5D.1 Connecting knowledge, belief and action: Environmental autobiographies as a pedagogical tool for environmental literacy

Friday, 13 November 2009: 1:45 PM
Marcia Allen Owens, ECSC, Tallahassee, FL

Lester Milbrath states that “beliefs empower and deceive us.” The media, as well as significant people and institutions, including religious institutions, socialize us and contribute to individual and societal worldviews. “We so thoroughly accept our culture's beliefs about how the world works that we hardly ever think about them even though they underlie everything we think and do.” Beliefs, attitudes, and values comprise an important component of environmental literacy, a praxis-oriented concept from the field of environmental education, which is defined as: [T]he capacity to perceive and interpret the relative health of environmental systems and take appropriate action to maintain, restore, or improve the health of those systems . . . Environmental literacy should be defined in terms of observable behaviors. (Disinger and Roth 1992, 2). Environmental literacy draws upon six areas: environmental sensitivity; knowledge; skills; beliefs, attitudes and values; personal investment and responsibility; and active involvement. It involves particular ways of thinking, acting, and valuing (Roth 1992). Religious beliefs, or lack thereof, shape worldviews, thereby influencing individual and societal environmental literacy. For example, Western Christianity espouses a hierarchical anthropocentric worldview, putting God infinitely above human beings, and human beings above nature. The creation stories of Genesis have been used both implicitly and explicitly to justify domination and exploitation of the earth and its resources. Autobiographies may be used as a reflective pedagogical tool to help students to identify various components of their respective environmental worldviews which may influence their overall environmental literacy. Through a longitudinal analysis of environmental autobiographies of an internationally diverse group of environmental sciences majors at a Historically Black College or University (HBCU), this presentation will explore trends in articulation of the sources and impact of religious beliefs on students' environmental worldview and the components which result in environmental literacy.
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