Sunday, 3 May 2015

Education for a Sustainable Future

Education For a Sustainable Future presents information on how today's practices in schools are socially unsustainable. The documentary film critically analyses what is considered socially relevant in a new education system which brings out the most potential in all of humanity whilst also detailing specific educational methods from a wide range of sources on how to nurture social skills, critical thinking techniques and a larger variety of important practices to positively reinforce from our earliest years onwards. It must be recognised that a sustainable education is one of the most critical components of any advanced society.

Education For a Sustainable Future is an independent film production and has been uploaded online for free download and distribution. The views expressed in this documentary are not necessarily shared by the originators of source material presented.

This is a good video. Whilst I find myself agreeing with much of it, I can’t help thinking there is some hidden quasi- sectarian agenda embedded within it which is never quite stated explicitly. Much of this ‘feeling’ derives from the somewhat uncompromising, programmed narrative which leaves little option for plurality within our educational structures. It seems to question nearly every aspect of sustainability in education, but not the main question (in my opinion) which is one of the human scale; ‘schools’ of the future hopefully won’t be large industrial scale institutions which indoctrinate with an agenda of ‘scientism’, but an outgrowth of personal development at the home, village, or small- scale community level. My view of sustainable education is one of high tech, low ecological impact, on the human scale.

Whilst promoting the values of humanism, sustainability, cooperation and materialism, there is a didactic undercurrent to this film which I do not like. It seems to be predicated on a humanist model which is frighteningly totalitarian in its outlook, and politically naïve. I will take each one of these assertions in turn.

(i)                  Humanist outlook. An attempt to remove “dogma” of religion, politics, and belief from education actually becomes a kind of baggage itself. The whole documentary seems to have been conceived in a vacuum of knowledge of social constructivism, such as that outlined back in 1969 in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Thomas S Kuhn); In the film it says “there is no point in teaching redundant concepts in science which were disproved long ago” and “If scientists didn’t need this knowledge, they wouldn’t have developed that field of science”, whilst showing images of religiosity as “obsolete” (despite advancing multiculturalism & inclusivity as a desirable goal of their empathy training). To poo poo our historical and sociological ferment in the hope we can crystallise a new clinical outlook around a few trite ‘objective’ values is hopelessly naïve, and somewhat scary. Human beings are not atomised commodities to be trained in One Truth. They come with their own spirituality and wonderfully rich conditioning for a reason.

(ii)                Centralising (totalitarian). There is an idea that physical referents should predominate over social relativism. For example; “Science is the best tool we have so far [in achieving sustainability]”, and “Education needs to be founded on science” Which science??? Which epistemological basis is being used??? By whom??? Science is not quite the objective exercise which is portrayed. It comes with sociological and economic strings. For example the ‘scientific wisdom’ of pesticide use, vaccination, surgery, large scale energy and water projects, and GM technology will come to be looked upon as Medieval instruments of torture in the future, whilst being universally endorsed now.

(iii)               “A new social system with a scientifically advanced outlook, a system focussed on alleviating human labour via machine automation and creating an abundance of resources for all of humanity to share, would surely adopt the new education system conveyed”. This statement shows a failure to understand the intrinsic and spiritual relationship of humanity to the earth, to the harmonious singing of birds in the trees, their whistling words in the wind. And this disconnection between “science” and “nature”, which has its origin with Descartes, is promulgated in ignorance in this film. Where is the outdoor education? The meditation? The Steiner- type whole person approach to body, mind, nature, and education? The insertion of ‘mechanisation’ between man and nature  is a fundamental error which stands in the way of harmonic working with nature; for example Permaculture, the energy utilisation ideas of Nicola Tesla, Viktor Schauberger, etc.

(iv)              There is an absence of exploration of the dialectics of education (and science) as an outgrowth of capitalism. Industrialised education is a product of capitalism. Targets, exams & testing, and other such bean counting is an impediment to learning (see the work of Paulo Freire). Holistic education & self directed learning are true education. If you have had the opportunity of seeing any Jacques Fresco videos, you will notice his ideas are drawn on heavily throughout this documentary. Fresco has the opinion that human societies can be strategically planned and organised by robots, that there is no room for doctors, architects, lawyers or teachers when machines can do the job based on algorithms and mechanisation. To remove the human, the art from our material plane of existence is impossible. For we are an outgrowth of nature, (etymologically the word human comes from the word humus, soil) not a cerebrum standing loftily above it. This naiveté is well illustrated when the documentary writers wax lyrical about normative and criterion referencing, which are concretised and limiting methods of ‘training’ rather than education as I understand it, a path to liberty and wisdom.

That said, and having got my main beefs out of the way with this documentary, there are many things to like such as the Roots of Empathy program, Jacques Fresco’s futuristic ideas (minus the mechanised robo- communistic leadership), some deep questioning of what it means to be educated in a sustainable way, and divesting ourselves of limiting beliefs and politics that blight our industrialised educational system.

Some resources I would recommend in this area include:

North Utsire

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