Wednesday, 29 October 2008

idealism and community

'this is just idealism, get real Paul...'

Ok, it knocks you when you realise that perhaps what you are writing is not the wonderfully clear and practical guidance you think it is...! A note in response though to a good friend and valued critical reader.

It was Durkheim who said that idealism only ever arises through the communal becasue it was 'at the school of collective life that the individual has learned to idealise. It is in assimilating the ideal elaborated by society that he has become capable of conceiving the ideal' (Durkheim, E. (1976)
Whilst many people don't agree with this sentiment, it presents a very interesting relationship between idealism and community. If its 'just idealism' and I need to 'get real' then is individualism the assasin of the idealist, and if our preoccupation with individualism over community is so strong, then does this not inhibit considerably our chances of exercising real freedom? There are alternatives, this is one of them that I am exploring, it is not idealistic, it is reality in a changed form.

chapter material - starting off

So we had a great meeting, the discussion flowed and together a timeline of activity, milestones and the emotion of change was created, more on its detail later.

For the moment a short piece on barriers and starting points - when faced with ground shifting issues it is easy to procrastinate - a few objections we identified to begin with...

We aren't allowed to...
Fear is a mind number. All too often the first point of resistance to any initiative is that we are not permitted to do it. As if waiting for permission ever changed anything! Who constructs the barriers in the first place?...people! If its socially constructed it can be socially reconstructed.

We haven't got the money...
Three critical elements of any initiative are not linked to money - authenticity, vivacity and playful (Oliver James 2007). James's work exploring the psychology of happiness tells some simple and compelling stories of what makes human beings thrive and live fulfilling lives. The message is clear, despite considerably more financial security than we had in the 1950's (even during a credit crunch) more people than ever are reporting emotional distress - a mental illness like depression, anxiety or psychosis (pxiii). In starting the journey towards creating sustainable communities part of our immunity kit needs to be emotional fitness and well-being. Authenticity - means to be real rather than false. Vivacity - means to feel enervated, fascinated and excited by life. Playfulness - is is taking what is going on around and 'use your imagination to transform it into something amusing and beyond what it seems (p252)- best illustrated in children's play.

We don't know enough about how to do this...
So who does? I draw inspiration from David Boud here and his commitment to dialogue as a way of transforming situations and lives. Talk to each other, share the possibilities of what you want to achieve. Do something and then reflect on what it was like and what you might do differently next time. The way forward will become clearer the more you do it. This is about 'leading from the future as it emerges' (Scharmer 2007) - as Peter Senge reminds us, 'the greatest of all human inventions is the creative process' (in Scharmer 2007 - Foreward). In Scharmers work he talks about people learning together about the future by 'drifting together' with the right intentions. The whole process of capacity building, creating resilience, is paying attention to the drift and making best use of the connections we create along the way, but remaining focused on the larger goal of serving the greater need - the deep ecology. Not knowing what to do encourages us to be resilient, resourceful and reflective - the feeling of what we are moing towards can become a real, powerful force for change.

Things to do...starting off...

My suggestion is that there are only three points of departure that you need to create a sustainable community.
Food, energy and know-how.

Food - to nourish and connect us back into the ecology of the earth.
Energy, to provide for our warmth and to enable us to use other resources effectively.
Know-how, to nurture our abilities to share, explain, develop and apply what we know to new situations with care and attention.

The conversation that develops over time will attend to all the other dimensions that will make the activity fulfilling and sustainable. It is a self-organising system, it will evolve to suit the local circumstances.

A sustainable community focused on food, energy and know-how will provide enough flow into awareness raising, nurturing appropriate organisational needs, generating communication networks using face to face and telecoms, celebrating the journey, groups for spin off activities to strengthen the web, generating demand for new skills and know how, creativity and enjoyment for life and of life.

Food...Use food as a point of reference, sources of food, types of food, places where you can grown food, who grows food, how do they grow food, where do they grow food, where else can we grow food, what sort of food can we grow, when can we plant it, who will be involved, what will we need, who else will we invite?

Friday, 24 October 2008

principles of organisation - networks / relationships

In Capra's recent work he says ' Over billions of years of evolution, the Earth's ecosystems have evolved certain principles of organization to sustain the web of life. Knowledge of these principles of organization, or principles of ecology, is what we mean by "ecological literacy."

The idea of life taking over the planet not by combat but by networking particularly resonates at a time when we are looking for ways to build resilience.

I was asked by a headteacher at a recent meeting what I meant by relationships. Somewhat taken aback I really had to stop and think about my answer to a question that genuinely was looking for ways of connecting and making deeper sense of how perhaps to encourage this web of life.

So here is a little example...

Today I am going to meet with friends from the Incredible Edible project, I am excited about us getting together. We have put aside some time to talk through what we have done so far, to capture some of the main ideas and the learning that has happened along the journey so far. The idea is to create a timeline and begin to use it as a way of telling the story.

It is the coming together and the telling that is important. In preparation of this we have made some food, got a few bottles of wine, some tea and coffee and made a curry. We have lots of paper and pens and space to record and note down our ideas. We all know what this meeting is setting out to achieve, and we hopefully come prepared in our minds and are interested in what others have to say and recall.

During the time together we will listen to each other's story. We will as a result of hearing other's versions of the journey be able to embellish and deepen our own appreciation of what is happening. At the same time as we do this I think we deepen the connection between each other, gaining insight into the highs and lows of the work, recognising our anxieties and limitations, concerns and our celebrations of success. The conversation will be a living example of how relationships begin, are nurtured, encouraged and can flourish and - I am certain of this, can surprise through the new insights that shared conversation can generate.

The story so far will be recorded and presented later... for today that's all folks...

thanks to contributors

The comments that people are kindly sending are very informative and instructive. If you want to post a comment please do so, critical, contentious or whatever I won't hack them unless they are vulgar, offensive or libelous!

My colleague sent the following response to an earlier post.

