Education for the environment : towards teacher empowerment : a thesis submitted as fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, November 2004, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
The work of this thesis involves an exploration of teachers' practice in environmental education in New Zealand schools, conducted between 1999 and 2002. Some new theorising is conducted in response to the problems faced by teachers. This seeks to reconceptualise the way we think about environmental education in schools. The purpose of this is to provide a theoretical framework that assists teachers to rethink their practice and, as a result, be empowered to act for the environment. The thesis begins by providing a general background to the field of environmental education and by setting this in the socio-political context of New Zealand from the early 1980s until the present. The research process is described, and theorised using Problem-Based Methodology. The work then proceeds to report on the research with teachers in schools that occurred in a number of phases. It emerges that environmental education occurred in only a minority of cases. School contexts and educational structures appeared to place major barriers in the path of teacher innovation and these seem to increase with school size. Teachers that do begin sound practice appear to have strong values and a theoretical background that informs their work. In response to the complex barriers to improved environmental education practice, Problem-Based Methodology is suggested to provide an inadequate platform for addressing the issues because it is restricted to addressing micro level problems in schools. Drawing on the philosophy of critical realism that proposes three levels of reality, a Critical Problem-Based Methodology is proposed. This involves three loops of critical reflection. To support this an issues matrix that contains a sociological analysis of schooling and draws heavily on curriculum theory is developed. A reconsideration of the environmental education literature is then undertaken in the light of these proposals. The thrust of the thesis is that environmental education lacks a substantive engagement with sociology or curriculum theory and the proposals here seek to address that. It is proposed that triple loop reflection assists a better description of the problems of poor progress in the field. It is argued that many educators have a faith in schooling that is not justified by evidence and have failed to engage at a political level. It is concluded that unless engagement occurs at the three levels proposed in this thesis, and a deeper engagement with educational theory supports this, things are unlikely to change.