Place as onto-epistemology
In all of the studies we have looked at, place functions as a bridge between children and sustainability, it is the material location of their learning. Place is thus pedagogical in relation to sustainability, it is the vital activating ingredient between the child as an ontological being in the world and their sustainability education as an epistemological endeavour. To consider the notion of the child, as in the first section of this chapter, is to explore the ontological possibilities for children in this interrelated triad. Place is animated and active in both directions, it relates to the ways that children can become through their engagement in places and equally to how they can learn, or come to know, about the sustainability of the planet. The question of what sustainability education can mean is an epistemological one and the concept of place sits in between children and sustainability as an onto-epistemology, a combination of being and knowing.
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In Chapter 2, we explored the nature of sustainability education through the views of teachers from eight schools in the Gippsland region. These schools had self-selected as having significant sustainability education programmes. In order to understand the nature of sustainability education, we clustered the teachers' responses into key categories that best represented the characteristics of sustainability education as it emerges in practice. These characteristics described sustainability education as: constituted within constellations of local places; collective with community partners; incorporating creative methods of inquiry and representation; and connecting material practice to abstract thought. It is important to acknowledge the characteristics of sustainability education as it emerges in teacher's descriptions of its practice as forming only one side of the story. Viewing sustainability education through the lens of children growing up in the 21st century offers a different set of understandings.
Mirabelle and Kelly contributed many ideas from their perspective as teenagers of today. They expressed their sense of anxiety and responsibility about a world on the brink of collapse, but have no memory of sustainability education in primary school, distinguishing them from the next generation of children who feature in this book. The teenage girls' formal sustainability education in secondary school is made up of discipline oriented, objective, cognitive learning that appears to be at odds with how they describe themselves learning about sustainability. Sustainability learning for them occurs outside of the parameters of formal school curriculum and yet they identify school as the essential site for sustainability education to take place. They describe their sustainability learning as affective, and as oriented towards relations with others, including other people and other species. It necessarily involves practical actions through which they seek to make a difference in the world.
Importantly, while Mirabelle and Kelly express their frustration that not enough is being done to address environmental destruction and the extinction of species, they still believe that it is possible to compromise between the desires of human beings and the needs of the planet. They both expressed similar opinions about the nature of such compromise, believing that 'we should find a medium ground for sustainability, like a way that we can do things without hurting anybody'. The urgency of escalating planetary problems is deferred in a similar way to adults in their belief that the impact will only be experienced by the generations of their grandchildren and their great grandchildren. In contrast to this, children who were born into the 21st century are growing up in the context of a different sense of urgency, of a world already out of control.