Reorienting Education Toward Sustainability

The greatest dilemma that humanity faces today is an unprecedented need for large scale and rapid change.  Our situation is urgent, as the environmental and social challenges before us indicate.  We face a convergence of crises, from climate change and global warming, to the increasing number of environmental refugees and the effects of rampant consumerism.  All of which urgently call for action.  Although there is no universal solution to our vast array of problems, it is quite clear that we must change the ways by which we think, act, consume and waste, collectively.

Ultimately, many of the problems that face us today are the result of yesterday’s solutions.  We have arrived at our current situation only because we have been so successful.  Industrial and consumer outlooks have increasingly dominated our ways of thinking over the last two hundred years.  These ways of thinking have brought forth extraordinary successes beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

This is, in part, what makes our challenge so daunting.  We are faced with the reality that our old ways of doing things will no longer serve us, and yet they have been so astonishingly successful in the past.  What needs to change is an established norm, and such changes do not come about easily.  In his book, The Necessary Revolution, Peter Senge writes that the Industrial Revolution “did not simply change the way we worked; it transformed the way we lived, the way we thought about ourselves, and the way we viewed the world.  Nothing like it had ever occurred before” (2008, p. 14).  This is the magnitude of change that is needed today.

The impacts the Industrial Revolution had on quality of life were undeniable.  As industrial expansion continued into the twentieth century, life expectancy in the industrial world roughly doubled, literacy jumped from 20 percent to over 90 percent, and benefits hitherto unimaginable sprang up in the form of products (from private cars to iPods), services (from air travel to eBay), and astounding advances in medicine, communication, education, and entertainment.  With this kind of success, it is little wonder that the side effects of the Industrial Age success story went largely ignored. (Senge, 2008, p. 15)

The dominant modes of thinking of the Industrial Age have produced astounding progress and success, but also severe side effects.  The very advances that have enabled such perceived increases in quality of life are also the causes of critical imbalances in the natural orders of things.  Advances in industrial production and consumption of goods, among other advances, have contributed to several unsustainable crisis situations, both socially and ecologically.

Although the concept of sustainability is not new, it is being discussed more frequently.  In a recent guide, the steering committee for the Saskatchewan Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) Network (2009) notes that “calls for sustainability date back to the 1970s, when the combined effects of human population growth and resource consumption started to appear at the global level” (p. 4).  As the discourse around the concept of sustainability develops, it is becoming increasingly clear that in order for significant change to take place, a shift in the role of education is necessary.  “It is also clear that sustainability is ultimately about transforming the values, beliefs, and attitudes that support, and are reinforced by Western industrialized cultures” (SaskESD Network, 2009).  Dr. Glenn Sutter, curator of the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, and chair of the Saskatchewan ESD Network has written that in order “to foster a culture of sustainability, we need to develop appropriate technologies, policies, and regulations at various scales, but these need to be supported by a fundamental shift in our thinking and actions, ostensibly through education” (2005, p. iv).

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Playing With Wordle

I have seen many interesting Wordle creations [beautiful word clouds] over the last couple of years, but have never taken the time to create one.  As part of my ‘playing in the sand’ time, I’ve decided to play and create a Wordle image or two. Just based on their aesthetic value alone, I can see their value in a visual arts class.

Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. The images you create with Wordle are yours to use however you like. You can print them out, or save them to the Wordle gallery to share with your friends.

Create your own at http://www.wordle.net.

Aside from figuring out how to embed the image [ended up using a screen capture], I have found the process relatively intuitive, easy, quick, and even fun.  This could be something that could quite easily fit into the classroom.

Here are few others.  This one was created simply by typing in the web address of this blog page, and so this is a visual representation of the content of this blog.  It is interesting to note the differences of this image and the Tag Cloud that is in the bar on the right.  The Tag Cloud seems to show a longer term cloud, and the Wordle image is a cloud of more recent activity.

Just a quick browse through the gallery at wordle.net makes two things pretty clear.  1 – this is quite popular, dozens of wordle images are created and added to the galler every minute.  2 – there are a wide array of applications for such creations.  Many things come to mind, advertising, love letters, greetings, poetry, and on and on it goes…  I’ve been thinking this would be an interesting way to display intro or cover pages to unit, presentations, or slideshows.  In this example, I’ve played with the advanced tab, and customized colours, sizes, and word groupings.

The Necessary Revolution Hits Milestone

This is just a quick post to celebrate a small milestone.  Today, The Necessary Revolution blog has reached the milestone of 10,000 hits! Hooray.  I am quite impressed.  Thank you to all of you who have taken the time to browse, read, and respond to the posts on this site.  The ClustrMap shows the traffic from the last two weeks, and shows that there have been visitors from many and varied countries.  Click the ClustrMap in the right side-bar to see this traffic map enlarged.  Much of this success is due to the popularity of a couple of frequently hit ‘top posts’.  My top four posts bring in several hundred hits to this site every day.  If you haven’t already checked them out, please do [and don’t be shy, let me know what you think].

Help make this site even better by subscribing to this blog.  Use the subscribe button on the right side bar, or the RSS feeds button at the top of the page.  Again, the site will be more interesting if you share your thoughts, so join the discussion by submitting your comments at the bottom of each post.

