Remapping the ‘Geography of our Heart’
How should educators in faith respond to the reality of human-caused climate change and environmental destruction, especially in view of Pope Francis’ prophetic challenge for Catholics to take this reality with utmost and urgent seriousness? In particular, I address those educators in faith who work in and with communities that have borne the disproportionate costs of these realities. Indigenous peoples and those who live in communities where extractive and polluting industries such as timbering, mining, energy production from hydroelectric dams, and plastics production are paramount in my mind. However, I also address those whose imagination and communities are shaped by a consumer society that depends on the displacements and exploitation of the 2/3rds world. Drawing on the work of sociologist, Rebecca Scott, who identifies the thought patterns of the West as being grounded in a “logic of extraction,” I believe that educators in faith have an important role to play in assuring the reception of Pope Francis’ challenge among Catholic faithful to listen to the cry of Earth and the poor, particularly among most White Catholics in the West. In view of the dislocations of extractive socio-economic and cultural-political systems, this dissertation suggests that an appropriate pedagogical response begins with cultivating a deep sense of place. It is essential that each person comes to view their own being as grounded in places composed not only of human built environments but of land, water, and air. As opposed to the more common attitude of “care” or “stewardship” of Creation, the guiding vision of our relationship to Creation should be one of kinship. I give particular attention to the place of Appalachia as a case study for modelling what I call a critical Creation-centered pedagogy. To develop this pedagogy I draw upon Thomas Groome’s model of Shared Christian Praxis, bringing it into dialogue with place-based education. In my examination of place-based approaches to learning I give particular attention to the land education model developed by Indigenous educators. The choice of Appalachia is quite simply because Appalachia, particularly West Virginia, is my place. It is a place I love and know, and I hope that each reader will engage this dissertation with their own place in mind. This pedagogy is a critical pedagogy because it emphasizes the importance of identifying relationships of power that produce and maintain an extractive mentality. I give particular attention to settler colonialism, capitalism, and consumerism as extractive structural systems toward which education in faith must attend if it is to be a force of healing and justice. Young people engaged in critical Creation-centered education in faith are encouraged to think critically about the often complex and contradictory ways in which they are “placed” within these networks of power. It is Creation-centered because I regard Earth as our first and primary teacher. In dialogue with Urie Bronfenbrenner, I develop an understanding of the human person that is thoroughly relational. Human health and well-being are reciprocally related to the health and well-being of the “social ecologies” in which persons live. This requires that educators in faith attend to significant relationships and institutions as well as socio-economic and cultural-political systems with/in the lives of their students. With particular attention to adolescence, I examine the possibilities of Bronfenbrenner’s understanding of human development for faith development. For young people living in or displaced from places such as Appalachia, damaged by extractive systems, it is especially important that they are connected to empowering networks that allow them to nurture positive relationships with God, self, others, and Creation. These relationships must also empower agency from an early age. Young people should also be encouraged in developmentally appropriate ways to act as stakeholders within the significant communities and groups to which they belong. To this end, I draw upon the potential of connecting Positive Youth Development theory to education in faith, with particular attention to recent developments in this field that focus on youth-based community organizing and activism as especially salient for the positive and empowered faith development of young people displaced by oppressive systems of power. Education in faith, when grounded in place, has much to contribute to this process. However, this requires reading the Judeo-Christian tradition with place in mind. The Judeo-Christian tradition offers an alternative logic that calls for a conversion from extraction to jubilee. Covenantal values of sabbath and jubilee express a connection to the land which was central to Jesus’ ministry and preaching on the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ own experience of being placed in Galilee in the context of the extractive economies of the Roman Empire influenced his spiritual development and relationship to the Creator-liberator God. Ultimately, the Judeo-Christian God is a God of life and this includes the life of all beings and all of Creation. Jesus nurtured a movement that brought people into their own power, encouraging a new relationship to land and place. Education in faith should carry forth this mission by creating contexts for healing and justice in places damaged by extraction. Critical Creation-centered pedagogy involves all members of a community and to this extent place-based education in faith moves young people beyond the traditional classroom and challenges the traditional teacher-student relationship. Particularly for young people from oppressed communities, it is important that they discover knowledge present in their place and community. I address primary caregivers and families, classroom educators, parish communities, and the wider civic and bioregional community all of whom have a role to play within a place-based pedagogy. I also give attention to the unique role summer camp programs might play in this process. I conclude by attending to the work already being done by Catholics in Appalachia to seek a faith grounded in a healing and justice bringing relationship to Earth, testifying to the theological vision and ministerial work of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia. My own faith owes much to the ongoing witness of this remarkable movement, which I first encountered as a high school student. In part, my dissertation is an attempt to bring pedagogical focus to the theological and ministerial vision of this remarkable movement of the Spirit in the mountains.