' We are indeed seemingly locked into use of an ‘official’ form of language which as Richard Pring (2000) argues has changed the education beast itself, including the identities professionals have established for themselves in taming it and keeping it happy and fed. These professionals, many of whom are ‘activists’ in Sachs’ (2003) teams are terribly good at this, deriving much status from unwittingly exercising a restricted form of professionalism. They serve up laudably hot meals from a baseline of work intensification, but from a menu that is anything but a la carte and which is written in a lingua that is out of step with customer needs in a post modern age. It is right that both the diet and menu needs to change in order to properly address current world complexity and the ‘bigger picture’ in social and ecological terms. It is also right, as you point out, that networked learning communities can only flourish if the given menu is held up for increased critical scrutiny. Education needs to be re-chartered as a public good, with learning re-cast in moral, cultural and human terms. The character of healthy learning communities and sustainable eco-systems will be determined as much by moral imperatives, imagination and social responsibility as by science and servings of insular school meals past their sell-by date. Professionals, jealous to protect the status of these traditional meals will however need to think anew and work alongside different disciplines and agencies, forging new alliances that will offer a more imaginative menu.'

quote of the day

So mesmorised have we become with the importance
of ‘cost efficiency’, ‘value for money’, productivity’,
and ‘effectiveness’ that we have failed to see that the
very nature of the enterprise of ‘an educational practice’
has been redefined.

Pring, R. (2000) Philosophy of Education Research. London: Continuum.

(thanks to Peter Logan)


George Lucas of Star Wars fame, has a website that does some very interesting networking of projects around the world sharing ideas, expertise and resources.

Have a look.

more on sustainability

Sustainability is a collective and not a singular term. It is the result of a complex web of connections and relationships, lose any one and the web becomes weaker. Assume singularity and the web no longer exists. We are, in our very essence, part of a community, not isolated as a species but integrated into nature and as such we depend on that nature for our survival just as much as it depends upon us to play our role in connection to it.

ecological literacy

From recent writing by Frijov Capra...

To understand how nature sustains life, we need to move from biology to ecology, because sustained life is a property of an ecosystem rather than a single organism or species. Over billions of years of evolution, the Earth's ecosystems have evolved certain principles of organization to sustain the web of life. Knowledge of these principles of organization, or principles of ecology, is what we mean by "ecological literacy."

In the coming decades, the survival of humanity will depend on our ecological literacy – our ability to understand the basic principles of ecology and to live accordingly. This means that ecoliteracy must become a critical skill for politicians, business leaders, and professionals in all spheres, and should be the most important part of education at all levels – from primary and secondary schools to colleges, universities, and the continuing education and training of professionals.

We need to teach our children, our students, and our corporate and political leaders, the fundamental facts of life – that one species' waste is another species' food; that matter cycles continually through the web of life; that the energy driving the ecological cycles flows from the sun; that diversity assures resilience; that life, from its beginning more than three billion years ago, did not take over the planet by combat but by networking.

quote of the day

How can one argue that the American economy is efficient if it uses forty percent of the world's primary resources to support six percent of the world's population, without any observable improvement in the level of human happiness, well-being, peace, or culture?
EF Schumacher cited in In Capra, F. Uncommon Wisdom

Thursday, 23 October 2008

a language of connection - a way of being

Wittgenstein ' Words create worlds'

A good friend sent me a very interesting suggestion related to the previous post. She says'the language of ecological system developments is about balance, dynamics, reciprocity, mutuality, symbiosis. But the question of power and authority and responsibility need to be incorporated in to this ecological view some how.'
I have for a while talked about the 'discourse of change' - it seems obvious that the words we use to describe the things we are trying to achieve or create can in themselves reveal a great deal about our mental model of the problem.

For example, if we talk about levering change, optimising performance and enhancing efficiency we are alluding to practices which have strongly industrial connotations. Putting a different lexicon in place begins the process of transforming our thinking, along the lines of Wittgensteins observation. Participatory, nurturing, connecting language can and does shape behaviour. If we attend to how we construct our ideas we self-consciously consider the dynamic of our relationship with the other.

If we look at the current system and think that there is just a temporary economic downturn that has to be fixed, then our operating assumptions remain locked to existing models.

However, if we think that the old system is not viable, then our effort is not focused on fixing the old system but on nurturing a way of being that is better in keeping with the needs of the planet and our place in the ecosystem - this anticipates methods and processes that are drawing their inspiration from different assumptions about how we act.

In the case of my work, I think at the centre of this I will place the importance of nurturing resilience, from which different actions can ebb and flow. Illuminating this - by attending to 'revelatory' language of knowledge as a way of deepening that understanding and exploring the balance, dynamics, reciprocity, mutuality and symbiosis is an important part of the challenge.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Sustainability and Improvement: A problem ‘of’ Education and ‘for’ Education

In this short discussion paper I will develop some earlier writing on the theme of education, improvement and sustainability (see refs). It builds upon my primary criticism of the school improvement movement that it is accustomed to thinking of education as good in and of itself. As David Orr suggests candidly in his essay in the early 1990’s, ‘It is not education that will save us, but education of a certain kind (Orr 1991)’ my assertion is that the type of education that is being advanced through the school improvement movement is simply not the kind that we need to tackle some of the most pressing challenges we now face in the form of environmental change and the looking presence of a post-oil economy (Stern 2006).

A problem ‘of’ educational improvement
It is fair to say that amongst most people, education is generally thought of as a good thing. Indeed, it is thought of as such a good thing by many people that they willingly send their young children to participate in it for the majority of their childhood. In turn, governments commit vast amounts of money each year to support and develop the education system offering a diverse curriculum to ensure that we have ‘a talented and vibrant workforce’ (Ed Balls – Secretary of State for Education). This commitment to education as a good thing in itself is not a recent feature of industrialized nations, as Ivan Illich (1974) reminds us:

‘John Amos Comenius, a Moravian bishop of the seventeenth century, a self-styled pansophist and pedagogue, is rightly considered one of the founders of the modern school. He was among the first to propose seven or twelve grades of compulsory learning. In his Magna Didactica he described schools as devices to “teach everybody everything” and outlined a blueprint for the assembly-line production of knowledge, which according to his method would make education cheaper and better and make growth into full humanity possible for all.’

Comenius was also an alchemist who adapted the language of his craft to the pursuit of rearing children. Through a succession of twelve refinements the alchemist sought enlightenment in the pursuit of creating gold. Needless to say the process failed, but each time it failed the alchemists presented new reasons for the failure and they tried again.

