Advice for white environmentalists and nature educators

Advice for white environmentalists and nature educators

by Sprinavasa Brown

I often hear White educators ask “What should I do?” expressing an earnest desire to move beyond talking about equity and inclusion to wanting action steps toward meaningful change.
I will offer you my advice as a fellow educator. It is both a command and a powerful tool for individual and organizational change for those willing to shift their mindset to understand it, invest the time to practice it and hold fast to witness its potential.

The work of this moment is all about environmental justice centered in social justice, led by the communities most impacted by the outcomes of our collective action. It’s time to leverage your platform as a White person to make space for the voice of a person of color. It’s time to connect your resources and wealth to leaders from underrepresented communities so they can make decisions that place their community’s needs first.

If you have participated in any diversity trainings, you are likely familiar with the common process of establishing group agreements. Early on, set the foundation for how you engage colleagues, a circumspect reminder that meaningful interpersonal and intrapersonal discourse has protocols in order to be effective. I appreciate these agreements and the principles they represent because they remind us that this work is not easy. If you are doing it right, you will and should be uncomfortable, challenged and ready to work toward a transformational process that ends in visible change.

I want you to recall one such agreement: step up, step back, step aside.

That last part is where I want to focus. It’s a radical call to action: Step aside! There are leaders of color full of potential and solutions who no doubt hold crucial advice and wisdom that organizations are missing. Think about the ways you can step back and step aside to share power. Step back from a decision, step down from a position or simply step aside. If you currently work for or serve on the board of an organization whose primary stakeholders are from communities of color, then this advice is especially for you.
Stepping aside draws to attention arguably the most important and effective way White people can advance racial equity, especially when working in institutions that serve marginalized communities. To leverage your privilege for marginalized communities means removing yourself from your position and making space for Black and Brown leaders to leave the margins and be brought into the fold of power.

You may find yourself with the opportunity to retire or take another job. Before you depart, commit to making strides to position your organization to hire a person of color to fill the vacancy. Be outspoken, agitate and question the status quo. This requires advocating for equitable hiring policies, addressing bias in the interview process and diversifying the pool with applicants with transferable skills. Recruit applicants from a pipeline supported and led by culturally specific organizations with ties to the communities you want to attract, and perhaps invite those community members to serve on interview panels with direct access to hiring managers.

As an organizational leader responsible for decisions related to hiring, partnerships and board recruitment, I have made uncomfortable, hard choices in the name of racial equity, but these choices yield fruitful outcomes for leaders willing to stay the course. I’ve found myself at crossroads where the best course forward wasn’t always clear. This I have come to accept is part of my equity journey. Be encouraged: Effective change can be made through staying engaged in your personal equity journey. Across our region we have much work ahead at the institutional level, and even more courage is required for hard work at the interpersonal level.

In stepping aside you create an opportunity for a member of a marginalized community who may be your colleague, fellow board member or staff member to access power that you have held.

White people alone will not provide all of the solutions to fix institutional systems of oppression and to shift organizational culture from exclusion to inclusion. These solutions must come from those whose voices have not been heard. Your participation is integral to evolving systems and organizations and carrying out change, but your leadership as a White person in the change process is not.

The best investment we can make for marginalized communities is to actively create and hold space for leaders of color at every level from executives to interns. Invest time and energy into continuous self-reflection and selfevaluation. This is not the path for everyone, but I hope you can see that there are a variety of actions that can shift the paradigm of the environmental movement. If you find yourself unsure of what action steps best align with where you or your organization are at on your equity journey, then reach out to organizations led by people of color, consultants, and leaders and hire them for their leadership and expertise. By placing yourself in the passenger seat, with a person of color as the driver, you can identify areas to leverage your privilege to benefit marginalized communities.

Finally, share an act of gratitude. Be cognizant of opportunities to step back and step aside and actively pursue ways to listen, understand and practice empathy with your colleagues, community members, neighbors and friends.

