Critical environmental agency in a field ecology program

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Lacey Denise Huffling (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Catherine Matthews

Abstract: Attending to global environmental concerns calls for renewed efforts in environmental education and environmental literacy. Important questions regarding equity and access also need to be considered (NAAEE, 2011). Therefore, a goal of this study was to develop a framework for Critical Environmental Agency (CEA) that builds on the work of science education equity scholars (Calabrese Barton & Tan, 2008; Tan, Calabrese Barton, Turner, & Gutiérrez, 2012) while incorporating specific components of environmental education (Greenwood, 2013; NAAEE, 2011). An additional goal of this study was to expand and broaden the understanding of how diverse youth engage in environmental education come to see themselves as people who care about the environment and are resolved to help create a more just world. Finally, this study used CEA as a way to qualitatively assess youths’ environmental literacy development. Using a critically-oriented sociocultural perspective, I conducted a largely qualitative ethnographic study, which explored the CEA development of 16 diverse youth from low income families who had not attended college. The youth participated in a field ecology program focused on herpetology (the study of reptiles and amphibians) that was a part of a larger multi-year college access program. Data collected included: individual interviews, photovoice focus groups, photovoice assignments, pre/post-tests, pre/post surveys and observations and field notes. Data analyses focused on how youths’ experiences were leveraged to develop CEA, how youths’ CEA was enabled, and how youths’ CEA was constrained. The findings of this study inform our understanding of how diverse youth engage in environmental education and strengthen their CEA. Youths’ CEA was most often enabled when they had opportunities to explore their local communities, were given the freedom to make decisions during community explorations, and were provided with multiple opportunities to engage in the practices of field ecology, as success did not always come on their first attempt. The findings also inform our understanding of obstacles that hinder youths’ CEA development. Obstacles in this study included youths’ limited understanding of local environmental issues, their own views of themselves as not “outdoors” or “science” people, and their thoughts that urban environments were divorced from nature. Implications from this study suggest that youth should be afforded opportunities to act upon, even if in small ways, what they come to see as important for their community’s environmental wellbeing.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2015
Critical Environmental Agency, Critical Pedagogy of Place, Environmental Education, Equity, Field Ecology, Identity
Environmental education $x Study and teaching (Secondary)
Environmental literacy $x Study and teaching (Secondary)
Herpetology $x Study and teaching (Secondary)
Ecology $x Fieldwork
Place-based education
Critical pedagogy
Minorities in science
Educational equalization
Identity (Psychology)

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