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Ecoliterate: How Educators Are Cultivating Emotional, Social, and Ecological Intelligence

ISBN: 978-1-118-10457-6
192 pages
August 2012, Jossey-Bass
Ecoliterate: How Educators Are Cultivating Emotional, Social, and Ecological Intelligence (1118104579) cover image


A new integration of Goleman's emotional, social, and ecological intelligence 

Hopeful, eloquent, and bold, Ecoliterate offers inspiring stories, practical guidance, and an exciting new model of education that builds - in vitally important ways - on the success of social and emotional learning by addressing today's most important ecological issues.

This book shares stories of pioneering educators, students, and activists engaged in issues related to food, water, oil, and coal in communities from the mountains of Appalachia to a small village in the Arctic; the deserts of New Mexico to the coast of New Orleans; and the streets of Oakland, California to the hills of South Carolina. 

Ecoliterate marks a rich collaboration between Daniel Goleman and the Center for Ecoliteracy, an organization best known for its pioneering work with school gardens, school lunches, and integrating ecological principles and sustainability into school curricula. For nearly twenty years the Center has worked with schools and organizations in more than 400 communities across the United States and numerous other countries. 

Ecoliterate also presents five core practices of emotionally and socially engaged ecoliteracy and a professional development guide.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xiii
INTRODUCTION: From Breakdown to Breakthrough 1
Five Practices of Emotionally and Socially Engaged Ecoliteracy 12



1 Lessons from a Coal Miner's Daughter 23
Teri Blanton and Wendell Berry, Kentucky
How to Mine a Mountain 25
Deconstructing the Meaning of "Cheap" 26
Why Can't We Go Out and Play, Daddy? 30

2 Taking a Power Trip 35
Spartanburg Day School, South Carolina
Bringing "The Ecosphere" Down to Earth 36
What’s My Connection? 40
The Last Mountain 41


3 The Heart of the Caribou 45
Sarah James, Arctic Village, Alaska
Top Ten Oil Producers 48
United States Is Number One in Oil Consumption 53

4 Beyond Whining 55
Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools
The World's Most Important Energy Source 59
Classroom Exercise: Where's the Oil? 62


5 Water Wars and Peace 65
Aaron Wolf, Mediator and Oregon State University Professor
The Biggest (Hidden) Use of Water 67
Ocean Water in a Glass? 68
The Resilience of Water 71

6 From Restoration to Resilience 77
Students and Teachers Restoring a Watershed, Northern California
Freshwater Blues 81
The Rise of Dead Zones 82
The New Face of Water Pollution 84


7 Changing a Food System, One Seed at a Time 89
La Semilla Food Center, Anthony, New Mexico
How to Feed Nine Billion 92
Test Your "Food IQ" 94

8 Forging the Food Justice Path 99
Tony Smith, Superintendent of Schools, Oakland, California
The Rise of School Food Reform 100
The Curriculum Connection 105
Rethinking School Lunch 106


9 Cultivating Ecoliterate Learning Communities 113
Guidelines for Engaging Colleagues

Using Circles to Cultivate Deep Listening 118
Transformation in the Classroom 120

10 Reflection and Practice 123
Conversation Strategies for Getting Started
Going on a Virtual Dive 127
Professional Development Sample Agendas 130

CONCLUSION: Hands-On Hope 133
Notes 135
Resources 155
Index 163
The Center for Ecoliteracy 171
The Authors 173

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Author Information

Daniel Goleman is an internationally known psychologist, former New York Times science reporter, and author of the classic Emotional Intelligence.

Lisa Bennett is the communications director of the Center for Ecoliteracy, a longtime writer about the environment, health, and education. She is also a former fellow at Harvard University's Center on Press, Politics, and Public Policy.

Zenobia Barlow is the executive director and cofounder of the Center for Ecoliteracy and coeditor of Ecological Literacy: Educating Our Children for a Sustainable World.

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“In this pioneering book, Dan Goleman and his collaborators demonstrate—in vivid and compelling fashion—how education can be transformed through a synthesis of these intelligences.”—Howard Gardner, Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education 

"In the 21st century, we need a new relationship with nature, a redefinition of both environmentalism and ecoliteracy. Ecoliterate offers a roadmap for educators—and the rest of us—to that future, one based on empathy, kinship, natural intelligence, and hope. We're in their debt for showing the way."— Richard Louv, author of The Nature Principle and Last Child in the Woods 

“Gutsy, eloquent, moving, Ecoliterate is a masterpiece of motivation and practical guidance. Yes, it is perfect for educators, but it is also perfect for students, parents, grandparents, and all of us yearning to contribute to life on our planet. Ecoliterate will help young people discover their own power—and that genie is impossible to get back in the bottle! I love this book.”—Frances Moore Lappé, author of EcoMind: Changing the Way We Think, to Create the World We Want 

