CrCrTh 640 Spring 2001
Critical & Creative Thinking in Science & Technology
Theme: Environment, Science & Society
Draft syllabus (8/25/00)
Peter Taylor, Critical & Creative Thinking Program, Grad. College of Ed.,
U. Mass. Boston
email@example.com; 617-287-7636; http://www.faculty.umb.edu/peter_taylor
Environmental educators should, ideally, challenge and enable their
* learn facts and theories about environmental processes and problems;
* develop skills in critical thinking, interpretation, inquiry, and writing;
* express their feelings about prospects for the environment and society, and
their desired impact on these areas;
* be inspired by positive examples, cases that are constructive, successful,
* be actively involved as citizens in scientific and environmental debates;
* gain experience in designing proposals, policy, and plans for action in the
wider arenas of politics, policy making, informed citizenship, and social
* bridge the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences;
* clarify their choice of more specialized studies to pursue; and
* achieve a growing sense of competency.
The course proposed below is designed to prepare graduate students to addresss
these goals as formal and informal environmental educators. The course
material, activities, and teaching/learning interactions operate on three
levels: as an opportunity for students to learn the science and interpretive
approaches; as models for their own teaching and educational work; and as a
basis for discussions about practices and philosophies of education.
The particular approach adopted in the proposal is to focus on critical
thinking about the diverse influences shaping environmental science and
practices. In a sense subscribed to by all teachers, critical thinking means
that students are bright and engaged, ask questions, and think about the course
materials until they understand well established knowledge and competing
approaches. This becomes more significant when students develop their own
processes of active inquiry, which they can employ in new situations, beyond
the bounds of our particular classes, indeed, beyond their time as students.
My sense of critical thinking is, however, more specific; it depends on inquiry
being informed by a strong sense of how things could be otherwise. I want
students to see that they understand things better when they have placed
established facts, theories, and practices in tension with alternatives.
Critical thinking at this level should not depend on students rejecting
conventional accounts, but they do have to move through uncertainty. Their
knowledge is, at least for a time, destabilized; what has been established
cannot be taken for granted. Students can no longer expect that if they just
wait long enough the teacher will provide complete and tidy conclusions;
instead they have to take a great deal of responsibility for their own
learning. Anxieties inevitably arise for students when they have to respond to
new situations knowing that the teacher will not act as the final arbiter of
their success. A high level of critical thinking is possible when students
explore such anxieties and gain the confidence to face uncertainty and
Critical thinking about diverse influences that shape environmental
science and practices, giving particular attention to the tension between
simple and complex accounts of environmental and social change. The course
material, activities, and teaching/learning interactions provides students an
opportunity to learn new science and interpretive approaches, a set of models
for their own teaching and educational work, and a basis for discussions about
practices and philosophies of education. The topics addressed in the
activities include ideas of nature; conservation and colonialism; systems
thinking; population growth and futures modeling; the tragedy of the commons;
stability and complexity; environmental economics; local knowledge; commodities
and environmental history; agriculture and biotechnology; and
ASSESSMENT & REQUIREMENTS
Written assignments and presentations, 2/3
A. Project: A research paper or set of lesson plans concerning critical
thinking about the environmental science and practices. A sequence of 5
assignments (initial description, annotated bibliography, narrative outline,
class presentation, and 2000-3000 word final report) is required.
B. Five thought-pieces extracted from your journal (see E below).
Participation and contribution to the class process, 1/3.
C. Prepared participation and attendance at class meetings.
D. Journal & Clippings, collected for perusal mid-semester & end.
Journal = weekly responses/notes on homework tasks, readings, class
discussions, clippings, websites, and weekly questions. Clippings = at least
10 items from current magazines, newspapers and websites, with your
E. Minimum of two in-office or phone conferences on your assignments and
F. End-of-semester Process Review on the development of your work.
KEY TERMS AND CONCEPTS (whose significance emerges as the course
Heuristics (or interpretive themes) (Propositions that stimulate,
orient, or guide our inquiries, yet break down when applied too widely)
Critical heuristics (Heuristics that place established facts, theories, and
practices in tension with alternatives)
Intersecting processes (Social and environmental change analyzed as something
produced by intersecting economic, social and ecological processes operating at
Tool box for critical and creative thinking (The more critical heuristics a
person has available to work with, the more likely they are to have a creative
(self-generated) response to a new, unfamiliar case.)
