Degree Date


Document Type

Dissertation - Public Access

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)

Academic Discipline

Adult and Continuing Education

First Advisor

Dr. Scipio A.J. Colin, III

Second Advisor

Dr. Tom Heaney

Third Advisor

Dr. Stephen Brookfield


This Africentric historical inquiry introduces Wangari Maathai, 2004 Nobel Peace Prize recipient and internationally renowned Kenyan activist, as a visionary adult educator and leader of the liberatory environmental movement -The Green Belt Movement. The Movement addresses decades of mis-education through culturally grounded adult education activities that help communities understand the linkages between environmental degradation and poor governance, and educate people to participate in democracy.

The study describes Maathai’s philosophy and how it informed her leadership of environmental, political, and social change. The African philosophical framework of Maat, and the principle of serudj-ta (repairing, renewing and restoring the world) provide a lens and conceptual grounding for understanding

Maathai’s philosophy. Maathai’s message, that equitable and sustainable management of natural resources is inextricably bound with issues of governance and social justice, suggests the consciousness that allows exploitation and domination of people is the same consciousness that allows exploitation and domination of nature. Adult education is central to the Movement because of its role in helping people understand and address root causes of injustice, in all its forms.

Maathai’s success at mobilizing thousands of people at the grassroots, many marginalized, to both challenge oppressive systems and affect environmental change at the local level speaks to the power of culturally grounded adult education. The Movement employed adult education as a decolonization process and to foster the revitalization of indigenous culture, selfethnic identity, women’s empowerment, and participatory democracy. For adult educators and others concerned with the environment, Maathai’s work teaches us that we must not isolate our work in that domain from the larger, systemic and root causes of environmental problems.


revised by author Fall 2010 to include photos