The Problem with Progressive Pedagogy: Systemic Challenges Enacting Environmental Sustainability Education
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This outlines theories for building a coordinated interdisciplinary school-wide energy sustainability program in a Toronto high school, and barriers to its success. It explores the intersection of eco and social justice, systems thinking, pedagogy in schools, and sustainable practices in business. To say it is a challenge solving real-world justice problems in a high school is an understatement. It requires ongoing support, communication and collaboration from all levels of the education system, which is tricky to coordinate, even in a small school. The aim was to prove that through progressive pedagogy, students learn curricular content and skills needed for a sustainable future by innovating ways to solve real life sustainability problems in energy in the local community. Local support existed in theory, but on a practical level there was a lack of time, budget, scheduling, communication and resources needed to put theory into practice, despite interest and willingness on the part of students, staff, and administration. This paper, then, is an outline of what not to do when designing progressive pedagogies, what to keep in mind for best practices, and options for designing integrated project and problem based pedagogy that teaches skills for the future. It outlines basic theories of systems thinking, sustainable business and justice work that focuses for this project on energy. It defines current policies on different levels of the education system in terms of sustainability in schools. It reveals the success and barriers of creating an interdisciplinary program through an educator’s journal. And it outlines the key findings of the study, articulating multiple barriers on multiple levels of the system. It proposes communication linked to multiple viewpoints and systems thinking, and offers an example of adapting to barriers to make small gains despite them. It also offers recommendations for how stakeholders throughout the education system can advocate for systemic reform to integrate learning and innovating for a sustainable future within schools.