Environmental education: Earth Course breaks new ground

08 November 2011

Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed is perhaps one of the most quoted texts on education and social change. The writer rails against methods where knowledge is simply deposited in people’s heads. Instead he argues for debate and co-learning which can help develop not just knowledge but consciousness.

What we would now call Freirean methods are detectable long before his birth. Accounts of the meetings of the early campaign groups for universal suffrage from the 1790s onwards feature people reading from texts, discussing them and together coming to their own conclusions.

The struggle against environmental degradation might involve changes as big as those the suffrage campaigners fought for. So can we learn from their methods?

Last year my colleague Jess Dolan and I were asked to develop a dialogue-based course about the environment that communities themselves could run. And so the Earth Course was born – six 2-hour sessions on environmental justice, designed so that participants can make up their own minds.

After a safe run with staff and volunteers in the basement of our Underwood Street office, we’ve evaluated it, altered it and built on it. Now we’re ready to try it in public.

We drew on lots of different models in developing it, and we want to know we’ve got it right before rolling it out across the country.

The next pilot will take place at Hackney City Farm on Wednesday evenings between 11 January and 15 February 2012.

Hopefully by the end of the course you - and we - will have a better understanding of the environment and participatory process.

Education isn't a one-way process. To paraphrase Freire: we can’t say that one person liberates another, or even that people liberate themselves, but rather in communion we liberate one another.

Find out more about the Earth Course

Tim Gee, Activism team

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