So...I'm on this sustainable future work team for the college academic plan and we've been challenged with the question of how to best prepare the current and next generation of learners with the skills, aptitudes and attitudes they will need to help shape an environmentally sustainable future for the Province. It's an interesting opportunity.
First we have to agree upon the term 'sustainability'. It's generally agreed that, like the unfortunate watering down of the term 'green', the corporate adoption of the term is now muddling the understanding of 'sustainability'. In corporate circles, it's been adopted to indicate longevity of a business or used to position oneself against the competition. It's less about society and the environment and more about economics...the economics of survival.
I've been using the term 'restorative' for a while now because I think it better reflects the rise of societal and environmental activism around the world; the heightened awareness of eco-degradation; the increasing desire for a simpler way of life to offset the incredibly fast pace of a materialistic industrialized western society...one that's on track to engulf billions of individuals around the globe. Restorative means to restore and make stronger. We can use our technologies and knowledge to not only replenish a weakened environment but to also enhance our environment with inclusive and innovative practices and policies. We can make our world a better place by committing to global equity, gender equality, eliminating warfare, engaging in peaceful religious and ethnic collaborations. We can restore the health of our environment and we can make our world a much better place to live.
That being said, sustainability is not a 'term' that can be defined because sustainability is not a thing, it is alive, just as any organism is alive. Organizations are living entities too, they evolve and grow and repair themselves like we do; it is not that people are the heart of an organization, rather it should be understood that the organization is in the heart of the people. How I see an organization is how it is communicated to me through the people that represent that organization. I am my organization, it is not me. I have my own soul which I use to express my connection with the organization's soul. If I do not relate well with the soul or expression of the organization it will be reflected in my relationship with the broader community.
So...back to the question 'how to best prepare the current and next generation of learners with the skills, aptitudes and attitudes they will need to help shape an environmentally sustainable future for the Province?"
I think when we think about our own relationships with other entities as life forms, we start to see them as not forms of hierarchy or power but as systems. We can better relate to systems because we ourselves are systems. How more natural is it to identify with our commonalities than to distinguish what makes us different...or weaker, or more powerful? it is intriguing to identify our strengths and similarities with others to see how we can be stronger. But in the western world, we don't do that. We look for ways to compete, survive, surpass, overcome, achieve, accumulate, advance and acquire. This means that we look for ways to stand apart from others, to be different, to gain respect. But, this is not a healthy sense of individuality and self-awareness. This is a sense of conformity and acquiescence. We survive and succeed by fitting into a mold predetermined by centuries of patriarchal, industrial rule.
Again...back to the question 'how to best prepare the current and next generation of learners with the skills, aptitudes and attitudes they will need to help shape an environmentally sustainable future for the Province?"
We now have a discourse on sustainability and a systems thinking approach to sustainability. What we have achieved is the breaking down of stereotypes and predetermined notions about sustainability and organizations. So now we must continue to break down barriers.
In a school, the most obvious barriers are: barriers to entrance, barriers between disciplines, barriers between gender, ethnicity, power, ability, access and language; barriers between student and faculty, faculty and administration, barriers between pedagogy and cultural understanding (evaluation, delivery, practice of the learning), barriers between institutions and industry; physical barriers between people in offices, cubicles, classrooms and single desks.
One way we could begin to prepare the current and next generation of learners with the skills, aptitudes and attitudes they will need is to remove barriers. Life does not draw a line in the sand between biology and poetry or math and art. One flows into the other naturally. In schools we've organized knowledge into neat and tidy piles of sand, each pile representing all things related to a particular discipline. How can that be? How can you draw without understanding angles? How can you visualize depth without art? They're inseparable yet we have moved them apart into different disciplines. Why is biology or ecology not taught to business students? Isn't it in the best interest of all business students to expose them to the realities of natural systems?
Let's agree that the removal of barriers, all barriers in an organization, will provide the access and exposure students need to develop an understanding of their world, local, national, regional and international. Great, but what will they do with their knowledge. Will they act on it? Does being informed equate with being engaged? Does empathy equate with compassion? No, in both cases, it doesn't.
A second way we could begin to prepare the current and next generation of learners with the skills, aptitudes and attitudes they will need to help shape an environmentally sustainable future for the Province is to engage them in their learning, in the process of becoming a citizen. All curriculum should include opportunities for students to apply their learning in a sustainable application; volunteerism, assignments, journaling, service learning, projects in the community, etc. Learning is important but so is the application of the learning and finding relevance or a personal connection to the learning. When we are able to make the connections between what we learn and the world, we grow. When we are able to change our environment based on our learning, we develop new understanding and skill.
The process we need is basically dialogue and deliberate action. But we're still missing something important. I call it taking down the exit sign.
When students enter school, secondary or post-secondary, it is a temporary task with a well trampled path laid out before them. Yawn. This linear path always has an exit sign symbolizing the end of your learning...now time to join the real world and get a job. I think this is totally wrong. Sure, it is a fine fit for the industrial age when assembly lines were the latest and greatest but this is no longer the industrial age, that 200 year adventure has gotten us into a heck of a mess. No, now we're in an information revolution and what I hope is the age of restoration. It would be enormously helpful if students entered the world of education as if it were a community that grew around you and sheltered you. instead of visualizing a path with a start and finish line, try to imagine a village with a town centre and surrounding neighbourhoods with their own specialities. A students should start in the middle of the community where most of the support is located and have the opportunity to explore the different neighbourhoods to learn and grow as individuals. Likewise, we should see this village as a manifestation of ourselves, with our soul in the centre encircled by life experiences and learning and adaptations. As we replenish the soul with our lives, we find our purpose and are better able to serve others. In the school centre students can replenish their learning through dialogue and sharing and recognition.
What was that question again...how to best prepare the current and next generation of learners with the skills, aptitudes and attitudes they will need to help shape an environmentally sustainable future for the Province. My answer would be to remove barriers, infuse sustainability learning and the application of that learning, and grow an inclusive soul-seeking community of learners.