Sunday 23 November 2008

Soundings in Sustainability

I am on the train back to London from Cheltenham as I write this, I’ve been at a conference at the University of Gloucestershire. Arran Stibbe was appointed as my tutor for the last 2 years of my PhD research, he was an excellent tutor and I wouldn’t have got it done without him. He is now editing a new handbook for educators interested (or not!) in sustainability. Today those of us hoping to contribute a 2000 word chapter to either the online or print version of this book gathered to explore what needed to said in this book. During two open space sessions, groups of around 10 discussed subjects ranging from Permaculture, Systems thinking, Complexity and Self reflection to place-based learning, institutional transformation, employability and sustainability, technology, energy literacy, cultural literacy and Cradle to Cradle principles. I went to employability and sustainability in the morning and Systems thinking in the afternoon.

In the morning I managed to get the group to explore deeper questions of what we want students to ‘be’ when they leave university. I also pointed out the dangers of greenwash at a personal level as well as an organisational level, do we really want people to want to be green just so they are more employable? In the group discussions we also discussed the extent to which lecturers/ educators asked questions like: how does this impact on well-being, what are the political implications of this subject matter, what are the environmental impacts of teaching students these things and is this morally sound? All these questions, it was suggested, should come in the design of curricula and before each and every lecture/seminar. I contributed nothing to the afternoon session I attended: Systems thinking. As I have little experience of teaching in University I could not really grapple with the questions of how to improve students systems thinking, all I could do was quietly nod in agreement that ‘yes it would be a good idea if we had the skills to systems think’. My research shows how few environmental educators understand the complex workings of the global environmental system. No one will ever have a full understanding, but some understanding is possible and necessary. Even more necessary when an educator is involved in trying to change behaviour is an understanding of the complex social systems that every individual’s behaviour derives from and contributes to. We could all do with understanding that better!

I’m looking forward to writing my chapter; I think I might call it: ‘Don’t mention the environment.’

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