The expert-driven and normative character of sustainability education aims to promote societal transformation and global change. While some authors underline the ethical claims of education, others have criticized that there is a problematic tendency to prescribe certain actions beyond ethical education. The article aims to provide an empirical contribution, including students’ and teachers’ perspectives, and geography text- books, to the debate. Based on the results of an empirical study with 1001 secondary school students in Austria and Germany, we discuss the “ethical turn” and the moral code in sustainability education. The ques- tionnaires are completed with students’ drawings, qualitative interviews with geography teachers and an analysis of geography textbooks. We argue that most students have a precise idea what sustainability and sustainable behavior means, but they harbor right-wrong binary percep- tions of sustainable lifestyles. Many students lack knowledge of the interdependence of consumption and production networks, which impedes the understanding of complex sustainability patterns. Therefore, we recommend pluralistic and interconnected perspectives in sustainability, in the frame of school geography. A more democratic classroom contributes to develop an own moral compass. Additionally, passion and participatory approaches can help students reflect on their affective relationships with consumer goods and consider alternative consumption-production paradigms.
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