Camp ELSO is an example of the outcomes of this advice. Our achievements are most notable because it is within the context of an organization led 100 percent by people of color from our Board of Directors to our seasonal staff. This in the context of a city and state with a history of racial oppression and in a field that is historically exclusively White.
We began as a community-supported project and are growing into a thriving community-based organization successfully providing a vital service for Black and Brown youths across the Portland metro area. The support we have received has crossed cultures, bridged the racial divide and united partners around our vision. It is built from the financial investments of allies – public agencies, foundations, corporations and individuals. I see this as an act of solidarity with our work and our mission, and more importantly, an act of solidarity and support for our unwavering commitment to racial equity.

Sprinavasa Brown is the co-founder and executive director of Camp ELSO. She also serves on Metro’s Public Engagement Review Committee and the Parks and Nature Equity Advisory Committee.

Urban Schools and Environmental Education

Urban Schools and Environmental Education

Urban Schools and Environment Education

by Alison Swain
IslandWood Graduate Student/ Field Instructor

T3his past fall, an IslandWood instructor gave me the
advice that a teacher can only take her students from the
place they are coming from.  Through weeks of teaching environmental education to students from public and private elementary schools across the Seattle area and Washington peninsula, I thought little about this statement.  Instead, I focused on the prescribed curriculum.  Perhaps I did more team building with one group and in-depth water quality with another; but ultimately, the curriculum and content was on par for each group.  This past week, teaching seven students from an under-resurced, urban elementary school, environmental education as I had practiced it stopped dead in its tracks.  Or so I thought.

After receiving the Friday morning briefing establishing the elementary school’s lack of organization, structure for students, and underserved background, I acquiesced that I may not hit “Nature’s ABC’s” the first day.  I did not anticipate one student planting himself outside the Gear Room, head buried in his knees, refusing to move or even voice his concerns for a half an hour.  I did not anticipate the ingrained reaction of five of my seven students to shut down (no movement, no verbal communication, no eye contact) when they experienced emotional, physical, or personal discomfort.  I did not anticipate the silence of a solo hike to be a poignant teachable moment or the game of camouflage to be a revolutionary way to experience nature.  I certainly did not anticipate the impact of a single salamander.

At the end of a week characterized by the challenge of melding my teaching to situations previously unanticipated, I was left with several questions for reflection.  The first: “Is the game of camouflage environmental education?”  In terms of meeting my students where they were coming from, the answer is most certainly, yes.  Seeing all seven of my students run without hesitation into the woods, which were previously full of bugs, discomfort, dirt, and fear, to hide became my most effective means of encouraging my students to get into the nature.  When I tried to relate the game to animal adaptations, a student immediately chimed in, “Like what?”  As we discussed and they discovered and named several adaptations of local animals, I knew I had them engaged and thinking about the natural world.

c.windAt one point in the week, I thought to myself, “It is a good thing that community is part of our mission statement because I do not know how much my students are learning about the environment.”  Reconsidering the definition of environment and the successful movements that are changing the ways Americans and industries use resources, I realized that creating community is a necessary component of environmental education.  The interconnectedness of the community of our team and the natural world became clear when we stumbled upon a salamander while hiking along the side of the Marsh.  Some of my students stared, surprised and awed by the creature.  Others pushed and reached to pick it up.  The reachers and pushers calmed as we quietly observed the salamander’s behaviors and discussed its habitat.  Finally, we talked about whether we should pick up the salamander.  My students came to a group consensus that we should not.  It was my turn to stand by, awed by the deep sense of care and blooming connection to the natural world as my students watched, unmoving, the salamander slowly lope off the trail to find cover.  The last boy to pass the spot where the salamander had hidden delicately poured water from his water bottle near the spot, so that, as he told me, the salamander could find water to keep his skin moist.  Our team’s salamander moment is just one example of the profound power of a community committed to caring for each other and the environment.

