with the Department of Instructional Leadership and Academic Curriculum in the College of Education at the University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK 73019. He can be contacted at: nhouser@ou.edu.

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