Anthropocentrism in environmental education : a critical discourse analysis of the NAAEE’s Developing a framework for assessing environmental literacy

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2021-11-12

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Wickersham, Kevin Lee

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Abstract

Much contemporary research advocates drawing upon multiple viewpoints to shape increasingly flexible goals of environmental-based education (Jickling, 2009; Scott, 2002a; Scott & Gough, 2007; Stables & Scott, 2002; Stevenson, 2007b; Wals, 2007; Wals & Jickling, 2000), in particular encouraging critical dialogue about its overall goals, purpose, and responsiveness to human needs. Susceptible to increasingly-accepted anthropocentric aims, this orientation has diverted attention from modern environmental education’s original purpose (Lidskog & Elander, 2010); to make the public “aware of, and concerned about, the environment and its associated problems, and one which has the knowledge, skills, attitudes, motivations and commitment to work individually and collectively toward solutions of current problems and the prevention of new ones” (UNESCO–UNEP, 1976, p. 2). Researchers have argued that this revised, more anthropocentric orientation presents a fundamental contradiction by simultaneously promoting human development and the health of vital ecosystems through economic growth, thus eroding commitment to addressing ecological challenges unless solutions bring clear and direct benefit to humankind (McKeown & Hopkins, 2003; Spring, 2004). This study intended to expand upon this research. The purpose of this study was to analyze how the discourse of the North American Association for Environmental Education’s Developing a Framework for Assessing Environmental Literacy (Hollweg et al., 2011) portrays environmental challenges and their potential resolutions through an anthropocentric, sustainability-based lens contradicting the discipline’s foundational precepts. Results suggest that its anthropocentric assumptions, attention to shifting definitions of environmental literacy, and emphasis upon sustainability belie environmental education’s original aims, and that a more ecocentric revision would better promote meaningful action that addresses dire ecological challenges.

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