What does education for sustainability mean?

David Orr’s article  What is Education for? is an emotive piece, aimed to generate thought and reflection.

It begins with:

If today is a typical day on planet Earth, we will lose 116 square miles of rainforest, or about an acre a second. We will lose another 72 square miles to encroaching deserts, as a result of human mismanagement and overpopulation. We will lose 40 to 100 species, and no one knows whether the number is 40 or 100. Today the human population will increase by 250,000. And today we will add 2,700 tons of chlorofluorocarbons to the atmosphere and 15 million tons of carbon. Tonight the Earth will be a little hotter, its waters more acidic, and the fabric of life more threadbare.

* What parts of Orr’s article did you agree with?

I agree with the statement: “It is not education that will save us, but education of a certain kind.” As I tried to say in my essay on the Philosophy of Liberty , we need to work on our ethics and morality, and educate that these are our only true measures of success, not the current measures which are based on the size of your bank balance, how high up the ladder you have risen, how  many oscars you have etc.

This is how Orr put it:

“The plain fact is that the planet does not need more “successful” people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every shape and form. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these needs have little to do with success as our culture has defined it”.

Yes – we need to redefine “success”.

He goes on to say” The goal of education is not mastery of subject matter, but of one’s person.” This would be a huge challenge and is perhaps a massive swinging back of the pendulum.  Ethics and morals tend only to be taught in ‘religious studies’ type courses found in schools with Church affiliations. It seems that when schools became secular we lost the ‘Greek’ curriculum along with the religious education – perhaps we threw the baby out with the bath water.

I really like the idea of having a “core competancy” of ecological literacy – As I said in an earlier post sustainability is to me about protecting biodiversity and all that goes along with that. I have heard teachers here at Otago Polytechnic talk about sustainability as  “managing ones workload” – well I think they are completely missing the point! There is a place for discussions about ecology in every classroom.

I am over the moon to read Orr’s article and to find that he too defines sustainability in ecological terms. Not much in the article challenged me – I agree with everything he says – what is challenging is finding a way to apply his ideas

How do I apply Orr’s ideas?

I educate my children and other members of my family. I have endless arguments with my capitalist parents and their friends and alienate myself in the process. I do not apply Orr’s ideas in my current role at work very well at all, almost not at all.  It was much easier when I was a biology teacher – I just don’t seem to have an obvious platform in which to do it now.

Any suggestions?

I can lead by example….

I read, I blog, I vote green, I have given up trying to be “successful” in the traditional sense and now work part-time and spend the freed up time trying to live a more sustainable existence – planting veges, fruit, looking after two cows, 6 sheep, 11 chickens, I hope to make my own butter and cheese, I don’t travel far for holidays, I ride a bike to work (sometimes). I buy second-hand whenever possible…


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