Maria A. P. Woolson
Sustainability Education and Foreign Language

​Sustainability as a Pedagogical Principle in Liberal Arts Education: Explorations from the Foreign Language Classroom


Abstract: Sustainability is a complex concept that integrates multiple areas of study. Its focus lies at the intersection of natural and social systems, which presents significant challenges and exceptional opportunities. While its inclusive nature appears to be at odds with the dominant disciplinary organization of knowledge in higher education, its transdisciplinary outlook appreciates the interactions across broader domains of knowledge that are necessary for addressing current challenges and innovation. This paper introduces sustainability as the focus of pedagogy in liberal arts education. Particular attention is dedicated to what it means to employ sustainability as a foundational pedagogical principle in the humanities and the social sciences. Three examples, drawn from seven years of teaching Latin American culture and foreign languages at Middlebury College, Vermont, USA, illustrate different areas of learning and discuss how to address the intergenerational obligations of sustainability, as a concept that is concerned with both equity and the integrity of the Earth system. Methodologically, the pedagogical approach promotes systems thinking and the development of skills and knowledge from experiential learning. Conceptually, it also challenges critical thinking to embrace critical responsibility, while crossing disciplinary and cognitive bridges to engage the complexity of contemporary issues. Ultimately, sustainability as a pedagogical principle is meant to inspire intellectual courage, and to empower students in asking the big questions of tomorrow. 

Keywords: Sustainability Pedagogy, Interdisciplinary Education, Latin America, Foreign Languages 

“Concepts are taught according to our mental disposition. So difference is necessary, because of different dispositions. Different points of view are also necessary because of different mental states; but all should share compassion for human beings. For example, one should not develop an attachment to a disciplinary field, because such attachment is biased and cannot see other mental states.”
     — His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet October 15, 2012, Middlebury College
2015 - International Journal of Sustainability Education. 11 3: 23-34. Web