Paulo Friere, a Brazilian Educator, worked to empower illiterate people in Brazil. His philosophy is represented in the following statement:
You never really understand an issue or know how to help resolve it until you involve yourself in the issue. Then you begin to understand it, to identify the principal parties and actors involved, and begin to realize how to change it.
Environmental problems are by nature interdisciplinary, embracing science, social science, economics and politics, and effective solutions to them rest upon a respect for the culture in which they are found. Although we need to be understanding of cultural values, we may at the same time be critical of human practices that damage the environment and disregard basic human rights.
The use of action research and community problem solving in the area of environmental education has come most notably from the work of Friere as well as William Stapp, Arjen Wals, Giovanna Di Chiro, Ian Robottom, Bill Hammond, and Harold Hungerford. This is the educational philosophy Blue Forests shares. We use it to engage coastal communities in problem solving.
Because environmental problems are interdisciplinary in scope, and often affect diverse populations with differing values and perspectives, effective solutions require looking at problems from various points of view. The complexity of environmental problems, and appropriate responses to these problems, require a sense of competence that stems in part from a thorough knowledge of the problem area.
Our “Do Your Own Mangrove Action Project” handbook combines aspects of fieldwork focusing on the health and use of mangrove ecosystems, with a community problem solving approach that follows the three steps noted above. The model is based on research into how people organize ideas (cognitive-mapping), how people solve problems, and how educators can use this information to make education more relevant and meaningful. Ultimate success is measured by the change in values of the target group, improved health of the mangrove ecosystem and a coincident improvement in the quality of coastal peoples’ lives.
The process followed in taking effective action has been influenced by environmental educators seeking effective means to educate and empower people about their environment, and by educational researchers interested in problem solving strategies within educational contexts. The educator John Dewey was an early advocate of reflective thinking, and believed that thoughts cannot be separated from action (Dewey, 1963). He thought that schools should involve students in the real world to make education more meaningful.