Education for Sustainable Development, Nature and Vernacular Learning

  • David Selby
Keywords: education for sustainable development, instrumental valuing, intrinsic valuing, nature connection/intimacy, sense of wonder, vernacular learning


Mainstream education for sustainable development conceives of nature as a resource or commodity. The natural world is, for the most part, accorded only instrumental or utilitarian value. As a field it thus aligns itself with a longstanding paradigm in western thinking that sees humans as separate from and dominant over nature. The de-natured nature of education for sustainable development makes it unlikely that the learner will become motivated to care and act for nature. As an alternative, vernacular learning is proposed, i.e. place-based learning rooted in close intimacy and connection with the natural world, with nature perceived as being intrinsically valuable. The importance of fostering emotional affinity with nature is underlined, as are forms of multi-sensory learning that help the learner engage with both spirit and soul of place. Practical examples of vernacular learning activities are enumerated. The importance of nurturing a sense of wonder and joy in the young learner is put forward as vital in fostering an ethic of concern for the planet. Essentially, the argument goes, we only stir ourselves to protect what we have come to love, and thus cultivating a sense of oneness with nature is vital if we are to have any chance of transforming the global environmental condition. Passion is the harbinger of activism.


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