As the week continued, I encouraged each of my students to look outside of herself and take into account the greater whole by teaching my students through natural consequences about the choices they have and how those choices affect the entire group.  At different times that greater whole was the salamander at the Marsh, ecosystems we studied, and our team.  Empowering my students with the idea that they had choices and asking them to use these choices throughout the week taught them an extremely important element of environmental education: each person possesses the power to choose his path and that path effects the natural world and human communities.

For the final activity of our week together, I revisited a blindfold walk as a lead-in to a short solo hike. At the end of the solo hike, students were to write a letter to themselves recounting what they had felt, learned, and loved about their week at IslandWood.  As each student walked down the path silently stopping at each solo hike card to consider the statement or question, I knew that these students had connected to the environment around them.  Simply by being comfortable walking alone on the trail, they had absorbed many of the lessons of the week.  At the end of the solo hike, as students went off-trail to find their own space to write their letter, I witnessed yet another success.  These students had attained a level of comfort with their natural surroundings.  At the beginning of the week, my students were afraid, uncomfortable and seemingly out of their element.   Today, they had learned that moving silently was often rewarded by an awe-inspiring moment of witnessing an animal in its environment.  On the final day, this moment entailed observations of a pileated woodpecker at work on a snag and for over half my group, a mention of the salamander as something they will always remember.

As for myself, I was finally forced to consider the advice others had given me.  I learned to meet my students where they were coming from and find a balance, an understanding, where we all could engage in our environment for the week.

Allison Swain is a field instructor and graduate student living and teaching environmental education at IslandWood’s campus on Bainbridge Island, Washington.

Environmental Justice and Urban E.E.

Environmental Justice and Urban E.E.

How Environmental Education Can Address Issues of Environmental Justice in Urban Settings

by Anjelique Hjarding, Alicia King and Belinda Chin

HIGHLIGHTSdumouchel_2

• Environmental injustice occurs when the most vulnerable, poor, minority or underserved populations carry the greatest burden of environmental risk by living in “undesirable” areas.

• Environmental education can provide an opportunity to connect people to nature even in urban areas, and help empower people to mitigate environmental issues.

• Addressing the challenges of environmental justice through the support of environmental education programs can help engage people in actions to improve their environment.

• As citizens engage in environmental education and action bringing positive changes in their communities, they become more empowered to take future actions to further improve their environment.

Introduction
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) environmental justice is defined as, “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”Environmental injustice occurs when the most vulnerable populations carry the greatest burden of environmental risk. Environmental justice seeks to create environmental equity and address issues of environmental racism and inequalities that are the result of human settlement and industrial development. Scholars have explored the topic of environmental justice on both applied and theoretical levels. From examining the geographic distribution of toxins (Lewis & Bennett, 2013) to equitable allocation of green space (Boone et al., 2009) to the debate over how to define environmental racism, there tends to be a pattern of environmental injustice suggesting that minorities and poor people are those that live in areas considered “undesirable.”

Many of the urban communities we work with are touched daily by environmental injustices. Landfills, interstates and train lines are most often located in close proximity to low-income minority neighborhoods. These areas often have reduced access to natural amenities and green space is often distributed by socio-economic lines (Agyeman & Evans, 2003). As educators, how can we work to bring environmental justice education to the forefront?

Environmental justice issues have a history of being excluded from environmental education study (Haluza-Delay, 2012). This can occur because educators lack an understanding of environmental justice or the politics of the education system dissuades teaching on controversial topics related to race and injustice. Environmental education can provide an opportunity to connect people to nature and can help empower them to actively address environmental issues. In fact, the North American Association for Environmental Education suggests that diversity and justice should be a top priority in environmental education, and that more progress should be done in this area.

Students in the urban environment can often experience a disconnect between themselves and the natural world and may not notice their direct impacts on the environment. Lessons focused on issues such as the carbon footprint allow students to visualize their impact on the environment and will help make the issue relevant.

