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Critical Curriculum Theory and Slow Ecopedagogical Activism

Australian Journal of Environmental Education Volume 31, Number 2, ISSN 0814-0626


Enacting a critical environmental education curriculum theory with 8- to 9-year-old children in 1978 is now "restoried" in a "history of the present/future" like "case study" for prosecuting five interrelated problems confronting progress in environmental education and its research. They are: the intense heat of the Anthropocene; the accelerating speed of the Dromosphere; the deep cuts of neoliberalism's policing of the cognitive capitalism of the corporate university and public education; the entrepreneurial entry of sustainable into the discourse of education; and the digital colonisation of its pedagogical practices. The once radical promise of environmental education to serve as a critique of education partially through its "language" (Le Grange, 2013) of empowerment, agency, transformation, contestation, ideology, ethics, action, praxis and change demands revitalisation; hence, this belated restorying of the 1978 case. The time is right; at least in some academic/educational settings where the "new materialism" notions of critical, agency and action remain much more than a fading memory or convenient text. New theory helps restory this old curriculum theory and its slow ecopedagogical activism. In this "old", the critical curriculum theory (re)positioned young children and their teacher as action researchers of their own embodied socio-environmental relations. Through highly inclusive and participatory practices of outdoor and indoor ecopedagogy, children became ethically active "citizens", capable of democratically enacting political and Political change. This "active responsibility for the environment" was, indeed, a key purpose, or promise, of environmental education when the field was formalised in the 1970s. Elements of children's (eco)aesthetics-environmental ethics and ecopolitics are described in this case account of the "environmental design" of a radical curriculum innovation that critically emphasised the "humanly-constructive" educational conditions that enable agency (Payne, 1995, 1999a). Such enablements were only ever assumed in the "socially critical" theorisations of curriculum and pedagogy developed in Australia in the early 1980s. For researchers, this partially autoethnographic narrating of the old case describes the children's (embodied) experiences and locally emplaced agencies in newer theoretical "figurations" of their "body~time~space" relationalities. Children's outdoor "expeditions", interdisciplinary inquiries, literacy development, scientific investigations, and personal and public activisms are described. Revealing these micro figurational relationalities in slow ecopedagogical contexts of the environmental design of education (Payne, 2014) is consistent with Robottom and Hart's (1993) too often forgotten "old" call for researchers and practitioners to clarify the presuppositions they make about the trilogy of ontology-epistemology and methodology in framing, conceptualising, contextualising, representing, and legitimating the research problem and its questions. This restorying and history of the present/future is alert to (but cannot develop) aspects of contemporary "high" theory drawn from the humanities, social sciences and arts that prioritises the politics of ontological deliberation and the ecologies of things, (re)claims a material disposition in empirical inquiry and critique while speculating about non-anthropocentric "thought" responsive to the "new" rallying point of, for example, the Anthropocene. In sum, new theory helps restory the critical, creative, expressive and experimental forms of re-theorising the persistent problematic of human and non-human nature relations and the role of education--well on display in this "old." This revitalised history of the present/future aims to revive critical optimism and imagination about how agencies of socio-environmental change once promised by critical environmental education and its research can be "returned". The article concludes with some post-critical retheorising of key critical components of the 1978 curriculum theory.


Payne, P.G. (2015). Critical Curriculum Theory and Slow Ecopedagogical Activism. Australian Journal of Environmental Education, 31(2), 165-193. Retrieved November 13, 2019 from .

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