experiential education, ecopedagogy, and service learning

Intersection of Feminist Pedagogy and Experiential Education, Ecopedagogy, and Service Learning

Feminist pedagogy involves the examination of power, holistic learning and the integration of dichotomies, issues of diversity, and social change (Kimmel, 1999). These key principles of feminist pedagogy may be found and incorporated into a variety of topics, including experiential education, ecopedagogy, and service learning. Williams and McKenna (2002) assert that the intersection of feminist pedagogy and the subtopics of experiential education, ecopedagogy, and service learning may be found in the affirmation of the personal, the personal made political, and a call to action (p. 151). Through engagement in the philosophies and methodologies of these subtopics and corresponding critical reflection, teachers, students, and citizens may participate in critical discussion centered around the exploration of subject positioning, identity as construction, and internal and external transformation (p. 151).

Within a framework of critical post-structural feminist pedagogy (see Villaverde, 2008, pp. 128-136), the following definitions of these subtopics may apply:

  • Experiential Education: A philosophy and methodology in which educators purposefully engage with learners in direct experience and focused reflection in order to increase knowledge, develop skills, and clarify values. (Association for Experiential Education, 2010, para. 3)
  • Ecopedagogy: A body of educational ideas and practices that aim to realize earth justice, peace, and flourishing through sustainable social and cultural relations that challenge the political, economic, and cultural status quo and that are learned from the standpoints of the oppressed. (Ecopedagogy Association International, 2008)
  • Service Learning: A teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities. (Learn and Serve America’s National Service-Learning Clearinghouse, 2004, para. 1)

While experiential education, ecopedagogy, and service learning may serve to address the activism of feminist pedagogy, these are not cure-alls for every social issue or catch-alls for every educational focus (Villaverde, 2008, pp. 138-139). With that said, these philosophies and methodologies offer opportunities to remove some of the boundaries of the learning environment, creating spaces that bring learning, critical discourse, and action together.

Association for Experiential Education. (2010). What is experiential education? Retrieved from http://www.aee.org/about/whatIsEE.

Ecopedagogy Association International. (2008). General principles. Retrieved from http://ecopedagogy.org/index-1.html.

Kimmel, E. (1999). Feminist teaching, and emergent practice. In S. N. Davis, M. Crawford, & J. Sebrechts (Eds.), Coming into her own: Educational success in girls and women (pp. 57-75). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Learn and Serve America’s National Service-Learning Clearinghouse. (2004). What is service-learning? Retrieved from http://www.servicelearning.org/what_is_service-learning/service-learning_is.

Villaverde, L. E. (2008). Feminist theories and education. New York, NY: Peter Lang Pub.

Williams, T., & McKenna, E. (2002). Negotiating subject positions in a service-learning context: Toward a feminist critique of experiential education. In A. A. Macdonald & S. Sanchez-Casal (Eds.), Twenty-First Century feminist classrooms: Pedagogies of identity and difference (pp. 135-154). New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Pedagogical Enactments

Online Education

I recently read two book chapters from which I enacted feminist pedagogy during the last few weeks. I selected the first chapter, Chapter Five of the Twenty-First Century Feminist Classrooms: Pedagogies of Identify and Difference text, “Negotiating Subject Positions in a Service-Learning Context: Toward a Feminist Critique of Experiential Learning” by Williams & McKenna (2002), due to its relationship to the subtopics: ecopedagogy, service learning, and experiential education. I found this text to be quite informative regarding the intersection of feminist pedagogy and experiential education/service learning in particular. Williams and McKenna (2002) have defined three key principles of feminist pedagogy that are relevant to experiential education: (1) affirmation of the personal, (2) the personal made political, and (3) a call to action (p. 151). In order to put these principles into practice, the students and the teacher need to engage in critical discussion and exploration of subject positioning, identity as construction, and internal and external transformation (p. 151). While I do not currently teach any courses with a service learning component to them, I took the recent weeks to implement more of the key principles into an online course that I am currently facilitating.

The course that I teach is entitled Child and Adolescent Development, which means that, as expected, the course is highly developmental and theoretical. Also, because I facilitate this course at another institution, I am required to “adhere to the curriculum developed by the College of Education.” This means that I have little flexibility in what content is taught and how it is taught in many circumstances. While I have always tried to infuse some of this flexibility into the course by providing critical questions to challenge the students to think beyond their typical experiences, I often had felt stymied regarding the students’ internship experiences (another faculty member oversees the internship component of the course).

Within recent weeks, I have tried to challenge the students in this course to participate in an experiential opportunity as an optional component of a university-required assignment. I encouraged the students to complete the required assignment away from their current internship settings. For some, this meant leaving their rather-affluent school settings and venturing to a less well-resourced school. For others, this meant leaving the school grounds altogether and visiting students’ neighborhoods, churches, community centers, playgrounds, etc. I was excited to see that as an optional portion of the assignment, most of the students took advantage of the opportunity.

While in these settings, the students were asked to talk with the children/adolescents within the communities about their concerns and desires and their daily living. Listening to the needs of the community members, the students were then charged with developing a plan to address these concerns with the children/adolescents. The students’ plans have included offering their time at the local soup kitchen, helping to clean and repair a community playground, developing a mobile library, etc. While the students are in the early stages of this optional experiential opportunity, the critical engagement in class discussions has already increased dramatically, with students taking a less one-size-fits-all approach to child and adolescent development.

While involvement within these communities provides the students with opportunities to look beyond their own experiences and recognize the perspectives of others, the students may or may not get to a place of critically analyzing their own understandings of the world based on their individual life experiences without engaging them in critical discussion grounded in feminist pedagogy (see Williams & McKenna, 2002). As Williams and McKenna (2002) have mentioned, educators run the risk of assisting students in reaffirming stereotypes and reinforcing dualisms if students are not engaged in discussions that include multiple subject positions, foregrounding silence and authority, and the development of voice (which students seem to develop more quickly due to the security of not having to “face” the other members of the course in the online environment—this is not without its detriments) (p. 144-150).

