Educating as if Survival Matters
Nancy M Trautmann Michael P Gilmore
BioScience, Volume 68, Issue 5, 1 May 2018, Pages 324–326, https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biy026
22 March 2018
ver the past 40 years, environmental educators throughout the world have been aiming to motivate and empower students to work toward a sustainable future, but we are far from having achieved this goal. Urgency is evident in the warning issued by more than 15,000 scientists from 184 countries: “to prevent widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss, humanity must practice a more environmentally sustainable alternative to business as usual… Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory, and time is running out. We must recognize, in our day-to-day lives and in our governing institutions, that Earth with all its life is our only home” (Ripple et al. 2017).
In this tumultuous era of ecocatastrophes, we need every child to grow up caring deeply about how to live sustainably on our planet. We need some to become leaders and all to become environmentally minded citizens and informed voters. Going beyond buying greener products and aiming for energy efficiency, we must find ways to balance human well-being, economic prosperity, and environmental quality. These three overlapping goals form the “triple bottom line,” aiming to protect the natural environment while ensuring economic vitality and the health of human communities. This is the basis for sustainable development, defined by the United Nations as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (WCED 1987). Strong economies of course are vital, but they cannot endure at the expense of vibrant human societies and a healthy environment.
Within the formal K–12 setting, a primary hurdle in teaching for sustainability is the need to meaningfully address environmental issues within the constraints of established courses and curricular mandates. In the United States, for example, the Next Generation Science Standards designate science learning outcomes for grades K–12 (NGSS 2013). These standards misrepresent sustainability challenges by portraying them as affecting all humans equally, overlooking the substantial environmental justice issues evident within the United States and throughout the world. Another oversight is that these standards portray environmental issues as solvable through the application of science and technology, neglecting the potential roles of other sources of knowledge (Feinstein and Kirchgasler 2015).
One might argue that K–12 students are too young to tackle looming environmental issues. However, they are proving up to the challenge, such as through project-based learning in which they explore issues and pose potential solutions. This may involve designing and conducting scientific investigations, with the possibility of participating in citizen science. Case-study research into teen involvement in community-based citizen science both in and out of school settings revealed that the participants developed various degrees of environmental science agency. Reaching beyond understanding of environmental science and inquiry practices, this term’s definition also includes confidence in one’s ability to take positive stewardship actions (Ballard et al. 2017). The study concluded that the development of environmental science agency depended on involving teens in projects that included these three factors: investigating complex social–ecological systems with human dimensions, ensuring rigorous data collection, and disseminating scientific findings to authentic external audiences. Educators interested in undertaking such endeavors can make use of free resources, including an ever-growing compendium of lesson plans for use with citizen-science projects (SciStarter 2018) and a downloadable curriculum that leads students through the processes of designing and conducting their own investigations, especially those inspired by outdoor observations and participation in citizen science (Fee 2015).
We need to provide opportunities for students to investigate environmental issues, collect and analyze data, and understand the role of science in making informed decisions. But sustainability challenges will not be resolved through scientific approaches alone. Students also need opportunities to connect deeply with people from drastically different cultures and think deeply about their own lifestyles, goals, and assumptions. As faculty members of the Educator Academy in the Amazon Rainforest, we have had the privilege of accompanying groups of US teachers through 10-day expeditions in the Peruvian Amazon. Last summer, we asked Sebastián Ríos Ochoa, leader of a small indigenous group living deep in the rainforest, for his view of sustainability. Sebastián responded that he and his community are one with the forest—it is their mother, providing life and wholeness. Reflecting on the changes occurring at an accelerating rate even in remote rainforest communities, Sebastián went on to state that his greatest wish is for his descendants to forever have the opportunity to continue living at one with their natural surroundings (Sebastián Ríos Ochoa, Maijuna Community Leader, Sucusari, Peru, personal communication, 18 July 2017). After decades of struggle during which their rainforest resources were devastated by outside loggers and hunters (Gilmore 2010), this indigenous group has regained control over their ancestral lands and the power to enact community-based conservation practices. Their efforts provide compelling examples of how people (no matter how few in number and how marginalized) can effect positive change.
In collaboration with leaders of Sebastián’s remote Peruvian community and a nongovernmental organization with a long history of working in the area, US educators are creating educational resources designed to instill this same sense of responsibility in children growing up without such direct connections to nature. Rather than developing a sense of entitlement to ecologically unsustainable ways of life, we need children to build close relationships with the natural world, empathy for people with different ways of life, and a sense of responsibility to build a better tomorrow. Although the Amazon rainforest is a common topic in K–12 and undergraduate curricula, typically it is addressed through textbook readings. Instead, we are working to engage students in grappling with complex real-world issues related to resource use, human rights, and conservation needs. This is accomplished through exploration of questions such as the following: (a) How do indigenous cultures view, interact with, and perceive their role in the natural world, and what can we learn from them? (b) How do our lives influence the sustainability of the rainforest and the livelihoods of the people who live there? (c) Why is the Amazon important to us, no matter where we live? (d) How does this relate to the triple-bottom-line goal of balancing social well-being, economic prosperity, and environmental protection?
Investigating the Amazon’s impacts on global weather patterns, water cycling, carbon sequestration, and biodiversity leads students to see that the triple bottom line transcends cultures and speaks to our global need for a sustainable future for humans and the environment throughout the world. Tracing the origin of popular products such as cocoa and palm oil, they investigate ways to participate in conservation initiatives aiming for ecological sustainability both at home and in the Amazon.
Another way to address global issues is to have students calculate the ecological footprint attributable to their lifestyles, leading into consideration of humankind vastly overshooting Earth’s ability to regenerate the resources and services on which our lives depend. In 2017, August 2 was determined to be the date on which humanity had overshot Earth’s regenerative capacity for the year because of unsustainable levels of fishing, deforestation, and carbon dioxide emissions (Earth Overshoot Day 2017). The fact that this occurs earlier each year is a stark reminder of our ever-diminishing ability to sustain current lifestyles. And as is continually illustrated in news of climate disasters, human societies with small ecological footprints can be tragically vulnerable to such calamities (e.g., Kristof 2018).
Engaged in such activities, students in affluent settings may end up deriving solutions that shake the very tenet of the neoliberal capitalistic societies in which they live. To what extent should students be encouraged to challenge the injustices and entitlements on which world economies currently are based, such as by seeking ways to transform the incentive structures under which business and government decisions currently are made? Should they be asked to envision ways of overturning the unsustainable ways in which modern societies deplete resources, emit carbon dioxide, and destroy the habitats needed to support diverse forms of life on Earth?
