The Blessed Moment: Promise for Preparing Integrative Learners and Leaders

The symbolic act of learning and living sustainability in the future should intermingle the fabric of natural systems and human made social systems

by Pramod Parajuli, Ph.D.
Doctoral Program in Sustainability Education
Prescott College

The hundreds of thousands of initiatives of this blessed moment are not about the bread and butter, or just about the soil and water alone. Art and the things of beauty are emerging from the most ordinary—a permaculture household in El Salvador, a thread of garlic organically grown in the Chino Valley, Arizona, a solar cooker in the remote Nepalese Himalayas, a Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, a sustainable fishing regulation in British Columbia, or a bag of coffee produced under the canopy of agro-forestry in Chiapas, Mexico. One solar cooker at a time, one biogas at a time, there are millions of solutions, sprouting amidst crisis and seeming chaos.  The time has come as William Blake wrote:

To see a world in the grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower

What might all these imply as we prepare the future generations of learners, educators and leaders? The eight transitional insights I offer below testify that the symbolic act of learning and living sustainability in the future should intermingle the fabric of natural systems and human made social systems—two most complex systems on earth.  A new sustainable human trajectory will not be of humans alone shooting to Mars; it will require re-rooting ourselves with all our multiple senses, and working along with all more than human species.

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First, there is an Inviting Context: Climate of Change amidst Climate Change
By now, almost all have accepted that the climate change is real, undeniable, and is accelerating very fast. Most among us also admit that climate change is caused largely due to the way we live our lives, the ways we extract, use and waste our resources. Many also agree that it is urgent to address it from all dimensions. Fortunately, ferocity of these very real crises are accompanied by a “climate of change.”  This is the focus of my paper here, a unique opportunitythat accompanies climate change.

The “climate of change” is evident in the way hundreds of thousands of people and groups who are already involved in changing the way we have been doing things, living our lives or using our tools. In his new book, Blessed Unrest, Paul Hawken estimates that worldwide there are at least 2 million such initiatives.  Maybe there are more, certainly not less.

Second, learning sustainability should help us live lives and be well in the World.
Let me offer a working definition of learning sustainability. Learning sustainability is “an art and a process that could reorient human beings to become a beneficial member of an abundant biosphere.”  First, it is an art and a process.  Second, the intent of this art and process is to reorient humans from one mindset/worldview to another that will then lead to new visions, dreams and designs. Third, humans can be beneficial members of the biosphere and that the human needs and that of the biosphere do not have to be in conflict but can be mutually enhancing. Fourth, the biosphere is abundant and based on that we can create foundations for an abundant and equitable human life.  Fifth, that we can prepare the next generation who can be beneficial members and who can make the biosphere abundant.

As sustainability educators, at the core of our concern is nothing less than “life” itself. For me the message is loud and clear: We can be resilient and bounce back towards a sound and satisfying life systems for humans and other-than-humans. But as the author of Biomimicry, Janine Benyus, advises, we have to learn from our own evolutionary trajectory and the memory line of DNA. She reminds us to be humble of our techno-industrial accomplishments because other organisms have done everything we humans want to do without guzzling fossil fuels, polluting the planet, over harvesting water, depleting soil or mortgaging their future. For example, how do other species clean themselves and why do humans need soap, shampoo and hot water to clean?  Rather than asking “What is the least toxic detergent to use?”, a more hopeful question, Janine Benyus, suggests, might be: “How does nature stay clean?” How does nature thermo-regulate?  How could our ecological designs be informed by these biophilic insights?

Third, Food and Gardens could be a Gateway to Deep and Delicious Social Engagements
For the last six years, I was involved in designing and implementing the learning gardens experiment in Portland, Oregon, and now in Prescott, Arizona.  We found that engaging children and youth in food and garden can offer avenues for a mode of learning that is multicultural, multisensory, interdisciplinary and intergenerational (Parajuli, 2006; Parajuli , Dardis and Hahn, 2008).
We have been a pioneer in developing curriculum for K-8 children and youth who learn at any point in the continuum between, what I call the “soil to supper, and back to Soil
(the SoSuS) loop. The SOSuS Loop not only connects children and youth with the earth, it also connected people to people, communities to communities (Parajuli, 2009). We then explore the continuum between “food to foodshed” and “water to watershed.”
Our initial conclusion is that if designed carefully and tended with heart, learning gardens may offer a series of benefits to enhance and deepen learning:
•    impact a school’s physical as well as learning environments
•    lead to academic enrichment and achievement for students
•    enrich learning of the whole child
•    cultivate and nurture motivation, resiliency and leadership among children and youth
•    promote multi-sensory learning
•    be applicable to grade by grade, subject by subject, and season by season instruction and learning
•    use recurring themes over K-12 span of experience
•    effectively link ecology, culture and learning
•    enhance interdisciplinary inquiry
•    address and fulfill academic benchmarks
•    provide the seasonal framework for learning
•    teach both time (linear and cyclical) and a sense of place
•    link experience to meaning, thought to action and classroom to community
•    be the best sites for inter- and intra-generational learning, and
•    connect/collaborate with the larger food and garden community