In order to begin these discussions, I drew on the second reading: Chapter Four of Twenty-First Century Feminist Classrooms: Pedagogies of Identity and Difference, Macdonald’s (2002) “Feminist Pedagogy and the Appeal to Epistemic Privilege.” In this chapter, Macdonald (2002) has looked at the connection between feminist pedagogy, epistemic privilege, and experiential learning, justifying the need for a pedagogy of student/personal experience that also examines the inherent privilege brought into discussions by way of students’ experiences, regardless of whether or not students have been marginalized or oppressed. While recognizing that one can only truly speak to and critically analyze their own experiences, Macdonald has asserted the need for students to serve as the teachers, providing insights from their varied experiences…experiences that vary between and within cultures. Through feminist pedagogy, participatory learning, activism, critical thinking, and the validation of personal experience are encouraged; however, one must be cautious of allowing one person’s experience to speak for all from given social structures, such as races, classes, ethnicities, genders, sexualities, etc. (Macdonald, 2002, p. 117).  In order to recognize the ways that “knowledge is collectively produced and mediated by experience and identity,” Macdonald (2002) has suggested the use of “communities of meaning” (p. 120).

To provide this type of “epistemic framework” (Macdonald, 2002, p. 117), I encouraged students to group themselves into shifting “communities of meaning” to carry out discussions. While group assignments are a required part of the Child and Adolescent Development course, the students’ engagement in critical discourse has appeared to increase through these additional small- and whole-group discussions (which fit into the predetermined “debates” assignments of the course). The students change groups each week, reorganizing themselves into new “communities of meaning,” which enables them to continue to question and rethink their perspectives and experiences. (The first “communities of meaning” were organized following discussion regarding the students’ “autobiography” assignment.) These discussions are also beginning to include challenges of the status quo. Students are starting to question some of the theories that are treated as Truth in many classrooms. They are also finding themselves having higher expectations for their own students in their internship placements. As a part of these increased expectations, many of the university students are teaching more democratically, helping the students feel empowered to share their experiences and to question the ways that they have been “programmed” to view the world. While the “communities of meaning” have only been in place for a few weeks, I am excited by the shift within this course and look forward to witnessing the students’ (and my own) continued evolution as the course proceeds.

Macdonald, A. A. (2002). Feminist pedagogy and the appeal to epistemic privilege. In A. A. Macdonald & S. Sanchez-Casal (Eds.), Twenty-First Century feminist classrooms: Pedagogies of identity and difference (pp. 135-154). New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Williams, T., & McKenna, E. (2002). Negotiating subject positions in a service-learning context: Toward a feminist critique of experiential education. In A. A. Macdonald & S. Sanchez-Casal (Eds.), Twenty-First Century feminist classrooms: Pedagogies of identity and difference (pp. 135-154). New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

~Jennifer Tomon

K-12 Education

I enjoyed reading Chapter 11 of The Routledge Falmer Reader in Gender and Education, Wright, Weekes and McLaughlin’s (1999) “Gender-Blind Racism in the Experience of Schooling and Identity Formation”, because school discipline has been heavily racialized in several of the schools that I serve.

My time spent in the schools last week consists of me preparing students to re-take their End-of-Grade (EOG) assessments and proctoring the assessments as well. One particular school serves 49.0% Caucasian students, 32.0% African American students and 19.0% Hispanic students.

I noticed on Monday of last week that 28 out of the 31 students that were assigned to me for EOG remediation were African American students.  Twenty-one these students were African American males and seven African American females.  One Caucasian male student and 2 Hispanic male students were also present in the class.

I spent 3 days remediating these students from 9:00am to 2:00pm each day.  I had the opportunity of getting to know the students very well during that time.  I found out on the first day that most of these students were suspended a lot during the school year due to dress code violation, disrespectful behavior and fighting.  Most of the young men stated that they believed that race was frequently a factor in how they were dealt with by their teachers and school administrators. One student stated that “teachers never let you forget that you are Black.”  Another student stated that “the minute something goes wrong at the school, the first people that get looked at are all the Black boys”.

According to Wright, Weekes, and McGlaughlin (1999, p. 151), “the varying nature of these responses to schooling by racialized pupils needs to be explored. This will then provide a wider picture of black responses to the issue of school sanction and exclusion.”  After finding out that most of the remediation classes consisted of African American male students, I met with the principal to convey the students’ concerns.  The young Caucasian male principal informed me of the “new exclusion policy” (Wright, et al) introduced to the school this year that had a great effect on the suspension of black boys in the school. The district mandated that all schools implement a dress code policy that would decrease the colors and paraphernalia choices associated with gangs. It appears as though that this “school was also under local authority control” (Wright, et al).  Because of my science background and great working relationship with the principal, I told him that when we see a problem as a serious threat, we don’t wait until we have scientific proof about the solutions.  We start experiments and try to figure out what works and how to refine our efforts.

I met with the principal on the second day to analyze discipline data (students and teachers) and the handbook in order to make positive changes for “all” students for the next school year.   It was obvious that majority of the discipline referrals were written by 11 teachers, specifically Caucasian male teachers.  The principal stated that he received multiply complaints from these teachers throughout the year and some parents and students felt as though these teachers were abusing their “teacher power” (Wright, et al) and the complaints “signified a symbolic confrontation between the racialized background of the pupil and the teachers” (Wright, et al.).

The principal noted that 4 of the teachers will not return next school year due to retirement and transferring to other schools within the district.  We agreed that replacing most of these teachers with minority teachers would hopefully eliminate as much as possible “discipline and school exclusion becoming racialized” (Wright, et al.).  I think it is important for schools to hire a staff that reflects the demographics of the student population.  We also agreed that providing staff development training such as; Discipline with Dignity and Ruby Payne training may assist the staff with an understanding of the political nature of language in schools, and how black males make sense of schooling in an environment that many of them feel is inherently unjust.  I am planning to work with the principal throughout the summer to continue to assist with analyzing discipline and school mandates to implement potential interventions that can help improve the educational aspiration and life chances of “all” students, especially the black males.

Some may ask, “How do we know that race plays a factor in examining the disenfranchisement of black males?”  It goes without stating that important issues such as class, gender, home and community environments, parental education and involvement, disabilities, language, ethnicity, and culture all play important roles in access to education in this country.  However, race still remains one of the least understood, yet most provocative and divisive elements of our society.  All too often black males have been caught in a web of stereotyped notions of race and gender that place them at considerable disadvantages in schools.   If race and racism are social constructs that can be deconstructed, particularly within the context of education, educators must be informed by reliable research that documents where, how, and why race-related problems persist in schools.  Educators should be careful to not underestimate the ability of black males, or any other group of students, to name their experiences or question the reality of their accounts, or to dismiss their notions of how their schooling experiences can be improved.