Seattle: Race and social justice initiative
In 2002, the City of Seattle launched its Race and Social Justice initiative, and Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation (Parks) began an Environmental Stewardship Initiative. The Race and Social Justice is Seattle’s effort to focus on the roots of problems – to change the underlying system that creates and preserves inequities – rather than attempt to treat the symptoms (Seattle, 2008). Seattle City Hall acknowledged the need to expose institutionalized racism and expunge discriminatory municipal policies, procedures and practices overall; and Parks wanted to equitably serve more people, more often in the public green spaces where people live, work and play.

In 2014, residents of a historically diverse, working class Seattle neighborhood applied for a grant from the Department of Neighborhoods to pay for an environmental assessment and design for a bike trail in a public green space imbedded within a residential area. The Parks Board of Commissioners approved the project early in the year. No one had proposed a recreational use in a public green space before. In fact, there were no policies to refer to regarding uses of public green spaces. By summer, advocates and opponents of the mountain bike trail were vying for time to speak to city council members about their points of view.

The story, as reported by the local newspaper, The Seattle Times, presented points of view that, intentionally or not, perpetuated historic social constructs (Shellenberger & Nordhaus, 2007). These included: conflicts between whites and people of color concerning uses of parklands, “people are not a part of nature,” and people of color not having access to nature unless they are working in it. Those interviewed for the article were all white residents of the area. A photograph with the story showed a white male leading a work group in the green space consisting only of youth of color (Photo 1). However, there were no direct quotes given by youth of color in the article. Imagine the empowering potential of environmental education if used in this situation as a tool to facilitate discussion for better understanding and clarity of the issues among the various stakeholders.

Both opponents and advocates of the project used environmental justice to make their arguments to City Council. Opponents claimed the mountain bike trail would “exclude all but the able-bodied,” with a neighbor quoted as saying (Seattle Times, July 28, 2014): “We’re talking about young, white male energy. This is public land. This is a social justice issue.” Advocates for the bike trail said, “…[it] would give youths who aren’t able to get out of the city an opportunity to
experience the joy of riding their bikes in the woods. And in the process… the kids


Photo 1. Volunteer work party at site of proposed bike trail.

would gain an appreciation of nature and a sense of ownership for the greenspace.”
The green space was an urban mix of invasive plant species and native flora. Neighborhood volunteers, including many youth groups, spent hours restoring the forest and installing public trails. The area attracted wildlife as well as illegal dumping, homeless encampments, and drug use. At the end, City Council voted to award the grant in favor of the bike trail, with a caveat that Parks develop policies for use of green spaces (Seattle Times, August 13, 2014).
A lot of progress has been made regarding Seattle’s institutional commitment in 2002 to expose and scrub itself of discriminatory practices, policies and procedures. That said, there is still a lot of work to be done to reach equity and social justice.

Washington,DC: Urban Bird Treaty
Urban Bird Treaty program in Washington, DC engaged with several organizations that focus on the Anacostia River. One such organization, Anacostia Watershed Society, works to engage teachers and students in public policy and advocacy actions through targeted programs.

The Anacostia has a long history as a working port and industrial river, leaving a legacy of toxic pollution that impacts the health of aquatic life and humans that fish, swim, or otherwise recreate on the river. Stormwater runoff collects trash, bacteria, and toxins, and flows into storm drains, and straight into the Anacostia River and its tributaries. With a watershed that is 70 percent developed, the Anacostia is impacted by a huge amount of impervious surface. The Anacostia River is so severely impacted by trash that in 2007 it was declared “impaired by trash” under the provisions of the Clean Water Act. Additionally, the developed areas near this river serve a primarily low-income minority population.

There are many efforts to pick up trash manually or catch it with trash traps, but ultimately trash use needs to be reduced from the source. Reducing this impact one of the biggest challenges. The Anacostia Watershed Society has several programs available for teachers and students to help engage citizens in actions that will not only teach them about the watershed environment, but also how to take actions to improve the environment and to become part of the solution.

