When living in an urban environment it is easy to ignore nature, even when we do encounter it within our city limits.
A flattened opossum on the road isn’t nature. It’s roadkill.
That Venus flytrap at the cash register isn’t a plant. It’s a novelty item that will be dead in two weeks.
And that coyote dodging traffic? Well, he is just crazy!
Is there enough “nature” in the urban landscape to warrant spending a lot of time on environmental education?
Dr. Katie Lynn Crosley says there most definitely is, however to be successful, environmental educators need to address certain issues. Crosley discusses these issues and presents a solution in Advancing the Boundaries of Urban Environmental Education through the Food Justice Movement.
For environmental educators to be successful in the urban landscape, Crosley (2013) says they need to acknowledge their field’s history and how it tends to work. She says educators need to recognize the following:
- Environmental education’s strong affiliation with wilderness and non-urban environments.
- Environmental education’s strong association with the lecture-based pedagogies of the science classroom.
- The lack of attention the field of environmental education gives to issues related to race, culture, politics and economics.
Crosley (2013) explains that urban learners often view science as “irrelevant to their lives or identities.” This is a problem for environmental education (EE). Crowley (2013) suggests that environmental education needs to stop being a sub-component of the field of science. She goes on to say that other avenues need to be explored because staying within a field with rigid “scientific ways of knowing” (Crosley, 2013) limits the field’s ability to address social and cultural issues not usually addressed in traditional science education. To make the field more culturally responsive, Crosley (2013) proposes integrating environmental education with the food justice movement. Crosley (2013) proposes integrating EE with food justice because doing so shifts the focus from non-urban wilderness and science education to food, a subject more meaningful to urban audiences. Food is a part of everyone’s identity and is “applicable to human-dominated landscapes” (Crosley, 2013). Wilderness is not.
In a global economy that supports over 6 billion humans, the entire concept of nature or ‘wilderness’ as a pristine exterior is a romantic and potentially dangerous fiction that denies reality.
— Moffatt and Kohler (2008), excerpt from a quote cited in Crosley (2013)
Food Justice and Botany Education
What does food justice have to do with ArtPlantae’s mission of encouraging an interest in plants?
Food security is one of the fields discussed in the Botanical Capacity Project as being at risk in light of fewer colleges offering coursework and degrees in botany and in light of fewer people expressing interest in the plant sciences. If you recall from my previous article about this project, the Chicago Botanic Garden, the U.S. office of Botanic Gardens Conservation International and several partners conducted a one-year project to assess the weaknesses of plant science education, research, and habitat management in the United States. These organizations identified gaps in society’s ability to manage issues in which plants play a role. Issues such as climate change, biodiversity, biofuel production and food security. I think Crosley’s proposal is relevant to this conversation and this is why I have chosen it to launch the Plants Everyday column. Unlike the art-specific and location-specific columns I write, this column will feature the casual ways plants weave in and out of our lives, whether we think about plants everyday or not.
To learn more about Dr. Crosley’s proposal and to learn more about the history of environmental education and the food justice movement, download her article.
Crosley, K. (2013). Advancing the boundaries of urban environmental education through the food justice movement. Canadian Journal of Environmental Education, 18: 46-58.
Moffatt, S. & Kohler, N. (2008). Conceptualizing the built environment as a social-ecological system. Building Research & Information, 36(3):248-268.
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Urban gardens and the environment