Environmental literacy is an ambitious educational objective
requiring that students integrate and internalize a broad range
of values, principles, theories, facts, and skills. One of the
richest educational resources we have in higher education to support
this is our immediate surroundings--the campus.
While the link between campus operations and curricula exists
in principle, as in the Talloires Declaration, they are often
treated as separate and unrelated. This separation reflects the
traditional boundary between faculty and students on the one hand,
and staff and administrators on the other. In addition, linking
curricula and campus operations often requires using nontraditional
pedagogy, which presents a challenge for faculty who must employ
novel methods of teaching and student assessment as well as successful
coordination across administrative boundaries.
However, when these obstacles are overcome, a powerful educational
symbiosis results that enhances both environmental literacy and
institutional environmental performance.
When discussing the role of campus environmental management at
the 1995 South American Environmental Literacy Institute, a group
of Colombian faculty referred to it as the "shadow curriculum."
This is a powerful image worth reflection.
While our attention focuses on the formal curriculum (course
content and program structure) and abstract concepts and categories
surrounding sustainability, our students are learning a great
deal from the way our institutions are structured, their patterns
of consumption and production of waste, and the relationships
they have with the local, regional, and international community.
This shadow curriculum is a constant, repetitive, and often unconscious
In many cases, it is a potent force working against the very
principles of environmental literacy that we seek to engender
in our students. Think what students are learning from the shadow
curriculum: thousands of unnecessary memos and forms teach that
paper is an inexhaustible resource; windowless classrooms with
excessive and inefficient lighting that is left on throughout
the day teach that electricity is inexhaustible and benign; dining
facilities teach that food is abundant, cheap, and indifferent
to seasonal changes in climate. The structure of departments and
the requirements of disciplinary majors teach that other academic
fields have less value. Isolation from local community problems
teaches students to ignore those who are not directly relevant
to their professional advancement.
Reflecting on the values, principles, and skills taught by the
shadow curriculum exposes the contradiction between theories and
concepts of sustainable development and institutional realities.
Clearly, environmental literacy must encompass ethical norms of
responsibility as well as an understanding of the socioeconomic
and ecological consequences of individual and collective behavior.
But in many cases our institutional norms are reinforcing narrowly
bounded responsibility, limited to individual academic success
and advancement. In terms of campus ecology, students are learning
that the consequences of their behavior, such as purchasing and
waste management, are someone else's responsibility.
Without an understanding of the consequences of their behavior,
what will drive students to take responsibility for those consequences?
And beyond that, where will they acquire the skills to change
institutional norms, policies, and practices? This is the point
where we can take advantage of the campus as a learning laboratory.
Our campuses are overflowing with examples of ecologically irrational
practices that are often economically and socially unsound as
well. By identifying and analyzing those examples, formulating
responses, and participating in their implementation, students
are empowered and emboldened to take on issues of institutional
While the idea of the shadow curriculum is not new (educators
have been referring to the "hidden curriculum" for some
time), its relevance to environmental literacy adds greater impetus
to institutional ecology and other components of the Talloires
By calling our attention to the pedagogical influence of our
institutional structures and operations, we link our core educational
mission to the daily life of our institutions and truly engender
responsible citizenship in our graduates.
RETURN TO TOP