Education has become a form of modern alchemy. It promises to bring forth citizens who will be fit for the receiving environment created by the magic of modern educational science. With successive years of compulsory schooling, students are expected to progress to a point where they will be deemed successfully educated and ready to participate in the wider world. Yet despite successive waves of initiatives and improvement efforts, the industrial mode of education continues to fail many of these people. Instead of asking the question of the science, we continue to propose new ways to work the alchemy, our latest is in the form of the National Challenge (DCFS 2008 ), (previously the London Challenge, The Manchester Challenge and the Black Country Challenge). As a result, education, and more particularly educational improvement has become institutionalized. And as it is a necessity for students to have qualifications in order to participate in our society; we consider schooling as an ‘entitlement.’ Such a view compounds the poverty of those who are unschooled, at home and abroad, and maintains a gulf between developed and developing nations, cultures and communities – a defining feature to distinguish between those who practice education in a manner that we recognize, against those who do not (Reimer 1971). If we accept the authority of an institution to define how educated we are, we accept someone else’s measure of ourselves. When we collude with the institution in this way, we define ourselves through its definition of success, and we commit to adhere to its way of operating thus ensuring that it remains necessary and that the institution continues to flourish.

My suggestion is simple. Alternatives to the current alchemy of education do exist, but it is very difficult to present these different ideas of what education might be, within the existing measures of the school improvement and school effectiveness movement, primarily because the movement is locked into the institutional view that school, and therefore schooled education, is the only game in town. I make these claims as someone who has been a part of this movement for a good many years, and it is in recognition of the limitations of my own arguments for learning communities, that I felt the need to begin to explore further into the possibility of a different discourse and practice of education and thus we need to proffer a different concept of improvement.

A problem ‘for’ educational improvement
In his most recent book the eminent scientist James Lovelock (2006) points out, that as nations and individuals we are currently trapped in a vicious circle of positive feedback where our preoccupation of self impedes our vision of our wider effect.

‘What happens in one place very soon affects what happens in others. We are dangerously ignorant of our own ignorance, and rarely see things as a whole’ (Lovelock 2006).

Whereas my earlier ideas proposed the notion of a learning school functioning as a network in a deliberate, orchestrated strategy for improving the quality of educational provision, I now recognise that this in itself is severely limited. Over a decade of work in the field in the pursuit of creating Learning Communities has taught me that a commitment to interconnectedness, and a willingness to develop strategic understanding of the consequences of interconnectedness take us much further into the interplay between individual and group, between one living community and another and as such, it has caused me to have to rethink the place of education within a much wider sphere of human encounters and activities. To so anything less, is simply to magnify the already intolerable level of failure that exists in the system.

Whereas much of the school improvement movement’s earlier work was concerned with reform, I now think we have to focus completely upon transformation, further reform is not enough. A decade ago, I was not alone in thinking that a coherent argument in favour of sustainable development would be sufficient to galvanise a range of opinion and practice and create a vibrant and innovative way of responding to change. I now think that we have to be advocates for transformation, as sustainable development has simply created the pathway for maintenance of the status quo. Transformation means seeing the problem through a completely different set of lenses, the reformists lens no longer provides enough interconnection to enable the challenge of sustainability to be appreciated.

A decade ago I was concerned, as many were, with sustainable development - a reform of existing policy. Now I think we are in a race for survival and sustainable retreat is our preferred route, our transformational journey.

The term ‘sustainable’ is becoming more a part of the new school improvement lexicon. But it is frequently cited in connection with the maintenance of existing practice, and is locked to the notion of development (DCSF 2008). Sustainable development is fashionable as it makes reassuring noises and fits the old world order that still believes in the main that global warming is fixable, and favours business as usual with a trust in technology as the solution to the current problems we face. But as Lovelock comments, sustainable development puts us in the comfort zone of pretending we are making real change when in fact we are deluding ourselves, and colluding with existing arrangements;

‘Sustainable development is a moving target. It represents the continuous effort to balance and integrate three pillars of social well-being, economic prosperity and environmental protection for the benefit of present and future generations. Many consider this noble policy morally superior to the laissez-faire of business as usual. Unfortunately for us, these wholly different approaches, one the expression of international decency, the other of unfeeling market forces, have the same outcome: the probability of disastrous global change. The error they share is the belief that further development is possible and that the Earth will continue, more or less as now, for at least the first half of this century. Two hundred years ago, when change was slow or non-existent, we might have had time to establish sustainable development, or even have continued for a while with business as usual, but now is much too late, the damage has already been done. (Lovelock 2006, p3/4).

Lovelock’s argument is that it is much too late for sustainable development, he makes a compelling case for what he calls sustainable retreat (p8). In his critique of science as a ‘cosy, friendly club of specialists who follow their numerous different stars, he observes that they are ‘wonderfully productive but never certain and always hampered by the persistence of incomplete world views’. We might usefully draw the analogy across every sector, and particularly shine it upon current educational policy, be it focused on sustainable development or simply upon the future. It is much too late for educational ‘reform’ under its current guise as it is wedded to the view that we create citizens in the form of participants in the knowledge economy, worldly consumers, reliant upon economic development and progress. It is an institutionalized version of the old order. This, the old order, has crumbled, we prop up schools as if there is no alternative, yet we fail to see that the damage is already done, we need to transform the whole notion of education for a clear need, survival.

If we think of education for survival - for sustainable retreat we can explore it on personal and societal terms. How we relate to our planet, and how we begin to construct a new transformative discourse and practice of change. In what Joanna Macy calls ‘The Great Turning,’ she describes the essential adventure for our time - a shift from the ‘Industrial Growth Society’ to a ‘Life-sustaining civilization.’ It is a re-evaluation of how we live together on a grand scale, and as such it is a fine place from which to begin to consider the problem for the new role of education. She continues, ‘People are recognising that our needs cannot be met without destroying our world, We have the technical knowledge, the communication tools, and material resources to grow enough food, ensure clean air and water, and meet rational energy needs. Future generations, if there is a livable world for them, will look back at the epochal transition we are making to a life-sustaining society. And they may well call this the time of the Great Turning. It is happening now.'