Anyone who gives serious consideration to the environmental degradation and social-injustice issues in today’s world faces the risk of sinking into depression at the thought of a hopeless future. What can we possibly accomplish that will not simply be too little, too late? Reflecting on this inherent tension, Jon Foley (2016) stated, “If you’re awake and alive in the twenty-first century, with even an ounce of empathy, your heart and mind are going to be torn asunder. I’m sorry about that, but it’s unavoidable — unless you simply shut down and turn your back on the world. For me, the only solution is found in the space between awe and anguish, and between joy and despair. There, in the tension between two worlds, lies the place we just might find ourselves and our life’s work.”
Education for sustainability must build on this creative tension, capturing students’ attention while inspiring them to become forces for positive change.
Collaboration with the Maijuna is made possible through work of the OnePlanet nonprofit organization (https://www.oneplanet-ngo.org) and Amazon Rainforest Workshops (http://amazonworkshops.com).
Nancy Trautmann was supported through a fellowship with the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society in Munich, Germany, to develop curricular resources that highlight the Maijuna to inspire U.S. youth to care about conservation issues at home and abroad.
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© The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Institute of Biological Sciences.
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by David A. Greenwood, Lakehead University, Canada
As part of the 2009 North American Association of Environmental Education Research Symposium, this article addresses the cultural and theoretical frameworks that we bring to environmental education, the web of ideas and experiences that define the scope and purpose of the work in its geopolitical context. Originally delivered as a keynote address at the symposium, the paper highlights two necessarily related conversations within environmental education: the first concerns the problem of empire, including its roots in imperialism and colonialism, as well contemporary problems of globalization; the second concerns the problem of nature, including the need to develop intimate connections with the non-human on a planet that everywhere bares the mark of human alteration. Nature and empire are two poles on a continuum that shape the cultural and ecological contexts of life and learning. The author argues for the need to hold empire and nature not in opposition, but in paradox. Holding the tension of paradox complicates simplistic binaries, and can contribute to a stance that appreciates the relationships between seeming polarities in the intersectional work of social and ecological change.
For starters, I want to welcome all travelers to the Columbia River watershed. Here we are. I live some 300 miles east on the Idaho border, and the Palouse River that flows full of agricultural silt and erosion through my rural town mixes here with Portland’s urban confluences on its way to the Pacific Ocean. The mouth of the Columbia is an impressive roar of waves, marine life and history, commerce, and even today, shipwreck. Historian Richard White (1995) called the great Columbia River “the organic machine”: upriver the once wild Columbia and its many tributaries are now a mechanized and politicized system of dammed, slack-water reservoirs. The organic machine, indeed.
The tension of paradox surrounds us, and it surrounds the field of environmental education: local-global; urban-rural; environment-culture; masculine- feminine; native-settler; public-private; land-property; commons-enclosure; human-more-than-human; inhabitant-refugee; social justice-ecojustice; schooling- learning; domination-resistance; me-you; us-them; nature-empire.
My thesis is a simple claim around a single paradox: environmental education of any stripe can deepen its theory and practice by purposefully embracing the tensions between nature and empire. Nature and empire are two poles on a continuum that shape the cultural and ecological contexts of life and learning.
In the tradition of 19th century natural history, imagine an object lesson. I hold in my hands two related objects: the flight feather of a barn owl, and a wallet full of plastic and paper money. Inquiry: How do these objects and what they represent implicate me and shape our work? Nature and empire, the flight feather of an owl and the wallet of a white man, generate a paradox, a paradox that we need to hold, and balance.
We need to embrace paradox because we nature-lovers and no-child-left-insiders must also face up to the eco- and genocidal politics of empire, politics we’re all complicit with everyday in our cosmopolitan superprivilege. We need to embrace paradox because as heady academics and well-meaning activists, we can easily forget the gift of our own embodied and earthy existence. This feather is perfect. No matter how scientifically rigorous, politically informed, or culturally responsive, environmental education is barren if it does not include re-enchantment with the wide world of creation, encounters with the others, and gratitude for the gift of life.
Nature, empire, and paradox.
Nature. Remember, when you walked miles into the mountains until the rant of your mind receded. The sounds around you returned. Birds, insects, movement in the cover. The air, warm and cool of sun and shade. You started to blend, quiet self diminished and enlarged by a place full of others, and though walking through, you felt belonging. Until later you startled a cougar, you had thought this impossible, your shared shock while everything stopped, her ears twitching, brown eyes locked on your next move, your heart jumping on your chest, predator, prey, you watched each other’s bodies trembling. Remember, how against reason you wanted to run, how you caught your breath and she suddenly returned easily to the ninebark. The day shimmered, your relief, you had finally come back to your senses.
Encounter, enchantment, gratitude.
Empire. Like globalization, empire describes the political economy of the planet: the new imperialism, colonization, development, free trade. Empire—a system of domination and resistance, a bio-political power that is exercised, internalized, and shaped by networks of human cultures worldwide. A system of authority and control enacted by all of us, motivated by habit, addiction, desire, necessity, dreams of a better life, fantasies of endless economic growth—all increasing the throughput of natural and human capital. Empire creates and destroys under the flashing lights of a “postindustrial” age. Empire—your I-Phone, my laptop, the G-20—ecological and social impacts concealed, denied, ignored, and masked as ecological nostalgia or market opportunities. The subject of empire is the commodity; the object is the consumer. All of us are its soldiers.
Domination, critique, resistance
Context: It’s a beautiful world, life is short, and I want to live. I want to feel the wind rushing around me. I want to walk on the land I love, every day. I want to garden with my children and watch them taste the fruits. I want friends. I want to drink starlight in the mountains and howl at the moon. I want the experience of being alive, to feel my sensuous and spiritual relation to flesh, water, rock, fire, wind, species, shooting stars. I want to keep my privileges and increase them. I want to travel to Europe with my family. I want to see my daughters in London or Paris.