As part of the Urban Bird Treaty program, Anacostia Watershed Society was awarded grant monies to work on several projected related to engaging diverse and minority audiences in areas that are demographically considered underserved minority neighborhoods. Sixteen teachers were mentored and equipped for the Rice Rangers program (wetland plant growing in elementary school classrooms), including 11 grow light systems set up in schools. About 300 Washington, DC students participated in a lesson on wetlands and planted native wetland seeds in classrooms, engaged in field studies on the Anacostia River by pontoon boat and participated in wetland planting events. Elementary school students grew 2200 wetland seeds in classrooms and planted the grasses in restoration plots at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. Kenilworth is a National Park in the inner city of Washington, DC surrounded by areas where communities are mostly underserved.

While there are not yet any statistics to show that engaging citizens in this area resulted in actions independent of the organized efforts presented to students and citizens, environmental justice actions are being shared with citizens and continued efforts are being monitored.
References
Agyeman, J., & Evans, T. (2003). Toward just sustainability in urban communities: Building equity rights with sustainable solutions. The annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 590(1), 35–53.

Boone, C.G., Buckley, G.L., Grove, J.M., & Sister, C. (2009). Parks and people: An environmental justice inquiry in Baltimore, Maryland. Annals of the American Association of Geographers, 4, 767–787.

Haluza-Delay, R. (2012). Educating for environmental justice. In Wals, A.E.J., Stevenson R.B., Brody, M., & Dillon J. (Ed.), International handbook of research on environmental education (pp. 394–403). Routledge.

Lewis, T., & Bennett, S. (2013). The juxtaposition and spatial disconnect of environmental justice declarations and actual risk: A new method and its application to New York State. Applied geography, 39, 57–66.

Seattle Forestry Commission. (2014). Revised letter to Seattle Parks Commission – Mountain bike trail at Cheasty Greenspace. April 1, 2014.

Seattle Office for Civil Rights. (2008). Race and social justice initiative: Looking back, moving forward. City of Seattle.

Seattle Times. (2014). Council clears way for bike-trail work. Seattle Times, August 13.

Shellenberger, M. & Nordhaus, T. (2007). The Death of environmentalism: Global climate politics in a post-environmental world. Break through: From the death of environmentalism to the politics of possibility. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Thompson, L. (2014). Residents split on parkland bike trails. Seattle Times, July 28.

Tucker, T. An Environmental justice (EJ) teaching resource: Inventory and analysis of current practices in College EJ Education. Seattle University.

Article reprinted from Urban Environmental Education, an e-book published by the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE). Downloadable at http://www.naaee.net/publications.

Reaching Out with Respect: EE with Underserved Communities

Reaching Out with Respect: EE with Underserved Communities

Reaching out with Respect: Environmental Education with Underserved Communities

Thinking about environmental education and underserved communities is an opportunity to challenge our assumptions about nature, culture and science, and, our assumptions about the life experiences of people of different backgrounds and cultures.

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by Bonnie Sachetello-Sawyer and Shamu Fenyvesi
(from The Best of CLEARING)

Read article here.

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

Introduction
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.

Educating for Eco-Justice…in an Era of Ecological Uncertainty

Educating for Eco-Justice…in an Era of Ecological Uncertainty

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by Chet A. Bowers

W3hat is ironic, even tragic for future generations, is that the various approaches to educational reform being advocated by politicians, parents, and professional educators in the United State do not take account of the rapid changes occurring in the Earth’s ecosystems. Equally tragic is that these approaches to reform, like an unchecked virus, are spreading to other regions of the world.

