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Contemporary Issues in Social Studies
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EDCP 333
Wayne Ross
Scarfe 2301
Office Hours:
By Appointment
Class Schedule:
Wednesdays 4:30-7:30
Scarfe 207
Important Course Pages
Lecture Notes
Course Discussion

Sustainability and Community

Group Members

  • Randy Chau
  • Stephanie Hather
  • Anthony Patten

Definitions of Sustainability

While there is no one concrete definition of "sustainability," there are many definitions that have been put forward by various individuals and organizations. What is generally agreed upon, however, is the concept of 3 pillars of sustainability - ecological, economic, and social. Below are some examples that encompass the various terms that are commonly associated with a definition of sustainability.

BC Ministry of Education

"Sustainability is based on the efficient and environmentally responsible use of natural, human, and economic resources, the creation of efficient infrastructures, and the enhancement of quality of life."

The University of Calgary

The University of Calgary Sustainability Policy defines sustainability as articulated by the Brundtland Commission, formally the United Nation's World Commission on Environment and Development:

"Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" (UN Documents, n.d., 1.2.1).

US Environmental Protection Agency:

"Sustainability is based on a simple principle: everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment. Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations."

Oxford Dictionary:

"Sustainable development is economic development that is conducted without depletion of natural resources."

The "Three Pillars" of Sustainability

Caption: The Three Pillars of Sustainability

The "Three Pillars of Sustainability" is a teachable model that can assist with the understanding of sustainability, as well as providing a framework within which methods and courses of action might be taught. The environment -- in this case the planet Earth -- can be divided into three realms, which overlap considerably: the Social realm, the Economic realm, and the Ecological realm. The perfect balance of these complex systems would, theoretically, result in the maximum achievable longevity of both the planet's ecosystems and humanity -- a form of harmony or balance not currently observable in the human-nature relationship. Since no such state could be permanent and unalterable, the concept of sustainability also represents the initiative to change within a society, hence its involvement with community. The natural world and its ecosystems affect the global economy through the concepts of resource scarcity and climate change, which in turn affect the capacity to endure of governmental and societal systems. In fact, any system, whether artificial or man-made, can be evaluated for its sustainability. Social Studies teachers have the uniquely difficult task of imbuing their students with this particular form of awareness.

Ecological Sustainability

According to the model, ecologically sustainable development is "Development which achieves ecological sustainability while striving to meet society's other needs." This includes notions and goals such as the maintenance of life support systems, and the achievement of a natural (not caused by humans) extinction rate." Teachable topics that can emphasize this form of sustainability belong in the sciences and social sciences. At the broadest levels these include teaching about the climate system, nutrient cycling (such as crop rotation), healthy geophysical states, and major extinctions [1]

Humanity's relationship with nature on the whole is at the center of these strategies. This relationship has, throughout recorded history, been fundamentally competitive and exploitative. Across a wide swathe of human prehistory, the only concrete cultural evidence of human activity that exists consists of the cave paintings found all over the world. These often depict animals now thought to be extinct because of man-made pressures, such as the European Lion, or Cave Bear. [2]

Economic Sustainability

Economic sustainability is used to define strategies that promote the utilization of socio-economic resources to their best advantage. A sustainable economic model proposes an equitable distribution and efficient allocation of resources. The idea is to promote the use of those resources in an efficient and responsible way that provides long-term benefits and establishes profitability. A profitable business is more likely to remain stable and continue to operate from one year to the next. The nice thing about taking a total approach to sustainability is that if you focus on social and environmental issues, profitability will often follow. Social initiatives have an impact on consumer behavior and employee performance, while environmental initiatives such as energy efficiency and pollution mitigation can have a direct impact on reducing waste. Economic sustainability involves making sure the business makes a profit, but also that business operations don’t create social or environmental issues that would harm the long-term success of the company.[3]