Context: Planet Earth 2009, population and industrial explosions, perpetual war, mass extinctions, billions of us striving for better and more, the unthinkable suffering of others. Such beauty and possibility for wonder, connection, pleasure—and—as Barry Lopez (2001) wrote in his great essay “The Naturalist”: “To read the newspapers today, to merely answer the phone, is to know the world is in flames” (¶ 24). Earth abides; meanwhile, no one knows the full extent of the mess we’re making of habitats, species, biosphere, ecosystems, neighborhoods, cultures, selves, others, relationships. No one knows the full extent of “this entire extractive culture [of empire] that has been deforesting, defishing, dewatering, desoiling, despoiling, destroying since its beginnings” (Jensen, 2009, ¶ 10). No one knows the full scale of the problem of empire, its spiral of unintended consequences, and the degree of our own complicity: the way we are part of the problem we fail to understand, the way we fail to understand our part in it. Some say we are on the brink of industrial apocalypse. Others remember: we’ve been here about 500 years.
Anyone paying any attention can see that the mounting data describe an awesome mess of impacts, but fitting the fragments together is complicated. How many parts per million CO2? How many African American men in prison?
Rare is the space in which related impacts are acknowledged along with their more complex cultural causes. But increasingly, impacts are experiential, and therefore transformative. During my first week of classes this fall, a graduate student showed us a collage of photographs she made from her travels with Philippine Exchange: a dichotomous landscape of incredible beauty, destruction from mining, factories like prisons, and desperate poverty: people barely surviving, naked children playing on mountains and rivers of waste. Slumdog without millionaire; millionaire far removed. “It humbled me,” she said, and our privileged space of learning grew quiet. Breathe it in now.
I believe that appropriate responses to the facts surrounding nature and empire—what we know and don’t know, what we feel and don’t feel—are anger, fear, grief, and humility. Avoiding such emotions can lead to projections that may contribute to problems we deny or arrogantly claim to understand. We might learn to be with, rather than run from, the natural sense of despair that the field of environmental education sometimes schools us to avoid. If we are the least connected to others, we are part of a great suffering. Inquiry: Can we hold the paradox between suffering and hope, the dichotomous landscape of wretchedness and magnificence? “The test of a first-rate intelligence,” F. Scott Fitzgerald (1936/2008) wrote, “is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless yet be determined to make them otherwise” (¶ 2).
Paradox. Along with grief, anger, and a rational fear of catastrophe, there is also a sense of urgency and responsibility, an embodied and shared knowing that we must do what we can, and now. From “Hieroglyphic Stairway,” by Drew Dellinger (2006, p.47):
it’s 3:23 in the morning and I’m awake because my great great grandchildren won’t let me sleep
my great great grandchildren ask me in dreams
what did you do while the planet was plundered? what did you do when the earth was unraveling?
surely you did something when the seasons started failing?
as the mammals, reptiles, birds were all dying?
did you fill the streets with protest when democracy was stolen?
what did you do once you knew?
(See the poet perform the entire poem at http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=XW63UUthwSg)
W. S. Merwin said of poetry, “Any work of art makes one very simple demand on anyone who genuinely wants to get in touch with it. And that is to stop. You’ve got to stop what you’re doing, what you’re thinking, and what you’re expecting and just be there . . . however long it takes” (Merwin in Moyers, 1995, p. 2). Like the other time I seek out on the land, poetry engenders another cultural way of knowing. It is a dissident minority tradition within my own colonized and colonizing culture. Stopping for poetry is an antidote to the morning news, to the incessant political posturing, to the super-sure academic argument, to the voice of reason that governs research methods and reports findings with caution and restraint. Poetry revives me, helps me to recover my wilder self, my possibilities, my empathy, in a domesticating competitive culture that makes me feel loss and lost. Poetry does not argue for the truth, it burns with it. “What did you do once you knew?” (Dellinger, 2006, p.47).
At 82, W. S. Merwin has won two Pulitzer prizes for poetry including this year’s prize; he is also an environmental and peace activist. What Merwin says of poetry is a fruitful beginning for any field of inquiry shaped in part by empire: we’ve got to stop what we’re doing, what we’re thinking, and what we’re expecting. Is it possible to let down our guard and just be here, together?
To deepen a felt experience of paradox between nature and empire, I want to read two poems by Mary Oliver, another great American poet of nature. The poems I’ll read are from her recent volume, Red Bird (2008); the titles are “The Teachers” and “Of the Empire.” These two poems reflect a tension in environ- mental education: between a focus on nature and human relationship with the more-than-human world, and a focus on empire and the political structures that shape people, place, and planet. My argument, again, is simple: environmental education research must hold together the tension between nature and empire or risk its own irrelevance while empire grows and nature recedes.
Mary Oliver is one of the best nature poets ever. She has taught millions to stop and wake up to their own terrestrial embodiment. In “The Summer Day” Oliver (1992) confesses:
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields. (p.94)
Oliver ends this poem by asking of everyone alive, “What will you do with your one wild and precious life?” (p. 94). Her poem “The Teachers” (2008, p.27) is typical of her meditations on slowing and stopping to pay attention to the others and what our relationship to others might signify.
Owl in the black morning, mockingbird in the burning
slants of the sunny afternoon declare so simply
to the world everything I have tried but still
haven’t been able to put into words,
so I do not go far from that school
with its star-bright or blue ceiling,
and I listen to those teachers, and others too—
the wind in the trees and the water waves—
for they are what lead me from the dryness of self
where I labor with the mind-steps of language—
lonely, as we all are in the singular,
I listen hard to the exuberances
of the mockingbird and the owl, the waves and the wind.
And then, like peace after perfect speech, such stillness.
The teachers, the others, make me more human. The more-than-human world—as David Abram, Paul Shepard, Annie Dillard, Henry Thoreau, Rachel Carson, Jay Griffiths, Derrick Jensen, and all my friends remind me— the more-than-human-world is sacred, biological diversity makes human life possible, it makes my life, your life, potentially, beautiful. The logic of empire is destroying this world, leaving behind what David Quammen (1998) called “a planet of weeds.”
Who are the teachers, what are their names, and what, if we learn to listen, might we hear the land and the water telling us? Robert Michael Pyle (2008) wrote, “[Environmental] education, no matter how topographically or culturally informed, cannot fully or even substantially succeed without reinstating the pursuit of natural history as an everyday act” (p. 156). It’s only good manners, Pyle says, to get to know our neighbors. “What we know, we may choose to care for. What we fail to recognize, we certainly won’t” (Pyle, 2001, p. 18). Nature study, from this perspective, must also include the study of what we fail to recognize, the study of what dominates our attention and stunts our ability to perceive nature. It must, in other words, include the study of empire.