She continues...'Whether or not it is recognized by corporate-controlled media, the Great Turning is a reality. Although we cannot know yet if it will take hold in time for humans and other complex life forms to survive, we can know that it is under way. And it is gaining momentum, through the actions of countless individuals and groups around the world. To see this as the larger context of our lives clears our vision and summons our courage.’

My primary observation is that I got learning communities badly wrong. I thought a decade ago, that the general development of the learning community concept, and its integration in the education system as a progressive vehicle would enhance the likelihood of other, closely connected concepts and issues and facilitate a radical redesign at a systemic level.

Despite many valiant efforts (for example the NCSL Networked Communities Programme, and our own IQEA networks), it is clear that the enterprise of learning community development on its own is fundamentally flawed, not least, in the notion that a community simply focused on learning is in any way equipped to develop appropriate responses to a changing environment. There are many reasons, but one central failure of the learning community development has been the nature of institutionalized learning - what is learnt is too often taken as given rather than being held up to careful critical scrutiny.

I propose that the problem for school improvement, is to position itself for something radically different, a concept I have begun to call a sustainable living community – not a school, not primarily focused on the intention or need of the school, but something deeper and wider that serves its community with an ethic of all education is environmental education from the outset. It is more deeply embedded in responding to cultural, social, ecological, economic and spiritual need: it is concerned with connection to local food, local work, local innovation and re-engagement with earth, interconnected networks of similar communities, communities looking at new forms of building for sustainable living and of course, exploring how we educate all members of the community to begin to participate in what Peter Senge (2006) calls ‘metanoia’ - a shift of mind and practice in response to a changed environment.

I think that the challenge is to reclaim education from centralised, predetermined packages of learning - to take education from those who see it as a servant of industry and therefore model it around industrially established measures and parameters and to embed it in ecology. Humans need to learn that they are related to all other life, and that our future depends upon the well-being of the planet. Stephen Sterling (2001) calls this alternative 'authentic education', a form of education rooted in tradition, in meaningful contexts and in the pursuit of community. It is open, participatory, engaging, passionate, it challenges convention, it is spontaneous and reflective. This challenge is what Thomas Berry calls 'the great work' which involves us in remaking the human presence on earth and how we 'provision ourselves with food, energy, materials, water, livelihood, health and shelter' (Angyal 2003). The pursuit of sustainability comes through both ecological renewal and spiritual reconnection with self, others and environment. It is time for this change, it is time for this challenge to be taken up by educators, and for education. This is what improvement when used in relation to educational practice, should now mean.

Angyal, A. (2003) Thomas Berry’s Earth Spirituality and the Great Work. Ecozoic Reader, 3,3,35-44
Clarke, P. (2000) Learning Schools, Learning Systems. London. Continuum
Clarke, P. (2008) Education and Sustainability. Professional Development Today.
Illich, I. (1975) Tools for Conviviality. London. Fontana
Lovelock, J. (2006) London. Penguin
Macy, J., and Young Brown, M. (1998) Coming Back to Life. New York. New Society Publishers.
Reimer, E. (1971) School is Dead. An essay on alternatives in education, Harmondsworth: Penguin
Senge, P. (2006) Learing for Sustainability. Boston MIT. SOL
HM Treasury (2006) Stern review: The economics of climate change. available at:
Orr, D. (2004) Earth in Mind. Washington. Island Press

Sterling, S. (2006) Education for Sustainability. London. Earthscan
Sustainable Development Commission. (2007) Every Child’s Future Matters. HMSO
The local government white paper (2006) Strong and prosperous communities – the Department of Communities and Local Government

Wrigley. T (2005) Another school is possible: Learning from Europe. FORUM, Volume 47, Number 2 & 3, 2005

Monday, 20 October 2008

the ethics of our time - idolatry of what exactly?

I was looking at the front page of a daily newspaper earlier in the week and reflecting on the headline - 2 trillion pounds spent on rescuing the banking sector from collapse (Daily Telegraph 21/10/08). This equates to £280 per person on the entire planet.

It raises an interesting question. What do this serve? Does this action free the spirit and feed the hungry? Does it deepen our connection with the earth? Does it enhance species diversity? Or does it perpetuate the idolatry of money? Indeed, the worship of a false god.

Friday, 17 October 2008

eggs & resilience

My home town is called Todmorden. It is located in the South Pennines of West Yorkshire and has just about 15000 inhabitants. We are working in the town on a project called the Incredible Edible Todmorden.
Incredible Edible Todmorden aims to increase the amount of local food grown and eaten in the town. Businesses, schools, farmers and the community are all involved. Vegetables and fruit are springing up everywhere. Public flower beds being transformed into community herb gardens and vegetable patches. Local farm produce can now be found in shops cafes and market stalls, and the IET loyalty card is helping us fund our community orchards. Todmorden is preparing for climate change and marshalling our many human resources to fit us for a future where we need to be more self sufficient in food.

We are trying to change people's ways of thinking about food, so that bit by bit there is greater resilience through local food production. One new development is being explored through eggs - we want to be entirely self sufficient in eggs. It serves two goals - to demonstrate through a simple strategy that work on becoming more resilient is possible - its not just theory, and it begins to generate two examples of this in practice - diversity and modularity. We can utilise the many egg sources across the town, we can sell eggs in many outlets across the town, and we can can do this locally rather than bring in the eggs from other locations, this can generate jobs and develop new know-how.

Let's assume that 15000 people eat on average one egg per week. This = 15000 eggs. Each day we would need to generate 2142 eggs to meet average local demand.

We have many small scale egg producers in the town. One or two of these are able to generate together about 1500 eggs per day. Finding a further 642 eggs means exploring around town the possibility of using some of the spare open spaces and rearing hens, looking at other sources already available (there are many sole user producers) and involving schools and other sites to begin to generate local eggs.

It is just beginning to happen, six months down the road it will be a practical example and will lead to other initiatives using a similar template.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

a thrilling place in which to be alive

Sometimes you find wonderful words, this passage comes from a book I am reading, Soil and Soul by Alistair McIntosh (p.46).

