When large numbers of young people gather outside the legislature, near politicians' offices, or in the streets to press for a sustainable future, they're not only inspired by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. They're also taking action because they've learned from their teachers that their future is in peril if we continue belching massive amounts of heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
The role of educators in students' comprehension of the magnitude of this predicament is rarely discussed in the mainstream media.
This week, the Canadian Network for Environmental Education and Communication, a.k.a. EECOM, is trying to raise awareness of this through its recently announced 2020 Awards of Excellence. The recipient for outstanding postsecondary educator is one of B.C.'s leaders in this area, UBC associate professor of educational studies associate professor Robert VanWynsberghe.
He's dedicated his career to understanding the links between classroom instruction, human action, and social change.
"An internationally respected scholar, Rob views sustainability as a global social movement and believes that collaboration towards a sustainable future will succeed if our daily habits as individuals and community members can be creatively mobilized into individual and collective action for a better society," EECOM stated. "His research and engagement activities span environmental justice, sport mega-events, and BC’s K-12 curriculum."
VanWynsberghe's 2016 book, Adaptive Education: An Inquiry-based Institution (cowritten by Andrew C. Herman), proposes far-reaching reforms for incorporating research processes into school and university education, thereby making teaching an "evidence-based profession".
And he's since tested out these theories in the field.
"In 2016, I initiated a MEd program in Education for Sustainability that partners graduate students with the City of Vancouver according to successful model created and honed by the CityStudio," VanWynsberghe states in his bio on the faculty of education website. "This program successfully graduated all 15 students in the fall of 2018. At the same time, a small group of teachers, scholars, and practitioners, including myself, began to investigate ways to establish pathways for the stronger presence of sustainability in the teacher education program at UBC."
So the next time you observe young people cleaning the beaches, taking transit or cycling rather than driving, or holding a protest outside a politician's office, give a thought to the work of educators in enhancing their awareness.
These educators are critical players in helping to address the most challenging predicament ever encountered in the history of human civilization. Those on the frontlines of this important work, including VanWynsberghe, are indeed worth celebrating.