Tuesday, October 20, 2009
What you know and how you think is always a reflection of how you live. In my view the best sustainability curriculum is one that provides the hands-on experience of living, implementing, and designing a sustainable campus, tangibly linked to the more formal curricular expectations of programs and majors.
There are countless discussions of what students should know. Although I have my strong opinions, too (every college graduate should understand ecological and evolutionary concepts, basic biospheric circulations, the geological time scale, and spatial and temporal variation related to environmental change), I also understand that there is no universal standard for curricular decisions. Curriculum is contextual and the substantive basis for programs and majors will depend on the interest, strength, and mission of the institution.
For example, see the AASHE (Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education) website to view the vast array of impressive and exciting new programs—from business and medicine to climate mitigation and engineering, from two year technical training to advanced PHD research. Arizona State has an entire school devoted to sustainability (GIOS, Global Institute of Sustainability).
Surely every college and university should have introductory courses that provide a substantive and experiential framework for lifelong learning about sustainability concepts. Every major should have sustainability-related courses that provide a foundation for the relevant discipline and career. We need more career-oriented sustainability majors and programs with opportunities for deeper study.
However, these initiatives are empty without the tangible application in the campus community. Colleges and universities have an impressive breadth of educational outreach. Every visitor, participant, and community member learns something from the campus environment. The sustainability curricular agenda must be seen as comprehensive, direct, and intrinsic to the educational mission of a campus.