Rethinking Pedagogy in Community Sustainability

Sustainability, Democracy, Pedagogy: On Locating Ourselves in Dark Times


Kimberly Curtis in The Journal of Sustainability Education


Coming out of the 2008 recession, educational institutions responded to cuts in state legislature and drops in endowment by implementing multiple cost cutting measures. However, Curtis believes that work into sustainable studies requires a shift in thinking and initiatives, of which requires financial support. In the article, she describes an initiative started in Northern Arizona University which attempts to resist the ‘dark ages’, which she characterizes as the contemporary dynamics of delocalization and dehistoricization. To challenge this ‘dark age’, she believes our pedagogy should be formed by the challenges of the present, therefore able to resist the “dominant pedagogical model’s demand that the learning and the teaching self empty itself in the service of detached knowing”. She proposes that pedagogy today must teach the skills and cultivate an ethos of democratic organizing.

In light of this idea, a pilot Resident Learning Community project in NAU was created, and called SEED (Sustainable Environments and Engaged Democracy). This project suggested that books are simply insufficient to teach the political arts, and the actual practice of democratic processes was needed. Within SEED, teams were split into 7 groups, where each group was a mix of multi-age participants to create an environment of reciprocal learning. Each group had a community based project to engage in, and applying the democratic process in working the project. As a result a “community of practice” where the diversity of age, institutional affiliations, power, and training aided the ability for creative work for the project. The article talks to greater lengths about the specific examples of practical democracy. As a conclusion, Curtis believes that this pioneer project has helped to reenchant the art of democracy in pedagogy.

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