Many theorists argue that "Ecological thinking has to be anti-capitalist thinking." Such theorists argue that capitalism is a "fundamentally unsustainable" system. But evidence exists to suggest otherwise. Economic systems, like ecosystems, contain in-built mechanisms to control scarcity, provided corporations act for their collective and self interest. Like the carrying capacities of species in the natural world, corporations can only exist so long as the resources they exploit exist. It is in therefore in the interest of businesses to preserve natural resources, thereby prolonging their own lifespans and guaranteeing their collective survival, or sustainability, as an economic system. There are, however, massive challenges to reconcile with the social and environmental realities.[4]

Social Sustainability

Social sustainability is about people – individuals and the community. Socially sustainable communities are characterized by the following traits:

  • Equity
  • Diversity
  • Inter-Connectedness
  • Democratic governance
  • Good Quality of Life

The social dimension of sustainability has traditionally received less attention than the environmental and economic dimensions (in part because of the difficulty in defining and measuring social sustainability). It can be notoriously difficult for human beings to evaluate their own systems of governance for longevity, given the propensity for voter apathy, government corruption, dominant monotheistic religions, and myriad other factors. Thinking has been changing, however, with the recognition that any efforts to promote sustainability (environmental or economic) involve decisions and actions by people (i.e. they are fundamentally social in nature).[5] With this realization has come a groundswell of popular support for genuinely sustainable initiatives, although the results of said support have yet to be gauged.

Sustainability and Community

Diverse methods of experience can be used to reinforce learning about environmental issues and sustainable responses. Decisions made without consideration for how the actions might impact the community constrain the ability to envision the range of methods that might support community transition. Innovation and knowledge management provides the vehicle that actually moves the community ahead in addressing environmental concerns...

Consideration of the barriers that separate individuals and communities from sustainable methods are critically important. When the correlation between sustainable practices and community goals are positive, sustainability is easy to accept and technical innovations are celebrated. But when sustainable practices do not match expected community norms, then processes that embrace both technical and social forms of knowledge and innovation must be engaged to address the social system that promote or hinder successful development of environmental sustainability practices (Boons & Wagner, 2009; Monaghan, 2009; Hoffman & Henn, 2008).[6]

Sustainability in B.C. Schools


The BC Ministry of Education has also provided a Sustainable Schools Best Practices Guide. The guide includes tips for creating sustainable classrooms and schools, touching on such aspects as energy conservation, waste reduction, water conservation, sustainable school grounds, and sustainable transportation. It can be found here:

Sustainable Schools Best Practices Guide

Course Content

Specific Courses

The Ministry has developed a Sustainability Course Curriculum Framework, should a teacher wish to teach it and students wish to enroll in it, which suggests 7 different modules that can be used individually or as an entire course. The modules can be found here:

Sustainability Course Content - A Curriculum Framework

The Curriculum and PLO's

The following Prescribed Learning Outcomes indicate some parameters within which sustainability can be a major content focus, in the likely event that schools do not teach sustainable education. These are Social Studies classes as opposed to the physical sciences, which contain numerous other such opportunities.

Grade 8:

Throughout Grade 8 Social Studies, students learn geographical skills and apply them to enhance their understanding of natural environments. They may also apply these skills to understanding relationships between people and natural systems. Students explore the influence of physical geography and study the different physiographic regions. An emphasis could reasonably be placed on their interconnectedness, or compared with an emphasis on resource development, stewardship, and sustainability. Social sustainability has the potential to be a major focus here, as the study of rising and falling civilizations is inherently bound up with the notion of systemic longevity.

