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Interview With the Editor: Tania Madfes

What’s Fair Got To Do With It: Diversity Cases From Environmental Educators

“The impetus for What’s Fair Got To Do With It came from an organization funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to strengthen the field of environmental education. EETAP (Environmental Education & Training Partnership) hoped to focus on a theme that members increasingly were raising—how to enlarge the reach of environmentalism and environmental education to better include diverse populations in communities and in schools.

“EETAP knew of WestEd’s work in environmental education and the agency’s history developing the case methods approach for educators. Because a case approach can really help people contextualize problems and issues and find the best solutions, EETAP was taken with the idea of using cases to explore diversity issues in environmental education. In addition to environmental justice issues, such as which communities get their beaches protected or their waste dumps cleaned up, there are vexing cultural issues as seemingly simple as what it means to be “on time” for class at a nature center. And racism continues to show up in how students are supported or staff treated.

“The plan was to get a group of 20 diverse environmental educators together to reflect on diversity-related dilemmas and problems that arose in their work and to write about their real-life experiences. Through the process, some group members would be case authors and some would be critical friends.

“The group first met at a four-day retreat in Nebraska. We were complete strangers, from very different disciplines, cultures, ethnicities, parts of the continent. Some people taught environmental education in schools, some worked in large agencies, others were interpreters at nature centers or leaders in community organizations—they were as diverse as the populations we were trying to reach. With all our differences, once we started working, everything began to click.

“For the next several months, we stayed in close contact through email and phone conversations, fleshing out ideas and giving feedback on the cases. It was through this collaboration and continual editing that these cases really developed. The facts of the cases were the facts, so the challenge was to recognize how to focus each case to elicit reader aha’s—and which concrete details would help to accomplish that.

“At the end of the project, we got together for two final days. We had struggled with diversity issues from the inside out, and this collection of strangers had become a pretty tight-knit group. Later, when we piloted the cases with environmental educators, the power of the cases to bring people together was clear. It is my hope that the cases we developed for What’s Fair can be a catalyst for others to come together in an affirming way—ready to learn from how our diverse cultures can trip us up sometimes and prepared to apply new understandings in wider and wider circles.”