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ESD in states of resistance: Public schooling, social justice, and critical environmental education in Brazil twenty years after Rio ‘92

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Abstract:

As the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) comes to a close, the comparative literature on national and subnational ESD policies and practices rarely delves into the conflictive cultural politics of sustainability. My paper examines the contested state of ESD in Brazil, where rejection of the global sustainable development paradigm is prevalent across the environmental education (EE) sector. My objective is to characterize how the educational imperative of sustainability been interpreted and acted upon by the Brazilian public education sector at the local, state, and national levels in contrast to the policy framework propagated by UNESCO during DESD. A key aspect of this involves understanding how the state can be occupied by social movements as a site of resistance to dominant policy regimes.

At the heart of this matter is how global, national, and subnational actors both respond to and advance distinct paradigms of sustainability. This requires a critical approach to the discursive domain of nature. For this purpose I employ the concept of the environmental imaginary, defined as “a way of imagining nature, including visions of those forms of social and individual practice which are ethically proper and morally right with regard to nature” (Peet & Watts, 1996, p. 263). Moreover, the environmental imaginary “is typically expressed and developed through regional discursive formations, which take as central themes the history of social relations to a particular natural environment” (p. 263). With the understanding that environmental imaginaries are contested (Nesbitt & Weiner, 2001), this study delves into the internal and external disputes pertaining to the mobilization of the Brazilian environmental imaginary within public schooling. I also draw from Carnoy and Levin’s (1985) social conflict theory of the state to capture the central role of the state in negotiating social conflict manifested in competing claims of environmental knowledge across the global-local continuum. Following the tradition of critical theory and its preoccupation with an analysis of power, I thus consider the relationship between contested environmental imaginaries, the state, and the public school system as a site of resistance to dominant forces of sustainable development.

The study is based on qualitative research designed as a vertical case study (Vavrus & Bartlett, 2006) anchored at the state level in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where the Superintendence of Environmental Education (w/in the State Secretary of the Environment) has run a training and politicization program called Elos da Cidadania (Rings of Citizenship) targeting students, teachers, and principals of the formal public education sector. Through in-depth interviews, numerous observations, and archival research, I compare this local/state-level experience to the Brazilian national EE strategy and to the global ESD framework propagated by UNESCO’s ESD Decade. The data shows that twenty years after Rio 92, the Brazilian EE national strategy and policy framework maintains a partially critical posture towards UNESCO’s Decade of ESD, actively resisting its discursive formulations despite some points of convergence. Yet the data also shows that if there are defining characteristics of the national EE model in Brazil, these are contested subnationally through profound ideological cleavages, rendering the notion of a national EE identity unstable. In the prominent state of Rio de Janeiro, key spaces within the state public administration have articulated a leftist politics of resistance to both national EE policy as well as to the global ESD regime. This movement critiques sustainable development as a capitalist enterprise of ecological modernization, which does not redress the structural injustice found at the root of environmental conflict. As an alternative to ESD, this movement puts forth a model of critical environmental education centered on public schools as spaces of participatory environmental governance and the development of a social justice model of citizenship for a more profound transformation of society.

This study contributes to the field of CIES by examining critically how one nation-state has resisted a global ESD policy framework. By employing a vertically comparative approach, it also follows recent calls to overcome “methodological nationalism” (Steiner-Khamsi, 2010), where attending to the local-global continuum entails understanding the diverse internal dynamics of the nation-state on the one hand, and the larger global structures and forces that it is a part of on the other (Carney, Rappleye, & Silova 2009). I contend that we need to continue to examine educational efforts towards sustainability locally and comparatively, so as to understand how environmental issues in the education sector are framed and acted upon distinctly across cultural, social, and geopolitical divides.
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Name: Comparative and International Education Society Annual Conference
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MLA Citation:

Stahelin, Nicolas. "ESD in states of resistance: Public schooling, social justice, and critical environmental education in Brazil twenty years after Rio ‘92" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Comparative and International Education Society Annual Conference, Sheraton Centre Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Mar 10, 2014 <Not Available>. 2014-12-10 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p718086_index.html>