Wright, Weekes and McGlaughlin, (1999). Gender-Blind Racism in The Experience of Schooling and Identity Formation.  In M. Arnot & M. Mac an Ghaill (Eds.), The RoutledgeFalmer reader in gender and education, pp. 147-158. New York, NY: Routledge.

~Wendy Carpenter

Dating with a Developing Feminist Mindset

During my time in this course, I’ve been making efforts to apply lessons to my facilitation while also trying to find the pedagogical opportunities outside of the educational environment. I began to wonder, with increasing feminist knowledge, how does one date while assessing the level of their potential partner’s awareness, willingness to accept everyone for who they choose to be, and their viewpoints on gender, sexuality, race, etc? I found Chapter 16 of the The RoutledgeFalmer Reader in Gender and Education interesting. Referring to Giddens, “Feminism has prompted many women, he argues, to explore the potentialities of the “pure relationship,” a relationship of sexual and emotional equality which is explosive in its connotations for pre-existing forms of gender power.” (McLeod, p. 225)

Taking this thought and putting it into action, I had a date this past weekend where I wanted to gain insight on my date’s thought process as it related to identity, race, and gender. I told her about our class, but didn’t tell her she was part of my pedagogical enactment. We spoke about a few of the topics we had in class as related the fluidity of identity, our thoughts on someone who is born biologically a woman, but resonates better as a guy. We got into a conversation about children and what do to in order to prepare for your child. (My sister is pregnant with her second child. That’s how we got into children)

Part of me feels that she was impressed that a guy was having a conversation about these topics and the other part of me feels that she was taken back a bit by these topics on a first date. I guess I’ll know her true thoughts if we go out again.

Prior to every date I’ve had since moving to Greensboro, I’ve been told about the southernly gentleman thing to do is pay for the entire date. Prior I couldn’t do that because I felt that it wasn’t correct. I feel that we are sharing an experience together. Therefore, we should share the bill as well. So, I started to observe how my date approached the check when it came. She did offer, which I was happy about. I don’t want to over analyze one date, but I wonder if a girl expects the guy to pay for everything then what type of gender roles does she expect during the relationship.  The same can be analyzed if the guy insisted on paying for everything.

I am recognizing more that these conversations are necessary in everyday life. I’ve had instances where I brought feminist theory into conversations with other people and with each conversation I have the potential to impact redescription, either of the one I’m talking with or with myself. “Theory often affords a certain way of thinking that helps to frame the world, self, and others.” (Villaverde, p. 52) She continues by saying, “Feminist theories do this by exposing gender inequity, politics, and rights, helping us to rethink interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships of power.” In my life, more conversations need to be had bringing theory into discussion. I’ll also see the result of my conversation during my date if we end up going out again.

Arnot, M. and Mac an Ghaill, M. (2006) The Routledge Falmer Reader in Gender & Education. p. 225. NY: Routeledge Press.

Villaverde, L., E. (2008). Feminist Theories and Education. p. 52. NY: Peter Lang Publishing.

~Paul Harmelin

The Marginalization of Faculty of Color

After reading Chapter 7 of Twenty-First-Century Feminist Classrooms this week, I began reflecting on my own personal agency as a “faculty member of color”.  Of course this is a topic that according to Dr. Villaverde (2008) is an example of engaging in dangerous dialogue because it is dealing with issues that are controversial and used to maintain social control by the dominant discourse.  Having the courage to speak out about the inequities and social injustices that permeates the work place sometimes results in academic suicide.  Valle (2002) says that questioning the patriarchal Eurocentric views of one’s colleagues can cause negative consequences and then you are perceived as “oppositional”.

My pedagogical enactment took place this weekend at our high school graduation.  A number of staff members have been affected by the RIF (reduction in force) process and it has been difficult to know what to say to those members who are not returning next year.  One of my colleagues approached me and said that some people were meeting at Chili’s after the ceremony and invited me to come. This was a colleague who had been riffed.  Well the principal sent out an invitation earlier in the week inviting staff to a cookout at another staff member’s home.  I had already replied to that invitation that I would attend.  When I tried to explain that I had already accepted that invitation, the riffed employee who is also a faculty member of color replied, “Oh, I forget you are a company girl”.  That statement bothered me during the entire ceremony and I really didn’t know what to make of it.  Was the riffed employee angry about the situation, or was she just attempting to call me out?  While I have no problem to admitting to being a team player and doing what is right for the students, I hadn’t really thought of myself as a “company girl”.  Usually because I am a faculty member of color, I feel left out of company decisions and the company picnic scene, however, this year I planned to go because of the many changes that our school experienced.  I guess I hoped to find some unity since we were going to be a much smaller staff. 

I decided to go by Chili’s first for a drink.  Deep down I didn’t want the perception that the employee stated to be true.  Somehow it seemed negative.  This employee and I have gone out to eat together before with other colleagues so it became important to me to accept her invitation.  I didn’t tell her I was stopping by I just went straight there from the ceremony.  My plan was to spend an hour there and then to go on to the staff cookout.  At Chili’s, first of all, only two other people showed up beside the riffed employee and me.   Maybe we were the only ones invited I don’t know, but I was glad that I decided to go because later I could compare the interactions that I had at the two events.  At Chili’s, of course the conversation turned to the situation of the employee being riffed and her speculating on the many reasons why.  There I felt confident and relaxed because everyone present worked in the classroom and we shared commonalities.  I could easily engage in the conversation because there was no fear of reprisals.  According to Valle (2002) faculty members of color’s social consciousness is different because we identify with our respective ethnic group and want to help in some way.

At the staff cookout the atmosphere was very different.   I was the only faculty member of color there.  So my confidence and agency levels changed somewhat as a sense of alienation set in because the status quo were engaging in dialogue that clearly marginalized my presence.  Even though our staff is made up of the dominant European American culture, it is important that feminist pedagogy is used to create political communities that restructure existing relations of power in academia (Valle, 2002).  There was a marked difference in my agency as I moved between these two different groups of educators.  The fear of reprisal with this group was more evident and I slowly began to mingle and converse with a few people.  This started me to think about the students of color we serve and how they are silenced by the dominant pedagogy that ignores their cultures and values.  I wondered if they feel the uneasiness of moving between the dominate culture. 