These reforms do not take account of the scientific consensus that global warming is occurring and that is it being caused by human activity. Nor have the decline of key fisheries such as those of the Grand Banks and the North Sea, and the impact of the over 80,000 synthetic chemicals introduced into the environment on the viability of natural systems ranging from marine ecosystems to human health, influenced the different agendas for educational reform. Indeed, one of the central points to be made is that the reform proposals, as varied as they are, are based on a common set of cultural assumptions that were formed before there was an awareness of ecological limits.

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This indifference toward considering the educational implications of the ecological crisis will lead to a further expansion in economic activity and technological dependence that, in turn, will continue the pattern of undermining the sustaining capacity of natural systems. That globalization is also being understood in terms of expanding markets in ways that will introduce more of the world’s population to the North American lifestyle of consumerism makes the prospects of future generations even more problematic.

Proposals for educational reform being adopted in the United States and elsewhere can be grouped into three categories: (1) the so-called conservative agenda of promoting school accountability, a voucher system, and charter schools; (2) the across the political spectrum support for making computers the central feature of the educational process; and (3) the continuing efforts of professors of education who carry on the Dewey/Freire tradition of thinking of the classroom as preparing students to develop the critical capacity to construct their own knowledge and values.

GreenTeacherColorAd06The suggestion that these approaches to educational reform are based on a common set of ecologically problematic cultural assumptions may appear as naïve and thus ill founded. However, closer consideration of the conceptual basis of these approaches to educational reform brings the problems into proper perspective. The drive to hold teachers accountable for student achievement, as well as the efforts of parents to exert more control over the education of their children (home schooling, vouchers, charter schools) are largely driven by a concern with ensuring that students are better prepared to enter a rapidly changing work environment—and thus to enjoy the benefits of a consumer dependent lifestyle.

The massive financial effort to make computers the primary medium of learning is based on the assumption that cyberspace will be the venue for most of tomorrow’s relationships, communication, and economic activity. The advocates of computer mediated learning justify marginalizing the role of public school teachers and university professors on the grounds that access to data better enables students to construct their own knowledge. Furthermore, as computers are being viewed as free of the misinformation and ideological bias of public school teachers and university professors, they are widely supported by advocates of the so-called “conservative” list of educational reforms.

Before explaining the nature of the deep cultural assumptions that underlie these three often overlapping approaches to educational reform it needs to be pointed out that the liberal and radical approaches to educational reform, where the emancipation of the student from the influence of intergenerational traditions is the main goal, are also complicit in contributing to a lifestyle that is ecologically unsustainable. That is, emancipatory approaches to education undermine different cultural approaches to passing on intergenerational knowledge, including patterns of moral reciprocity, essential to less consumer driven lives.

Contrary to conventional thinking, emancipatory approaches to education do not represent an alternative to traditional approaches to education that further technological development and economic growth. What is seldom recognized is that the goal of educational emancipation is based on the same cultural assumptions that were the basis of the Industrial Revolution. These shared assumptions include the following: that change is constant, linear in nature, and the expression of progress; that the autonomous individual is the basic social unit and that attaining even greater autonomy is a constant goal; that anthropocentrism is the most efficacious way of relating to Nature. The connection between the ideal of the emancipated, self-directing individual and the form of subjectivity required by the Industrial Revolution can be seen in the way the individual who has been liberated from intergenerationally acquired knowledge, skills, and patterns of mutual aid is more dependent upon consumerism to meet daily needs.

These same cultural assumptions underlie what is mistakenly called the “conservative” educational reform agenda. With the exception of some approaches to home schooling and charter schools, the conservative reforms are also based on thinking of change as the expression of progress, the individual as self-directing and a competitor in the market place, and an anthropocentric way of relating to Nature—and that these assumptions should be adopted by other cultures as the basis of their future development. The more ideologically driven approaches to educational reform are also based on the assumption that the “invisible hand” that supposedly governs market activities will also ensure that the best will emerge from the competition between approaches to educational reform. While the label of conservatism goes unquestioned by the general public, the underlying assumptions upon which their educational proposals are based gave conceptual direction and moral legitimacy to the Industrial Revolution and were more fully articulated by Classical Liberal thinkers—neither of which contributed to conserving self-reliant communities, different cultural ways of knowing, and biodiversity.