Not only in the arena of nutrition and learning, our engagement in food, water and soil can take us towards a mode of social engagement that is not only “deep” but also “delicious.” Interestingly, the flavor of local, organic, and sustainable food economy is much more alive in urban centers than in rural farms and communities.  Here again we are witnessing the melting of the old fences that divide the rural from urban, industry from agriculture, soil from food and people from the planet. By changing our food habits and preferences, we are witnessing a wide-ranging and a deep process of change from the very belly of the techno-industrial beast and what the food author Michael Pollan calls, the nutritional/chemical complex. Transition towards local and sustainable food could give us the most delicious inter-economic partnership, as premised in the diagram below.

Fourth, Enhance Maximum Partnerships to create a world that is not only Ecologically Sustainable, but also Socially Equitable and Bio-culturally Diverse.
For the last seven years, I have developed and used a “Partnership Model of Sustainability” as a guide to practice pedagogy for transformational leadership among the new generation of learners and leaders. This model addresses the issues of economy and ecology on the one hand and equity and bio-cultural diversity on the other.

A brief description of the four partnerships follows.
Intra and Inter-generational partnership: Explores social classes, gender, caste, race, ethnicity and other human created institutions and practices of social inequities and cleavages. Attention to intra and inter generational equity and partnership is urgent because inequality is also at the core of current ecological crisis.

Inter-species Partnership: Addresses ecological, philosophical and ethical aspects of human’s relationship with the more than human worlds. I am teaching that we humans are nature in microcosm. “We are nature in every molecule and neuron,” says Paul Hawken.  “We contain clay, mineral and water; are powered by sunshine through plants; and are intricately bound to all species, from fungi to marsupials to bacteria. In our lungs are oxygen molecules breathed by every type of creature to have lived on earth along with the very hydrogen and oxygen that Jesus, Gautam Buddha and Rachel Carson breathed” (Hawken, 2007:71-72).

Inter-cultural Partnership: Examines the field of biological, cultural, and linguistic diversities and the inextricable relations between the three.  It is about recognizing what I call the “ethnosphere,” the diversity of knowledge systems and diverse ways of knowing, teaching and learning.

Inter-economic Partnership: Includes mapping and reshaping of the global North and South as well as the social and economic institutions, trade, arrangements for exchanges and surplus, fair trade and free trade, rural and urban, agriculture and industry, raw and processed materials, and producers and consumers. Moreover, water, food and soil will be one of the most critical elements in the future of humanity.

Fifth, Learn and Lead for both Biospehric and Ethnospheric Health.
Through a deeper probing of the partnership model of sustainability, I have learned that no human solutions could be found by just rearranging the human world. We need to reshape our relationship with the more than human world. In the same way, ecosystems regeneration could not also be achieved by “fencing off” humans from the so called pristine natural areas but by changing how humans live their lives (Parajuli, 2004;  2001 (a and b). Thus our challenge is how to maintain the delicate balance between biospheric health and ethnospheric health.

In order to create the confluence between the three realms, the learning environment should be multisensory, multicultural and intergenerational such that it fosters interdisciplinary inquiry.  Much ink has been dried writing about multicultural education, as if adequate solutions were found simply by rearranging human relations, in race, class and gender terms.  While that is absolutely necessary, it is tragically inadequate. I realize that the future lies in multi-sensory pedagogy that nurtures our multi-sensory engagement in and with the earth. As eco-philosopher David Abram awakens us: “The fate of the earth depends on a return to our senses.”

Sixth, Learning should inculcate Integral Visions and Designs
The readers of this journal have worked miracles in the outward-bound and experiential education fields. But most of this genre is poised as antithetical to skills needed for what I call the “homewardbound.” On the other side, many of us have worked in creating sustainable livelihoods, through agro-ecology, permaculture, fisheries, sustainable industries and such.  These homeward-bounders have hardly any time to enjoy raw nature, like the “outwardbounders” do.

