What is the role of advocacy in environmental education?
When does education turn into brainwashing?
When is activism not education?

Quelle place le militantisme occupe-t-il dans l’éducation environnementale?
Quand l’éducation devient-elle endoctrinement?
Quand le militantisme perd-il sa place en éducation?

Elise Houghton,
January 22, 2005
I wonder what prompts this question (the role of advocacy) that is a popular one among
right-wing think tanks such as the Fraser Institute in BC? People who make even the most rudimentary calculation of our society's impacts on natural systems begin to see that there is a problem. So from the moment one questions the wisdom of everyday behaviour, and suggests an alternative, one engages in "advocacy." A move towards change. 
We are not sustainable. What should we do about it? Who does it affect, who gains (anyone making money by non-sustainability, or reveling in the comforts of non-sustainability - US!), but who loses (the other half of the world now, all of us in the long term)... should we do something about that? Those who believe we should are called - not always as a compliment - advocates. But imagine if we called education that trains us in the reductionist scientific "worldview" - but defines science without consideration of the cumulative ecological consequences of science's many separate "expertises" - a form of advocacy. Secular (no dogmatic moral limits), specialized (no need to assess potential effects outside of one's own specialist silo), exploitative (enabling utilitarian human gain from
dominating nature's products and processes). Is unquestioned mainstream learning "advocacy?" We don't tend to call it that.  What we call "advocacy" is a call from change AWAY from the norm - based on a proposed solution to an identified problem that may cause discomfort to those who benefit from the norm. Activism is a form of advocacy to solve a perceived problem. So science itself might therefore be defined as a kind of activism - exploiting nature to induce human prosperity. We learn, we act upon what we learn. But do we learn to question this now "given" of education? Once upon a time scientific "activists" and advocates moved to shift societal thinking and behaviour away from religious dogma as the guide, to rational, empirical practice. Some were silenced or even killed. But their advocacy prevailed. Trouble is, they based their scientific thinking on a reductionist machine model. We still learn and work like that.  Public education in Canada gives no status to holistic, ecological thinking or learning. We continue to revere the Cartesian/Newtonian mechanistic-rational paradigm - "tearing away Nature's veils." Is a refusal (by governments) to introduce curriculum which would make an ecological assessment of scientifically-derived proposals a form of "brainwashing?" Is not providing the tools which would offer an option of building sustainable futures "advocacy by omission?"  Always good to look at who's calling questioning and advocacy "brainwashing." 

Kateryna Semenova Vancouver, BC
Mar. 27, 2003
When we utilize something we put it into inferior position, for instance animals, plants, females, other races, … When we respect something or somebody, and by ‘respect’ I mean that we treat it as an end in itself, not as something superior to us, then we don’t utilize it. This value of seeing everything as an end in itself and not as a means to our ends and goals is incompatible with the requirements of our society to education because our social system is rooted in coercion and utilization. Therefore, for us value of EVERYTHING is its market value. This is Hobbes, this is the philosophy of the ruling classes, and so far our society has not declared it obsolete. On the contrary … 
Larry Haftl
Mar. 17, 2003
What is the role of advocacy in environmental education?
The same as it is in almost all forms of education -- to convince the student that a certain philosophy, method, technique, or activity is the "right" way. 
Education turns into brainwashing when it begins to be practiced. Brainwashing: "a forcible indoctrination to induce someone to give up basic political, social, or religious beliefs and attitudes and to accept contrasting regimented ideas. Persuasion by propaganda or salesmanship." Webster's Dictionary. While formal education rarely involves physical punishment anymore, it still uses force (grading, passing/failing, etc.) to indoctrinate into a particular set of values/ideas/methods/behaviors.
When is activism not education? When is education not activism? Regardless of the theories or stated philosophies, all education that grades performance with the power to "pass" or "fail" the student advocates, brainwashes and is activist in nature. Don't do/think what the powers who control the education system want you to do/think and you receive negative consequences - failing grades, failure to advance and graduate, detention, suspension, and dismissal or expulsion.

Andre Laurion,
Gladwyn, NB
Mar. 11, 2003
Is it arrogance, self-confidence, dedication, the expression of a seeking spirit or innocence, that incites one to challenge the accepted opinions? What enables us to overcome the ingrained perspectives of our habitual thinking and permits us to arrive at a fresh and holistic view of a given situation? It is called wisdom. It is a personal revolution. But unfortunately, one of the main failings of our education system is its confusion between knowledge and wisdom. And should the educators take into account the brainwashing slants of the media context?  I only hope the conscious values of educators include respect for all forms of life. 

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