Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences

, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp 351–356 | Cite as

Reading the land: on the ethical foundations of environmental studies’ signature pedagogy

  • Kimberly SmithEmail author


Many environmental studies and sciences (ESS) programs include courses that teach students how to interpret the landscape—to “read the land.” I argue that this practice fits Lee Shulman’s concept of a “signature pedagogy”: a pedagogy that is characteristic of a field or discipline and that implicitly shapes the character of future practice. One dimension of a signature pedagogy is its “implicit structure,” a set of beliefs about the attitudes, values, and dispositions it seeks to develop. Drawing on the work of Iris Murdoch and Lawrence Blum, I argue that teaching students how to read the land is aimed at developing their “moral perception”: their ability to appreciate the moral significance of the various elements of the landscape. This practice develops a certain kind of attentiveness to the landscape that ESS promotes, and should promote, as the mark of an environmentally knowledgeable and responsible person.


Signature pedagogy Environmental studies Interpreting landscapes Environmental ethics Aldo Leopold Moral perception 


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Copyright information

© AESS 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Environmental StudiesCarleton CollegeNorthfieldUSA

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