Sustaining Gaia through Learning Communities: A Case Study in Higher Education

By Caroline Fitzpatrick and Spencer S. Stober.

Published by The Sustainability Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

James Lovelock (1990), in The Ages of Gaia: A Biography of Our Living Earth, proposes that mother Earth is a living organism regulated and maintained by life on the surface--thus the name Gaia in honor of the Greek Earth Goddess. The concept of earth as a living organism may not hold up to scientific scrutiny, but the concept enables us to create an analogy for sustainable communities. A quest to promote sustainable communities through aggressive activism caused graduate professors to develop an interdisciplinary master’s program in the liberal arts tradition. To sustain Gaia, a curriculum requires nurturing spirit (Socio-Cultural/Spiritual), mind (Economic/Political) and body (Environmental). John Foster, Course Director, Centre for the Study of Environmental Change, Lancaster University, UK, argues for critical environmental education as “a long-denied need which was met in the past by the liberal education” and “there is nowhere in contemporary society but the arena of education where this is now possible” (p. 164). College campuses are positioned to create sustainable service-oriented projects. Ellen Cushman (2002) in Sustainable Service Learning Programs asserts that when professors, students, and community partners take intellectual risks, they bring to bear a curriculum that includes critical writing and thinking with well-defined methodologies to make communities more sustainable. We will discuss the following: creating a learning community with a curriculum that fosters student activism, developing a program structure and implementation schedule, establishing a multi-disciplinary faculty and teaching environment, and insuring relevance to community needs and not-for-profit partners.

Cushman, Ellen. (September 2002). Sustainable Service Learning Programs. College Composition and Communication 54 (1): pp. 40.
Foster, John. (2001). Education as Sustainability. Environmental Education Research, 7(2):pp.153-165.
Lovelock, James. (1990). The Ages of Gaia: A Biography of Our Living Earth. New York, NY: Bantam Books

Keywords: Citizen Science, Cultural Preservation, Environmental Education, Gaia, Higher Education, Learning Communities, Sustainability

The International Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability, Volume 3, Issue 5, pp.41-50. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 522.880KB).

Dr. Caroline Fitzpatrick

Assistant Professor, Communications and English, Alvernia College, Reading, Pennsylvania, USA

Dr. Caroline Fitzpatrick is an Assistant Professor of Communications and English and the Director of Instructional Standards at Alvernia College in Reading, Pennsylvania (USA). Her primary areas of interest include multimodal literacy studies, cultural preservation, and qualitative research methods. Dr. Fitzpatrick serves on the Executive Board of the International English Honor Society and the Mass Communications Advisory Board for the Washington Center. Currently, she is serving as a consultant in qualitative research methods for portfolio assessment in the medical residency program at the West Reading Hospital in Pennsylvania. She promotes the practical application of writing-intensive projects toward cultural/environmental preservation at both the undergraduate and graduate level that include such activities as advertising and letter writing campaigns for non-profit organizations. She is a vocal advocate of community-based research projects for sustainability.

Dr. Spencer S. Stober

Associate Professor, Department of Science and Math, Alvernia College, Reading, Pennsylvania, USA

Dr. Stober is Associate Professor of Biology/Education whose primary areas of research and teaching interests include genetics and environmental education. He has worked actively in environmental issues in the community, developing a model “green development” for the habitat protection of the endangered bog turtle, encouraging students and other citizens to become good stewards of our environment, and actively advocating for responsible land use. He has held significant administrative posts at the college, including Department Chairperson, Dean of Arts and Sciences, Director of the Graduate Center, and also serves currently as Vice President of the Adamstown Borough Council.


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