Environmental education requires an expansive conceptual and experiential framework connecting local and global realities; it requires ecological attention and political edge, to make it relevant to our place and time. It also requires what Phillip Payne and Brian Wattchow (2009) call “slow pedagogy,” deep experience that helps us open and become responsive to the voices of the teachers:
Owl in the black morning, mockingbird in the burning
slants of the sunny afternoon…
…I do not go far from that school…
(Oliver, 2008, p.27)
How far gone are we now, here, today, from the teachers? Returning to the teachers, slowing to open to the more-than-human others, to the experience of habitat and biological diversity, to the interactions between land and people— this is the heart and soul of environmental education. What impedes our ability to perceive these teachings?
Aldo Leopold (1949-1968) said it over a half century ago: “our educational and economic system is headed away from, rather than toward, an intense consciousness of land” (p. 223). Today, it is even possible to observe that some environmental education research is headed away from, rather than towards, intense consciousness of land, consciousness that can only develop through direct experience of sufficient frequency, duration, curiosity, and reverence, so that we may learn to listen and to love. The environmental education field has become culturally responsive, politically astute, and psychologically smart—mainly in response to empire. But we still need the teachers. What they teach us is irreplaceable, and endangered, unless we stop, look, and listen for a long time.
Before sharing Oliver’s (2008) poem, “Of the Empire,” I want to make a few paradoxical claims about the field of environmental education.
First, environmental education researchers and practitioners ought to guard against the lure of professionalization and the pressures of specialization that surround all fields of inquiry. There is a danger inherent in specialization that narrows our potential community and that distances us from the teachers. In many ways I believe, as Peter Martin wrote in 1996, that “having become institutionalized, environmental education is a lost cause and should be phased out as soon as possible” (p. 51). This obviously does not mean that I don’t support environmental education; rather, I observe that the development of environmental education as a profession can dull its political edge, and can school it far away from the teachers. What is more, as Foucault (1977) showed us, professions tend to normalize behaviour, marginalize outsiders, and disqualify dissent; they can make us docile and unresponsive to nature or empire.
In a provocative lecture titled “Professionals and Amateurs,” Edward Said (1994) noted:
Specialization means losing sight of the raw effort of constructing either art or knowledge; as a result you cannot view knowledge and art as choices and decisions, commitments and alignments, but only in terms of impersonal theories or methodologies. . . . In the end as a fully specialized . . . intellectual you become tame and accepting of whatever the so-called leaders in the field will allow. Specialization also kills your sense of excitement and discovery, both of which are irreducibly present in the intellectual’s make-up. In the final analysis, giving up to specialization is, I have always felt, laziness, so you end up doing what others tell you, because that is your specialty after all. (p. 77)
Environmental education, because of its inherent interdisciplinarity and the enormous scope of the work, ought to resist specialization by definition. The real challenge is not to advance the field, but to participate in and help shape the larger movement for cultural and ecological renewal and transformation. As Paul Hawken (2007) tells it in his book Blessed Unrest, the larger movement is huge. It is made up of diverse networks of organizations and individuals working for peace, social justice, ecological sustainability, and Indigenous and civil rights. Each of these related ideals is threatened by the same empire. Political and conceptual power capable of resisting and shaping empire can be found in the intersectionality of the larger movement. This power is also found in the arts, the soul of all social movements.
Mary Oliver’s (2008) “Of the Empire”:
We will be known as the culture that feared death and adored power, that tried to vanquish insecurity for the few and cared little for the penury of the many. We will be known as a culture that taught and rewarded the amassing of things, that spoke little if at all about the quality of life for people (other people), for dogs, for rivers. All the world, in our eyes, they will say, was a commodity. And they will say that this structure was held together politically, which it was, and they will say also that our politics was no more than an apparatus to accommodate the feelings of the heart, and that the heart, in those days, was small, and hard, and full of meanness. (p.46)
Let’s face it: environmental education is a pedagogical David to the Goliath of empire with its schools, bombs, patriarchy, and shopping opportunities everywhere. The way the U.S. national budget is prioritized is symptomatic: trillions for horrific wars; nothing for the environment within the Department of Education. Even if the United State’s No Child Left Inside Act of 2009 eventually passes, and the environment is finally noted by the Department of Education 40 years after Earth Day, it and its budget will be subsumed under No Child Left Behind, which is the climax of neoliberal education reform aligned with the politics of empire. This is not conspiracy theory or even critical theory, but the explicit expression of educational purpose from policymakers and leaders from local, state, and federal levels. No Child Left Inside is a remarkable example of grass-roots political activism in support of environmental education. May we please open a window and listen to the teachers? But obviously, the thrust of formal education in the industrial/capitalist state is aligned with the politics of empire.
Today in wartime, these politics constantly promote the expectation of “economic recovery,” and the recovery of “consumer confidence.” We might wonder what it means. Consumer confidence? Recovery back to what? The prevailing fiction of limitless growth, that logical impossibility that Edward Abby called “the ideology of the cancer cell”? Recovery back to what? An unjust colonial order? An economically exploitative and ecologically destructive culture of hyper-consumption, speculation, and debt? Today in wartime, few educators, environmental or otherwise, are questioning the profoundly pedagogical impact of empire: economic growth for the class economy, military adventurism for false security, and the erosion and commodification of the cultural and ecological commons. The most insidious effect of empire, however, may be that it functions to conceal from thought the very idea that any of this is problematic. These are the politics from which no child is left behind, and to which environmental education research must attend.
Memory and Reinhabitation
A writer and lover of beauty, my grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s the last decade of her long life. She was the matriarch of a large family, a first generation immigrant who loved America, and the American flag, for the real opportunities it represented for freedom from poverty and oppression that my ancestors fled in Eastern Europe. I remember the last time I saw her before she was placed into full-time care. I took her for a short canoe ride on a lake in northern Wisconsin. She crawled into the bow seat; I paddled from the stern. I had never paddled so intentionally, every stroke deliberate and smooth. Once out on the water, she leaned over the gunwale and let her hand dip below the glassy surface. “Soft,” she said, “it’s so soft.”
The last time I saw her before the funeral was at the nursing home in Milwaukee. The attendant who wheeled her into the common room told her, “Your grandson is here to visit with you, Liz,” and then she parked the wheelchair next to me and left us alone. I was scared. Would she know me? Was it a good day or a bad day? So, I started talking about the weather, the season, what was going on. I said: “Nonny, guess what. I moved to the country.” Instantly, as if from far away, she came back: “Smart,” she said, “smart.”