KEY TEACHING/LEARNING TOOLS (described briefly in notes at end of
Simulations and other class activities
Journalling and thought pieces
Dialogue around written work
Stages of development for course projects
Multiple angles on course evaluation
Process review portfolios
SCHEDULE OF CLASSES
A. Introduction to "Heuristics" and "Intersecting Processes," to the
tension between them, and to "Critical heuristics" as a potential resolution of
Activities: "How do we know there is a population-environment problem?"
--includes class simulation on the "Population problem," mini-lecture on a case
study of soil erosion in Oaxaca, Mexico, and analysis of language in short
reading, Meffe, "Human population control."
Homework: Draw an intersecting processes diagram for Pearce, "Inventing
B. Introduction to the course as a teaching/learning community
Establishing small "base" group processes/procedures
Freewriting & sharing on possible individual projects
Additional readings (after class): Elbow, chapters 2, 3, 13
Heuristic I Ideas about nature can be interpreted as (historically and
socially located) ideas about society
Ideas of Nature
Activities: Interpretation of the explicit and implicit, literal and
non-literal--a. Biological similies for society (clippings); b. Images of
society and nature in the West since the middle ages (slide show)
Reading (after class): Williams, "Ideas of Nature."
Activity in base groups: Redesign children's book on nature following
*A* Asmt due on or before this date: Thought-piece 1
Tensions in ecologists' views of nature, from Darwin to today
Activity in base groups, then across base groups: Review readings
(divided among members of each base group) in light of heuristic 1:
Williams, "Ideas of Nature."
Worster, "Scrambling for a place."
Begon, "The influence of predation and disturbance."
Botkin, Chapters 1 & 2 from Discordant Harmonies.
Activity in base groups: Compose multi-person conversation about contemporary
ideas about nature.
Heuristic II Ideas in C20 conservation and ecological science can also
be interpreted as (historically and socially located) ideas about
"Animals are both like and unlike humans" Zoos, conservation, and the
marginalization of both animals and peoples
Berger, "Why Look at Animals?"
Activity: Visit to an Aquarium, Zoo, or Natural History Museum
*A* Asmt due: Thesis question and paragraph overview of proposed
*A* Asmt due on or before this date: Thought-piece 2
Conservation and early C20 colonialism, patriarchy, and eugenics.
Haraway, "Teddy bear patriarchy."
Activities: Discussion of Haraway. Responding to Haraway's interpretation
extended to the late C20, in the form of a video (Donna Haraway reads
Heuristic III: Causes proposed are related to the person's favored views
of social action
Plus Heuristic II continued
Systems: Cybernetics and ecology in the atomic age
Odum, Chaps. 1, part 2, 11 in Environment, Power & Society.
Activities: Interpret ecological diagrams. Students bring diagrams of humans
and nature to base groups, discuss interpretations, and develop a lesson plan
for students to interpret visual representations of human-nature relations.
Reading (after class): Taylor and London, "Who is implicated"
*A* Asmt due: Annotated bibliography of reading completed or planned
for your project.
*A* Asmt due on or before this date: Thought-piece 3
Heuristic IV: Within simple formulations lies a hidden complexity of
assumptions about society
Plus Heuristics II & III continued
Systems of selfish individuals: The tragedy of the commons
Hardin, "The Tragedy of the Commons."
Activities: Class simulation on the commons and on ways that people use simple
models to address ecological and social complexity. Critique examples of
Reading (after class): Taylor, "Critical tensions"
*A* Asmt due on or before this date: Thought-piece 4
Work-in-progress Presentations on Student Projects
Activity: Responding to a proposal for market environmentalism
Base groups (digest responses, clasify them using Schwarz's 4 world views,
discuss the significance)
Schwarz, Divided We Stand.
Pearce, "Prices and incentives"
*A* Asmt due on or before this date: Thought-piece 5
How do we know we have local vs. global environmental problems?
Activity in base groups: Analyze a report on global modeling and an
account of local knowledge and peasant/ indigenous rationality. Produce a
lesson that moves students from a dichotomy between global and local to
formulations that attend to locally-based, but trans-local considerations and
Meadows, et al., The Limits to Growth, excerpts.
Glantz, from Societal Responses to Regional Climatic Change.
