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Ecocriticism and Sustainability Education: A Reflection on Teaching English Literature to Teacher Students in Sweden
Dalarna University, School of Humanities and Media Studies, English.
2016 (English)Conference paper, Abstract (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Ecocriticism, “the study of the relationship between literature and the physical environment”, and sustainable pedagogy (or sustainable education) approach complex cultural and ecological issues from literary and cultural studies, and education respectively (Glotfelty. 1996, p. xviii). Current research in both areas is now relatively thriving, and primary, secondary and postsecondary educational institutions around the world are increasingly focused on the promotion of sustainability, particularly since the UN Decade of Education for Sustainability Education 2005-2014. However, despite the growing connections being made between sustainability and transformative learning, there are still new possibilities for ecologically-minded, creative, relational and place-based approaches to education.

Teacher education in Sweden now provides a unique opportunity to foster synergy in the relationships between subject knowledge, pedagogical practice; higher-, secondary-, and primary- educational milieus; which can positively affect society and the environment. This idea has lead me to dwell on my own experience of teaching English literature in teacher programs from pre-school to upper secondary - specifically English for Primary School Teachers 1B, 4-6 - and the potential to connect ecocritical approaches to literature and the promotion of sustainability education.

The Swedish rules and guidelines for sustainable development and sustainable pedagogy, and their bearing on the literature component in the subject of English seem clear, from the national and local framework documents such as högskoleförordningen (1993:100), Dalarna University’s utbildningsplan grundlärarprogrammet grundskolans årskurs 4-6 and the English for Primary School Teachers 1B, 4-6 syllabus; as well as the Läroplan för grundskolan, förskoleklassen och fritidshemmet 2011. The latter provides a clear mission statement on the role of education in fostering citizenship with an environmental awareness towards sustainable development: 

Skolan ska i samarbete med hemmen främja elevers allsidiga personliga utveckling till aktiva, kreativa, kompetenta och ansvarskännande individer och medborgare […] Genom ett miljöperspektiv får de möjligheter både att ta ansvar för den miljö de själva direkt kan påverka och att skaffa sig ett personligt förhållningssätt till övergripande och globala miljöfrågor. Undervisningen ska belysa hur samhällets funktioner och vårt sätt att leva och arbeta kan anpassas för att skapa hållbar utveckling. (Skolverket, 2011).

Arguably this places responsibility on the school and school teacher, as well as the whole apparatus for teacher education in higher education.

And yet, there is a lack of ecocritical approaches to the study of literature in nearly all of the English literature courses, offered to teacher students at Dalarna University. In regard to the example course (English for Primary School Teachers 1B, 4-6), the following learning outcomes are given:

•visa kunskap om ett urval skönlitterära texter från den engelsktalande världen

•i tal och skrift kommunicera och argumentera för sina egna tolkningar av texterna med hjälp av ett antal litteraturvetenskapliga begrepp och teorier

•i tal och skrift diskutera och problematisera begreppet barndom i studiet av barn- och ungdomslitteratur

•argumentera för och reflektera över hur skönlitteratur och andra typer av kulturella texter kan användas i språkundervisning för yngre elever för att utveckla såväl språkfärdigheten som förståelsen för andra kulturer och samhällen

•i anslutning till litteraturstudierna redogöra för och reflektera över kultur- och samhällsyttringar inom den engelskspråkiga världen samt relatera dessa till egna kulturella erfarenheter

•visa kunskaper om kursplanen i engelska för åk 4-6 med fokus på litteratur- och kulturaspekter samt hur dessa kan omsättas i klassrummet.

The focus on literature and its capacity to promote understanding of a wider socio-cultural perspective is evident. However, in this perspective on human culture is rarely linked to the cultural attitudes and values that have the most significant impact on the natural environment. The result of this kind of anthropocentric or human-centred thinking, can be represented in Glen A. Love’s critical question: “Why are the activities aboard the Titanic so fascinating to us that we give no heed to the waters through which we pass, or to that iceberg on the horizon?” (p. 229).

Ultimately, it is my intention to pursue further research to look at the current dearth of ecocritical approaches to literature and sustainable education (both within higher education as a consequence, within the English primary classroom in Sweden), and the potential for interconnected thinking on sustainability: literary analysis, the educational milieu, and social and ecological issues. Finally this paper will offer some opportunities for “course design that is rooted in ecological principles”, citing a current pedagogical model such as the Burns Model of Sustainability Pedagogy, and examples from teaching ecocriticism and green cultural studies, which recognizes the “the study of the relationship between literature, education and the physical environment” (Burns, 2015, p. 265). 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2016.
Keyword [en]
ecocriticism, sustainable education, English literature
National Category
Learning Pedagogy
Research subject
Education and Learning
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:du-22693OAI: oai:DiVA.org:du-22693DiVA: diva2:952392
Conference
NU2016, 5th Network and Development Conference, Malmö, 15-17 June, 2016.
Available from: 2016-08-12 Created: 2016-08-12 Last updated: 2016-08-15Bibliographically approved

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