New: Critical Arts-based Sustainability Education (CASE)

Educational model by Fellinger, 2020

With this method, students are the researchers who develop new knowledge through art and play, make new connections and thus arrive at surprising and concrete results regarding sustainability.

Art cannot solve the climate problem, but art can motivate people to take action. This project combines arts-based research (ABR), education on sustainability and insights from critical pedagogy into an innovative didactic concept: CASE (Critical Arts-based Sustainability Education).

The efforts of students as researchers are rooted in critical pedagogy. Research is done with arts-based research (ABR) methodologies. When you literally experience a problem by examining yourself, you have a different (direct) perception, and you experience a greater urgency to solve it. The aim is to make students aware of their own position and that of others – including that of non-humans (flora, fauna, rivers, ecosystems) – around sustainability.

CASE stimulates critical thinking and acting around the themes studied by students (e.g. climate, plastic, biodiversity, etc.) in which art and the practice of art are instrumental. Learners are part of the problem and part of the solution with this method.

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Critical art education

Paulo Freire is one of the founders of critical pedagogy. Inspired by his work Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970) it is my aim to research and combat climate change and pollution through art, to start a dialogue and then to connect action and theory. In other words: bringing about a social change with art as a medium/catalyst.

The role of art

Visual arts, theatre, music, story and play are powerful tools to question, investigate and change the world around us. These give a separate space in which (for a moment) everything is possible with the power of imagination, which has its own rules and which is outside of the observed reality. No wonder certain regimes and organizations want to control these resources to safeguard their interests. In an educational context, the aforementioned creative disciplines can help pupils and students explore the world around them and ultimately change it with each other.

Status quo vs change

Our climate is changing, our environment is polluted and biodiversity is declining sharply. All this thanks to human action. Have we reached a tipping point towards a dead world? Is there anything we can do to keep what we have? This is the greatest and most complex challenge humanity has faced in its existence. Which social structures and systems underlie climate change, pollution and loss of biodiversity? Who will benefit from the status quo and who will be affected? What could be different? Which laws and regulations serve whose interests. What if…
To investigate and (partly) solve the observed problems, art based research, game principles and expressive working methods can be used.

Educational model

To arrive at a thorough analysis in problematization, the step of research and problematization is an intensive process with those involved. After all, an incorrect or incomplete analysis poses problems in the subsequent steps of dialogue and praxis.
Praxis is the process by which a theory, lesson or skill is enacted, embodied or realized. Paulo Freire defines praxis in Pedagogy of the Oppressed as “Reflection and action directed at the structures to be transformed.” This implies that student-researchers are trying to come to the core of the perceived situation. 

Students are the researchers

The arts provide their own space by making and researching. This gives access to other and creative ways of collecting and sharing knowledge. Both the student and the teacher learn in this process. After all, learning and creating are social processes. A teacher facilitates and asks critical questions to stimulate creativity and research. The teacher has more knowledge and experience and guides critical pedagogy from facts and merits. This is fundamentally different from the usual position of power of the teacher in education based on hierarchy. As a teacher, you are therefore not busy filling students with knowledge because you have to (deposit method), but you are working with the group from a problem to investigate this and to connect this to dialogue and conscious action. Freire calls this way of working the problematizing method.

Everyone is part of the situation and can change it.

Critical pedagogy assumes that education is never neutral. We are all the product of our environment. Insight into one’s own position and that of others is the first step in awareness. The contradiction of oppressor-oppressed is vital here. Investigating and ultimately overcoming this contradiction is a fundamental principle in the critical pedagogical approach. A simple exchange of the position of oppressor-oppressed is expressly out of the question. It is about freedom based on reciprocity and cooperation. The situation includes own and shared responsibility.

Critical thinking and acting

This method stimulates critical thinking and acting around the researched themes in combination with art and art practice. Learners are part of the problem and the solution with this method. Traditional education on society and sustainability lingers in generalities and does not encourage targeted action in combination with research and theory. Art provides a free space in which a different way of learning and communication is possible to deal with a problem and to work on an action to achieve change.

Next steps

The aim is to arrive at a toolkit with working methods that facilitate the steps of problematization and dialogue and can make connections in praxis. I start from the scenario that students are researchers in training who work within a certain teaching context on their analytical, investigative skills and critical reflection.

Questions? Contributions?

Do you want to know more or contribute to this initiative? Feel free to contact me at