Toledo, "Ecological rationality"
*A* Asmt due: Narrative Outline of Project Report
Shift from angles II-IV to
Angle V: Environmental thought and science has a basis in material
Europeans, commodities, and changes in New England; contrasting historical
Activities: Class prepares a schema of history
Discussion of why, according to Cronon, Europeans changed the New England
landscape more than Indians.
Cronon, from Changes in the Land.
Commodities (cont.); revising historical accounts
Activity: Revise schema of history in response to readings about
extraction, processing, exchange and control of commodities. Activity in base
groups: Review the changes made.
Peluso, "Coercing conservation"
Lewontin, "Agricultural Research"
Lappe and Collins, "The Green Revolution Is the Answer"
Wolf, "Europe, prelude to expansion"
*A* Asmt due: Complete Draft of Project Report
Heuristic VI. Disciplining, without suppressing the complexities of
environmental, scientific, and social change
and Heuristic V continued.
Construction of commodities and the gendered politics of production in
Taylor synopsis of three articles by R. Schroeder, including
"'Re-claiming' land in The Gambia: Gendered property rights and environmental
Taylor, "Mapping the complexity"
Taking Stock of Course: Where have we come and where do we go from
Activities: Historical Scan and other Course evaluations
*A* Asmt due: Final version of Project Report
*A* Asmt due: Process Review/Portfolio
BIBLIOGRAPHY OF REQUIRED READINGS
(Additional readings will be placed on reserve for deeper consideration of the
issues raised in both environmental sciences and in interpretation and critical
Begon, M., J. Harper and C. Townsend (1990). "The influence of predation and
disturbance on community structure," in Ecology: Individuals, Populations
and Communities. Boston, Blackwell, 739-741, 793, 795.
Berger, J. (1980). "Why Look at Animals?," in About Looking. New York,
Pantheon Books, 1-26.
Botkin, D. (1990). Chapters 1 & 2 in Discordant Harmonies: A New
Ecology for the Twenty-first Century. New York: Oxford University Press,
Cronon, W. (1983). Changes in the Land. New York, Hill and Wang,
3- 15, 159-170.
Elbow, P. (1981). Writing with Power. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.
Glantz, M. (Ed.) (1989). Societal Responses to Regional Climatic Change:
Forecasting by Analogy. Boulder, CO, Westview Press, 1-7, 407-428.
Haraway, D. J. (1984/1985). "Teddy bear patriarchy: Taxidermy in the garden of
Eden, New York City, 1908-1936." Social Text 11: 20-64.
Hardin, G. (1968). "The Tragedy of the Commons." Science 162:
Lappe, F. M. and J. Collins (1986). "The Green Revolution Is the Answer," in
World Hunger Twelve Myths. New York, NY, Grove Press, Inc.,
Lewontin, R. (1982). "Agricultural Research & the Penetration of Capital."
Science for the People(January/February): 12-17.
Meadows, D., D. Meadows, J. Randers and W. W. Behrens (1972). The Limits to
Growth. New York: Universe Books, excerpts.
Meffe, G. K., A. H. Ehrlich and D. Ehrenfeld (1993). "Human population control:
The missing agenda." Conservation Biology 7(1): 1-3.
Odum, H. T. (1971). "Chaps. 1, part 2, 11," in Environment, Power &
Society. New York: Wiley-Interscience, 1-41, 304-310.
Pearce, D., A. Markandya and E. Barbier (1989). "Prices and incentives," in
Blueprint for a Green Economy. London, Earthscan, 154-172.
Pearce, F. (2000). "Inventing Africa." New Scientist(12 August):
Peluso, N. (1993). "Coercing conservation: The politics of state resource
control." Global environmental change 3(2): 199-217.
Rowling, N. (1987). "Introduction," in Commodities: How the world was taken
to market. London, Free Association Books, 7-21.
Schroeder, R. (1998) "'Re-claiming' land in The Gambia: Gendered property
rights and environmental intervention." Annals of the Association of
Schwarz, M. and M. Thompson (1990). Divided We Stand: Redefining
Politics, Technology, and Social Choice. London, Harvester Wheatsheaf,
Taylor, P. J. (1999). "Mapping the complexity of social-natural processes:
Cases from Mexico and Africa," in F. Fischer and M. Hajer (Eds.), Living
with Nature: Environmental Discourse as Cultural Critique. Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 121-134.
