S. Senthil Kumar
Assistant Professor of English
Narayanaguru College of Engineering
People’s unrest in Syria, Egypt, and the Middle East indicate that we live in critical times. Our world faces serious global issues of terrorism, ethnic conflicts, social inequality, global warming, economic slowdown, etc. The Occupy Wall Street movement is evidence enough to prove that people around the world are becoming less and less tolerant towards injustice of any kind. Anna Hazare’s movement for a strong Lokpal Bill caught the attention of the entire nation and the message is loud and clear: we are living in a global village and no one is immune to these global issues. There is a need to empower learners with the knowledge, skills, and commitment required to solve global issues. Global education can transform learners into empowered global citizens. Global education is defined as “education which promotes the knowledge, attitudes and skills relevant to living responsibly in a multicultural, interdependent world” (Fisher and Hicks, 8). Another definition states that “global education consists of efforts to bring about changes in the content, methods, and social context of education in order to better prepare students for citizenship in a global age” (Kniep, 15).
Importance of Global Environmental Ethics
In tune to what is happening around the world, it is imperative that we develop the discipline of global environmental ethics and create awareness on how to treat the nonhuman world and embed a biocentric or ecocentric moral sensibility. In so doing we should also try to find answer for the question whether Earth is turning out to be a hostile world for nonhuman animals and whether we are becoming more and more anthropocentric. According to Wikipedia, anthropocentrism describes the tendency for human beings to regard themselves as the central and most significant entities in the universe, or the assessment of reality through an exclusively human perspective. The superiority of the Human Self has no doubt put the human race in the path of progress. But is it not prudent now to check our own methods and curb our selfish instincts to progress at the cost of environment. What we fail to understand or may be selectively ignore is that Earth is also home to nonhuman animals and there is a strong need to protect the ecosystems for the human race to survive. We should not forget that all this started with survival in mind and there was a peaceful coexistence then. Now man exhibits complete dominance and utter disregard to bio-diversity. If we don’t mend our ways now, we should prepare ourselves to go through another evolutionary cycle for the humankind to reemerge in a different form in Planet Earth or may be in some other planet as fantasized by many fiction writers. It is not my objective to be pessimistic or archaic, but we should understand that environmentalists are not fiction writers and they mean what they say.
Role of English Language Teacher in Environmental Messaging
My attempt here is to define and analyze the role of the English language teacher and the English language curriculum in environmental messaging. It is often assumed that the science of climate change, global warming and other environment issues speaks for itself. The attempt was therefore to publish good science and scientific data on these threatening issues and it was expected to lead to a collective consciousness demanding action on climate warming. Now it is realized that it was a failed attempt. One main problem was the failure to connect with people on a personal level. Thinking about the environment is not just about climate or wild nature; it is about human nature, human experience, the intersection of nature and culture, how we interact with one another, etc. These are things squarely in the domain of the social sciences and humanities. In order for society to connect with contemporary environmental issues, it is critical that there is a comprehensive approach developed with the support of all those in the domain of humanities. The language teacher, I believe, should play a key role in connecting with the younger population and effectively engage them in thinking about all environment related issues and also motivate them to critically think about solutions and mechanisms that could alleviate the problems in hand.
The English Language Teacher and English Language Curriculum have a role to play in realizing the objectives for environmental education. Creating awareness is not just about presenting all facts and figures; it requires motivational awareness to sow the seeds of the ecological issues in the minds of the younger generation. The primary aim of incorporating environmental education into the English classroom is, to raise students’ awareness of global environmental crises. Knowledge of environmental protection is at the core of environmental education and should be done with any age group (be it at the nursery, primary, secondary, higher secondary or higher education levels), with any linguistic rules and language specifics like vocabulary, grammatical rules, syntax, semantics and discourse of the target language. Thus, teaching English as a second or foreign language can emphasize the language skills and environmental issues in order to raise awareness about global issues like environmental degradation. Teachers of English should facilitate thorough dissemination of knowledge on global environmental issues. Also, today there is evident lack of social and environmental values. It is our responsibility to build collectively shared beliefs, ideology and values related to environment. From the environmentalist point of view in particular, the last objective, participation, is the most important one, as all the other objectives come to nothing if people do not translate their awareness, knowledge, attitudes, skills and evaluative ability into action.
During the last hundred years, our society has moved away from natural learning environments and natural learning methods to classrooms. The following poem, “The Tables Turned”, written by William Wordsworth in the year 1798 perfectly echoes the need of the hour:
UP! up! my Friend, and quit your books;
Or surely you'll grow double:
Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks;
Why all this toil and trouble?
The sun, above the mountain's head,
A freshening lustre mellow
Through all the long green fields has spread,
His first sweet evening yellow.
Books! 'tis a dull and endless strife:
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music! on my life,
There's more of wisdom in it.
And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
He, too, is no mean preacher:
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher.
She has a world of ready wealth,
Our minds and hearts to bless--
Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
Truth breathed by cheerfulness.
One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.
Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:--
We murder to dissect.
Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.
These lines answer those people who question the role of English language teachers in environmental education. English teachers have to explore the fields of bio-diversity, environmental sustainability, global warming, energy conservation, etc. and also read literature based on these topics. We can find our own innovative ways of integrating environment specific literature into our teaching-learning process. We will soon discover a new excitement in our classes and a new mission in our teaching. This also enables us to approach global issues and world topics more confidently, and can draw from a wider variety of teaching activities, techniques, and resources for our content-based classes. To enhance student learning further, we have to make classroom experiences more productive and also create opportunities for students to devote more of their time outside the classroom to educationally purposeful activities. The result is greater student motivation, increased global awareness, and enhanced language learning.
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