Key Topics Include:

  • World Geography
  • Exploration
  • Impact of Physical Environment on Culture
  • Population Distribution and Resource Use
  • Settlement Patterns
Grade 9

The Grade 9 curriculum offers a number of opportunities to teach students about sustainability, despite the fact that it is preoccupied mainly with history. By tracing in detail the history of colonialism in Canada, students may be taught that the Canadian economy has always been a fundamentally unsustainable one based on resource extraction and development. By contrast, Aboriginal ways of life that, more often than not, emphasized an interconnectedness on and interdependence with nature, will be examined. A comparison of this disparity would serve to illustrate both the problems with the mainstream environmental opinions of modern day Canadians, as well as offering a way forward through a more in-depth study of Aboriginal ways of life. The study of the geographical regions of North America also affords an opportunity to emphasize the dramatic changes those regions are undergoing as they are drained of their resources and thrown out of balance. A study of unsustainable societal structures such as the genocidal tactics employed against Aboriginal peoples -- then as now -- could take shape in the form of a comparison between the Truth and Reconciliation movement and the heinous (and officially endorsed) tactics used against Native Americans from the early days of colonization up to the 1990's.

Key Topics Include:

  • Exploration and Trade Routes
  • Impact of Physical Environment on Trade and Settlement
  • Aboriginal People’s Relationship with the Environment[7]


Environment: Canada from 1815 to 1914

In this organizer, students examine the physical geography of Canada and its physiographic regions, and study the influence of geography on economic development and settlement patterns from 1815 to 1914. Students will identify key resource development issues in British Columbia and explore the application of stewardship and sustainability.

  • Describe the physiographic regions of Canada and the geological processes that formed these regions (E1)
  • Analyse how geography influenced the economic development and settlement patterns in regions of

Canada from 1815 to 1914 (E2)

  • Evaluate attitudes and practices in resource development in British Columbia from 1815 to 1914 and their impact on contemporary resource management[8]

Gr. 11

Human Geography

Students develop understanding of the global issues that arise from the disparity in standards of living, how they affect our environment, and our response to the issues.

It is expected that students will:

• explain the significance of changes in world population with reference to

− population pyramids

− distribution

− density

− demographic transition models

• compare Canada’s standard of living with those of developing countries, with reference to poverty and key indicators of human development

• assess environmental challenges facing Canadians, including

− global warming

− ozone layer depletion

− fresh water quality and supply[9]

Geography 12

Resources and Environmental Sustainability

This organizer provides opportunities for students to explore the considerations involved in making resource-management decisions and to examine the environmental issues associated with various human activities.

F1 assess the various considerations involved in resource management, including

− sustainability

− availability

− social/cultural consequences

− economic consequences

− political consequences

F2 assess the environmental impact of human activities, including

− energy production and use

− forestry

− fishing

− mining

− agriculture

− waste disposal

− water use[10]

Sample Lesson and Unit Plans

The following lesson plans were developed by Tony and Stephanie.

Sustainability Mini-Unit

This is a three lesson mini-unit to be taught as part of the Social Studies 11 Curriculum.

Sustainability Mini-Unit

Industrial Revolution - Lesson Plan

This lesson focuses on the human impact upon the physical environment that resulted from the Industrial Revolution:

The Environmental Impact of the Industrial Revolution Lesson Plan

by Stephanie Hather

Teaching Materials

Greenschools - BC

On this site you will find climate change lesson plans, eco kits for schools, Wild BC publications, and many other resources for bringing sustainability into the classroom.

Sustainable Forest Management in British Columbia

This site contains lesson plans on Sustainable Forest Management in BC for Social Studies 10, 11, and Geography 12.

Agriculture in BC Unit Plan

This site provides a unit plan on Agriculture in BC for Social Studies 10/11 and Geography 12.

Ecological Footprint Calculator

How much land area does it take to support your lifestyle? Teachers can use this quiz with students in the classroom to find out their Ecological Footprint, discover their biggest areas of resource consumption, and learn what they can do to tread more lightly on the earth.

