Literacy pedagogy and sustainability: ethical practice in neoliberal times

Year: 2013

Author: Kerkham, Lyn

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Governments in the western world influenced by neoliberal globalization have framed the teaching and the testing of literacy in ways that are in opposition to literacy and learning of local places that is at the heart of sustainability education. What could literacy pedagogy look like when local places and the environment is the object of study? How might teachers work with the idea of place? How might the complexity of teachers’ work be understood, especially for teachers at the risky edge of teaching where curriculum is not quite set or settled? These questions were explored in a study of five primary school teachers who were actively involved in Special Forever – an environmental communications project.
In this paper I present a narrative of one teacher’s place pedagogy that provides insights into the double responsibility she enacts in relation to the environment she has learned to care for, and to her students as a literacy teacher. I describe how she provides spaces within the curriculum for her Year 4 students to explore what it means to be committed as self-activating carers for their environment and to read and write the world as eco-ethical subjects. In this process I also show how a literacy teacher’s subjectivities and place pedagogies are mutually constituted in particular places and emerge in the contradictions between neoliberal literacy policies and the innovative space she creates for literacy that matters – literacy that addresses the world.