chapter  4
15 Pages

The Role of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Education for Sustainable Development

This chapter is grounded in our collective experience of making sustainable

development a major theme in our teaching. The four of us, all faculty in the

humanities and social sciences at the University of Massachusetts Lowell (UML),

support fully our university’s public commitment to sustainable development as a

central element of its mission. We have found, however, that education for

sustainable development has been limited by the assumption that the meaning of

sustainability is self-evident and universal. Our experience has led us to recognize

that we cannot successfully teach about sustainable development without first

addressing the meaning of the concept itself. We argue here, from the perspective

of our own disciplines, that sustainability is fundamentally a moral and political

question. Many corporations are embracing themes related to sustainable develop-

ment in order to demonstrate that they are good corporate citizens; at the other

end of the spectrum is a radical social ecology that sees capitalism as inherently

unsustainable. Education for sustainable development must first acknowledge

the value-laden nature of the concept, and then make explicit the particular values

that are to be taught. Only after an ongoing social dialogue can we arrive at a

consensus on a working definition of sustainable development. This is a task

for which the humanities and social sciences can make a major contribution.