Then she must have remembered I was a teacher. She loved education, read all the time, left school after eighth grade. “You’re teaching,” she said, half statement, half question. I answered, “Yes, I’m a professor now.” Unimpressed, she asked me what I was teaching, and glibly I told her, “Well, I’m trying to help tear down the system.” Her eyes got real squinty then, and they widened and cleared as she looked up at me with the firm authority of elderhood, “You mean build it up!” She was insistent, and that was the end of that.
Most days my grandmother didn’t know her own name, her children or grandchildren’s faces, the season, the current president (she often spoke of Lincoln), or how long ago her husband had passed (it had been 30 years). But at the mere mention of tearing something down, the response from my grandmother was immediate. “Sonny,” she said, “you need to build it up.”
Today I honor my grandmother’s wisdom. She came of age during the Depression. She stretched a meager budget for food for seven children. “Sonny,” she said, “you need to build it up.”
Building things up and tearing things down—this apparent dichotomy presents another opportunity to hold and balance paradox. I’ve described nature and empire as two poles of a paradox that reflect the expansive landscape of environmental education, the linked cultural and ecological contexts of our work. I want to offer another paradox that holds together the big aims of environmental education, and that also points to pathways for pedagogy and curriculum. The paradox is between decolonization and reinhabitation, between tearing things down, and building things up.
I propose considering “decolonization” and “reinhabitation” as twin goals for education in a culture of empire. It should be said that these goals parallel other aims of educational research and practice; naming them is an effort to make inclusive space for those interested in environment and culture, nature, and empire. Like other synonymous terms, decolonization signals a strong critique of cultural practices and their underlying assumptions. The significance of decolonization as a theoretical category is that its usage specifically problematizes the colonization of people and land, both as historical practice and as the political progenitor of today’s empire. Of course critique alone is insufficient theory for environmental education research, and thus the pairing of decolonization with the vision of reinhabitation. It is the tension of paradox between decolonization and reinhabitation that gives both terms their conceptual range. Though for the sake of theory-building the two terms are called out as distinct, reinhabitation and decolonization are two dimensions of the same task. Renewal often requires that something is undone. In California, Van Jones expressed this clearly with his program, “Green Jobs, Not Jails.” Nature, empire, paradox.
Decolonization involves learning to recognize disruption and injury in person-place relationships, and learning to address their causes. Because colonization refers also to the colonization of the mind and body, it involves the practice of unlearning and undoing. Reinhabitation involves maintaining, restoring, and creating ways of living that are more in tune with the ecological limits of a place, practices that are less dependent on a globalized consumer culture that values profits and conveniences more than people and places. Reinhabitation means learning to live well socially and ecologically in a place, and learning to live in a way that does not harm other people and places (Gruenewald, 2003).1 These are big aims, but there is more. Reinhabitation also implies taking a new stance toward one’s own becoming. We reinhabit the self whenever we seek our own renewal, when we stop to listen to the teachers, or when we acknowledge the heartbeat of empire in our own bodies:
they will say also that our politics was no more than an apparatus to accommodate the feelings of the heart, and that the heart, in those days, was small, and hard, and full of meanness. (Oliver, 2008, p.46)
Because decolonization emphasizes human relationship to land, Indigenous perspectives on inhabitation are vital, as are the perspectives of other displaced and minoritized groups. Acknowledging Indigenous inhabitation is not only to recognize place-based relations to nature, but also to remember the long story of colonization, resistance, and the rights of sovereignty. Indigenous cultures are not the only cultures that have histories that need to be remembered; many minority traditions tell sacred stories of land, displacement, and struggle. Even mainstream white America incubates movements for resistance and change. The voices of poets, artists, activists, and others working for peace, social justice, Indigenous and civil rights, and for environmental justice and ecological sustainability—these voices are a worldwide movement standing up to empire. Whatever success this unnamed movement will have building things up and will depend not merely on critique and vision, not merely on developing communities of congruence and resistance. Perhaps building things up will depend mainly on changes in consciousness that open the heart, reinhabitations that slow us down so that we can recognize the intersectionality of our interests, how each of us is implicated in the other.
Listen to the teachers, confront empire. I want to build now toward naming a course of action for the field. While we might celebrate No Child Left Inside and the growth of green, decolonization means that we dig deeper: that we acknowledge genocide, racism, and patriarchy, past and present; that we acknowledge the class and caste systems that our contented consumption supports; and that we face up to our militarized culture of violence, repression, and war. Decolonization and reinhabitation mean untangling the roots of empire and building something up, a process that begins with ourselves, reaches outward, and never ends. Every act is important and not without consequence; collectively all of our actions create all of our contexts. Our numbers are many.
Our numbers, in fact, and our impacts, are extreme. Chris Jordan is a photographer who creates images that communicate the otherwise ineffable scale of our culture of mass consumption (see all the following images at http://www.chrisjordon.com). What is indistinguishable from a distance is revealed on closer scrutiny. “Gyre” (2009) depicts 2.4 million pieces of plastic, equal to the estimated number of pounds of plastic pollution that enter the world’s oceans every hour. All of the plastic in this image was collected from the Pacific Ocean. “Shark Teeth” (2009) depicts 270,000 fossilized shark teeth, equal to the estimated number of sharks of all species killed around the world every day for their fins. Jordan’s art also magnifies the social and psychological impacts of empire: “Ben Franklin” (2007) depicts 125,000 one-hundred dollar bills ($12.5 million), the amount our government spent every hour on the war in Iraq during 2007; “Constitution” (2008) depicts 83,000 Abu Ghraib prisoner photographs, equal to the number of people who have been arrested and held at US-run detention facilities with no trial or other due process of law, during the Bush Administration’s war on terror; “Barbie Dolls” (2008) depicts 32,000 Barbies, equal to the number of elective breast augmentation surgeries performed monthly in the US in 2006. The commodification of life under empire reeks of plastic, petroleum, patriarchy.