If we are to make a difference in the lives of students, we must also make a difference in the lives of our staff members.  The alienation and separateness that exists between staff continues in our classrooms everyday as we work with students.  We have to find a way to embrace each other through better communication and continue to address these complex conditions.

Valle, M.  (2002).  Antiracist pedagogy and concientizacion:  A Latina professor’s struggle.  (Eds.)  Macdonald, A. & Sanchez-Casal, S.  Twenty-first-century feminist classrooms:  Pedagogies of identity and difference.  New York, NY:  Palgrave MacMillan Publishers.

Villaverde, L.  (2008).  Feminist theories and education.  New York, NY:  Peter Lang Publishing.

                                                                                                ~Lorayne Brewer

Critical Syntheses

Experiential Education as Transformation

Imagine spending your afternoons volunteering at the local women’s shelter as part of the learning experience of a service learning course. As part of this experience, you have dialogue with the families at the shelter about their needs and how your time might best be utilized according to these needs. You work alongside the staff and families at the center to begin a composting project and a job placement project.

In the class that corresponds with this service learning experience, you share updates from your placement and relate some of your observations to your lived experiences and the critical dialogue in the class surrounding issues of social justice. You share with the class from the perspectives of some of the women at the shelter. The class, facilitated by the instructor who acts as another student, being both a teacher and learner, engages you in a discussion of power and the hegemony that keeps these women silenced. You also make the connection between the silencing of these women and the domination of the environment and how the projects at the shelter are serving to preserve and affirm the beauty of each. Most members of the class connect your experiences and observations to their experiences at their various placements, representing a wide variety of issues and services and including people from a variety of racial, ethnic, age, gender, and economic groups.

One student remains silent, and this silence is recognized by the instructor. The student shares that he is frustrated by the injustice facing “his people” and connects his feelings of frustration to his lived experience as a person of color. While his personal experience is affirmed, he is also challenged by another student of the same race, who has a much different perspective, to consider that not all members of his race share similar experiences. The class is encouraged to reflect on the various influences that have shaped one’s perspectives and how these perspectives may shift through one’s interactions within the service learning placements, while being cautious not to generalize and stereotype.

To conclude the class, you divide into this week’s “communities of meaning” to further discuss the implications of what has been reflected in the whole-group discussions. This group presents a perspective that differs slightly from the previous “community of meaning,” and you begin to think critically about your own assumptions and previous lack of awareness about certain issues of social justice. As part of the night’s homework, you journal about your change in thinking and how this internal shift is affecting your external actions. You also reflect on how this learning experience has done more to enact change than any previous volunteerism and community service in which you have participated.

The preceding scenario of a service learning experience, grounded in the philosophy of experiential education and including some principles of ecopedagogy, represents the possibility for awareness, change, and activism that may be enacted through the integration of feminist pedagogy and experiential education, ecopedagogy, and service learning. If feminist pedagogy emphasizes “the need for student voice, community, collaboration, democracy, empowerment, action, struggle, consciousness raising, and critique” (Villaverde, 2008, p. 121), then experiential education, ecopedagogy, and service learning (heretofore referred to by the umbrella term “experiential education”) seem like logical outcomes of the enactment of feminist pedagogy in academic and non-academic curricula. As Williams and McKenna (2002) assert, feminist pedagogy and experiential education have coincided historically through the “authority of experience” and by challenging “dualism” (p. 137). Through the use of democratic leadership (with instructor and students/participants acting as both teachers and learners) and shared decision-making within the learning experiences and environments created according to the philosophies and methodologies of experiential education, spaces can be created for critical reflection on issues of power through the inclusion of interaction, participation, and diversification (Enns & Forrest, 2005). Additionally, experiential education can provide opportunities for transformative and holistic learning and knowledge formation based on the integration and critical analysis of personal thoughts and feelings and written texts and the text of “experience” (Enns & Forrest, 2005; Williams & McKenna, 2002).

Even though issues of diversity are addressed throughout the examination of power and holistic learning principles, Enns and Forrest (2005) have noted that critical analysis of the isms (i.e. racism, sexism, classism, ageism, and ableism) through experiential activities is necessary in order to examine assumptions and to learn about and appreciate the experiences and perspectives of others, especially groups that typically have been silenced or oppressed (pp. 14-15). Williams and McKenna (2002) have suggested that feminist pedagogy legitimizes personal experience and that this becomes concrete in a service learning class (p. 141). As opposed to the “banking concept” described by Freire (1972), feminist pedagogy and experiential education challenge the notion that knowledge is static and objective, instead seeking critical dialogue that considers the personal and political (Williams & McKenna, 2002, p. 141). By providing experiential learning opportunities within the framework of feminist pedagogy, individuals may be provided with opportunities to move beyond their own experiences, see life through others’ perspectives, and think critically about how individuals have understood their own lives (p. 142). This internal transformation, while caused by external service and subsequent critical dialogue, may also lead to an additional “call to action” (p. 151).

While the inclusion of experiential education seems to be an instrumental part of feminist pedagogy, one must be cautious of certain challenges presented by the inclusion of experiential education in educational contexts. First, the learning environment may not be confined to a classroom and a shift must occur regarding the expectations for the delivery of information, the construction of knowledge, and the grading of participation and demonstration of knowledge (Williams & McKenna, 2002, p. 139). Additionally, one must avoid reinforcing stereotypes and perpetuating existing dualisms (p. 139). Without critical reflection regarding the selection of diverse/representative service learning placements and without critical discussion about the experiences, observations, and connections made by the students/participants within their placements, it can be easy to generalize and stereotype groups of people. Furthermore, examination of silence and epistemic privilege is essential in order to recognize the differing perspectives and experiences of others and to scrutinize the influences that have shaped individual perspectives and the lenses through which individuals view the world (Macdonald, 2002).

