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This year, John Hurst, with the collaboration of two other colleagues and a group of enthusiastic students, created a course on environmental education at University of California Berkeley. John Hurst, one of the leading proponents of popular education in North America who had been at Berkeley since 1961, incorporated in this course the main principles and visions of participatory democracy, social justice and ecological sustainability. This course, also known as EDUC193, was one of the first undergraduate courses in the newly created Conservation and Resource Studies Major (originally Conservation of Natural Resources) in the College of Natural Resources at Berkeley. Such program was founded by a group of students and faculty, including Professor Hurst, to address the growing concerns about the environment that were spearheaded by the publication of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring.
Today, in 2008, almost four decades later, John Hurst continues to teach the environmental education course EDUC193. During all these years since 1971, students taking this course have been inspired to become journalists, activists, attorneys, health workers and educators working to promote ecological sustainability and social justice, among other things. Moreover, several of the group projects undertaken by students as part of this course have evolved into long-term projects. One example of this is the Washington Environmental Yard, where university students meet weekly with children from Washington Elementary School to teach concepts of ecology through planting an outdoor vegetable garden at the school. Another example is STEP, a West Oakland community tutoring and recreation center that now serves approximately 140 young people a day and is open seven days a week. In the remainder of this text I provide more details about EDUC193 and its impact on students.
Brief History and Overview of EDUC193: Environmental Education
EDUC193 was born out of the commitment and energy that led to the creation of the interdisciplinary major Conservation and Resource Studies (CRS) in the College of Natural Resources, through which students are able to “study environmental issues and areas of interaction among natural resources, population, energy, technology, societal institutions and cultural values”(College of Natural Resources). Students majoring in CRS are able to design their own areas of interest, drawing upon courses offered by various disciplines on campus. Past areas of interest pursued by students include environmental justice and education; conservation and culture; urban sustainability; environment, health and sustainable development. A number of courses offered through CRS have historically applied democratic modes of learning.
One example of this is EDUC193, an environmental education course offered to undergraduate students from various disciplines at University of California, Berkeley. It was built on visions and principles of participatory democracy, social justice and ecological sustainability, and it can be conceived as a form of popular education in a higher education setting. EDUC193 started as an interdisciplinary course in 1971. The course was initially offered by a different department/faculty member each quarter. The key faculty members were John Hurst from the Graduate School of Education; Robin Moore, from Landscape Architecture; and David Wood, from the College of Natural Resources. An undergraduate student -Carole Rollins- also played a critical role in setting up this course.
After a few years, Professor John Hurst became the sole faculty member to teach this course. John Hurst is a co-founder and former co-chair of North American Popular Educators (NAPE) , as well as co-founder and member of the coordinating committee of the North American Alliance for Popular and Adult Education (NAAPAE). Hurst’s visions as a popular educator are reflected in the goals, contents and pedagogy of EDUC193. In particular, the pedagogy of the course is influenced by his deep concern for the lack of opportunities for undergraduate students to shape their own education and to critically explore and address issues concerning environment, race, and poverty.
The course started as a fairly traditional class, but the structure and the pedagogy of the course gradually evolved over time, especially after 1980 when Hurst formed friendships with Myles Horton and Paulo Freire and was influenced by the long discussions he had with them on pedagogy and the possibilities within higher education. As it exists today, there are seven major learning elements in EDUC193 on this course: (1) creating democratic learning; (2) community building: (3) becoming informed; (4) engaging in dialogues; (5) engaging in social actions; (6) reflections; and (7) connecting.
The umbrella principle that guides all other learning elements is its first element (creating democratic learning), which is based on conceptions of participatory democracy. In fact, other elements can be seen as means of pursuing democratic learning. Based on the visions of participatory democracy, the responsibility of creating the learning is shared by all of the class members. Every member of the class is acknowledged as having unique and valuable knowledge and experiences to contribute the learning for all. Dialogue is one of the principle means of learning in EDUC193. In this course, class members sit in circles and share their insights and knowledge, drawing from their life experiences. Due to the nature of the pedagogy of this course, the student enrollment in this course is capped at forty.
While students also learn from the readers, guest speakers and audiovisual materials, they are encouraged to challenge or question that “official” knowledge should they see the need. Students take responsibilities for organizing and facilitating much of the class sessions, including the fieldtrips. Major decisions regarding the class are made collaboratively through a democratic process: issues are given careful deliberation, and everyone’s voices are heard before coming to a final vote. Authority is shared to such an extent that even the grading is left in the hands of the students. A great emphasis is given on creating a learning environment where people feel safe and comfortable in voicing their thoughts. An overnight fieldtrip in a natural surrounding, class potluck, and informal class events contribute in strengthening the sense of community.
