Educational Literacy in the Context of Environmental Ethics
ABSTRACT: I explore the concept of literacy and the role it might play in environmental ethics. One of the goals of environmental ethics is to describe and contribute to the creation of an ecologically responsible culture. The creation of such a culture requires the development of knowledge and abilities that will help sustain such a culture. Since education is one of the key institutions for instilling values and world views, it is important for environmental philosophers to think about the institutionalization of environmental theories in terms of their implications for the environmentally literate person. I argue that attention to literacy is significant for two reasons. First, it provides one way of evaluating the differences between competing environmental philosophies. Second, it raises the important question of what kind of person is required to carry out a particular vision of environmental responsibility. By addressing the issue of education and literacy, philosophers interested in environmental ethics can help create a vision of citizens who have democratically internalized and integrated environmental values and priorities rather than having them imposed from above.
Environmental ethics presents us with a plurality of different theoretical positions, from sophisticated forms of anthropocentrism to competing views of ecofeminism and social ecology to various versions of biocentrism. The ethical discussions these positions have prompted reveal how difficult it is to extend or revise existing moral traditions in a manner that appears both plausible and socially legitimate to mainstream audiences. Traditional human-centered world views have a strong hold on the minds and habits of action of citizens in Western industrialized societies, as well as in many others. Since the utopian goal of many philosophers interested in environmental ethics is the creation of an environmentally responsible and just culture, it is incumbent upon us to think critically about how various environmental ethical positions might be integrated with and institutionalized within the existing societies we know and experience.
In so far as we frame one goal of environmental ethics to be the nurturing of an ecological culture, we must begin to ask how such a culture can be brought about. Clearly, environmental values and priorities must be institutionalized within a responsible society. But this suggests that environmental philosophy needs to examine the role to be played by education and educational institutions in the development of an environmentally responsible society. Education plays a major role in fostering the abilities and values of citizens. We should, therefore, ask how environmental aspirations ought to affect the goals of education.
I shall use the concept of "literacy" quite broadly to refer to the goals of the educational process. Environmental philosophers need to think through...