In order to address some of these challenges, an instructor utilizing experiential education and feminist pedagogy may seek to give voice to students through journaling, autobiographies, creative writing assignments, storytelling and dramatic enactments, and the use of art, media, and various genres of written text (Enns & Forrest, 2005; Williams & McKenna, 2002). For example, one might use the poem “Oil” by Nordette Adams (2010), inspired by the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, to address current environmental and social justice issues according to the principles of ecopedagogy. Like the poem, the viewing of the following video (see Vass, 2010), the performance of the poem “Who Are the Owner of Oil?” by a man from Jamaica, may serve to initiate conversation about the issues of power, domination, and oppression inherent in the “ownership” of resources:

Some of the challenges of incorporating experiential education into an educational setting may also be addressed through the foregrounding of silence and authority, the examination of subject positioning and identity construction, and the reflection on internal and external transformation within whole-group and small-group discussion (Macdonald, 2002; Williams & McKenna, 2002, pp. 148-151). By utilizing various shifting “communities of meaning” defined by social, political, and cultural factors (to name a few), students may be afforded authority at various times through the sharing of similar and dissimilar perspectives based on “shared experiences, ways of understanding the world, and political choices” (Sanchez-Casal & Macdonald, 2002, pp. 10-14). It is through these critical projects and discussions that we take experiential education beyond community service and hands-on activities to opportunities for critical reflection, challenge, discovery and empowerment of voice, and transcendent change.

Programs like Outward Bound, Ocean Classroom, and Play for Peace take experiential education beyond the classroom walls to demonstrate how feminist pedagogy may be implemented beyond an academic curriculum. Where might experiential education fit in your own life? Are service learning programs within your local schools and organizations operating according to the tenants of feminist pedagogy? With a large number of students participating in community service activities, where are the opportunities to extend these experiences beyond resume builders to occasions for critical reflection of self and society? As you continue your own journey within this life, I encourage you to “experience” life while questioning how your own background, encounters, and relationships—shaped by hegemony and social constructs—have “painted” your experiences.

Adams, N. (2010). Oil. Retrieved from http://bigsole.blogspot.com/2010/05/oil-spill-spilling-poetry.html

Enns, C. Z., & Forrest, L. M. (2005). Toward defining and integrating multicultural and feminist pedagogies. In C. Z. Enns & A. L. Sinacore (Eds.), Teaching and social justice: Integrating multicultural and feminist theories in the classroom (pp. 3-23). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Freire, P. (1972). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, NY: Herder.

Macdonald, A. A. (2002). Feminist pedagogy and the appeal to epistemic privilege. In A. A. Macdonald & S. Sanchez-Casal (Eds.), Twenty-First Century feminist classrooms: Pedagogies of identity and difference (pp. 135-154). New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Sanchez-Casal, S., & Macdonald, A. A. (2002). Feminist reflections on the pedagogical relevance of identity. In A. A. Macdonald & S. Sanchez-Casal (Eds.), Twenty-First Century feminist classrooms: Pedagogies of identity and difference (pp. 135-154). New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Vass, J. “JVCdude” (Producer). (2010, April 29). Gulf coast braced for environmental damage . Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n4geWex0hMw&feature=related

Villaverde, L. E. (2008). Feminist theories and education. New York, NY: Peter Lang Pub.

Williams, T., & McKenna, E. (2002). Negotiating subject positions in a service-learning context: Toward a feminist critique of experiential education. In A. A. Macdonald & S. Sanchez-Casal (Eds.), Twenty-First Century feminist classrooms: Pedagogies of identity and difference (pp. 135-154). New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

~Jennifer Tomon


 Everyone Has a Story to Tell

Williams & McKenna (2002) vigorously argue that feminist pedagogy is fluid and plural and that the knowledge derived emerges from everyone’s own position and purpose.  It is not only fluid but interactive and transformative as it is grounded in experiential and service-learning classrooms.  Feminist pedagogy influences the experiential learning which occurs with an individual who experiences a change in feelings or judgment based on something happening in their life.  In addition, experiential learning rests within the student and does not necessarily require a teacher (Iten, 1999).  This is true because experiential learning has to do with the consciousness of the student as they experience feelings, judgments and reach their own conclusions about certain events. 

Feminist pedagogy is an integral part of experiential learning, service learning and ecopedagogy.  We already know that experiential learning is what someone encounters during an event or happening.  Service learning is helpful as well in tackling regular teaching methods by using community service as an alternative venue in teaching and learning.  Derived from the experiential education theories of John Dewey and pioneered in the 1960s and “70s as a learning model, the method is now used in elementary and secondary schools as well as institutions of higher learning around the nation (Novek, 1999).  It has proven to be an effective tool in building bridges between and forging relationships with students, communities and educators.  Ecopedagogy is one of the end products of what experiential learning and service learning can produce.  While the environmental movement over the past few years has seen some improvements there are still several crises that we are confronted with including the gulf oil spill that is currently destroying the ecological system.  Kahn (2008) reports that sustainable development seems less likely as the earth’s vital signs are diminishing as the stress that humans have caused on the planet has placed the earth on the intensive care list.  If we are to attain sustainable development now is the time to raise ethical awareness, values and attitudes through ecopedagogy. 

As I started thinking about how feminist theory interacted and affected experiential learning, service learning and ecopedagogy, I began to equate it with storytelling.  This idea came to me because everyone has a story to tell.  Not everyone is a great or famous writer but if you have lived on this earth you have a story to tell.  To me that is how I began to connect these four elements and thought about how to make them meaningful.  In a story there are certain elements such as the exposition (background information), the rising action, the climax, the failing action and the resolution.  The exposition gives the reader the necessary information he/she needs to understand the characters in the story and it includes the setting and any information to get you interested in reading the story.  I equated this to feminist pedagogy because this is where one’s consciousness is raised to be interested in what is going on in their environment inside or outside of the classroom.  It is responsible for creating an atmosphere for conversations and exchanging of information.  Our identities and political awareness is formed in feminist pedagogy. 

The next element of a story is the rising action.  It is here that events occur and plot(s) to the story are discovered.  I imagine that this is a place for experiential learning.  It is through experiential learning that one undergoes a change as they encounter new things, feelings, judgments and awareness is raised.  Here we learn to be aware of others who are different from us and begin to understand their cultures and values.  The rising action is important because it helps to prepare us for the next element which is the climax.  Using these elements as a metaphor improved my understanding of how feminist pedagogy interacts and becomes transformative to experiential learning, service learning and ecopedagogy. 