Paradoxically, the demand for Jordan’s work is high: people are drawn to the terrible truth of his poetry. Of all of Jordan’s (2009) work, his “E. Pluribus Unum,” or “the many become one,” best represents to me future directions for environmental educational research. From a distance, this image reminds me of the stories of the land told in tree rings. Complexity and beauty are revealed in proximity. This large scale mandala (the indoor wall hanging measures 45 by 45 feet) depicts the names of one million organizations around the world that are devoted to peace, environmental stewardship, social justice, and the continuation of diverse and indigenous cultures. The actual number of such organizations is unknown, but Paul Hawken’s (2007) “Blessed Unrest” project estimates the number at somewhere between one and two million, and growing. If the lines in this piece were straightened out, they would make an unbroken line of names, in a ten point font, twenty seven miles long.
What I’m suggesting is that if part of the work of environmental education is to decolonize and reinhabit empire, then we must better recognize the intersectionality of our interests with the interests of others, even or especially those whose ecological consciousness may be diminished by the ravages of empire. Green jobs, not jails. Environmental educators who can hold the paradox between nature and empire can expand the landscape of the field while enhancing the reach and impact of environmental education. In all intersectional social movements there are opportunities to acknowledge and resist the power of empire, to remember and reinhabit colonized land and colonized places, to remember their stories, and to listen for the wisdom of the teachers. We need an intersectional approach because our work is already braided in its resistance to and reconfiguration of empire, and moreover, to discount the struggles of others is to cut ourselves off from the principle of interrelationship; and to discount the struggle of others is to enact the logic of empire.
The intersectional movement that environmental education needs has been gathering: social ecology, environmental justice, ecofeminsim, ecojustice, eco-pedagogy, ecopsychology, critical geography, Indigenous ways of knowing, place-based education, peace education, humane education, sustainability education, disability studies, transformative education, Transition Towns, Wendell Berry, Jane Goodall, the Earth Charter. The shared theme of intersectional movements is their responsiveness to both nature and empire. Their movement energy is the vanguard of educational theory and practice.
The politics of empire do not change unless they are resisted by growing social movements: locally, nationally, globally. Democrats in Washington are obviously not enough. President Obama is not enough. Even if he wanted a strong climate agreement, for example, or to remove the salmon killing dams on the Snake River, or to provide affordable universal health care, or to end war–he can’t get it done, because his work is governed by the logic of empire.
History shows us that through partnership, solidarity, and persistence, social groups grow wiser and stronger in their ability to transform this logic, and to reinhabit our colonized places and lives. In the age of empire, the field of environmental education can itself become a kind of E. Pluribus Unum that invites and creates intersectional theory and action.
But—as important as it is to politicize our work and to ally the field with kindred social movements, we must remember the teachers. We need to learn how to stop, slow, and invoke their sacred presences. We need to learn how to privilege the teachers—other species, their languages, “owl in the black morning”—as full partners in E. Pluribus Unum. Nature, habitat, ecosystem, species, climate—this is not a political group; it is the context that makes all politics possible. There is a power greater than political power, and a strength greater than intellectual muscle. We know it as the experience of being alive, and being connected to others. The challenge is to hold this power and develop this strength as we participate in the larger struggle for peace, social justice, Indigenous and civil rights, and ecological well being.
Because a culture of perpetual war undermines the growth of any environmental ethic, I want to close with a poem by Judyth Hill (2002, p.4) called “Wage Peace.”
Wage peace with your breath. Breathe in firemen and rubble,
breathe out whole buildings and flocks of red wing blackbirds.
Breathe in terrorists and breathe out sleeping children and freshly mown fields.
Breathe in confusion and breathe out maple trees. Breathe in the fallen and breathe out lifelong friendships intact.
Wage peace with your listening: hearing sirens, pray loud. Remember your tools: flower seeds, clothespins, clean rivers.
Make soup. Play music, learn the words for “thank you” in three languages.
Learn to knit, and make a hat. Think of chaos as dancing raspberries,
imagine grief as the outbreath of beauty or the gesture of fish.
Swim for the other side. Wage peace.
Never has the world seemed so fresh and precious. Have a cup of tea and rejoice.
Act as if armistice has already arrived. Celebrate today.
Participation in the money economy makes it difficult to know how one’s consumption is impacting other people and places. The point is that to practice reinhabiting place, one must become more aware of how one’s actions have impacts “all over the place” now and in the future—and—one must begin to act ethically on that knowledge.
This paper was the concluding plenary address at the North American Association of Environmental Education (NAAEE) Annual Conference Research Symposium in Portland, Oregon, USA, October, 2009.
Excerpt from “hieroglyphic stairway” by Drew Dellinger. Copyright © 2006 by Drew Dellinger. Used by permission of the poet. www.drewdellinger.org
Excerpt from “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver. Copyright © 1992 by Mary Oliver. Used by permission of the poet.
“The Teachers” and “Of the Empire” by Mary Oliver. Copyright © 2008 by Mary Oliver. Used by permission of the poet.
“Wage Peace” by Judyth Hill. Copyright © 2002 by Judyth Hill. Used by permission of the poet.
David A. Greenwood is Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in Environmental Education in the Faculty of Education of Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Canada. His teaching, research, and community work revolve around place-based, environmental and sustainability education. Widely published in these areas, David recently guest edited with Marcia McKenzie Volume 14 of the Canadian Journal of Environmental Education (2009), and is editor with Greg Smith of the book Place-Based Education in the Global Age (Routledge, 2008). Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dellinger. D. (2006, Summer). hieroglyphic stairway. YES!, 38, 47.
Fitzgerald, F. S. (1936/2008). The crack up. Esquire. Retrieved from http://www.esquire.com/features/the-crack-up Foucault, M. (1977). Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison. New York: Vintage Books.
Gruenewald, D. (2003). The best of both worlds: A critical pedagogy of place. Educational Researcher, 32(4), 3-12.
Hawken, P. (2007). Blessed unrest. New York: Viking. Hill, J. (2002). Wage peace. In M. Adams (Ed.), Singing this great body back together:
In remembrance of September 11, 2002 (p. 4). Columbine Hills, CO: Baculite Publishing.
Jensen, D. (2009, May/June). The world at gunpoint. Orion. Retrieved from http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/4697/
Leopold, A. (1949/1968). A Sand County almanac. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.
Lopez, B. (2001, Autumn). The naturalist. Orion. Retrieved from http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/91/
Martin, P. (1996). A WWF view of education and the role of NGOs. In J. Huckle and S. Sterling,(Eds.), Education for sustainability (pp. 40-54). London: Earthscan.
Moyers, B. (1995). The language of life: A festival of poets. New York: Doubleday. Oliver, M. (1992). New and selected poems. Boston: Beacon Press.
