Educate Not Advocate: The Key to Sustainability?

Updated: Jan 20, 2019


According to Dictionary.com, the verb "to advocate" means "to speak or write in favor of, support or urge by argument; to recommend publicly." In other words, an advocate is a person who speaks or writes in support of a cause. But importantly, there's a big distinction between advocacy and education, and this is something I feel the need to address in this blog post.


The Age of Alternative Facts


In our digital age of Twitter feeds, "fake news" and information overload, it's now more important than ever to ensure the next generation are able to discern between the credible and the uncredible, decode the agendas of organizations and institutions, such as news outlets, political parties, governments and powerful corporations, and think independently as bright-minded, responsible and global-minded citizens.



Crossing the Line


As educators, it can be surprisingly easy to cross the narrow line between education and advocacy, by imposing our own views and opinions on our students and, as you'll soon see, this is something we must be careful of as responsible educators. Most educationalists would agree that the cornerstone of a quality education is one that challenges individuals to grow and develop skills and values based, not on predetermined answers, but on knowledge and critcal thinking to make sense of the world we live in.


Global Citizenship


As such, we must be mindful of advocacy when teaching, so that we allow our students the space and freedom to develop their own views and feelings based on critical thinking and reflection, particularly in relation to complex issues relating to sustainability. That's because scientific literacy and understanding are essential for educating the next generation to make good, evidence-based choices both now and in the future, as they grow into responsible citizens in a rapidly changing, globalized world.


In other words, as educators we don't need to know all the answers, but we do need to know the right questions to ask in order to guide our students successfully through the learning process.


"I believe sustainability education is...a delicate balancing act...[in which] practitioners must have a solid foundation in both the scientific and socio-political sides of the coin..."

I believe that if we can inspire a love of learning within our students, make learning relevant, meaningful and authentic, and develop important 21st Century skills, we can trust that the young people we teach will grow into informed global citizens, able to think critically and carefully and identify "fake news" and "alternative facts" at the source.


Educate Not Advocate!


Many of us who are practitioners of sustainability education, or a similar disipline, hold well-informed views regarding environmental and social justice issues. And that's a great thing. But we must not allow our socio-political views to inform the way we teach.


"It's now more important than ever to ensure the next generation are able to discern between the credible and the uncredible, decode the agendas of organizations and institutions, such as news outlets, political parties, governments and powerful corporations, and think independently as bright-minded, responsible and global-minded citizens."

It's easy to cross the line into advocacy without being overtly aware, as our own views and well-meaning biases can easily be passed on unquestioned. That's why 21st Century education is a real art form, which requires children to take a lead in the learning process.


The Power of Education


I've seen impassioned and well-meaning sustainability educators fall into the advocacy trap, or make scientifically unfounded statements to support their views. Indeed, I too have been guilty of falling into the advocacy trap in the past, which is what drove me to write this post in the first place! It's also why I believe sustainability education is such a delicate balancing act, and why practitioners must have a solid foundation in both the scientific and socio-political sides of the coin, to effectively faciliate sustainability education.









Additionally, it's also why education for sustainable development and global citizenship must be carefully and skillfully facilitated by trained and qualified youth educators, and why I believe this approach to learning should be at the forefront of 21st Century education globally.


As teachers and educators, we have one almighty responsibility - we're charged with changing the collective consciousness of young people to address some of the biggest issues of our time, namely sustainability and climate change. The stakes are high and we have just a few short years to build a sustainable future through the transformative power of education!


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