Challenging the anthropocentric approach of science curricula : ecological systems approaches to enabling the convergence of sustainability, science, and STEM education

Document Type

Book chapter

Publication details

Logan, M 2019, 'Challenging the anthropocentric approach of science curricula : ecological systems approaches to enabling the convergence of sustainability, science, and STEM education', in A Cutter-Mackenzie, K Malone, E Barratt Hacking (eds.), Research handbook on childhoodnature : assemblages of childhood and nature research (Springer international handbooks of education), Springer, Cham, Switzerland. ISBN 9783319672878

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Peer Reviewed



As we enter the Anthropocene, it is apparent that Earth has been severely impacted by human activities and the very systems that sustain life are challenged (Crutzen, 2002; Zalasiewicz et al., 2010). There is a call for increased awareness and action relating to degraded ecological systems particularly in the approach to the education of children and young people. Science curricula often promote anthropocentric/technocentric attitudes toward the environment. In fact STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education in minority countries such as Australia and the United States is seen to be driven by neoliberal values where government economic agendas cultivate individualistic and competitive behaviors (Carter, 2016, p 33). With this neoliberal “technical growthist” perspective predominating in science and STEM education (Smith & Watson, 2016, p 5), how can deep respect and understanding of the Earth’s systems be fostered within education? There have been calls for decades to shift thinking in science education from looking at components of the Earth’s environment separately, such as looking at humans as being apart from nature, to, instead, looking at the components “within the context of the whole” (Capra, 2007). The systems concept can be difficult to grasp, but the emphasis is always on the “wholeness” and the “harmonious integration of the various components” (Orr, 2014). In an ecological systems approach, humans are just one of numerous, interdependent, and diverse life-forms in an ecological system, and there is no separation of childhood and nature, as they are one. Such an alternative view has an impact on how science education is manifested. This chapter challenges an anthropocentric (or technocentric) approach to science curricula. Research into approaches in science and STEM education that are ecologically sustainable and holistic in nature and incorporate relevant socio-scientific issues is explored. A science education that offers young peoples’ knowledge, values, and firsthand experiences of ecological systems in their everyday lives and the incorporation of intercultural approaches to science education are promoted. Ecoliteracy, ecological literacy, and ecological thinking are examined in a science education context. Elements of the more recent posthumanist theoretical approach underpin this chapter which takes an ecological systems approach in contrast to Bronfenbrenner’s socioecological theory.