Oliver, M. (2008). Red bird. Boston: Beacon Press.
Payne, P. & Wattchow, B. (2009). Phenomenological deconstruction, slow pedagogy, and the corporeal turn in wild environmental/outdoor education. Canadian Journal of Environmental Education, 14, 15-32.
Pyle, R. (2001). The rise and fall of natural history: How a science grew that eclipsed direct experience. Orion, 20(4), 16-23.
Pyle, R. M. (2008). No child left inside: Nature study as a radical act. In D. Gruenewald & G. Smith, (Eds.), Place-based education in the global age: Local diversity (pp.155-172). New York: Routledge.
Quammen, D. (1998). A planet of weeds. Harper’s Magazine, October, 57-69. Said, E. (1994). Representations of the intellectual. New York: Pantheon Books.
White, R. (1995). The organic machine: The remaking of the Columbia River. New York: Hill and Wang.
No Fooling: Exploring the Nature of Responsibility, Progress, Success, and Good Work
How we answer a challenge raised over half a century ago regarding the way we handle the blessings of nature will go a long way towards determining our future.
by Peter Hayes
In the roughly 10,000 years since members of our species first began to call the Pacific Northwest home, many good questions have been asked. Of all that have been posed, one continues to stand out as the most important. In 1938 during a noontime luncheon address to a group of prosperous citizens in Portland, Oregon, the thoughtful, worldly generalist, Lewis Mumford asked this question: “I have seen a lot of scenery in my life, but I have seen nothing so tempting as a home for man than this Oregon country… You have the basis here for civilization on its highest scale and I am going to ask you a question which you may not like… Have you enough intelligence, imagination, and cooperation among you to make the best use of these opportunities?”
Though he spoke to one group of people in reference to the future of one region, the question applies equally well to our entire species and our total habitat — this planet — “do we have the qualities necessary to successfully live here for the long haul?” That is the most important question in the world. The only answers which matter are those expressed through actions, not words. And what do the consequences of actions taken since Mumford’s 1938 question say about our success? There is certainly good news in the form of the development of a more crash resistant economy, a country and world which may have made progress toward the challenge of judging people by the quality of their character instead of the color of their skin, and the imagination, endorsement, and enforcement of laws which help the powers of care, cooperation, and foresightfulness get the upper hand on the powers of selfish, shortsighted greed trying to turn our commonwealth into their personal wealth.
But overall the evidence of actions taken, and not taken, since 1938 indicate that our answer to Mumford’s question is: “no, we don’t yet have the qualities necessary to successfully live here. Our perceptive abilities, values, and ethics have not yet evolved in the ways that they must in order to develop and use those qualities”.
If meeting the challenge is a matter of fundamental survival, why haven’t we done it? If we are clever enough to pull off such feats as walking on the moon, splitting atoms, and cloning creatures, why not attend to our most basic survival? The answer is that we choose to fool ourselves. Fueled by the powerful forces, including the omnipresent media and our systems of schooling, we fool ourselves in four main ways. Progress toward meeting Mumford’s challenge — our most basic responsibility — depends on recognizing and correcting the ways that we’ve been fooled and continue to fool our children.
The fooling happens in how too many of us answer these four questions: 1) What is success?, 2) What is our greatest challenge?, 3) What is the basis for our decision making?, and 4) What are schools for?
What is Success?
One major reason for our continuing failure to meet — or even acknowledge — Mumford’s challenge is that for the majority of our species the challenge is not seen to be important enough to even pay attention to; for many, there is no connection between our personal yardstick of what it means to be a successful person and progress toward the challenge. Our systems and competitive instincts program us to be amused and preoccupied by other challenges and measures of success — accumulating more money than we need, proving that we are better than other people — whether on the sports field, in the classroom, boardroom, stock exchange floor, or battlefield, and basing our identities and sense of success on the acquisition of power, prestige, and comfort — on what we can take instead of what we choose to give. So, much like the highly capable student who flunks a course because she just didn’t choose to try, the first reason we continue to not meet Mumford’s challenge is that too many of us continue to be fooled into believing that success is measured by actions which take us further from meeting the challenge instead of toward it. Tellingly, Mumford prefaced his question to Portland’s City Club with the caveat that he had a question which his audience probably would not like. Wasn’t this because it presented — to people who already saw themselves as successful — an alternative, ultimately more important, measure of success, which if recognized, stood to threaten and/or limit their accepted notions of success?
What is the Challenge?
As a teacher, I owe thanks to my students for helping me recognize the second way that we fool ourselves. Year after year class discussions devolve into a familiar debate over which of the challenges on humanity’s plate is most important and deserving of our attention and energies. Here is a sampler of predictable excerpts: “Yes, I know that all of the problems with the environment, such as saving the salmon, are important, but you’ve got to realize that we have to look out for the well being of our own species first; people are starving and that must be our top priority.” Or “These efforts to help people learn to treat each other well, and to solve environmental problems like global warming are important, but we have to be sure to do nothing which might threaten quarterly profits and harm the economy; if we don’t have a strong economy, things will fall apart”. They have learned what they have been taught — and been fooled, just as I was fooled. We have inherited a flawed conceptual model which is based on the assumption that our species faces three, competing challenges: the challenge of people learning and choosing to successfully live with one another, the challenge of humans learning and choosing to live within the limits of what the land can provide, and the challenge of learning and choosing to develop an economic system which can endure over time. I fell for it; conclusions such as Aldo Leopold’s: “We end, I think, at what might be called the standard paradox of the twentieth century: our tools are better than we are, and grow better faster than we do. They suffice to crack the atom, to command the tides. But they do not suffice for the oldest task in human history: to live on a piece of land without spoiling it.” fooled me into the mistaken belief that one of the three competing challenge was paramount. I now see that from birth my culture conditioned me to see myself as positioned in the center of a triangle, with compelling, competing, and insistent voices from each corner vying for my attention. Across from Aldo’s siren call come the words of Martin Luther King Jr. and others, such as “We must either learn to live together as brothers or die together as fools.” And from the third corner come the powerful economic cautions of Alan Greenspan, Wall Street, and the WTO advising that without a functioning economy we have nothing. After investing twenty five years of my working life in the wholehearted, and often zealous, service of one of the three challenges — helping people learn and choose to live within the limits of what the land can provide – I have come to see that I was wrong because my work has been based on a flawed conceptual model of the real nature of the challenges. Aldo was right, but he was also wrong; King was right, but he was wrong; Greenspan is right, but he is wrong.