'Stories,' writes Ben Okri, 'are the secret reservoir of values: change the stores individuals and nations live by and tell themselves and and you change the individuals and nations.' He continues ' Nations and peoples are largely the stories they feed themselves. If they tell themselves stories that are lies, they will suffer the future consequences of those lies. If they tell themselves stories that face their own truths, they will free their histories for future flowerings.'

Because we are all interconnected, living with one another means getting along with other people's stories. It means understanding one another not just on the surface, but from the inside out. That means listening with an ear of love tuned to nothing less than beauty. It means listening for truth - including the tough truth that always flows from stories that require confession, forgiveness and redemption. And what is this 'past' that is the stuff of story but a wave on eternity's ocean. And what are we today but its surf-tossed leading edge. This is a thrilling place in which to be alive.

key term - metaculture

...a connection at a level of the soul that goes deeper than superficial cultural differences, a connection simply by virtue of our underlying humanity.

from Alistair McIntosh (2001) Soil and Soul. London. Aurum Press

oil (chap 1 - sustainable retreat section)

' 2006 mankind's thirst for oil crossed the milestone rate of 86 million barrels per day, which translates into a staggering 1,000 barrels a second! Picture an olympic sized swimming pool full of oil; we would drain it in about 15 seconds. In one day we empty close to 5,500 such swimming pools.'
Peter Tertzakian (2006) A thousand barrels a second: the coming oil break point and the challenges facing an energy-dependent world. New York McGraw Hill

In his work on Transition Towns, Rob Hopkins (2008) suggests that the whole concept is underpinned by a simple premise: 'that the end of what we might call The Age of Cheap Oil (which lasted from 1859 until the present) is near at hand, and that for a society utterly dependent upon it, this means an enormous change.' (p.18) Whilst this may initially seem difficult to take in, and perhaps the idea seems unreal as we busy ourselves in our daily routines, it is not necessarily the case that such a change would be negative, if we 'plan sufficiently in advance and with imagination and creativity' (ibid). In Hopkins work, the challenge is clear - we need to build resilience, or more accurately we need to rebuild resilience. This is something we have slowly lost in our oil-dependent society, but which is abundant in many parts of the world where oil plays a smaller role in the functioning of daily life. Clearly the transition needed in Hopkins work is considerable, but it is realisable. What emerges in his work is the view that action at a local level is fundamentally important, it is not enough for us to wait for others to solve this challenge for us we have to act ourselves.

The alternative is stark: as George Monbiot says

'Our hopes of a soft landing rest on just two propositions; that the oil producers figures are correct, and that governments act before they have to. I hope that reassures you.' (Monbiot, G. (2005) Crying sheep: we had better start preparing for a decline in global oil supply.' The Guardian, 27th September 2005)

We are at, or perhaps have just passed what is called Peak Oil production. This is where the peak in oil discovery (which was some 40 years ago) is caught up by peak levels of production (we now extract more oil than ever before) - we are now entering a period where less and less oil is being discovered and more and more oil is being extracted from existing known sources. The only places where it is still being discovered are in smaller and smaller oil fields, so simple economics suggests the age of cheap oil is well and truly over. In 1940 the average oil field found over a five year period was 1.5 billion barrels, yet in 2004 it had shrunk to 45 million barrels and it continues to fall (Energy Watch Group (2007) Crude Oil: The Supply Outlook). We are now at a point where fall in discovery is not matching growth in consumption - we now consume about four barrels of oil for every one we discover (Strahan, D. What Stern really got wrong,' Prospect, 16th May 2007).

So resilience emerges as a centrally important theme in the context of our response. I come back to the definition of resilience: earlier I suggested that resilience refers to:

the ability of a system, from individual people to entire economies to hold together and maintain their ability to function in the face of change and shock from external sources.

I think that there is a very important characteristic implicit in this definition - that of adaptability. Whilst it might appear that there is really very little that we might do on a personal level to influence the actions of major multinational corporations in their ongoing quest for oil, we can, I think, begin to explore quite legitimately and with integrity, the ingredients of resilience that will enable us to survive in a time of sustainable retreat. Simon Levin (Levin, S.A. (1999) Fragile Dominion: complexity and the commons. Reading MA, Perseus Books Groups - see also Levin, S.A. 2003. Complex adaptive systems: Exploring the
known, the unknown and the unknowable. Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society 40:3-19.) identifies three features that make ecosystems resilient: Diversity, Modularity and Tight Feedback.

Let us take a look at each.
Diversity: concerns the number of elements that compose a system - this may be people, species, different businesses or schools. Resilience arising from diversity is related not only to number of participants/members - so the more diverse the more resilient, but also from the number of different types of connections that exist between the different participant/members. A second line of diversity is in the form of difference between systems, so the idea of exact solutions being taken from one place and dropped into another is not a way to build resilience. Instead we would anticipate a more resilient approach to the use of successfully identified practices being to locate them into new systems and adapting them according to local configuration and need - each community for example, will nurture and generate its own solutions even when it connects with systems elsewhere. Overall, diversity demonstrates resilience through lots of niche responses and subtle changes to locally defined needs, in effect - local matters.

Modularity: this is concerned with how connections are made. In particular I think this is concerned with networks and the sharing of information and know how. A resilient system is one that self-organises in the event of a shock. In Robert Axelrod and Michael Cohen's work (Harnessing Complexity (2000) New York. Basic Books) they cite the example of apprenticeships as a good way of thinking about how ideas are passed, developed but do not remain dependent upon any one source. There are many other examples, but the main point is that social networks can generate resilience through their shared protocols and acceptance of diversity.

Tight feedback: Where the consequences of action is quickly recognised there is less likelihood of inappropriate and continuous adoption of poor solutions. Tight feedback brings home the effect of what we do in any given situation. The selected level of feedback will relate to the types of connections we make with others, and the number of connections we establish - thus the three themes feeding into resilience are themselves interdependent,without each other the system breaks down and is weaker than with them all acting as a coherent whole.

Monday, 13 October 2008

confidence...the risk of knowing and not knowing?