Taylor, P. J. (2001). "Critical tensions and non-standard lessons from the
"tragedy of the commons"," in M. Maniates (Ed.), Teaching Global
Environmental Politics As If Education Mattered. New York: Rowman &
Taylor, P. J. and C. E. London (1997). "Who is implicated and where are they
engaged? Re/constructing social agency in the diagramming of social-natural
processes," incomplete ms.
Toledo, V. (1990). "The ecological rationality of peasant production," in M.
Altieri and S. Hecht (Eds.), Agroecology and small farm development.
Boca Raton: CRC Press, 53-60.
Williams, R. (1980). "Ideas of Nature," in Problems in materialism and
culture. London, Verso, 67-85.
Wolf, E. (1982). "Europe, prelude to expansion," in Europe and the People
Without History. Berkeley: University of California Press,
Worster, D. (1979). "Scrambling for a place," in Nature's Economy. New
York: Anchor Books, 145-169.
Notes to students on Teaching/Learning Tools
 The Journal should include weekly
responses and notes on readings, class discussions, clippings, websites, and
weekly questions. Through writing in your journal, you will be better able to
weave the course material into your own thinking, and to bring your own
thinking into class activities. In preparation for class, you might write in
your journal a commentary on readings, or, after class, review the readings and
the class activities. In either case explore, when appropriate, the
relationship between your project/ interests and the readings/activities.
Journal excerpts to be submitted 5 times during the semester, and then revised
and resubmitted in response to my comments on these extracts. Journals will be
collected for perusal twice during the semester. Bind together pages with
post-its or otherwise indicate which bits you do not want me to look at. I
want to get an overall impression of your developing process of critical
thinking about course readings and discussions.
 Clippings. To keep up with current developments, compile
a packet of clippings and xeroxes of articles from newspapers, magazines,
journals, and websites. Write the full citation on each article, unless it is
already included. Use post-its to add your own reflections on specific points
in the articles you choose. Submit the packets twice at the same time as the
journal is reviewed.
 Guided freewriting: In a freewriting exercise, you
should not take your pen off the paper. Keep writing even if you find yourself
stating over and over again, "I don't know what to say." What you write won't
be seen by anyone else, so don't go back to tidy up sentences, grammar,
spelling. You will probably diverge from the topic, at least for a time while
you acknowledge other preoccupations. That's OK--it's one of the purposes of
the exercise to get things off one's chest. However, if you keep writing for
ten minutes, you should expose some thoughts about the topic that had been
below the surface of your attention--that's another of the aims of the
exercise. Reference: Elbow, P. 1981. Writing with Power. New York:
Oxford U. P.
 In Base Groups you review material, share views, help
each other, and undertake other activities with my guidance, but not my direct
 Dialogue around written work. I try to create a
dialogue with each student around written work, that is, around your writing,
my responses, and your responses in turn. I am still learning how to engage
students in this, given your various backgrounds and dispositions, and my own.
Central to this teaching/learning interaction are requests to "Revise and
Resubmit." The idea is not that you make changes to please the teacher or to
meet some standard, but that as a writer you use the eye of others to develop
your own thinking and make it work better on readers. I continue to request
revision when I judge that the interaction can still yield significant
learning; the request does not mean your (re)submission was "bad." Even when
the first submissions of written assignments are excellent, angles for learning
through dialogue are always opened up.
 Peer commentary. After the draft is completed I require
you to pair up and comment on another student's draft. Take Elbow's chapters 3
& 13 in mind when you decide what approaches to commenting you ask for as a
writer and use as a commentator. In the past I made lots of specific
suggestions for clarification and change in the margins, but in my experience,
such suggestions led only a minority of students beyond touching up into
re-thinking and revising their ideas and writing. On the other hand, I believe
that all writers value comments that reassure them that they have been listened
to and their voice, however uncertain, has been heard.
Taking stock at end of semester -- a) to feed into your future learning (and
other work), you take stock of your process(es) over the semester;
b) to feed into my future teaching (and future learning about how students
learn), I take stock of how you, the students, have learned.
 Process Review Portfolios should contain 4-6 examples
that capture the process of development of your work and thinking about
environmental education and critical thinking, not simply the best products.
Journal entries, free writing, drafts, etc. may be included. Explain your
choices in a cover page and through annotations (post-its are a good way to do