The climax of the story is the highest point or action in the story.  I equated this with activism, transformation and performance with this element.  Here we are moved through our experiential learning to the point to take action to right what has been wrong or at least commit to help improve on some of the concerns in society.  Some areas of growth that Villaverde (2008) comment on as a benefit despite political pressure is the development of women’s and gender studies, African American studies, ethnic studies, queer studies, interdisciplinary studies, cultural studies and other programs that focus on cultivating a critical awareness around politics of identity and power.  Performance validates the person’s transformation in feminist pedagogy because not only has the student heard and absorbed the experiential learning but he/she chooses to act upon it as well.

The next story element is the falling action.  Here the story takes a turn to bring about closure and drawing conclusions about the events taken place.  Service learning is the epitome of this element because this is where you “put your money where your mouth is”.  Villaverde (2008) states that service learning is a form of education that requires active engagement in social issues through structured reflection, reciprocal relationships between the learner and the learned, critical questions, and problem solving of the project and its outcomes.  Here again, it is the student taking action and not just resting on what he/she has heard.    The most successful service learning experiences are those where participants have the courage to truly and critically question power, privilege, justice, and democracy around issues of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, ability, special needs, language, and a host of other social issues defining who we are in the larger civic context (Villaverde, 2008).

The final story element is the resolution.  This is the “so what” and the “what now” part of the story where we think about what will we walk away with from our experiences.   While there are several things that can be the “so what” I choose to focus on ecopedagogy here because it is one that from the readings, the researchers seem to have a concluding message.  The earth is in critical need of some attention in order to help preserve our very existence.  This is not a new topic it has been talked about and written about for decades.  Yet, we have still chosen to ignore these warning signs.   So, how will our story end?  Will we step up and take action and responsibility to do what we know is right to do or will we choose to continue to bury our heads in the sand and wait for the destruction of the world?  I would like to close with a quote from Paulo Friere (2004) that simply states it is not enough to just love our brothers and sisters but we must love human beings and the entire world and also a video that expresses how experiential learning is a part of our everyday lives.

                It is urgent that we assume the duty of fighting for the fundamental

                ethical principles, like respect for the life of human beings, the life

                of other animals, the life of birds, the life of rivers and forests.

                I do not believe in love between men and women, between human

                beings, if we are not able to love the world (Freire,  2004).

 name=”allowscriptaccess” value=”always”></param><embed src=”http://www.youtube.com/v/gGbefAuuccM&hl=en_US&fs=1&” type=”application/x-shockwave-flash” allowscriptaccess=”always” allowfullscreen=”true” width=”480″ height=”385″></embed></object>


Freire, P.  (2004).  Pedagogy of Indignation.  Boulder, CO:  Paradigm Publishers.

Itin, C. (1999).  Reasserting the philosophy of experiential education as a vehicle for change in the 21st century.  The Journal of Experiential Education.  22(2).  91-98.

Kahn, R.  (2008).  From education for sustainable development to ecopedagogy: Sustaining capitalism or sustaining life?  Green Theory & Praxis:  The Journal of Ecopedagogy.  4(1).  1-14.

Novek, E.  (1999).  Service-learning is a Feminist Issue:  Transforming communication pedagogy. Women’s Studies in Communication.  22(2).  230-240.

Willliams, T. & McKenna, E.  (2002).  Negotiating subject positions in a service-learning context. In Macdonald, A. & Sanchez-Casal, S.  (Eds.), Twenty-First Century Feminist Classrooms: Pedagogies of Identity and Difference.  New York, NY:  Palgrave MacMillan Publisher.

Villaverde, L.  (2008).  Feminist Theories and Education.  New York, NY:  Peter Lang Publishing.

~Lorayne Brewer

Thoughts brought together – Experiential Education, Service Learning, Ecopedagogy with Feminist Theory

I must say that I am still developing my Feminist knowledge and increasing my knowledge in the area of social justice.  Experience during last semester’s course, Critical Multicultural Education with Dr. Silvia Bettez, helped me out while navigating through the compression course that has been Feminist Theory and Education.  I am an experiential educator by practice, profession, and by life.  I feel experiential education provides a powerful learning opportunity within any educational setting and, although I continuously approach all my educational studies through the lens of experiential education, I am particularly appreciative of my opportunity to specifically explore experiential education within the context of feminist theory. 

Prior to beginning my studies within multicultural education and now in this class, my connection between identity, cultures, disabilities, race, gender, etc was trying to meet participants/students where they are.  This was very broad and I thought I had some good thoughts.  At the same time, I had a closed perspective of knowledge, theory, and my role as an educator.  I never considered the power that I have as an educator that I must be aware of while in this role.  Villaverde (2008) shares, “The existence of power is not the issue (we understand it is everywhere and operating in multiple directions); rather, how power is exercised and experienced is central to feminist pedagogy and discourse.” (p. 123) The educator/student relationship within the generation of knowledge is central to experiential education making a case for the educator to be aware of the power that exists.  There is a sincere engagement between the educator and the students when experiential education is practiced.  There is a true shared, lived experience.  The engagement of “fluid, interactive, engaged dialogue” (Willaims and McKenna) is directly linked to the relationship that’s developed and the awareness of power that exists during the educational setting. (p. 141)

Experiential Education is a philosophy that has the ability to engage learners in a powerful capacity.  Burton (2010) states, “experiential education seeks to create relevant, meaningful experiences as the main, curricular ingredient. These experiences encourage learners to transfer their constructed knowledge to future learning endeavors. In this way, theory unites with practice and experiential education seeks to practice what it proposes to teach. (p. 72)  Experiential Education is a philosophy that is a key component of service learning, another aspect of our group.  Service learning has a unique opportunity to learn about yourself, others, your community, environment, etc in a community aspect where one can witness the direct benefit of their work for the community.  “The development of feminist pedagogy and of experiential learning coincide historically.  They also converge in their shared insistence on the authority of experience (Michelson p. 631) and their challenge to dualistic accounts of theory/practice, public/private, self/other and knowledge/experience.” (Williams and McKenna, p. 137)  An important question with service learning is where we are placing our efforts when we are thinking educationally.  I have seen many organizations participate in what they call “service learning.”  I place service learning in quotes because I would argue that these groups are engaging in community service.  They are not engaging in service learning.  Willaims and McKenna (2002) asks a great question to think about, “does one try to grade the quality of the service or the process of reflections?  Are reflections about the material and reflections about one’s self and one’s beliefs equally important?” (Williams and McKenna, p. 139)  The reflections and David Kolb’s “so what? and now what” are much more important than the specific service or task that participants are engaging in on a giving day.

