Exploring representation and meaning in education for sustainable development (ESD): a school district case study

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Turkupolis, Kelli M.
Spanke, Jeff
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Thesis (M.A.)
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Recent climate reports confirm that, globally, our attempts to mitigate disaster are not, as of yet, commensurate with the concerns of the 21st century (The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC], 2022; World Meteorological Organization [WMO], 2022). Education systems across the globe are now more rapidly seeking ways to convey and address the challenges posed by anthropogenic climate change and environmental degradation, or those challenges that present formidable threats to the security of our planet and the well-being of its peoples and its systems. The rapid and widespread application of programs targeting sustainability and the different approaches across K-12 campuses and colleges in the United States (Rowe, 2007), combined with the lack of measures capable of evaluating these programs in their nuance (Warner & Elser, 2015), means we know little about their effectiveness (Veronese & Kensler, 2013) and thus little about how these efforts are contributing to the development of a citizenry that is aware of and oriented toward life-affirming practices. Partly to blame is the ambiguity that surrounds what “sustainability” is and “sustainability in context” actually looks like. This study, in part, seeks to engage with these complex dynamics by examining one school district, a recent U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School (ED GRS) award recipient, and its efforts to engage with ESD as a “whole-school” culture (Henderson & Tilbury, 2004). Ultimately, the purpose of this study is to examine how school branding communicates with these 21st century educational imperatives through an evaluation of district-led efforts to integrate ESD across grade levels and the school curriculum, analyzing the extent to which eco-progressive rhetoric aligns with institutional activity and interdisciplinary practice.