Justifying compulsory environmental education in liberal democracies

Journal of Philosophy of Education 43 (4):507-526 (2009)
The need for education for (as opposed to about) sustainability is urged from many sides. Initiatives in this area tend to focus on formal education. Governmental, supra-governmental and non-governmental bodies all expect much of this kind of education, which is to transform children—and through them society—in the direction of sustainability. Due to the combination of great transformative expectations or ambitions and a focus on schooling (the idea of) compulsory environmental education poses potentially severe problems for governments committed to liberal principles, in particular the principle of state 'neutrality' with respect to 'comprehensive conceptions of the good life'. The central question of this article is whether liberal governments can make environmental education of this kind compulsory without coming into conflict with the liberal principle of state neutrality. I discuss three defences of the compatibility of compulsory environmental education with liberal neutrality, namely those put forward by Derek Bell, Andrew Dobson, and Simon Hailwood, as well as some problems inherent in these defences. In the final section I sketch a form of compulsory environmental education that realises at least some of the aims commonly stated for Education for Sustainability and Education for Sustainable Development, and can be justified on the basis of liberal principles.
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DOI 10.1111/j.1467-9752.2009.00702.x
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John Rawls (1993). Political Liberalism. Columbia University Press.
J. Rawls (1995). Political Liberalism. Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 57 (3):596-598.

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