“Beautifully written, accessible, and urgently important, Ecoliterate introduces us to individuals and communities around the country who in very real, practical ways are demonstrating that a new world is possible. No harangue here; this is about hope, embodied in educating our children—head, heart, and hands—to deeply understand how to take care of themselves, their neighbors, and the natural world on which we all depend.”—Michael Ableman, farmer and author of From the Good Earth, On Good Land, and Fields of Plenty 

“To be Ecoliterate is to be equipped to be Earth Citizens, to reach our full potential as human beings. This important book shows us how."—Vandana Shiva, Founder, Navdanya International and author of Soil Not Oil 

“Timely, important, healing, and hopeful—Ecoliterate is a ‘must read, must implement’ guide to a healthy and sustainable present and future.”—Cheryl Charles, President and CEO, Children & Nature Network 

“The Center for Ecoliteracy has for years been a preeminent thought leader for how we can educate our children in a way that creates generations of earth-stewards. Ecoliterate is a much-needed guide for exactly how to accomplish this goal and includes great examples that demonstrate the success of their approach.”—Oran B. Hesterman, Ph.D., President and CEO, Fair Food Network

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Press Release

September 26, 2012
Ecoliterate: How Educators Are Cultivating Emotional, Social, and Ecological Intelligence

With a growing scarcity of fresh drinking water, the decline of healthy soil for growing food, and global climate change, the world’s population faces unprecedented ecological challenges.  According to Lisa Bennett, Zenobia Barlow, and Daniel Goleman, authors of ECOLITERATE:  How Educators Are Cultivating Emotional, Social, and Ecological Intelligence (Jossey-Bass, August 2012), an important key for meeting these challenges is helping young people develop a strong ecological sensibility.  In ECOLITERATE, they show how educators are awakening knowledge and empathy, and empowering youth to make a positive difference in the world.

Goleman is the bestselling author of Emotional Intelligence and Ecological Intelligence. Bennett is the communications director and Barlow the executive director at the Center for Ecoliteracy – which for nearly two decades has supported education for sustainable living through its work advancing school gardens, healthy school meals, and integrating ecological principles into school curricula.  

In ECOLITERATE, they present examples of educators, students, and community leaders engaged in sustainability efforts in communities as diverse as the mountains of Appalachia, a small village in the Arctic, the deserts of New Mexico, the coast of New Orleans, the streets of Oakland, California, and the hills of Spartanburg, South Carolina.  Through these examples, the authors lay out five key practices of emotionally and socially engaged ecoliteracy, including:

•Developing Empathy for All Forms of Life – “The ability to feel empathy toward all forms of life often stems from a deep understanding that humans are part of a broader community that includes all living beings,” explain the authors.  By keeping live plants and animals in the classroom; taking field trips to nature areas, zoos, botanical gardens, and animal rescue centers; and involving students in field projects like habitat restoration, children’s natural empathy for other beings is cultivated and sustained. 

•Embracing Sustainability as a Community Practice – “By learning the wondrous ways that plants, animals, and other living things are interdependent, students are inspired to consider the role of interconnectedness within their communities and see the value in thinking and acting cooperatively,” the authors write.  For example, they discuss how high school students in New Orleans are working to transform their school system so that it models sustainable living – offering more locally sourced food in the cafeteria; reducing   waste and committing to recycling; and eliminating the use of incandescent light bulbs.

•Making the Invisible Visible – Unlike a homesteading family that would quickly experience flooding and soil erosion following the total clearing of trees, most people do not immediately feel the myriad impact of their actions.  Among other examples, ECOLITERATE describes how a group of Spartanburg, South Carolina students set out on a “Power Trip” to see firsthand the devastation caused by mountaintop coal mining, and then shared what they learned after returning home.

•Anticipating Unintended Consequences – “Many of the environmental crises that we face today are the unintended consequences of human behavior,” the authors declare. 

They point to suburban sprawl, pollution, international conflicts, and climate change based on our dependence on fossil fuels.  In ECOLITERATE, they detail how industrialized agriculture has brought about a host of new problems – from soil and groundwater contamination to the loss of biodiversity to air pollution – and describe how a group of young adults in one of the poorest parts of New Mexico is seeking to meet these challenges by transforming the way people in their community nourish themselves. 

•Understanding How Nature Sustains Life – Emotionally and socially engaged ecoliterate people live in ways that reflect an understanding of how nature sustains life, the authors assert.  In ECOLITERATE, for instance, they discuss the Gwich’in people of northern Alaska who, for thousands of years, have observed a way of life rooted in a deep appreciation of the interconnectedness of life and nature.  Today, the Gwich’in have made protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil drilling their community’s first priority.

The survival of the earth demands that we find innovative solutions to ecological crises and make major changes in the way we live.  Through inspiring stories, practical guidance, and an exciting new model of education, ECOLITERATE aims to foster the kind of learning that meets the critical needs of the twenty-first century – and offers an antidote to the fear, anger, and hopelessness that can result from inaction. 

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