Its a strange moment isn't it? Our financial institutions are failing because there is something called 'confidence' (Gordon Brown 12/10/08) missing in the system. The confidence is founded on a sense of security and assuredness that the way of doing things around the place is basically sound and at present the banking system doesn't feel that this capacity is present. In effect this locks them into a self repeating cycle, where they don't feel confident so they won't lend to other banks so they feel even less confident so they are even less likely to lend...

Why am I interested in this? Well, confidence crosses organizational boundaries. I spent a very pleasurable morning last week in a local authority with a group of people from the LA and headteacher colleagues and one of the themes that was presented by the LA adviser was concerned with taking risks in times of change, to move our organisations and systems to another place more suited to changed demands. A headteacher colleague raised the matter of confidence to take risks, a sentiment that resonated with others in the group I felt. Reflecting on this during the session with colleagues, and on my way back home, I think there are some important messages to examine around the theme of risk. In a very obvious way risk seems to be present in an educational context as a daily condition - any learning activity is inherently 'risky' because we don't really know what might happen - what direction it might take as it is dependent upon the motivation of the learner and the capability of the teacher. However, we are not confident with risk because perhaps we don't see learning in that way, instead we have grown accustomed to learning taking place as a series of predetermined packages that function within predictable boundaries, whilst this generates confidence and assurance, it also enhances our perception of risk if we undertake activity that serves to undermine, alter, challenge or question the appropriacy of the curriculum on offer. Not knowing is risky, to know is to be confident and in a time of accountability, we need to be able to demonstrate we are in control - knowing is king.

But what is clearly demonstrated in the current banking crisis is that we don't know, on a regular basis, what to do in response to new situations. If we alter our mindset to this and if we accept risk as a feature of our daily life, then what other complementary attributes are required to enhance our ability to deal with risk - to make it 'less risky'! I think we need to recognise that we often don't know what to do. A colleague of mine, Kathy Hall from Cork University coined the phrase ' what do you do when you don't know what to do?' - her observation on the question was that we draw on three things - resilience, resourcefulness and reflection.

So what of these attributes? If we need the confidence to take risks, to move our personal and collective minds to another way of seeing the problems we face, then what will facilitate resilience, resourcefulness and reflection?

My feeling is that we need to attend carefully to the social technology. We have got very good at creating technical indicators of the measurable and the manageable in our organizations - but as yet it seems that we lag behind on the social technology - the source of informing our knowing from within.

I will give you an example: the LA presented at the meeting a detailed analysis of the performance their own LA against the trends of other, similarly defined local authorities across London and more widely across the UK. From this broad analysis they were also able to present data on schools across the local authority, they were able to identify the high performing schools and the lower performing schools against a range of indicators. They were able to go further, on further analysis they could report on specific social groupings, for example 2 of 9 traveller children living in the local authority achieved level 4 English. This depth of detail available is very impressive, alarming in what it reveals and yet it also serves to amplify the problem that we in the room collectively faced. As we have grown ever more efficient at the statistical data, a recognition has grown that existing solutions are exhausted, in LA terms, leaders need to take risks to invent new solutions. Leaders need to work on what to do when they don't know what to do.

If we attend to how we communicate, how we construct knowledge together, how we hear and feel the world through the viewpoint of others I think we can really begin to make some significant inroads into knowing what to do when we don't know what to do - we will begin to have faculties that are more resilient, resourceful and make best use of reflection.

Not knowing what to do is a common response to the challenges I outlined in an earlier piece in the blog - but it seems to me that an attention to dialogue, (coming soon!) to empathy and to generative thinking and listening begins to make a move from the collective reliance on a central plan, towards seeing the emerging whole.

When I am thinking about risk, and where we might need to go next in our educational journey, I bring with me the view that if we are to tackle the challenges of these propositions, we need to focus on resilience, resourcefulness and reflect on both what we think and how we think, personally, in teams, in our organisations and as a whole.

All education is environmental education.

The goal of education is not mastery of subject matter but mastery of one's person.

Knowledge carries with it the responsibility to see that it is well used in the world.

We cannot say we know something until we understand the effects of this knowledge on people and their communities.

Minute particulars matter - we can usefully attend to the power of example

The way in which learning occurs is as important as what we learn

If we do this we build trust. Trust comes through familiarity, conversation, sharing ideas and meanings and working on constructing a shared appreciation of both the immediate and the desired state to which we wish to move. Trust between people is the feeling of a communicative state, it is a feeling that we can and will fail - but fail within an environment of acceptance, tolerance and appreciation that in failing we add to the collective knowledge of what to do when we don't know what to do. The failure will happen because in much of what we need to do, we simply don't know the best thing to do because the context within which we function are unprecedented.

The banking crisis gives us a great example of how to look at our own system, realise it is a system, and then deal with it as a system.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

the shift of time - (part of introduction)

Learning Schools, Learning Systems was first published in 2000, it was conceived in that latter end of the 1990's and was part of a commentary on the formulation of learning organisations that was emerging in organisational change literature. At the time, the ideas drew from new science, business and from the rapidly developing literature of ecology and ecosystems. The book advanced ideas that were intended to be both theoretically robust and practically operational. They were also critical of many of the established forms of school development which I maintained (and still do maintain) were overtly managerial and thus limited in their potential to facilitate creative responses to a period of rapid societal change. I also informed the earlier work from research that was emerging on learning theory, which initiated suggestions of learning networks and learning communities that assumed a collective and collegial effort across multiple school sites to forge new partnerships in pursuit of improvement in student achievement.

But time has moved on, it is quite clear that the context for education has fundamentally changed. Many of the challenges that education faced in policy and practice in the 1990's remain features of the landscape today, and despite a decade or more of persistent effort, we still have a situation where the achievement gap between minority and majority remains, where the attempt to use education to generate social equity has created in many countries the presence of both ghetto and elite establishments and despite a plethora of intervention attempts these considerable variances in equity and achievement remain. In many examples of earlier work, commentators and policy makers from around the globe have continued to persist with their focus on the singular issue of improvement of the educational standard. This pursuit is noble, heroic in many places but in the end deeply flawed. Flawed because this focus is simply not enough.