Teaching ideas and resources are also available at the Sea to Sky Outdoor School website:

Sea to Sky Outdoor School for Sustainability Education

Teachable Strategies for Local Change


Community Service Learning: Whether the age of students is in elementary, high school, or university, community service learning has been tried within various different disciplines to actively engage learners on hands on experiences. In terms of being locally sustainable, the Vancouver School Board partners with non-profit groups such as The Fresh Roots Urban Farm to start and maintain community gardens on high school properties to encourage teachers to take their classes into these environments to promote learning. Examples given by Fresh Roots Farm representatives include math teachers using the garden for a measurement unit (students measuring carrots).[11]

A similar service-based learning in a post-secondary sense include UBC's Community-Based-Experiential-Learning courses that partner UBC students with certain community partners to work on answering a research question the sponsor proposed. The student will work in conjunction with the professor and the community partner to attempt to provide a feasible solution to the provide in the form of presentations and a final paper. [12]

Critical Reviews

Paul Orlowski, "Separate oil & state: Using the media for a critical eco-pedagogy in the classroom."

Paul Orlowski's article aims to show readers the true sides of an environmental crisis happening that the federal government is currently ignoring. In his article he uproots the sources of many different kinds of media that indicate a denial of climate change. He shows readers how the elected government officials, corporate scientists, and even judges have a connection with the oil companies whether in the past or present.

He draws on environmental educators and their approach in pedagogy in recent years that support the connection of people and place. But, he also indicates this process is too slow because it doesn't solve the problem that people depend still far too much on fossil fuels. Orlowski suggests one method of using critical media literacy techniques to directly indicate to students the problems we're facing in this world.

He reminds us that BC's curriculum does support environmental education through the iteration of 3 Prescribed Learning Outcomes (PLO's) in his article. But he also quoted Wayne Ross stating that even if the government doesn't support this type of education, the consequences of not addressing this to students is far to high to ignore.

Orlowski quotes the backgrounds of Stephen Harper's father and his Minister of Environment of working and having ties in the oil industry. He also quotes how media changed the disturbing name of tar-sands into something more pleasant "oil sands" in order to keep going with their business as usual agenda. Not only does Orlowski reveal the Canadian side, he also reveals the side of the U.S.

All in all, this article tries to highlight how capitalism infiltrates governments in Canada so that their plans can continue on a business as usual basis. Since this issue is so complex, in order to solve it, we must have a strong resistance to these choices of unsustainable practices and that an "informed, and vigilant citizenry is required to have all aspects of the oil industry regulated." Review by: Randy Chau

Rebecca Martusewicz & Gary Schnakenberg, "Eco-justice, community-based learning and social studies education."

In Rebecca and Gary's article they proposed a new framework for teaching called Eco-Justice in order to find and restore the past cultural and ecological practices that provide solutions to live more sustainably in our own culture and other cultures around the world. They also claim there is a linkage between linguistically rooted patterns of belief and behaviour in Western industrial cultures to have a negative effect that causes one side to dominate and promote social violence and ecological degradation.

They called it a "cultural crisis" because it is the behaviours of people that dictate such ecological destruction. Because of the cultural crisis approach to thinking, it relates to how sustainability is taught in schools. They argue that it should be integrated with Social Studies courses because that is where talks of poverty, racism, sexism, and other forms of social violence is addressed.

Six tasks outline the Eco-Justice framework to help encourage sustainability:

1) To fix socio-linguistic foundations that causes the forms of ecological and social violences today. 2) To find and erase the problems marginalized groups around the world are facing due to ravages of pollution, species extinction, topsoil loss, fisheries loss and other forms of ecological degradation. 3) To cease cultural, economic, and environmental exploitations of third world nations by the Global North. 4) To rediscover and support common old practices that were sustainable to Earth in order to achieve a healthier balance among the market and non-market aspects of community life. 5) To protect renewable resources in order to secure living conditions for future generations. 6) To support local change that can lead to earth democracies.

Former discursive and powerful practices lead to social policies, economic decisions, and educational institutions to continue to maintain their unsustainable overconsumption of resources we need to survive. In order to change this using the six points of EcoJustice, Rebecca Martusewicz & Gary Schnakenberg suggests placed based learning that can be incorporated in Social Studies classes. It reconnects students and teachers to their local communities where relationships with neighbourhoods and landscapes can help rediscover these common, old, sustainable practices while learning about the material dictated in the curriculum at the same time. (See Fresh Roots Farm section for an example of a Community-based learning approach.) Review by: Randy Chau

Hannah Lewis, "Stories About Place: Community mapping is a powerful tool for environmental education."