Another characteristic of participatory democracy as manifested in EDUC193 is that participation goes beyond the classroom to active participation in creating new possibilities for society. The course strongly encourages the development of praxis, in the Freirean sense of simultaneous and dialectical engagement in action and reflection in order to transform the world. As one of the major requirement of this course, students, in groups, design and implement an environmental education project that seeks to address environmental problems (interpreted broadly). Students are given freedom in choosing their project members, the issues they wish to address, and the means of accomplishing their goals but are asked to work on original initiatives rather than participate in existing activities. Students usually choose to work with people or schools in low income communities. The project work encourage students to “connect” to the rest of the world as do the fieldtrips out into nature, and visits to local organizations working to address environmental problems.
The Impact of EDUC193 on Learners
As part of my doctoral studies, I conducted a qualitative research of the learning experience of students who had taken EDUC193. For this study, I interviewed 14 current students and 8 alumni who had taken the course over the last 20 years at different times, and also conducted a field observation. The findings from this study indicate that the learning experiences in EDUC193 had a powerful and long-lasting impact on some learners, motivating and supporting them to work to make positive changes to society by addressing chosen aspects of social issues, including those relating to the environment.
The personal changes which the participants in this study reported as having resulted primarily from their learning in EDUC193 include increased knowledge and awareness of various social issues; increased appreciation of nature; (re)connection with nature; enhanced sense of accountability to others and to the world; inspired or strengthened feelings of care and respect for marginalized peoples; affirmation or positive alteration in values and views on what is truly important in life; realization of personal power to effect positive change in the world; achieved deep contentment through taking action to bring about positive changes and the acquisition of the practical skills required to implement such actions; and physical engagements in actions to address certain aspects of social issues.
While there was considerable variance in the depth and scope of individual transformative experiences, all participants in the study felt that as a result of the course they had become more aware of social issues and more committed to, and engaged in, addressing these issues. This is a striking outcome considering that the majority of current participants and two alumni participants saw themselves as being new to social issues prior to taking the course. The profound impact of the learning in this course is reflected in the participants’ ultimate choice of career. By the end of the semester, 11 out of 14 current participants had decided to seek a career path in a field where they could work at addressing some form of social issue. The majority of these 11 participants reported making their decisions as a direct result of this course. Seven of the eight alumni participants are now working in the field of environmental education, broadly defined. The remaining alumna takes youths from low-income communities out into nature as a volunteer outside of her job.
While all participants, despite their varying socio-economic backgrounds, found the learning in EDUC193 to be “meaningful”, the study showed that the learning through this course had a powerful impact on some students coming from disadvantaged socio-economic background course in that they realized what they thought of as personal problems were in fact manifestations of broader social problems. Moreover, the learning also validated the knowledge these students acquired through life experiences – an ingrained knowledge which they were not always able to articulate, lacking the necessary vocabulary with which to communicate with others. The learning in EDUC193 was able to assist those students in acquiring the language that allowed them to share that knowledge with others. Such learning thus “involves a constant unveiling of reality” and allows for the “emergence of consciousness and critical intervention in reality” (Freire, 2000).
The findings of the study on EDUC193 highlight the significant roles the learning process played in triggering and supporting students’ transformative processes. In particular, participants’ struggles with democratic learning were valuable learning experiences. While participants had difficulties motivating themselves to learn without external incentives and pressures such as competitive grading, exams and academic penalties for absences, a few of the students currently taking the course, as well as all of the alumni reflected that it was through their struggles with democratic learning that they learned of the strengths and the weaknesses of themselves and of others, and that nothing would change unless they took their own initiatives to make changes they desired to see.
Students’ engagement in project activities was also a crucial learning experience. It was through the project activities that participants strengthened their love for nature, and deepened their concerns for the disadvantaged people within society. These emotional bonds in turn fueled their commitment to make changes in the world. Engagement in these activities also enabled participants to recognize their own capacity to affect reality according to their visions, and provided them with relevant practical skills and enabling structures to proceed.
For the long-term contributions made through the course EDUC193 and other courses for over four decades, in 1999 John Hurst Received the Chancellor's Award for Outstanding Academic Service-Learning Faculty at UC Berkeley. Besides his contributions to undergraduate education and to popular education, John Hurst has played an important role in the use of wilderness as an educational vehicle, and he helped found and shape the Outward Bound movement in the United States and the National Outdoor Leadership School. Today, almost four decades after he taught it for the first time, John Hurst is still teaching the course EDUC193 to undergraduate students at UC Berkeley, nurturing new generations of citizens committed to the environment and to social justice.
College of Natural Resources, U. o. C., Berkeley. Conservation and resource studies career snapshot. Retrieved Nov. 27, 2007, from http://www.cnr.berkeley.edu/site/forms/oisa/crs_career_snapshot.pdf
Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed (30th anniversary ed.). New York: Continuum.
Hashimoto, Y. (2007). "Becoming activated": transformative learning and education for social change through an undergraduate course. Unpublished Dissertation, University of Toronto, Toronto.
Prepared by Yuka Hashimoto, Transformative Learning Centre, OISE/UT, 2007.
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