The context has changed, it has changed because the world beyond the school has not remained constant, and, as education has slowly tried to play catch up with rapidly changing environment it has simply got more and more disconnected from the reality of that wider world. It is not that education has not changed, it is simply that educators and policy-makers have failed to recognise that new and more pressing issues exist beyond the school gates than those examined in the standard curricula. It has pursued a world view that has been too readily tied to a belief that industrial growth will move us on to ever greater success, however, the era is over. It is now time to move on.

To paraphrase a past American President, Jimmy Carter,
'If we succumb to a dream world then we'll wake up to a nightmare. But if we start with reality and fight to make our dreams a reality, then we will have a good life, a life of meaning and purpose...' (Jimmy Carter - Remarks Accepting the Presidential Nomination at the 1980 Democratic National Convention in New York August 14, 1980)

patterns- Claude Lewerz

I came across the work of Claude Lewenz at my mums cousins place in Waiheke, New Zealand. We went to a Saturday morning market, local food, plenty of people making stuff, lots of books and lots of conversationon futures, lots of practical observations and strategies shared to make small but important changes to life. It is not an easy read as the temptation to read and say 'yes but' is great, however, it is a stimulating set of ideas, it frames a way forward and it gives a possible routemap to the future.

I particularly like the idea of 'patterns' which can be taken from one situation and repeated, niched to locally defined needs into other places.

Claude's work has been to seek human scale, practical and rewarding ways of living together.
He spent 25 years asking questions to
establish a detailed framework for people who focus on developing
human habitat. Suburbs don’t work because they were invented to
sell cars, not to provide a great place to live. Now that the era of
cheap oil is over, building more suburbia, malls and more car parks,
where one must drive to accomplish the mundane chores of daily
life, is not only boring, it’s not smart.

None of the ideas Lewenz puts forward are new. What he
did was to collect good ideas (called patterns) from all over the
world, and weave the best into a lucid plan.

From the book description...

The Parallel Village, as it is called, provides a home for 5,000
to 10,000 people, in a medium-density design of attached buildings
in which there are no cars within the village walls; everything
– home, workplaces, shops, schooling and recreation – is within
a ten-minute walk… just as it was before cars were invented. What
makes this possible is a fundamental shift in technology where one
can, once again, have a local economy that can not only compete
with 20th century sprawl-economies, but outperform them.  The
secret ingredient of the parallel village is providing for a robust,
durable local economy while creating a physical environment
with qualities that a broad cross-section of people crave… one with
 flavour, beauty, enrichment, stimulation and security.

The parallel village needs to be within two hours of an urban
centre to connect with overnight delivery and airlines. This means
one may select locations beyond the suburban ring, because the
village is not dependent on the economic engine of suburban
sprawl. Indeed the best locations will be in places of bucolic beauty
where the village signs contracts with surrounding farmers both to
provide most of its food and to remain permanently as farms.
To provide a culturally-enriched environment that never gets
boring, one forms the parallel village around neighbourhood plazas,
perhaps twenty or thirty of them in each village, where the plaza
hosts shops, cafés, outdoor play space for children, and on
each one an artists’ guild hall where the developer funds the presence
of what Dr. Richard Florida calls the creative class. One hall hosts
musicians, another actors or writers; a parallel real estate market
assures they can never be forced out when unrestricted home prices
rise (as they will because the amenities are so attractive).

To provide security, elder housing assures old people they
never have to leave their community, even when they become
infirm. With no cars to injure the children, the streets become
safe to play and parents  and less stress on the family: in village
environments, the whole community keeps an eye on the young.

In a local economy 20% of the workers sell local to global,
they are money importers.  e remaining 80% sell local to local,
and Lewenz proposes systems to secure a money-turn of 5x.
All-in-all, it’s a smart use of timeless proven models, systems
and patterns. Lewenz changes the intent. Instead of designing a
world where people are  rst and foremost discontent consumers, the
village intent proposes a life where quality of life – social, economic, cultural, environment and spiritual well-being.

quote of the day

If you're under thirty, you can expect to see a post-oil civilization in your lifetime.
Alex Steffen

on writing the blog

I see that people are reading the blog - for this many thanks - and many thanks for the delightful and constructive emails - if you feel so inclined please add your comments as we go along so that others can see them too. I will not post anything that comes to me personally from you, but would welcome text from readers on the site.
This is a new way of writing for me, it is very interesting. At the moment I see the exercise rather like the preliminary activity of sketching for a picture so it will appear rather fragmented as I bundle stuff together that interests me but I am then hoping to put more structure to it at a later stage, I think it will begin to get the themes together and then I can revisit them in more depth.
Happy Sunday - Satish Kumar recently suggested that we take a day a week - whenever we can to not use a car...

Saturday, 4 October 2008

quote of the day

"One should guard against preaching to young people success in the customary form as the main aim in life. The most important motive for work in school and in life is pleasure in work, pleasure in its result, and the knowledge of the value of the result to the community." - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955), On Education

Friday, 3 October 2008

key terms - Permaculture

The word permaculture, coined by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren during the 1970s, is a portmanteau of permanent agriculture as well as permanent culture. Through a series of publications, Mollison, Holmgren and their associates documented an approach to designing human settlements, in particular the development of perennial agricultural systems that mimic the structure and interrelationship found in natural ecologies.
Permaculture design principles extend from the position that "The only ethical decision is to take responsibility for our own existence and that of our children" (Mollison, 1990). The intent was that, by rapidly training individuals in a core set of design principles, those individuals could design their own environments and build increasingly self-sufficient human settlements — ones that reduce society's reliance on industrial systems of production and distribution that Mollison identified as fundamentally and systematically destroying the Earth's ecosystems.

a map without roads

imagine a map without roads...

what does it look like?
what do you see instead of the lines scattered across the map that move in all directions?
what is familiar?
what is unfamiliar?
where do you find your eyes focusing?

what happens to villages, towns, cities?
what happens to regions, to counties, to continents?

imagine a map without roads...
what happens...
what comes into view?
what will you do about it?

