Enacting Sustainability: Balancing Community, Policy and Professionalism and the Futures of Rural Communities

Year: 2016

Author: Green, Bill, Roberts, Philip, Caffery, Jo, Downes, Natalie, Chapman, Amy

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In this paper we explore the multiple meanings of sustainability and their implications for education in, and the future of, the MDB. The broad theoretical consideration of the meaning of sustainability is grounded in a consideration of the meanings of sustainability in use in communities and schools in two case-study sites in the Murray-Darling Basin of Australia. Reinforcing the findings of the first phase of the related project, that the meanings of sustainability in use by schools and teachers are at odds with the understandings of sustainability in operation in the communities of the MDB, this paper examines how this difference is played out at the local level. Specifically, the paper draws upon the findings from two community workshops and interviews with teachers in schools in the same local communities. Organised around the principles of education for rural-regional sustainability (Green & Reid, 2004; Roberts & Downes, 2016), the paper asks ‘How can sustainability be used to bring schools and communities together?’ While rural schools play an important part in maintaining community identity by providing a focal point of community attention (Schafft & Jackson, 2010), and are often seen as playing a strong local development role (Brown & Schafft, 2011), the findings in this project suggest the relationships are not as straightforward. For instance, we found that community members showed a deep commitment to sustainability, with the meaning in use associated with a future-orientated concept linked to community sustainability. However, teachers’ meanings in use were orientated towards, on the one hand, the sustainability of the institution of the school in the community and, on the other, scientific-environmental meanings. While teachers found exposure to these broader notions of sustainability useful and relevant to their work, they ultimately returned to environmental-scientific approaches in their curriculum enactment. Here curriculum and policy pressures were cited, along with ideas that these broader approaches were not the role of schooling. Consequently, questions about the role of local schools in rural communities are raised. ReferencesBrown, D. L., & Schafft, K. A. (2011). Rural people and Communities in the 21st century: Resilience and transformation. Malden, MA: Polity Press.Green, B. & Reid, J. (2004). “Teacher Education for Rural–Regional Sustainability: Changing Agendas, Challenging Futures, Chasing Chimeras?”, Asia Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 32(3), 255–273.Roberts, P. & Downes, N. (2016). “Conflicting Messages: Sustainability and Education for Rural-Regional Sustainability”, Rural Society, 2016, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10371656.2016.1150196. Schafft, K. A. & Jackson, A. Y. [Eds.] (2010). Rural Education for the Twenty-First Century: Identity, Place and Community in a Globalizing World. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press.