Against the Odds: Towards Sustainable Public Schooling
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Abstract Currently 7 billion humans rely on the Earth’s depleting natural resources, and the Earth’s population is projected to increase to 9 billion by 2045 (UN Population predictions, 2010). We are now a human race that is predominately urban. Our human-centric behaviours and patterns of living are having a major impact on the natural world; in response, educational and environmental researchers have called for a reorganization in education to better reflect our urban age and the changing cultural and environmental mosaic. Educating for sustainability is of increasing importance as we become more aware that we are facing an urgent need to repair our fractured relationship with the earth and with one another. Sustainable models of education are related to place and how our way of life can support human activity. In a sustainable school, the campus and community are extensions of the classroom. This study is guided by three questions: (a) How does a public school curriculum that extends beyond the classroom foster a deep love and knowledge of place in children’s education and prepare students to meet contemporary challenges? (b) How do teachers enact sustainability education in public education, amid a standards-based curriculum? (c) What enduring and systemic structures enable publicly funded schools to participate in a curricular process that engages students and the community? Data were collected from in-depth, semi-structured interviews with five teachers and two administrators, from three successful, publicly funded schools. Other forms of data included onsite and virtual observations, via website webcams, artifact analysis using schools blogs, Facebook posts, school newsletters, student work and teaching materials; as well, photographs were used to support observations and field notes. This study describes how sustainability education and place-based programs can be successfully developed in the standards-based era. The findings highlight important themes related to curriculum as process, real-world learning, student agency, community partnerships, and collaborative leadership.