key terms - resilience

the ability of a system, from individual people to entire economies to hold together and maintain their ability to function in the face of change and shock from external sources.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

on dialogue

so today i worked with a group of colleagues on dialogue - from David Bohm's marvelous book.
Principles of "Bohm Dialogue" are:
1. The group agrees that no group-level decisions will be made in the conversation. "...In the dialogue group we are not going to decide what to do about anything. This is crucial. Otherwise we are not free. We must have an empty space where we are not obliged to anything, nor to come to any conclusions, nor to say anything or not say anything. It's open and free" (Bohm, "On Dialogue", p.18-19.)"
2. Each individual agrees to suspend judgement in the conversation. (Specifically, if the individual hears an idea he doesn't like, he does not attack that idea.) "...people in any group will bring to it assumptions, and as the group continues meeting, those assumptions will come up. What is called for is to suspend those assumptions, so that you neither carry them out nor suppress them. You don't believe them, nor do you disbelieve them; you don't judge them as good or bad...(Bohm, "On Dialogue", p. 22.)"
3. As these individuals "suspend judgement" they also simultaneously are as honest and transparent as possible. (Specifically, if the individual has a "good idea" that he might otherwise hold back from the group because it is too controversial, he will share that idea in this conversation.)
4. Individuals in the conversation try to build on other individuals' ideas in the conversation. (The group often comes up with ideas that are far beyond what any of the individuals thought possible before the conversation began.)

A few observations from our discussions - literal thought and participatory thought -
'consider the organisation of any sort of contemporary bureaucracy or hierarchy. In such an organisation, people are treated as objects. They have to do this and this and this and be related in that way. Literal thought knowls the person by his function, whatever you call him, a worker, a banker, this or that. That sets up the social hierarchy - people are isolated from each other and the participation is very limited.' (p107)
Move however to participatory thought and our connection steps up a gear as we begin to combine on ideas and interests and we begin to hear each other and see through someone else's eyes the issues they are trying to convey. The further we engage in this particpatory thought the more the possibility for understanding emergent issues - we move away from merely sharing information, and functioning in a safe zone of transfer of information, and we move into new ways of seeing together.
I will come back to it later!

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

interconnection - William Kamkwamba's Windmill

Throughout the book I will post some examples of ways we can connect - cooperate - inspire and demonstrate living differently

19-year-old William Kamkwamba, from Malawi, is a born inventor. When he was 14, he built an electricity-producing windmill from spare parts and scrap, working from rough plans he found in a library book called "Using Energy" and modifying them to fit his needs. The windmill he built powers four lights and two radios in his family home.
After reading about Kamkwamba on a blog (which picked up the story from a local Malawi newspaper), TEDGlobal Conference Director Emeka Okafor spent several weeks tracking him down (though his home has electricity, William's family had neither a phone nor email access) and invited him to attend TEDGlobal on a fellowship. Invited to the stage, Kamkwamba talked about his invention, and shared his dreams: To build a larger windmill to help with irrigation for his entire village, and to go back to school.
Following Kamkwamba's moving talk, there was an outpouring of support for him and his modest but hugely promising work. Members of the TED community got together to help him improve his power system (by incorporating solar energy), and further his education through school and mentorships. You can read the ongoing details on his blog (which he keeps with help from his mentor).

why education is a problem as well as a solution

It is fair to say that education is generally thought of as a good thing. Indeed, it is thought of as such a good thing by many governments that they commit vast amounts of money each year to support and develop what we call the education system.  In the UK at the moment, there is a huge programme of educational reform, where over a period of multiple decades, we will be seeing a commitment to the BSF - Building Schools for the Future programme.   But what kind of schools, and what kind of education will be housed within them?  Will they continue to produce more of the same, or will they radically alter the ways in which young people are equipped to respond to the world outside the school grounds?

It is quite clear that education as an enterprise of government is framed within very specific boundaries, and in the main, our education system equips young people for life as workers in the new information society and willing consumers of its output. Their ecological illiteracy is therefore a way of arguing that not all education is a good thing, in fact, quite the opposite, it can be detrimental to self, society and environment.  Over recent times, a central focus of school improvement has been on the quality of learning taking place in the classroom - it has to be asked, what form does this learning take, what lessons are we giving the next generation on what it is to live sustainably?

I think that the challenge is to reclaim education from those who desire centralised, predetermined packages of learning - to take education from those who see it as a servant of industry and therefore model it around industrially established measures and parameters. Stephen Sterling (2001) calls this alternative 'authentic education', a form of education rooted in tradition, in meaningful contexts and in the pursuit of community (will come to community later). It is open, participatory, engaging, passionate, it challenges convention, it is spontaneous and reflective. This challenge is what Thomas Berry calls 'the great work' which involves us in remaking the human presence on earth and how we 'provison ourselves with food, energy, materials, water, livelihood, health and shelter' (Orr in Sterling 2001). The pursuit of sustainability comes through both ecological renewal and spiritual reconnection with self, others and environment. It is time for this change, it is time for this challenge to be taken up by educators, and education. 

What would education look like if it were to take the ecological paradigm really seriously?  Your thoughts are welcomed. 

key terms - sustainable

Today I want to define a key word in this text.  I want to look first at sustainability.

I will use the definition in the Wikki which is really useful as it identifies two distinct issues: the idea of impact, and the ecological origins of the term.

Sustainability, in a general sense, is the capacity to maintain a certain process or state indefinitely. In recent years the concept has been applied more specifically to living organisms and systems. As applied to the human community, sustainability has been expressed as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

The term has its roots in ecology as the ability of an ecosystem to maintain ecological processes, functions, biodiversity and productivity into the future. To be sustainable, nature’s resources must only be used at a rate at which they can be replenished naturally. There is now clear scientific evidence, (environmental science), that humanity is living in an unsustainable way, by consuming the Earth’s limited natural resources more rapidly than they are being replaced by nature. Consequently, a collective human effort to keep human use of natural resources within the sustainable development aspect of the Earth’s finite resource limits is now an issue of utmost importance to the present and future of humanity.

This also helps to identify what sustainability is not - namely, it is not a term that can be usefully applied to practices that in any way serve to detract from meeting the needs of future generations, nor can it be applied independently of its ecological origins.

Quote of the day...

“Time is our scarcest resource. We are crossing natural thresholds that we cannot see and violating deadlines that we do not recognise. These deadlines are set by nature. Nature is the timekeeper, but we cannot see the clock."
Veteran US environmental campaigner Lester Brown, publicising his latest book 'Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization