The creation of my capstone research project, Pedagogical Power: The Role of Higher Education in Shaping Agricultural Approaches, is the result from a combination of ideas and critiques gathered throughout my four year journey as an ENVS student, as well as my earlier years in high school.
A Quick Journey of my ENVS Mindset
In high school I considered myself a full-blown environmentalist, as I had already adopted a vegetarian lifestyle at the age of 13 and made the effort to recycle all of my plastics.
In my junior year of high school, I was convinced that I knew the secret to changing the world. It was so simple, everyone needed to educate themselves and change their behavior. I believed in a classic Deficit Model; assuming that if the whole world knew about the effects of conventional agriculture, they would embrace a different diet and inevitably the system would change.
I walked into my first undergraduate environmental studies course as a full-blown optimistic environmental activist, with my mindset targeting individual actions as the key to changing the world. I foresaw no reasons, if the realities of factory farming and agricultural systems were widely known by the public, as to why the system as a whole would not change. Education was the key. I believed that if demand changed, then so too would supply.
Unsurprisingly, higher education at Lewis & Clark heavily complicated my ideas for world change, and my life path was quickly challenged. For the first time in my life, I learned that the solutions to large issues, such as industrial agriculture and climate change, realistically could not and historically have not been found in individual behavior changes. My critical thinking and problem-solving abilities had been severely limited to the scope of my own actions and the actions of my community. Where in fact, the deciding factors for how and why commercial agricultural practices are dominant in the US, extend far beyond individual preference of certain foods.
Higher education opened my eyes to the realities of agriculture’s effect on the environment, as well as complicated my ideas surrounding possible solutions. It brought me to realize the real need for a systemic change, not just individual eating habits. Higher education showed me my own naivety surrounding environmentalism and presupposed assumptions. For such systemic issues such as conventional agriculture, larger action and enforcement is necessary. Behavior change is not enough on its own. Higher education changed my own behaviors, mindset, and the ways/scale in which I currently choose to involve myself in politics. In this way, my own experience with higher education brought me to view education as an institutional method for which to achieve larger change, for it tackles both small and large scales.
I picked and proposed my concentration my sophomore year of college in ENVS 220 Environmental Analysis. At this time it was titled, Cultivating Prominence of Agriculture in US Education Systems, and focused on “the ways in which K-12 schools, universities and new non-educational movements such as nonprofits and hands-on organizations, influence and are influenced by the structures already set in place of agriculture”. This course enabled me to choose a set of courses outside of the ENVS program which informed my capstone and apply them to my major.
The interdisciplinary aspect of this program was key in shaping the ways in which my capstone focus and outlook has changed over the years, to become one which values and weighs a variety of different perspectives over many disciplines. For example, ED 205 Education in a Complex World and ED 446 Reimagining Teaching/Learning, opened my eyes to the structural limitations within education, and the true meaning of effective pedagogy. Additionally, ENIV 260 Sustainability and SOAN 265 Critical Perspectives in Development, highlighted the prominence, historical significance and severe biases within the UN Sustainable Development Goals which I use as a framework to analyze the criteria for ‘sustainable agriculture’.
ENVS 295 Environmental Engagement also acted as a turning point in my capstone, as I conducted my first independent research project on school garden programs titled Assessing Value: Examination of Agricultural Programs in PDX K-12 Schools. This project gave me my first opportunity to create a methodology, conduct interviews, compile results and present them, as I would later on for my capstone. The results from this project also showed me the institutional and financial limitations of teaching agriculture in primary and secondary schools, and served as the reason for switching my situated context to the university level.
As cheesy as this may sound, my capstone has benefitted from almost every experience and challenge that I have had since elementary school. The shaping of my own mindset from high school to college has shown me the true possibilities for higher education to act as a vehicle for change, specifically for the ways in which complex issues like conventional agriculture are thought about and dealt with.