Peer Reviewed



The ecological imagination calls for a new mode of education: education that embraces the arts as a way to conceive of new ecological perspectives, other ways of being in relation to the earth, better ecological alternatives, and new dialogues about our role in the world. Through a critical place-based art pedagogy, education can become a means of awakening the ecological imagination—opening the world to new possibilities, new critiques, and, most importantly, new acts. Empathy is especially appropriate to study as an outcome of a critical place-based art program because of its ability to facilitate connections and its close ties with aesthetic experience. Thus, the purpose of this ongoing mixed methods case study is to examine how middle school students in a critical place-based art program experience empathy with the environment. Operating in the pragmatic paradigm, the study asks the following questions: How do middle school students experience empathy with the environment throughout a critical place-based art program? How does participation in a place-based art education program affect students’ pro-environmental orientations (ecological paradigm)? Which aspects of a place-based art education program, if any, contribute to students’ empathy with the environment? Why? Drawing exercises, interviews, surveys, reviews of visual/verbal journals, observations, and focus groups will be used to answer these questions. This study is especially relevant for art educators and administrators seeking to develop programs that are relevant to students and capable of producing empathetic, ecologically-minded, active citizens who are capable of working toward social and ecological change in their communities.


place-based education, empathy, environment, imagination

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Copyright © 2012 Joy G. Bertling

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