Before explaining why the ecological crisis now requires that we adopt educational reforms that are genuinely conserving in nature, the ideological orientation inherent in computer mediated learning needs to be made explicit. Contrary to popular thinking, and to how they are represented in the media and by the computer industry, computers are not a culturally neutral technology. The culturally specific way of knowing reinforced by computers can be more clearly recognized by comparing the forms of knowledge and relationships that can be digitized with those that cannot be abstracted and encoded without being fundamentally changed. The digitized forms of knowledge and relationships reinforced by computers include the following: (1) explicit and context-free forms of knowledge that can be represented as objective data and information; (2) a conduit view of language that supports the myth of objectivity and individually-centered rational thought; (3) the experience of being an autonomous individual who makes decision and value judgments; (4) a subjective perspective on what aspects, if any, of tradition and the future are relevant; ( 5) a taken-for-granted attitude toward the commodification of thought and communication; and (6) an anthropocentric perspective on human/Nature relationships

The following forms of knowledge, relationships, and experiences cannot be digitized and represented on the screen without being fundamentally misrepresented: (1) the tacit, contextual and analog patterns of daily experience—which vary widely among cultural groups; (2) the layered metaphorical nature of language—which includes the root metaphors that provide the meta-schemata that frames the process of analogical thinking and are encoded in the iconic metaphors used in daily discourse; (3) the culturally specific nature of intelligence and patterns of metacommunication that are the basis of moral reciprocity; (4) the differences in how members of different cultures experience the past and future as integral aspects of the present; (5) the face-to-face intergenerational knowledge that includes identity forming narratives, rituals, ceremonies, and mentoring relationships; (6) the embodied forms of knowing that connect thought and self-identity to the local landscape.

The culturally specific way of knowing and communicating reinforced by computers has largely gone unnoticed by academics and members of the dominant culture, partly because of the widely held assumption that computers are a tool and partly because the cultural patterns reinforced by computers are identical to the conceptual patterns learned in public schools and universities. Indeed, a strong case can be made that computers reinforce the patterns of thinking and communicating that were the basis of the Industrial Revolution—and that the globalizing of computer mediated thinking now reinforces what has become the digital phase of the Industrial Revolution. Computers are used in many important ways, including their usefulness in eco-management projects. But they are nevertheless a colonizing technology that undermine cultural traditions not centered on individualism, consumerism and a material view of progress, and dependency upon technologies created by the increasingly close alliance between universities and international corporations.

Instead of educational reforms based on the environmentally destructive assumptions that that have guided the process of modernization over the last 300 or so years, we (and the world) need to adopt approaches to education that are genuinely conserving in orientation. This will require basing educational reform on the following assumptions: (1) that humans are not separate and thus not in control of nature, but are integral and thus dependent upon Nature’s self-renewing capacities; (2) that cultural/linguistic diversity is essential to maintaining biological diversity; (3) that intergenerational knowledge that strengthens the ability to live less consumer dependent lives must be given a more central place in the curricula of public schools and universities; (4) that curriculum reforms should contribute to democratizing decisions about the development and use of technology, and the priorities in scientific research. Eco-justice is the phrase that best takes these assumptions into account, as it represents a fundamental shift in how to understand the connections between education and the renewing of communities in ways that lead to a smaller adverse impact on ecosystems.

The aspects of eco-justice that can be addressed most directly by reforming our educational institutions include the problem of environmental racism, the disparity of wealth and political power between North and South caused, in large part, by the hyper-consumerism required by the economies of the North; the need to renew the intergenerational knowledge still retained by different cultural groups that represent alternatives to consumer and technology dependent lifestyles; and right of future generations to live in environments that have not been degraded. Addressing these eco-justice issues will require educational reforms that enable students to understand how language carries forward earlier ways of thinking that did not take account of how cultural ecologies are dependent upon natural ecologies. Curricular reforms also need to enable students to understand the ecological implications of print-based intergenerational knowledge that creates new forms of economic and technological dependencies, and the forms of face-to-face intergenerational knowledge that contributes to greater self-sufficiency and mutual aid within families and communities.

