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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Inspiring Change towards Sustainability: The New Curriculum

Now that I am about a week or two into this course, I can see that the concepts of sustainability, wellbeing, and hope are not only central to my path through this course, but will also quickly become central in my teaching practice as well.  I feel as though I am coming to a place where I am able to find new meaning, value, and purpose in teaching.  The idea of hope to inspire and create change to work towards a sustainable planet is not just an important concept.  It is much, much larger than that.  In many ways it is becoming clear to me that creating change toward sustainability is the new curriculum.  These are the most important ideas among all curricular concepts, and they need to find their way and permeate into all curricular areas. 

There are many important things that teachers do.  Teachers create change in many ways.  But all of the ways in which we impact children are really moot if we are not able to inspire children to make change in this world, quickly.  It is becoming blatantly obvious that we are living in a completely unstable and unsustainable world.  That must change.  Rapid change is needed.  Drastic and radical change is needed.  If we don’t soon begin to head in the direction of sustainable systems, then I don’t see how it makes any difference to inspire children to read, write, draw, or dance.

Sustainability, change, and renewal.  It is the new curriculum.  This is what we need to be teaching in our English courses, in our visual art classes, in math, even in phys.ed and drama and shop classes, and yes certainly in social studies and in the sciences.  It is the new curriculum, at all levels.  It is necessary to work its way into all areas of education.

On my rock… writing to… myself…

A portion of the assessment of my current graduate course is on the completion of an analysis journal.  Dr. Pickard has asked us (the students of EC&I 871 – Sustaining Wellbeing through H.O.P.E.) to find a space at least once a week to sit and reflect upon the readings, presentations, and activities that will be presented throughout the class.   Basically the premise is to “get on your rock” and reflect upon and analyse your development through the class.

In the past, I have found blogging to be a useful method of reflecting and analysis.  I have blogged as part of a network in which each member would regularly read and respond to eachothers’ blog entries.  Although there was much value to the presence of a network and an audience, much of the value of blogging was in the ability to communicate, develop, and articulate thoughts and ideas as they developed in relation to the readings and other course materials.  It is most likely that this most recent blogging activity will not have any audience (one is not intended).  I suppose in a way this is a sort of disclaimer to say that I am really writing to myself, journaling, in order to further develop my own thoughts.  Yet also this is meant to say that an audience is certainly welcome, as I do understand that there is much value when discussions arise.  So if you are reading any of my posts, and you are inclined to respond, please do.

At some point, as this develops, I may intend for this blog to reach and audience… perhaps my classes of high school students.  That is something I have not yet experienced.  We’ll see how this goes…

I’m Back… with HOPE.

This blog space, which I once called my Ed. Tech Weblog, is about to become active again.   Originally this space was created and used to blog and reflect about experiences that I have lived through my graduate studies in education technology.  More specifically, the blog was created as part of my involvement with a network of educators that were studying together in E.C. & I. 831 with Dr. Alec Couros.

I am returning to this web space and to the world of blogging with a new focus.  I am currently taking a graduate course in Education from Dr. Garth Pickard entitled Sustaining Wellbeing through H.O.P.E.  I found the process of blogging to be very helpful in organizing my thoughts, developing my thinking and writing through reflection, and I enjoyed several discussions posed through responses to my blog posts.  I am thinking about taking my blogging to a new level, and to begin blogging with my students.  More to come on that notion soon… anyway whatever I’ve posted in 2008 relates to my exploration of new and emerging technologies in education – and all new posts will relate to the complex concepts of sustainability, wellbeing, and of course… hope.