“It is becoming increasingly apparent that we shall not have the benefits of this world for much longer. The imminent and expected destruction of the life cycle of world ecology can only be prevented by a radical shift in outlook from our present naive conception of this world as a testing ground to a more mature view of the universe as a comprehensive matrix of life forms. Making this shift in viewpoint is essentially religious, not economic or political.” ~ Vine Deloria, Jr.
This is a big thought to begin a blog with, I know, but the late Mr. Deloria’s words are so prescient, so salient, that it’s the most logical starting place for this post.
There is a persistent tendency in western thought (and subsequently culture and society) to break things into so many small component parts. While this undoubtedly has its useful applications, it also proves disadvantageous when applied wholesale as an approach to understanding: One literally cannot see the forest for the trees. Comparing western and non-western philosophy for instance:
|Accumulation of Knowledge||Development of Character|
“In reality, all of these principles have their nature in the same thing: the emphasis on the part against the emphasis on the whole. Whereas in the west we are drawn to the different individual parts of a whole (be it in politics, race relations, religion, etc.), in the east, emphasis is placed on the whole itself.” (Dante McAuliffe, 2013)
I should clarify here that I’m not writing a critique of western philosophy; I am, however, suggesting we consider the concept of balance.
At Ten Strands, our work is focused on education and environment. Although we are relatively new, environmental education is not. Jean-Jacques Rousseau published Émile, ou De l’éducation (Emile, or On Education) in 1792, Book II of which focuses on the importance to the learner of interacting with the natural world, and developing the senses and ability to draw inferences. We could consider him the grandfather of environment-based education. Together with Louis Agassiz, the foundation was laid for a more concrete version of environmental education, called Nature Study, to emerge in the late 19th century.
Anna Comstock’s book, Handbook for Nature Study, published in 1911, used nature to teach not only an appreciation of the natural world, but cultural values as well. In Handbook, she provided a teacher’s guide to nature that included a section on the teaching of nature study and how it correlated to other subject areas. Does this sound familiar yet? We could consider Comstock the grandmother of the EEI Curriculum. She and other leaders of the Nature Study movement garnered considerable support, and changed the science curriculum for children in schools across the United States.
Conservation Education developed in the 1920’s largely in response to the combined economic and environmental crises of the Great Depression and Dust Bowl. It included an additional component that nature study only touched on—a focus on rigorous science in order to predict and respond to environmental challenges brought about by the combination of human causes and climate events. Conservation Education also had the full force of federal, state, regional, and local resource management agencies backing it. Reading these last three paragraphs just about sums up what’s at the heart of our work at Ten Strands.
I should clarify here that I’m not writing a history of environmental education; I am, however, suggesting we consider the concept of balance again.
Why are we still struggling with integration of education and environment?
In 2007, Charles Saylan and Daniel Blumstein published an article (and 2011 book of the same name) titled The Failure of Environmental Education (and How We Can Fix It).The authors recommend integrating environmental education into the overall curriculum in schools rather than teaching it separately (remember Comstock?), posing the question, “When you’re learning math, why not learn about a carbon audit or an environmental issue? Students can learn about projected climate-change scenarios, what acidification is and the effects of pollution. Teachers and schools can develop all kinds of creative, integrative educational experiences.”
Much of the work we focus on at Ten Strands seeks to help achieve this integration in schools—supporting teachers in using the EEI Curriculum, supporting creation of the Blueprint for Environmental Literacy, including the EP&Cs in the new Science Frameworks, and helping connect environmental ed providers, teachers, and a variety of curricular tools (as in the San Mateo Learning Collaborative) to create new and useful lessons for students. Blumstein said, “This generation of young people and the next generation to follow will have to solve a lot of environmental problems. That is why K–12 education is so important. We are facing one of the largest collective action problems humanity has ever faced, and we need to give students the skills to solve them. Education has to be an important part of the solution to environmental destruction; we have given the generation in school and those that follow big marching orders.”
There’s something about that statement that doesn’t sit right with me. It’s not that I disagree with what Blumstein is saying; it’s more than that. It’s something related to what Will wrote about in his “Goldilocks Moment” blog. It’s something to do with Pope Francis’ encyclical. It’s something to do with Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Xiuhtezcatl Roske-Martinez’s activism and speech to the United Nations this June, and what the authors of Rethinking Schools (A People’s Curriculum for the Earth) mean when they say, “Everyone on Earth is affected by the environmental crisis, but we are affected unequally—based on race, class, nationality, or location…we need to help students recognize the inadequacy of responding to the environmental crisis solely as individuals.”
I’m circling back around now to that concept of balance, if you’ve managed to stay with me thus far, by way of Thomas Kuhn. Kuhn was a physicist, historian, and philosopher of science, and the reason Immanuel Kant’s term “paradigm shift” is familiar to you today. At the risk of being cliché, that’s what’s bugging me. We here in the apparently all-powerful west are well past our sell-by date for a big paradigm shift. One can’t teach what one does not know, and while the K–12 educational space is a good candidate for reaching far and wide, at the end of the day it’s patently unfair to place the burden of transformation on the shoulders of educators and, especially, young people. It’s not their responsibility; it’s ours.
I invite you to join me in referring to the table at the top of this page, so that together we can begin the practice of collectively looking at the dichotomies we face each and every day, both within and without, and make it a point to begin find ways to integrate and find balance in word, thought, and action. The whole really is greater than the sum of its parts, and if you can look in the mirror every morning and see the 7×1027 (that’s 7 billion billion billion) atoms staring back as one “you”, you’re already halfway there.
Really, everything depends on it.