APA Citation:

Stahelin, N. , 2014-03-10 "ESD in states of resistance: Public schooling, social justice, and critical environmental education in Brazil twenty years after Rio ‘92" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Comparative and International Education Society Annual Conference, Sheraton Centre Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada <Not Available>. 2014-12-10 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p718086_index.html

Publication Type: Panel Paper
Review Method: Peer Reviewed
Abstract: As the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) comes to a close, the comparative literature on national and subnational ESD policies and practices rarely delves into the conflictive cultural politics of sustainability. My paper examines the contested state of ESD in Brazil, where rejection of the global sustainable development paradigm is prevalent across the environmental education (EE) sector. My objective is to characterize how the educational imperative of sustainability been interpreted and acted upon by the Brazilian public education sector at the local, state, and national levels in contrast to the policy framework propagated by UNESCO during DESD. A key aspect of this involves understanding how the state can be occupied by social movements as a site of resistance to dominant policy regimes.

At the heart of this matter is how global, national, and subnational actors both respond to and advance distinct paradigms of sustainability. This requires a critical approach to the discursive domain of nature. For this purpose I employ the concept of the environmental imaginary, defined as “a way of imagining nature, including visions of those forms of social and individual practice which are ethically proper and morally right with regard to nature” (Peet & Watts, 1996, p. 263). Moreover, the environmental imaginary “is typically expressed and developed through regional discursive formations, which take as central themes the history of social relations to a particular natural environment” (p. 263). With the understanding that environmental imaginaries are contested (Nesbitt & Weiner, 2001), this study delves into the internal and external disputes pertaining to the mobilization of the Brazilian environmental imaginary within public schooling. I also draw from Carnoy and Levin’s (1985) social conflict theory of the state to capture the central role of the state in negotiating social conflict manifested in competing claims of environmental knowledge across the global-local continuum. Following the tradition of critical theory and its preoccupation with an analysis of power, I thus consider the relationship between contested environmental imaginaries, the state, and the public school system as a site of resistance to dominant forces of sustainable development.

The study is based on qualitative research designed as a vertical case study (Vavrus & Bartlett, 2006) anchored at the state level in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where the Superintendence of Environmental Education (w/in the State Secretary of the Environment) has run a training and politicization program called Elos da Cidadania (Rings of Citizenship) targeting students, teachers, and principals of the formal public education sector. Through in-depth interviews, numerous observations, and archival research, I compare this local/state-level experience to the Brazilian national EE strategy and to the global ESD framework propagated by UNESCO’s ESD Decade. The data shows that twenty years after Rio 92, the Brazilian EE national strategy and policy framework maintains a partially critical posture towards UNESCO’s Decade of ESD, actively resisting its discursive formulations despite some points of convergence. Yet the data also shows that if there are defining characteristics of the national EE model in Brazil, these are contested subnationally through profound ideological cleavages, rendering the notion of a national EE identity unstable. In the prominent state of Rio de Janeiro, key spaces within the state public administration have articulated a leftist politics of resistance to both national EE policy as well as to the global ESD regime. This movement critiques sustainable development as a capitalist enterprise of ecological modernization, which does not redress the structural injustice found at the root of environmental conflict. As an alternative to ESD, this movement puts forth a model of critical environmental education centered on public schools as spaces of participatory environmental governance and the development of a social justice model of citizenship for a more profound transformation of society.

This study contributes to the field of CIES by examining critically how one nation-state has resisted a global ESD policy framework. By employing a vertically comparative approach, it also follows recent calls to overcome “methodological nationalism” (Steiner-Khamsi, 2010), where attending to the local-global continuum entails understanding the diverse internal dynamics of the nation-state on the one hand, and the larger global structures and forces that it is a part of on the other (Carney, Rappleye, & Silova 2009). I contend that we need to continue to examine educational efforts towards sustainability locally and comparatively, so as to understand how environmental issues in the education sector are framed and acted upon distinctly across cultural, social, and geopolitical divides.


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Public School Grade Retention Rates in the United States: Estimates by State, Grade, Year, and Race/Ethnicity


 
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