Specifically, this means helping students become more fully aware of the many aspects of daily life that have become commodified, and that contribute to the cycle of turning Nature into products that, after a short use, are returned to the environment in the form of toxic waste and every expanding landfills. In addition to surveying how dependent the average person has become on monetized relationships and activities, it is important for students to learn about the non-monetized aspects of community life. These will vary widely, depending upon cultural group. This requires learning about the forms of intergenerational knowledge, skills, and activities that are passed on in face-to-face relationships. Who are the elders of the community? And how are they different from older people still committed to the materialistic promise of success and happiness that has contributed to trashing the environment? Who are the mentors that can introduce the students to the arts, gardening, healing, and craft knowledge—and can model how to live more self-sufficient lives? What ceremonies, forms of entertainment, and nature-centered activities are still carried on within different cultural groups? Who are the storytellers who can help students obtain a more long-term understanding of the bioregion that sustains them. Stories of human hubris that have led to degrading the environment, as well as accounts of how others have lived by an environmental ethic, will help students understand how they are connected both to the folly and wisdom of previous generations, and to the land.

Learning about the face-to-face traditions still carried on within the different cultural groups that make up the student’s neighborhood, as well as how to participate in activities that strengthen the bonds of community, is essentially a conserving activity. It contributes to the renewal of intergenerational knowledge, the nurturing of student talent, and the broadening of the student’s awareness of alternatives to being dependent upon shopping malls and the media. By reducing the dependence upon a consumer, technology dependent lifestyle, it changes the cycle that leads to dumping toxic waste in the backyards of the most vulnerable groups. It also reduces the need to exploit the environments of non-western cultures. And in slowing the transformation of the environment into products that fill the shelves of shopping malls, it helps to ensure that future generations will find an environment that has not been devastated by the greed and folly of previous generations.

Eco-justice oriented educational reforms will contribute to reducing economic growth, which is now being forced upon us by global warming and other changes in natural systems. But this should not be viewed as lowering people’s quality of life. Indeed, as more emphasis is put on participatory relationships and activities that expand personal talents and mutual interests, the quality of life will be expanded. As a writer from the Third World put it, we need to understand wealth in a new way. That is, wealth should be understood in terms of the quality of relationships and community-centered lives and not in terms of economic gains that degrade personal lives and the diversity of the environment.

While the educational reforms suggested here go against the grain of current thinking, they are based on the realities of the present—and not on the myths that co-evolved with the Industrial Revolution. The educational reform agendas of the so-called conservatives, the techno-optimists, and the emancipatory educators continue to be based on a set of myths that represent progress as a human project that is independent of what happens to the environment. To reiterate a key point, the emphasis on the individual as a worker and consumer, as a participant in cyberspace, and as engaged in the unending quest of self-realization and emancipation, will not be easy to change—or even for many people to recognize as contributing to the ecological crisis. We are now faced with a scale of environmental change that has led to the demise of previous cultures that failed to change their belief system and technological practices. We now need to engage in a serious discussion of the educational implications of global warming, which should focus on the basis of our belief system and not just on technological fixes. And we need to learn from other cultures, particularly those that have not taken the western path of economic development, about how it is possible to live without economic activities becoming the dominant aspect of our lives.

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Chet A. Bowers is Adjunct Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Oregon. Professor Bowers’ most recent books include The Culture of Denial (1997); Let Them Eat Data (2000); and Educating for Eco-Justice and Community (2001); and Detras de la Apariencia: Hacia la Descolonizacion de la Educacion (2002).