Growing Environmental Activists: Developing Environmental Agency and Engagement Through Children’s Fiction

We explore how story has the potential to encourage environmental engagement and a sense of agency provided that critical discussion takes place. We illuminate this with reference to the philosophies of John Macmurray on personal agency and social relations; of John Dewey on the primacy of experience for philosophy; and of Paul Ricoeur on hermeneutics, dialogue, dialectics and narrative. We view the use of fiction for environmental understanding as hermeneutic, a form of conceptualising place which interprets experience and perception. The four writers for young people discussed are Ernest Thompson Seton, Kenneth Grahame, Michelle Paver and Philip Pullman. We develop the concept of critical dialogue, and link this to Crick's demand for active democratic citizenship. We illustrate the educational potential for environmental discussions based on literature leading to deeper understanding of place and environment, encouraging the belief in young people that they can be and become agents for change. We develop from Zimbardo the key concept of heroic resister to encourage young people to overcome peer pressure. We conclude with a call to develop a greater awareness of the potential of fiction for learning, and for writers to produce more focused stories engaging with environmental responsibility and activism
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