There is hardly any dialogue, sharing and mutual learning between the two genres. Such isolation does not allow us to find integral visions or integrative solutions. In other words, how could we bring the David Thoreau(s) and Wendell Berry(s) in the same imagination? Vandana Shiva(s) and Jenine Benyus(s) at the same table? I urge us to develop such learning designs that connect the outward-bounders with the homeward-bounders, the wild with the domestic, nature with culture and the forest with the farm.  A deeply and truly integrative vision and design is needed to heal the wounds that have been inflicted between the cities, where most of the consumption happens, and the rural where most of the production happens. The same could be accomplished between the industrial sector that eats up bunch of raw materials and agriculture where such raw materials are sustained. How could we bind the buyers and the producers by the same thread of ecological health, diversity, justice and integrity?

Seventh, let us move from Discourse to Design
My students tell me that they want to learn deep sustainability in product as well as process, in content as well as the method of inquiry. I am convinced, it is not by saturating them with discursive pessimism (even when substantiated with facts) but cultivating in them incurable optimism but which is informed by reliable dreams and viable designs. In my courses, such as Leadership for Sustainability, Sustainability Theory and Practice, Modes of Scholarly Inquiry, each student begins to articulate his/her wildest dream that they want to achieve in ten years.  Then they follow a 4Ds protocol: Diagnosis, Dream, Design and Delivery.  It is important that we embrace diversity of learning needs of each student and let them grow into their own space and dreams.  But push them to the wildest side, we must.

Eighth, Cultivate Leadership in the open Space of Democracy
Terry Tempest Williams has articulated the notion of open space of democracy for our turbulent times. She writes: Open space of democracy is interested in circular, not linear power—power reserved not for entitled few but shared by many (Williams 2004).  I also want to introduce a fairly new book by Otto Scharmer, entitled, Theory U:  Leading from the future as it emerges. To begin with, Otto asks us to have open mind, open heart and open will.  Only when we let go of the old habits, dreams and designs (the left line of the U), we can transition towards letting come of the new habits, designs and dreams (the right line of the U). The bottom line of the U is the incubation process between the letting go and letting come.
I urge the readers, you draw a U and practice for yourself.

Selected References

Benyus, Jenine. (2004). “Biomimicry: What would nature do here?” in Nature’s operating instructions: The true biotechnologies. Ausubel, K. and Harpignies, J.P. (eds). San Francisco: Sierra Club Books. PP 3-16.

Capra, Fritjof. (2002). Hidden Connections. Integrating the Biological, Cognitive, and Social Dimensions of Life into Science of Sustainability. New York: Doubleday.

Hawken, Paul. (2007). Blessed unrest: How the largest movement in the world aame into being and why no one saw it coming.  New York: Viking (published by the Penguin Group).

Jones, Van. (2008). The green collar economy: How one solution can fix our two pressing problems. New York: Harper Collins.

Parajuli, Pramod. (2009). Greening Our Cultures: Emergent Properties of Life and Livelihoods, Learning and Leadership. Manuscript. Prescott College.

Parajuli, Pramod. (2006a). “Learning suitable to life and livability: Innovations through learning gardens” Connections 8: 1: 6-7.

Parajuli, Pramod. (2006b). ‘Coming home to the earth household: Indigenous communities and ecological citizenship in India” in J. Kunnie and N. Goduka Eds. Indigenous Peoples’ Wisdom and Power. London: Ashgate. pp. 175-193.

Parajuli, Pramod. (2004). Revisiting Gandhi and Zapata: Motion of global capital, geographies of difference and the formation of ecological ethnicities. in Mario Blaser and Harvey Feit eds, In the way of development: Indigenous Peoples, life projects and globalization. London: Zed Press. Chapter 14. pp. 235-255.

Parajuli, Pramod. (2001). How can four trees make a jungle? The world and the wild. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press. pp. 3-20.

Parajuli, Pramod, Dardis, Greg and Hahn, Tim. (2008). Curriculum Development and Teacher Preparation for the Learning Gardens.  A report submitted to the Oregon Community Foundation.

Shiva, Vandana. (2006). Earth democracy. Boston: Southend Press.

Stone, Michael. K and Barlow, Zenobia. (eds.). (2005). Ecological literacy: Educating our children for a sustainable world.  San Francisco: Sierra Club Books.
Williams, Terry, Tempest. (2004).  The open space of democracy. Barrington, MA: Orion Society.[/password]

Pramod Parajuli is the Director of Program Development in Sustainabililty Education at Prescott College in Arizona. He has designed and developed various academic and community empowerment programs including the Learning Gardens and the Leadership in Ecology, Culture and Learning (LECL), a graduate program at Portland State University, Portland, Oregon (2002-2008). At Prescott College, he is incubating several new innovations that could build on its forty years of accomplishments and seek new heights and horizons.

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