One of the failures of our education system, is that it continues to prepare our children for “business as usual” in a world of endless economic growth. Deep down we all know that the reality is different. Even our children know this. Yet we continue to ignore the signs of collapse. We believe that someone “out there” will fix our social and environmental problems, and so we carry on with the party, consuming every last resource and polluting every possible place. Soon there will be nothing left.
“Sustainability is about the terms and conditions of human survival, and yet we still educate at all levels as if no such crisis existed” writes David Orr. Our education system fails to put sustainability into the heart of its practices and processes. It fails to prepare our children for survival. It fails to foster resilient individuals who have the skills and knowledge to build regenerative and robust communities.
Because of this, I choose to homeschool my son. But I might change my mind if there was a school in my community that had sustainability and ecological literacy at its core. If the school designed its gardens, buildings, operations, teaching methods and curricula with sustainability in mind. If it nurtured emotional, social and ecological intelligence, alongside intellectual ability and academic performance.
I dream of this school: a healthy, whole environment where children learn practical, sustainable living skills through hands-on projects that are grounded in their local community. Where projects address pressing questions about real-life problems, both global and local. Where children learn how to turn projects into viable social enterprises. Where projects focus on ecological restoration and earth stewardship.
A school where the community itself is a teacher. Where a diverse network of relationships – teachers, parents, students, stakeholders and other community members – work collaboratively to make decisions and support each other. A school that is a dynamic learning organization, evolving and adapting creatively to change, while restoring our environment and repairing our culture.
This is not a wild dream. There is a hunger for this new model of education. There is a movement emerging, one that is radically redesigning the education system from the ground up. This is no easy task – it requires significant buy-in from members of the school and the wider community. But there are educators and visionaries that want to make this happen. They are ready to put their vision into action. For the children. For the earth.
A leading organization in this field is the Center for Ecoliteracy (based in Berkeley) which has been working for 20 years to advance education for sustainable living in K-12 schools across the nation. Their objective – schooling for sustainability – is focused on food, campus, community, and teaching / learning. They have 4 guiding principles: “Nature is Our Teacher”, “Sustainability is a Community Practice”, “The Real World is the Optimal Learning Environment”, and “Sustainable Living is Rooted in Deep Knowledge of Place.” Their teaching guides offer students the opportunity to participate in project-based learning where they learn to assess their community’s ability to respond to crises, and develop ideas for redesigning their community to be more resilient.
The center offers training and resources that integrate the principles of ecology (which are the same principles of healthy community) into every aspect of a school. The school’s food, waste, energy, water and buildings become part of the learning curriculum, and healthy relationships between people (parents, students, and teachers) are integral to the learning process. The premise is that children’s ability to learn depends greatly on the vitality and health of the whole school environment.
This is the education I want for my son. An ecological, place-based education. Education that connects, inspires, transforms and prepares my son for the future. An education that cultivates personal resilience through seeding qualities of empathy, flexibility, adaptability, creativity, communication, and collaboration. An education for the Great Transition.
I want my son to think critically. I want him to respect diversity. I want him to embody truth and justice. I want him to honor all of life as sacred. I want him to realize his potential, to believe in his own power to effect positive and lasting change in the world. I want him to know how to lead from within. Not to have power over people, but to be an empowered, visionary change agent working in partnership with others to transform our world.
I want these things for my son, and I want them for all the children. I want them for all of us too. Because the world is changing fast, and if we don’t prepare, then we are headed for a crash.
Nature sustains life, and we have to learn to sustain nature if we want to survive. To sustain life, we have to learn to cultivate sustainable community. The fastest and most effective way to make the shift to a resilient world is through the education system. Education has the power to shape consciousness and culture. If we change our education system, we can change the world.
The Transition Movement founder, Rob Hopkins writes: “Our future depends on all of us, young people and adults being excited and inspired by the challenges of transition, and acquiring skills such as the ability to think long-term and critically about the situations, recognize the value and limits of natural systems, apply systems thinking to their work, and have a creative vision of what a brighter, more sustainable future might be so that we develop good leaders and strong citizenship.”
The education system is key, but it has to undergo radical change. We know what to do. Others are already leading the way. We just have to start doing it ourselves, one school at a time.