Many have questioned the relevance of the current higher education structure and system. Major points include cost disease, pedagogies that ignore the advancements of the Information Age, and exclusiveness. Arguments continue to emerge with the most recent including the particular argument on whether the current educational banking method of learning actually works against sustainability and sustainable practices. In the article, “Achieving transformative sustainability learning: engaging head, hands and heart”, Sipos, Battisti and Grimm (2008) argue in favor of pedagogical models that influence transformative sustainability learning (TSL). These preferred pedagogies can then be organized under the guiding principle of “head, hands and heart” (p. 69). This principle organizes a “series of learning objectives” the authors believe should be encompassed in all institutional programs, as a means of resulting in “profound changes in knowledge, skills and attitudes related to enhancing ecological, social and economic justice” (p. 69). “Cognitive ( head ), psychomotor ( hands ) and affective ( heart )” (p. 69) are new domains of learning rarely combined in pedagogical approaches found in higher education classrooms.
The authors begin their discussion under the assumption of two premises. For one, “places of study, work and recreation” (p. 70) compose the crux of learning experiences and also teach students more about the system that is the world around them and the role they play in that system. Secondly, the cybernetic acknowledgment that higher education institutions can take “an active role as centers for both inquiry and action in local, regional, and global space(s)” (p. 70), intentionally helping to shape the system and the transformational learning experiences in the process.
So how are current practices in higher education not aligned with these pedagogies and premises? To start, higher education “overwhelmingly fragments knowledge into disciplines” (Sipos, Battisti and Grimm, 2008, p. 70). Our world is not siloed into disciplines, and the current approach to education that discourages interdisciplinary collaboration and learning gives students a false view of the world and the totality of their chosen disciplines. In her article, “Is higher education ready for transformative learning? A question explored in the study of sustainability”, Moore (2005) concurs and says education for sustainability includes integrated disciplines, where “disciplines are not piled on top of one another” (p. 80). As Sipos, Battisti and Grimm (2008) argue, the current approach also perpetuates unsustainable practices, including “the conquest of nature and the industrialization of the planet” (p. 70). What most higher education institutions are doing today is actually “teaching for “unsustainability” (i.e. the perpetration and perpetuation of social and ecological crises)” (p. 71). As they eloquently state, “teaching for sustainability requires transformation to new ways of approaching education and life” (p. 71).
What Sipos, Battisti and Grimm (2008) point to are particular pedagogies that “empower individuals to change their frames of reference or worldviews” (p. 71). This includes pedagogies that are “reflective, inter/transdisciplinary, experiential and place-based” (p. 71). Approaches like action learning, community service learning and problem-based learning (p. 71) are interdisciplinary and can take place in the local community. emancipatory, environment, and ecological pedagogies challenge students to question equity among classes, races, genders and human interaction with the environment. These pedagogies are transformative, “including both the individual and social construction of meaning perspectives” (Moore, 2005, p. 82). Instead of leading front the front, Moore points out that the instructor’s role in transformative education is to create “an environment that is supportive and open to self-reflection” (p. 83). Transformative education isn’t easy. Infact, Moore (2008) insists it is uncomfortable and hard. She gives the example that, although some people insist they want to live sustainably, they are uncomfortable with the idea of visiting a garbage dump to visualize the collective waste produced by our convenient lifestyles. “We become comfortable with our level of waste and avoid thinking critically about the reality of overconsumption” (p. 84), she (2008) says.
A la Friere, Sipos, Battisti and Grimm(2008) point to critical pedagogy, which “critiques the idea that knowledge is value-free and works to transform society to be more democratic and less oppressive” (Sipos, Battisti and Grimm, 2008, p. 71). Not only is the banking process of learning practiced at most higher education institutions in contrast to critical pedagogy, as is the entire business of higher education. A truly democratic, less oppressive system of higher education would be free and open to all under no restrictions or requirements. In this regard, the entire system of higher education perpetuates ‘unsustainability’. This is one flaw that the authors (2008) fail to acknowledge.
Similarly, in her article, “Is higher education ready for transformative learning? A question explored in the study of sustainability”, Janet Moore (2005) comments that the current system of higher education works against creating collaborative models of learning because it emphasizes, “individual grading and other competitive models of success” (p. 77). For instructors looking to implement collaborative pedagogies and activities, they surely will experience resistance from students if they have not identified how individual grading will be organized. Most students will not appreciate alternative assessment approaches such as peer review and group grades when their final grade is taken by employers as their own individual effort.
At most higher education institutions, there is no requirement or promotion of particular pedagogies. As Moore (2005) points out, “despite having academic freedom in teaching and research” (p. 77), many instructors won’t even explore “alternative models for teaching and learning in their classrooms or emphasize social change as an outcome of their classes” (p. 77). Though there may be centers for teaching and learning excellence, they rarely have the reach or teeth to require particular pedagogies of the immense amount of faculty found on any given campus. Secondly, preferred pedagogies are rarely called out or pointed to in mission statements. So, although authors like Sipos, Battisti and Grimm (2008) can point to transformative pedagogies, raising awareness about these pedagogies really must go much deeper than this. If institutions are to truly create transformative learning experiences that promote sustainability, it needs to be encompassed in a well-coordinated curriculum and learning environment.
Moore, J. (2005). Is higher education ready for transformative learning? A question explored in the study of sustainability. Journal of transformative education, 3(1), 76-91.
Sipos, Y., Battisti, B., & Grimm, K. (January 11, 2008). Achieving transformative sustainability learning: engaging head, hands and heart. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 9, 1, 68-86.