Food researcher calls for 'queer pedagogy' as part of sustainable development education

“Queer pedagogy, as a form of critical pedagogy, rejects the influence of heteronormative and patriarchal systems and consequently also rejects anthropocentrism,” says Higgins.

Mia Ashton Montreal QC

In order to effectively educate for sustainable development, it is important to educate in a “queer-informed” way, according to one queer pedagogue who believes that unsustainable development i.e., development that is economically, socially, and environmentally damaging, can be said to be “heteronormative and patriarchal.”

Sustainable development is economic development that focuses on not depleting natural resources. In energy, things like wind and solar power are considered sustainable in outcome, though they are substantially less sustainable in the production of the tools needed to generate, store and transmit that energy.

In a 2021 paper titled "Queer pedagogy for, with and within education for sustainable development," Dr. Keiran Higgins of the School of Biological Sciences at Queen’s University Belfast, states that “Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is a growing movement that seeks to empower learners to face the existential threats of the Anthropocene.” 

The anthropocene is defined as being the current geological age, viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment.

Queer pedagogy, as a form of critical pedagogy, rejects the influence of heteronormative and patriarchal systems and consequently also rejects anthropocentrism,” says Higgins.

Heteronormative is defined as “the positioning of cisgender heterosexuality as the societal default or even ideal.”

Higgins explains that the United Nations adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, designed to guide humanity towards a more measured and equitable environment, society, and economy. The role of education in meeting these goals was recognized by the creation of Education for Sustainable Development, which Higgins argues must be “queered.”

This is because education is apparently “not neutral,” but instead can “ignore, or even detract from sustainable development.” Higgins says his paper “is focused on higher education but many of the contributions can be adapted for use in primary, secondary and further education.”

“It is important to foster queer desires in the classroom,” advises Higgins. “While queer pedagogy does have an element of the (homo)erotic to it, this is not specifically about students’ choice of romantic or sexual partner. Instead, it is about celebrating the diversity of wants and needs among students, particularly when it comes to how they might use the education that pedagogues imbue them with.”

Educators are also told that self-disclosure is an “important tool for fostering queer desires,” and Higgins rejects the traditional teacher training that told teachers to leave their private lives out of the classroom.

A “queer pedagogue rejects this notion, speaking openly about who they are, experiences that they have had and the reasons why they do what they do,” says Higgins. “They use their stories to build rapport with students, inform students about the range of options open to them and follow this up with a referral pathway of opportunities to engage in events, training programmes, clubs, societies and more taking place both inside and outside institutions.”

“If our students are ever to fathom creative and innovative solutions to the existential crisis facing humanity, it is therefore important that they not feel ashamed of the parts of themselves that could bring forth these solutions,” Higgins explains.

“Once students have awareness of their desires, they can begin to think about how to turn these into actions that advance sustainable development,” the advice continues, before going on to explain that testing, grading, and assessment is “straight, literally and figuratively.” Here, the “philosophy of upgrading” is offered as insightful.

“When examining queer pedagogy or indeed, any subject, through a queer lens, one is often left with more questions than answers,” says Higgins in the conclusion, a statement surely no reader would argue with.

We are told that the UN’s SDGs, “the so-called hallmark of sustainable development, are notably silent on any reference to queerness.” Higgins takes issue with SDG5’s first target, which is to end “all forms of discrimination against women and girls everywhere,” because “only cisgendered women and girls everywhere…will benefit, and gender is reduced to biology only.”

SDG10 “Reduced Inequalities” is similarly unacceptable because it “does not mention even sexual orientation, common to equality legislation throughout the world, leaving it neatly tucked away under terminology like “other status.”

“As a truly queer pedagogue attempting to educate for sustainable development, our first duty is to resist a vision of a future that omits queerness, and that may mean a rapid change to, or even rejection of, the SDGs,” Higgins concludes.


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