Now, thinking about ecopedagogy in the same thought as feminist pedagogy we must think about how we coexist with the environment since, as humans, we are one particular aspect of the environment no matter how much humans might think we are above all on this planet.  Moving with a feminist mindset of being aware of the power structures that exist in our society we must consider the impact we have on our environment in order to truly live in an era of power-awareness and privilege-awareness.  “Ecopedagogy seeks to interpolate quintessentially Freirian aims of the humanization of experience and the achievement of a just and free world with a future-oriented ecological politics that militantly opposes the globalization of collective ecoliteracy and realize culturally relevant forms of knowledge grounded in normative concepts such as sustainability, planetarity, and biophilia, on the other.” (Kahn, p. 18) I view this as an important addition to a feminist classroom as we are working to create space where we can create space for all experiences, all thoughts, and all identities to have a safe place to engage, we must think also think about our engagement with the environment while we are thinking about our engagement with diverse populations.

I will continue to ask the questions of how we can live life with a mindset of experiential learning.  We conducted this during our pedagogical enactments.  I believe it’s one thing to seek learning edges and opportunities from our experiences and to intentionally engage and seek out those learning edges.  While we incorporate experiential education into our educational approaches we have to opportunity to create space for all to speak, recognize that everyone learns differently and taking that into consideration as well as taking time to recognize silence and see that silence does not always mean lack of engagement.

 Villaverde, L., E. (2008). Feminist Theories and Education. NY: Peter Lang Publishing

 MacDonald, A., A. and Sanchez-Casal, S. (2002). Twenty-First Century Feminist Classrooms: Pedagogies of Identity and Difference: NY: Palgrave

 Burton, M. (2010). Experiential Education and Social Justice: Philosophical and Methodological Considerations for Integrating Experiential Learning in Educational Leadership. (Doctoral Dissertation, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, 2010)

Kahn, R. (2010). Critical Pedagogy, Ecoliteracy, and Planetary Crisis: The Ecopedagogy Movement. NY. Peter Lang Publishing

~ Paul Harmelin

Bringing Learning to Life in Feminist Classrooms

Feminist pedagogies were developed in response to the factory-like teaching and learning approach which placed students within classrooms and the education system as an environment of surveillance and social control (Walkerdine, 1992).  This approach gave educators authority and a power position at the front of the classroom to serve as gatekeepers of knowledge.  Instruction was designed to prompt students to value only the information that would allow them to advance within the social and economical system.  Paolo Friere (2000) advocated that such an approach was detrimental to notions of true learning and actually served to oppress students.  His “banking” concept theory of teaching evidenced the problems of assuming that students were merely vessels to hold their teachers “deposits” of knowledge.    According to Friere (2000), educators maintained that only they were the authorities, only they possessed the knowledge that was important to know.

Hooks (1989) describes that struggle must be at work in the classroom in the practice of feminist pedagogy.  This is because struggle is real to people’s experience of the world.  By recognizing this, students and educators are working not just with changing the classroom world but the world outside the classroom.  In this way the practice of feminist pedagogy is transformative.  Hooks (1989) calls for an end to domination in the classroom.  If this practice is to be liberatory, live up to its emancipator objectives, then it also must be revolutionary as a practice (Hooks, 1989), not reliant on traditional methods of instruction which replicate or create oppression (Lather, 1991).

 Friere and Hooks’ perspectives makes it necessary to integrate experiential education and service learning into feminist pedagogy because they offer opportunities to remove some of the boundaries of the learning environment, creating spaces that bring learning and action together.   According to Villaverde (2008), both service learning and experiential education present rich methodologies for feminist pedagogy activism. 

Everything depends upon the quality of the experience.  The basic elements of contributing to the quality of the experience are generally referred to as “principles of good practice” (Fenwick, 2001).  These principles apply to all forms of experiential education.  In designing an experiential education “situation,” the learning facilitator must first ask, “What specific learning and knowledge do I intend to result from this situation?”  The value of experiential learning rests in its capacity to provide an opportunity for testing previously learned facts and theories, revising assumptions, and deriving new and first-hand knowledge.  Fenwick (2001) states that this kind of knowledge is best achieved and retained in a situation that is grounded in authenticity rather than one that is simulated or simple relays someone else’s experience.  In an authentic experience, the learner recognizes that learning is relevant and that her/his own knowledge gives her/his power to affect her/his world (p. 123).

Why are affective and subjective ways of knowing so distanced from formal and objective ways of knowing in traditional education?  People act and experience the world in both ways.  The goal of experiential education is to teach and learn as whole persons.  Not that one way of knowing is better or worse than the other, but rather that it makes little sense to compartmentalize them.  The goal is to become aware equally of the world, and of one’s self, and the constant interaction between the two.  If anything, experiential education demands that we pay even greater attention to the problems of how we know what we know and why we know what we know, in ways that traditional education usually doesn’t offer.

Does experiential education expose students to too much risk?  Experiential education can be risky.  For example, doing high rope courses, venturing into new organizations or communities opens up fundamental beliefs to scrutiny and therefore have risks associated with them.  What educators often mean when raising the issue of risk is that they don’t have enough control over the environment of their students.  The goal is not to give up control, but to practice “due diligence” in order to create an environment with a level of risk calculated to allow for short term failures and long term successes (Fenwick, 2001).  Success includes the mental, physical, and emotional health of all involved.   One of the challenges for those involved in experiential education is distinguishing between discomfort and risk.  Assumptions, stereotypes, and/or expectations can all cause discomfort where no real risk is involved.