The article "Stories About Place: Community mapping is a powerful tool for environmental education" by Hannah Lewis serves as an important reminder of the agenda behind the creation of maps, something which I believe we do not often think about. As Lewis notes, maps are often viewed as objective, factual pieces but this is not always the case.

The concept of “community mapping” is, I believe, a useful tool for social studies teachers. Teachers like myself, who have a history or social science background other than geography, may struggle when it comes to creating engaging and meaningful mapping activities. The idea of starting students out by creating their own maps of places they know, such as their route to school, is a great introduction to mapping for students. Analyzing students’ own maps can also help them to understand the bias and agenda that goes into the creation of other maps by organizations, governments or individuals.

The Parkdale maps example described in the article was also a great example of non-conventional mapping techniques and activities that could be used in our own classrooms. In this case, mapping was used to bring up the issue of sustainable food practices in the community. For example, this mapping experiment led to the important insight that “majority of the food in Parkdale comes from outside of Canada, especially Asia, and that most of the youth could only guess the origins of their food. This situation precipitated a discussion about the social and environmental costs of the global industrial food system, and its extensive dependence on energy, oil, and chemicals.”[13] For Parkdale, this mapping exercise led to some good dialogue about some important community and sustainability issues.

It is clear after reading the Lewis article that community mapping offers an opportunity for an important dialogue and strengthened community relations and I could definitely see myself implementing this type of activity in my own classroom as a teacher. However, it is important to focus on the implications of such dialogue. It is great to draw some conclusions from this type of activity, such as the fact that most Parkdale residents’ food came from outside of Canada, but the important question is “what’s next?” We have to encourage not only our students but our community members to take the next step and actually do something about the issues we are raising. Review by: Stephanie Hather

Michael Cranny, Crossroads: A Meeting of Nations, Second Edition.

A new grade nine Social Studies textbook came out this year entitled “Crossroads: A Meeting of Nations, Second Edition.”[14] This is the second edition of the Crossroads text that has been used in many BC schools for grade 9 Social Studies over the last few years. I am lucky enough to be teaching Social Studies 9 on my long practicum using this new textbook – I say lucky because it is a vast improvement over the first edition with regards to how it is structured.

The book is divided into 3 major units: Colonialism and Conflict, Democracy and the Modern World, and Global Transformations. These units lend themselves to the opportunity to cover a richness of content and touch on major issues. Each unit also poses a guiding question which helps focus what students should be getting out of each unit. Every unit also ends with an activity that can be used as-is or adapted by teachers.

Each of these units is made up of 3-4 chapters, and each of these chapters has a focus question as well. Each section of the chapter also begins with a question. I really appreciate the question-oriented structure of the book because it provides clarity for the unit and chapter focus for both the teacher and the students, and helps the teacher to structure lessons and content.

Upon comparison, the textbook is also clearly aligned with the Social Studies 9 PLOs, which makes it an easy choice for schools and teachers. It is apparent that the book was written specifically for teaching Social Studies 9 in BC and as such it covers all the major content areas set out by the Ministry of Education.

With regards to sustainability, the Crossroads text provides an opportunity to integrate the topic into the course, however it is not a major focus of the book. This is to be expected as sustainability is not a major focus of the Social Studies 9 PLOs, either. Some of the key areas of the textbook that focus on issues of sustainability are the contrast between Aboriginal and British ways of life, the impact of the fur trade, and the industrial revolution. The industrial revolution section of the chapter focuses the most on sustainability issues as it addresses such topics as agricultural change and the environmental impact of industrialization. Overall, however, it is quite clear that issues of sustainability are not a major focal point of the Crossroads text.

