Teaching (un)sustainability? University sustainability commitments and student experiences of introductory economics
The three largest public universities in British Columbia, Canada have signed the Talloires Declaration, committing themselves to promoting sustainability and creating expectations that they will integrate sustainability across the curriculum in order to improve students' environmental literacy and stewardship. About 40% of North American university students take a mainstream introductory economics course; few of these students take economics at more advanced levels. As such, introductory economics courses are an important vehicle for students to learn economic theory; they have the potential to contribute to the knowledge that students can mobilize to foster sustainability. Interviews were held with 54 students who had recently completed an introductory level mainstream economics course at one of the three universities. Students reported that introductory economics courses place little emphasis on the environment and sustainability, they recalled course content with normative connotations that are problematic from a sustainability perspective and they described how discussion of the limitations of mainstream theory was set aside. Student reports of the insights introductory economics offers into environmental problems imply that these courses are failing to substantively increase students' understanding of sustainability and linkages between the environment and the economy. Findings suggest that current introductory economics curriculum undermines the universities' sustainability commitments.
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