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From Footprints to Thoughtprints Changing what we do by changing how we think by Stephen K. Goobie Y

OU ARE CHAINED inside a cave. You have been held immobile since birth, your gaze locked upon shadows projected on a wall. In such a condition,

would you take these shadows for anything but the truth? This provocative question was put to us over two thousand years ago by the Greek philosopher Plato. Now imagine you are somehow freed. You stand up. You

look around at the burning fire and moving figures casting these shadows. For the first time, you recognize your once taken-for-granted “truth” as only one perspective among many. What does this have to do with environmental education?

Trade the cave for the classroom, the shadows for such notions as “natural resources”, and the shackles for a science- soaked curriculum. Plato’s allegory, then, gives us a power- ful framework with which to discuss our practice.1 Within this framework, transformative education needs

to be our collective bolt cutter. It needs to have the strength to break the historical chains confining us to a few dominant ways of thinking about Nature. As a starting point, it requires us as educators to go beyond casual treatments of external problems to earnestly contemplate our own internal perspectives. How do we look at the world?Why do we believe what we believe? These are questions with the power to cut chains. Lastly, this educational movement poses a fundamental call for all environmental educators and learners to diversify our ways of thinking about Nature.

O Teacher, please stand up

Several years ago I was teaching an extensive unit on envi- ronmental issues in my grade 11 class.We had spent weeks looking at the science behind such global perils as climate change and loss of biodiversity. The message was clear: We as a species are having a devastating impact on our environ- ment on a scale never before seen.We need to change our footprint—and fast. Following our textbook, we explored the ways in which

modern science and technology serve as society’s best means to fully comprehend and solve environmental problems. In both the classroom and the field, we explored how we can understand the environment by reducing our planet’s com- plex ecosystems to basic physical mechanisms involving energy and material cycles (nitrogen, carbon, etc.). We dis- cussed how we humans, as the most intelligent and powerful species on the planet, must carefully use measurement and observation to manage all of our resources and wisely con- serve raw materials like water for our future use. Finally, we examined the need for all individuals to reduce emissions of CO2

through our daily choices. This we decided was the key

to stopping further climate change. By all accounts I thought I was doing a good job. By the

unit’s end I was confident students would be sufficiently knowledgeable to take action in their own lives. On the last day I was approached by a young man, who

looked like he had been holding back a troublesome ques- tion for some time. “Listen, we know that things are getting


Photographs: Stephen J Goobie

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