Hope in Corporate Partnerships? … 3,986

Gaia at Night … Mother is Sick …. 2,142

Trees, I’ve Got Trees… 1,234

The Necessary Revolution… 954

Students Thinking about Sustainability

My students have been thinking about the sustainability of our planet, and our ways of living on it.  I’ve had my English Language Arts students [grade ten students] working through a unit that I’ve called The Necessary Revolution.   The title is not very original, as I’ve lifted if from a great book by Peter Senge, but it works.  Students

Chris Jordan

began the unit with an introduction to Chris Jordan  and his work and message.   They watched short videos, viewed much of his artwork digitally, and read from his blog.  They were asked to respond to Chris’ message in writing by posting their thoughts and opinions as comments on my blog.  They also began to study a list of essential vocabulary; words like unsustainable, sustainability, necessary, revolution, citizenship, etc.  Next, the students viewed the documentary The 11th Hour.  While viewing, student took notes of important facts, information, and viewpoints, and we stopped the film constantly having good discussions.  After viewing, my students were expected to write a written response to the film.  Follow the link bellow to read their responses (please leave us some feedback).  

Another activity I’ve had on the go, is a small-scale tree planting project.  I’ve had students in three homerooms in the school planting white spruce tree seedlings.  We’ve planted them in small pots to keep in the room for the winter, to care for them, and then eventually move them to a more permanent home in the spring.  My students have been measuring, and watering their trees.   They’ve even tagged and named their trees. 

All of this is just a start, yet I feel that we are heading in the right direction.  

Follow the links below to read my students responses, and please, leave us some feedback. 

Student responses to Chris Jordan, his work and his message. 

Student responses to the film The 11th Hour.

Hope in Corporate Partnerships?

A few years ago, after watching the documentary, The Corporation, I remember feeling that I no longer had any faith in democracy.   463px-Movie_poster_the_corporationThe Corporation, which is the most successful Canadian documentary of all time, is based on the book The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power by Joel Bakan.  The film and book explore the history and rise of corporate power in the western world –  from small businesses to the giant global powerhouses that we have today.   Throughout the film, the message is clear; corporations in North America have become enormous, and enormously powerful.  Corporations are patholical in their pursuit of profits, and corporations are doing serious and irreperable damage to our planet.  Perhaps the most disturbing outcome of the film is the knowledge that a large number of globe-spanning corporate giants have clearly become more powerful than our systems of government.  Corporate greed and power has grown so strong, that it has managed to manipulate constitutional laws in order to protect the interests and profits of these great giants.  This leads to serious questions of coruption of government and faith in democracy; concerns of whether democracy is serving the people or serving the interest of greedy corperate power houses.

A newer book by Peter Senge (and others), however, sheds a more positive outlook on corporate power.  Necessary RevolutionHis 2008 book, The Necessary Revolution: How Individuals and Organizations are Working Together to Create a Sustainable World portrays countless examples of a new kind of organizational partnership.   Giant corporations around the globe are partnering with NGOs (non-government organizations) and not for profit organizations in order to counter or eliminate the harm that they are doing to the planet.  At first, many of these partnerships are very shocking; as an example Coca-Cola is partnering with WWF (the World Wild-life Fund – not the wrestling federation).  Many large corporations have made such partnerships and serious commitments to work towards a sustainable future.  Nike, Google, Costco, Ikea, DuPont, BP, and countless others are forming partnerships with environmental and social justice organizations to ensure better stewardship of the earth and better livelihoods in the developing world.  Now, stop imagining – that world is already emerging.  These partnerships have already begun, and they are beginning to make headway in making substantial difference.  Amoung the most shocking of these partnerships may be the recently announced partnership between Walmart and the Suzuki Foundation.

cokewwfIt seems more logical for the world’s largest beverage manufacturer and bottler to team up with a wrestling federation than with the World Wild-life fund.  Selling beverages at wrestling events would generate revenue, but what does Coca-Cola have to gain from a partnership with the World Wild-life Fund?  Sustainability.  The hope for a sustainable future is what Coke has to gain.  The fact is that Coca-Cola is one of the world leaders in polluting our planet.  It has an enourmous carbon footprint, with manufacturing plants all over the planet.  More importantly, it is an emormous consumer of fresh water, one of our most precious resources.  By partnering with WWF, Coke is doing more than simply making a financial contribution, they are demonstrating a shift in corporate thinking.  This shift is an awakening to the realities that corporations have to face; the reality that current practices are unsustainable.  Coke, as one of the greatest consumers of fresh water on this planet, simply cannot sustain its current production.  This partnership is a realization that the company needs to change how it operates, and that it can benefit from the knowledge of leading NGOs like WWF.

walmart-logoWal-mart, Coca-cola, Costco, Ikea, Home-Depot, McDonalds, etc… these powerhouses aren’t suzuki_logogoing away any time soon.  There seems to be an acknowledgment by many of the leading non-profit organizations in the world of this fact, and a realization in essence that, “If you can’t beat them, then join them.”   Will the partnership between Coke and WWF result in sustainable water use, and health to watertables the world over?  Will a partnership between Wal-mart and the Suzuki Foundation result in sustainable transportation of goods around the planet?  This is a rather new development in the corporate world, and it is very early to see any significant outcomes.  However, there is hope in these partnerships, as they are steps in directions towards living sustainably.  HOPE.

Your thoughts are important.  It’s time to SPEAK UP.  What do you think?

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UPDATE:

This post is receiving significant traffic, often in the amount of several hundred reads each week.   Do me a favour.  Just leave a quick response, and let me know who you are and how you came across this article.  I’m curious to know who’s reading.  If you’d like to share your thoughts about the article, that would be great.

Thanks for reading,

– – –
Ryan