With the new changes to the curriculum coming out it will be interesting to see how useful this textbook will be going forward, or if schools will even bother purchasing it. Perhaps it will prove not to be useful for the new curriculum. For the present, though, I see this textbook as a useful guide for how to structure my course, lessons, and units, but I will definitely not be relying on it as my major source. I will be bringing in my own resources for each topic covered in my class. However, the book does contain some good ideas for activities which I could see myself adapting and using in my classroom. Review by: Stephanie Hather

Citations for Required Readings

1) Martusewicz, R., & Schnakenberg, G. (2010). Eco-justice, community-based learning and social studies education. In A. P. DeLeon & E. W. Ross (Eds.), Critical theories, radical pedagogies and social education (pp. 25-41). Rotterdam: Sense Publishing.

2) Hursh, D. (2010). The long emergency: Education for democracy and sustainability. In A. P. DeLeon & E. W. Ross (Eds.), Critical theories, radical pedagogies and social education (pp. 139-150). Rotterdam: Sense Publishing.

3) Lewis, H. (2009). Stories about place: Community mapping is a powerful tool for environmental education. Our Schools Ourselves, 19(1), 59-66. Available at

4) Orlowski, P. (2011). Separate oil & state: Using the media for a critical eco-pedagogy in the classroom. Our Schools Ourselves, 20(3), 91-120.


Useful Links

BC Social Studies IRPs

Environment Canada

Centre for Sustainable Food Systems at UBC Farm

The David Suzuki Foundation

Greenpeace Canada

BC Ministry of Education Sustainable Schools Best Practices Guide

BC Sustainable Energy Association

BC Ministry of Education Sustainability Course Content - A Curriculum Framework

Learning for a Sustainable Future

2010 Environmental Performance Index

Green City Index

Cheat Neutral

Back to the Start - video

Sustainability Through Animation - video

Further Readings

  1. Murray Bookchin, The Ecology of Freedom.
  2. Luke Cole, Sheila Foster, and Samuel Slipp, From the Ground Up: Environmental Racism and the Rise of the Environmental Justice Movement.
  3. Elizabeth Kolbert, Field Notes from a Catastrophe.
  4. Vadana Shiva, Democratizing Biology: Reinventing Biology from a Feminist, Ecological and Third World Perspective.
  5. Alexandra Morton, Listening to Whales.
  6. Indigenous Environmental Network (Organization)
  7. Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals.
  8. Hayao Miyazaki, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (film)
  9. The Garden (film)


  1. Green Innovations. “Ecological Sustainability.” [1]
  3. The TRUiST Blog. “The Three Pillars of Sustainability.” [2]
  4. Matt Hern, editor. Stay Solid! A Radical Handbook for Youth. pp. 234.
  5. City of Richmond. “About Social Sustainability.” [3]
  6. Schmitz, Stinson, and James. “Community and Environmental Sustainability: Collaboration and Interdisciplinary Education.”[4]
  7. British Columbia Ministry of Education, Skills and Training. “Social Studies 8 to 10 Integrated Resource Package 1997.” [5]
  8. British Columbia Ministry of Education, Skills and Training. (E3)“Social Studies 10 Integrated Resource Package 2006.” [6]
  9. British Columbia Ministry of Education, Skills and Training. “Social Studies 11 Integrated Resource Package 2005.” [7]
  10. British Columbia Ministry of Education, Skills and Training. “Geography 12 Integrated Resource Package 2006.” [8]
  11. Fresh Roots Urban Farm Society. "On the Farm." MailChimp. N.p., 27 Aug. 2013. Web. 09 Oct. 2013.[9]
  12. "The University of British Columbia." Community Service Learning. UBC Wiki, n.d. Web. 09 Oct. 2013.[10]
  13. Hannah Lewis. “Stories About Place: Community mapping is a powerful tool for environmental education.” Our Schools Ourselves, 19(1), 59-66.
  14. Michael Cranny. Crossroads: A Meeting of Nations, Second Edition. Toronto: Pearson, 2013.