Is experiential education disorganized and chaotic?  A more accurate answer would be that it often appears disorganized and chaotic.  It can require tearing things apart before rebuilding them.  When teachers observe that experiential education is chaotic, they really mean that they fear they will have less control.  It is actually a question of where you want control to reside in the relationships formed among students and teachers.  Another way of responding to this challenge is to note that the methods of teaching contain a “hidden curriculum,” and that we must be sure that this hidden curriculum matches the explicit curriculum (Fenwick, 2001).  For example, if students are in rows, must raise their hands before speaking, and have little or no authority in determining either the direction of their learning or their grade, how can someone teach them about what it means to live in a democratic society?

According to Villaverde (2008), service learning is a form of education that requires active engagement in social issues through structured reflection, reciprocal relationships between the leaner and the learned, critical questions, and problem solving of the project and its outcomes (p.137).  Service-learning is helping students perform better in school while improving their communities through service. By connecting classroom lessons with community service projects, service-learning engages students and brings learning to life.

According to Macdonald (2002), “fluid, interactive, engaged dialogue grounds the feminist classroom.  It is necessary to see the value of bringing service into the classroom and the classroom into the community.  The degree to which service/experiential courses encourage participatory and active learning and encourage students to engage the material of the class from the standpoint that it actually matters in their lives can also be viewed as a legacy of feminist pedagogy.  To ask students to move beyond their own experiences, to see life from other points of view in order to gain a critical perspective on how they have understood their own lives is  a central goal of a feminist service-learning classroom,” (p. 141-142).  Bring Learning to Life: An Introduction to Service-Learning (Video)  http://www.servicelearning.org/lsa/bring_learning/fullvideo.php: offers insights from teachers, principals, and students who have experienced the benefits of service-learning, and provides an introduction to service-learning as an effective strategy to improve academic achievement, increase student engagement, improve social behavior, build civic skills, and strengthen community partnerships (Learn and Serve America).

When students engage in service learning, it involves more than arriving at a soup kitchen or a park and serving food or cleaning up.  It begins with preparation and learning about the particular problem area or context the service experience will address and ideally is linked to academic subject matter being studied.  So preparation for a soup kitchen visit can involve learning about the homelessness, poverty, or nutrition.  Cleaning up a park can be linked to geography, community recreation or environmental conservation.  Cleaning up the oil spill in the Gulf Coast can also be linked to geography or environmental conservation.   Ecopedagogy recognizes the political, economic, and social power structures that impact how humans interact with the environment and strives to bring people together to strive for sustainability (Kahn, 2008).   

What does education have to do with making the shift toward a sustainable future?  Some of the smartest minds in the world have been thinking about how to stop the BP oil spill from ruining the gulf coast.  One effort is already underway to use human hair, animal hair, and defective nylons or tights to clean the oil.  Hair naturally collects oil, and so the nonprofit Matter of Trust has been trying to collect millions of pounds of hair from hair salons, individuals, pets, and commercial operations. The hair will be stuffed into tights and used to mop up any oil that washes up on shore. The whole community is behind the project. People are shaving their dogs, and sometimes their own heads, to help the cleanup effort. Thankfully, “intelligence is learnable” (Johnson, 2008). Therefore those of us who educate for sustainability spend the bulk of our time preparing people in schools and communities to learn why and how to move toward a healthy and sustainable future for ourselves, for future generations, and for the living systems upon which we and all life depend. 

There would be no need to educate for sustainability if there was no such thing as unsustainable.  Educators for sustainability work to develop in young people and adults the knowledge, skills, attitudes and enduring understandings required to individually and collectively contribute to a healthy and sustainable future.  For example, we are all responsible for this spill. It is not just the oil companies’ crisis. Every time we get into our cars, we support drilling in the gulf.  Don’t we?  “As a form of critical theory of education, ecopedagogy can work as a meta-level to offer dialectical critiques of environmental education and education for sustainable development as hegemonic forms of educational discourse that have been created by state agencies that seek to appear to be developing pedagogy relevant to alleviating our mounting global ecological crisis,” (Kahn, 2008).  So what kind of future do we want?  What do we want to sustain, for whom, and for how long?  What does our thinking have to do with our current reality and our ability to achieve the kind of future we want?  What does our education have to do with our thinking?


Fenwick, T. J. (2001). Experiential Education:  A Theoretical Critique from Five Perspectives.  ERIC Clearinghouse on Education:  Career and Vocational Education:  Columbus, OH.

Freire, P. (2000).  Pedagogy of the oppressed.  New York:  Continuum.

 Hooks, B.   (1994).  Teaching to Transgress.  New York:  Routledge.

Kahn, R. (2008).  From education for sustainable development to ecopedagogy:  Sustaining capitalism or sustaining life?  Green Theory & Praxis:  The Journal of Ecopedagogy,4(1), 1-14. 

 Learn and Serve America’s National Service-Learning Clearinghouse.  Bringing Learning To Life:  An Introduction to Service Learning .  Retrieved from                           http://www.servicelearning.org/what_is_service-learning/service-learning_is

Sanchez-Casal, S., & Macdonald, A. A. (2002).  Claiming a Feminist Epistemic Rationale for Experiential/Service Learning.  In A.A. Macdonald & S. Sanchez-Casal (Eds.), Twenty-First Century Feminist Classrooms: Pedagogies of identity and difference (pp. 141-142). New York, NY:  Palgrave Macmillan.

Villaverde, L. E. (2008). Feminist Theories and Education.  New York, NY:  Peter Lang Pub.

Walkerdine, V. (1992), Progressive pedagogy and political struggle.  In Luke, C., Gore, J. (Eds.) Feminisms and Critical Pedagogy.  New York:  Routledge.

~Wendy Carpenter


One Response to experiential education, ecopedagogy, and service learning

  1. Kristine Paterson says:

    Paul, Interesting that you used that info on your date :). I think it is good to expose people outside of academia to some of the queries we bring up during class. I have found it difficult for people to get totally on board because they don’t have the background in theory while at the same time becomeing very interested in learning more. Jennifer, I liked how you incorporated this information into the classroom setting: “To provide this type of “epistemic framework” (Macdonald, 2002, p. 117), I encouraged students to group themselves into shifting “communities of meaning” to carry out discussions.” The struggle to recodnizing communities of meaning is a crucial part of what we have talked about this semester. I think it is a work in progress for everyone so it’s great that you brought that up to a classroom audience.

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