While each is essential, none is in itself sufficient. An economy dependent on the degradation of land or people will never succeed; a healthy land community depends on a functional economy and healthy human community; and humans cannot resolve their differences as long as the ecosystems and economies on which they depend are in disarray. As Jared Diamond described in a post September 11th letter to the Washington Post: “If a dozen years ago you had asked an ecologist uninterested in politics to name the countries with the most fragile environments, the most urgent public health problems, and the most severe overpopulation, the answer would have included Afghanistan, Burundi, Haiti, Iraq, Nepal, Rwanda, Somalia, Yugoslavia, and Zimbabwe. The close match between that list and the list of the world’s political hot spots today is no accident.” Though the world around us continues to do its best to fool us into seeing three competing challenges, the evidence from a careful look at how the world really works convinces me that these are not three challenges, but one — building communities which can survive and thrive indefinitely. For me, the competitive triangle model has been replaced by an interdependent, cooperative circular model of three links of chain. Healthy communities depend on meeting the challenges represented by each link, and our success is only as strong as the weakest link.
Progress depends on each of us learning to let go of our drive to see our highest priority corner or link prevail over the other three (think Earth First, WTO), and instead develop a higher commitment to the whole of being a citizen and community member than to any one of the links. Ironically it seems that the longer and harder we continue to push on our chosen corner of the competitive triangle model — as well meaning as we may be — the less likely we are to make progress toward any of the challenges. Success depends on turning all of our environmentalists, human rights activists, and economic development enthusiasts into just plain citizens — knowledgeable about and committed to all three links of the chain. These people fit into Wallace Stegner’s notion of choosing to be “stickers” instead of “boomers”, and follow the advice of Gary Snyder and others that one of the most radical — an useful – things we can do is to stay put.
What is the Basis of Our Decisions?
The third way that many of us continue to fool ourselves is pretending that the basis of our decisions can reasonably shift if distanced by time and/or space. When reduced to the most local scale, our moral evolution, as a species, has progressed toward basing an increasingly percentage of our actions on what is right to do as opposed to what we have the power to do.
Even if I am bigger and tougher than my two eating mates, I don’t eat more than my third of the pizza because that is the right thing to do; sharing a common pasture with other farming families, I choose to graze only as many cattle on it as the land can provide for, because that is the right thing to do; even if certain investments could be unusually lucrative, I choose not to invest in them because they are bad for the community. Each of these represents a choice to base decisions on ethics instead of power. In contrast to the progress we have made in what might be called moral evolution, we continue to fool ourselves with arbitrary blinders and barriers in terms of what we consider to be the domain of ethics and what is the domain of power.
Curiously something which is based on ethics when close to us in space or time, can slip back to being based on power when removed to greater distance. An example is the land use choices of forest products companies based in the Pacific Northwest. When operating within the United States the company uses a set of land use practices which their full page newspaper ads tell us are shaped not by laws, but by an abiding, ethically based commitment to land stewardship. Yet when the same companies transfer capital from domestic investments to forestry in other countries, their treatment of land is much less careful and, in the absence of land use laws in places like Russia, the basis for company decision making apparently shifts from ethics to what they have the power to do. Similarly, though I might buy a shirt made using child labor paid at unreasonably low rates — if it came from a very distant place, I would refuse, on ethical grounds, to eat at a local restaurant whose existence and profits depended on similar human abuse. Though a fisher would choose for ethical reasons not to steal fish from the hold of a fellow fisher’s boat moored alongside of his, he sees no ethical problem with overfishing a species, such as Atlantic Cod, to commercial extinction, which is effectively stealing fish from the holds of the fish boats of his children and grand children. Why do so many of us continue to fool ourselves into believing that our responsibility for ethical decision making decreases in proportion to how distant and anonymous the consequences become in space and/or time? Isn’t a consequence a consequence, no matter where and when they happen?
The Work of Schools
Mumford’s question — do we have the characteristics necessary to successfully live here — begs a preceding question: what characteristics are most important to us as we seek to meet the challenge?
Though he suggested intelligence, imagination, and cooperation, what would be your top ten essential attitudes, skills, and habits? What letter grade would you give the success of the five schools closest to your home at developing these characteristics in their students? What limits their success in doing this? The schools in my community are failing in this most important responsibility because they don’t recognize it as being their responsibility and are never held accountable for success. Instead, their missions, parental pressure, and deadening effect of school reform standards focus their attention and resources on maintaining and increasing students’ upward mobility — or put more bluntly – using the fair winds of competitive instinct to train good predators. Because of this, the final of the four barrier between us and rising to meet Mumford’s challenge is that too many of us fool ourselves into believing that our schools can be considered to be successful when they continue to put a disproportionate emphasis on preparing students to take/pursue personal gain — instead of developing in students the readiness to give in proportion to what they take, which is the measure of responsible citizenship. This status quo of schooling is a road toward diminishing returns because the pursuit of individual gain at the expense of our commonwealth leaves a dwindling world to be upwardly mobile in. We will know that this barrier is behind us when our schools are as, or more, effective at encouraging moral evolution and developing the characteristics of citizenship as they are in preparing students for upward mobility.
I was born into a world where the imbalance between what people asked of our communities and what those communities had the capacity to provide led to progressive erosion of community health and vitality. Though the decline continues, I am optimistic that within my lifetime it is possible for us to turn the corner by reconciling what our species demands with what the systems can sustainably provide. Every day I become increasingly convinced that the key to success is waking up to the four crucial ways that we fool ourselves and continue to fool each succeeding generation. What makes me hopeful is that when you look closely, in the right spots, it is easy to find, learn from, and be inspired by many remarkable examples of work that are successfully beginning to rebuild community vitality. Their success is the result of choosing to end the foolishness by redefining progress and success, re-envisioning three competing community challenges as one challenge, expanding the universe of ethical responsibility, and reshaping schooling to acknowledge that educating for responsible citizenship is our highest responsibility.
Among all of the candidates proposed as yardsticks for a successful life – educational pedigree, net worth, level of influence — is not the ultimate measure of our value and good work the degree to which we help equip our culture and its children to answer “yes” to Mumford’s challenge?
Peter Hayes is the former Ecological Studies Coordinator at Lakeside School in Seattle. He now manages a family tree farm in the Coast Range of western Oregon.
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
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.
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.