Assessing the essential pre-conditions of an authentic sustainability curriculum

Published: 09. March 2019
Category: Social Sciences, Law and Economics
Author: Lóránt Dénes Dávid, Attila Lengyel, Szilvia Szőke


In higher education (hereafter HE) literature the adjective "authentic" occurs in various contexts including knowledge construction and academic performance (Newmann et al., 1996), assessment (Bosco and Ferns 2014), teaching science (Braund and Reiss 2006), students' scientific inquiry (Hume and Coll 2010) or problem based learning (PBL) (Dobson et al., 2012), to mention a few, and typically describes correspondence approaches (Splitter 2009) where students are confronted with tasks resembling real life situations. The authentic character of the teacher and students has also been subject of enquiry (Cranton 2001, Laursen 2005, Chickering 2006, Kreber 2013b, Bialystok 2015). According to Kreber authentically engaging in the Science of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) “… means to act in the important interests of students by helping them grow into their own authenticity”. She views authenticity of a person as something necessarily encompassing qualities such as responsibility, compassion, reciprocity, placing public good above self-interest and acting ethically (Kreber 2013a). Several authors reflected on the authentic character of teachers underlining the importance of being a role model for students (Dawe, Jucker, Martin, 2005, Lovren 2017, Shephard 2008, Cavallaro, Boucher, Steelman 2017).

Authenticity is the overarching theme of the present paper. It is one of the most challenging, intriguing and contested concepts that has emerged in social sciences. Interpreting it as an existential term, encompassing aspects of how we should relate to ourselves, others and the world around us, it becomes apparent that even if only implicitly, it has always been in the focus of Western (Kernis, Goldman 2006, Bialystok 2009, Varga 2013, Adorno 2013) as well as Buddhist philosophy (Zimmerman 1993, Harvey 2000, De Silva 2016). The present research will draw heavily on the latter (Williams, Kabat-Zinn 2011, Wright 2017).

In contrast to earlier conceptions of how we should exist in the world (authenticity), found in Heracleitus, Socrates, Nagarjuna, Augustine, Eckhart or Taylor where knowledge of the self (e.g. Know thyself) meant transcending the individual or personal level and realizing how one is part of an interconnected web of cosmic whole, with all the moral consequences of such a realization, modernity has deformed the concept into an ultimately individualistic ideal of self-determining freedom and soft relativism (Taylor 1992), self-indulgence (Varga 2013), self-congratulating complacency (Guignon 2008) and a search for unique personal traits and self-expression, thus widening the already huge divide between humans and humans as well as humans and nature (Taylor 1992, Rapley 2004, Denzin, Lincoln 2011, Bakari 2014). The increasingly individualistic nature of (post)modernity and its pathologic consequences of moral relativism and excessive hedonism have been criticized by many (Taylor 1992, Bodhi 1994, Simpson 2001, De Geus 2004, Bloom 2008, Black, Shaw, Trebeck 2017). The present paper attempts to provide an interpretation of the word “authentic” in the context of pressing sustainability issues and curriculum development to teach sustainability in HE. In this interpretation authenticity characterises a mindfulness and a natural and human ethics based normative and transformational approach to teaching, curriculum development and learning outcomes (hereafter LOs) framework. Environmental ethics and moral principles governing relations with others cannot be separated in a truly systemic approach (Taylor 1981, Nash 1989, Naess, Drengson 2008, De Silva 2016, James 2017).

While there is a myriad of factors and conditions having an impact on the success of an authentic sustainability curriculum (hereafter ASC), this paper aims to focus on three preconditions which the authors consider the cornerstones of an ASC:

  1. Acknowledging and emphasizing the primary importance of meditative mindfulness
  2. Acknowledging and emphasizing the impossibility of limitless economic growth
  3. Acknowledging and emphasizing the impossibility of reconciling ideals of neoliberal capitalism and consumerism with human and environmental justice.

Why these three points?

To read the whole paper please click here: Assessing the essential pre-conditions of an authentic sustainability curriculum


sustainability education, economic growth, neoliberal ideals, authenticity in higher education, mindfulness in higher education, ethics-based higher education


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