Sunday, 28 February 2010

Make meadows no lawns

I have just lost one of my colonies of bees I am sorry to say. They didn't make it through the winter.
Anyway, in preparation for spring I am encouraging people to help our bees by thinking differently about lawns. Instead of having lawns can we begin to reconnect with nature by growing meadows? They offer plenty of opportunity for bees and other insects to thrive, and they get us away from the idea we control the natural world with our monocultural deserts we call lawns.
In April, I will hopefully begin to put together the hive again with a new nucleus. Fortunately the other hive is thriving. Think meadow not lawn, if you have no lawn, plant a pot of flowers and put it on the window ledge or balcony.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Food for thought

Food is the primary substance. Food is considered as the manifestation of all well-being. It is through food that the life force and its radiance and its strength are nourished.
from the Mahabharata

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Gardening as political action

Further to recent posts- one of the very obvious points about gardening / food productioon is the act of self reliance - food growing and gardening a space is an expression of freedom it serves as a first step if we don't rely on others for food we begin to break the stranglehold created by the dependency culture - but of course, our schools probably won't be making that an explicit part of the rationale for their rhubarb patch just yet ! Food is freedom - nearly finished the book and there is a chapter on this theme.
And while I'm here a note - look at paulo friere university...

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

report from worldchanging

On Friday, the world's most successful businessperson and most powerful philanthropist did something outstandingly bold, that went almost unremarked: Bill Gates announced that his top priority is getting the world to zero climate emissions.

Now, I'm not a member of the Cult of Bill myself (I'm typing this on a MacBook), but you don't have to believe that Gates has superhuman powers of prediction to know that his predictions have enormous power. People who will never listen to Al Gore, much to less someone like me, hang on Gates' every utterance.

And Friday, Gates predicted extraordinary climate action: zero. Not small steps, not incremental progress, not doing less bad: zero. In fact, he stood in front of a slide with nothing but the planet Earth and the number zero. That moment was the most important thing that has happened at TED.

What, exactly, did he say, and why is it so important?

Gates spoke about his commitment to using his massive philanthropic resources (the Gates Foundation is the world's largest) to make life better for people through public health and poverty alleviation ("vaccines and seeds" as he put it). Then he said something he's never said before: that is it because he's committed to improving life for the world's vulnerable people that he now believes that climate change is the most important challenge on the planet.

Even more importantly, he acknowledged the only sensible goal, when it comes to climate emissions, is to eliminate them: we should be aiming for a civilization that produces no net emissions, and we should be aiming to live in that civilization here in the developed world by 2050.

Obviously, that's a big goal. Because he is the world's biggest geek, to explain how he plans to achieve that goal, Gates put up a slide with a formula (which we can call the Gates Climate Equation):

CO2 = P x S x E x C

Meaning this: the climate emissions of human civilization are the result of four driving forces:

* Population: the total number of people on the planet (which is still increasing because we are not yet at peak population).

* Services: the things that provide prosperity (and because billions of people are still rising out of poverty and because no global system will work unless it's fair, we can expect a massively increased demand for the services that provide prosperity).

* Energy: the amount of energy it takes to produce and provide the goods and services that our peaking population uses as it grows more prosperous (what some might call the energy intensity of goods and services). Gates believes it's likely cutting two-thirds of our energy waste is about as good as we can do.

* Carbon: the amount of climate emissions generated in order to produce the energy it takes to fuel prosperity.

Those four, he says, essentially define our emissions (more on that later). In order to reach zero emissions, then, at least one of these values has to fall to zero. But which one? He reckons that because population is going to continue to grow for at least four decades, because billions of poor people want more equitable prosperity, and because (as he sees it) improvements in energy efficiency are limited, we have to focus on the last element of the equation, the carbon intensity of energy. Simply, we need climate-neutral energy. We need to use nothing but climate-neutral energy.

To do that, we need an "energy miracle." We need energy solutions that don't yet exist, released through a global push for clean energy innovation. That, in turn, demands that a generation of entrepreneurs push forward new ideas for renewable energy, unleashing "1,000 promising ideas." He described one of his own investments, but went on to note that we need hundreds of other ambitious companies as well, and he plans to put his own efforts into this arena.

Why is this important? The news stories focused largely on the clean energy aspect of the speech, and certainly the world's most successful businessman announcing that clean energy is the next frontier is a big headline. However, I think though that the real breakthrough was not Gates' answer to the problem, but his definition of success: zero.

Bright green advocates understand that we need prosperity without planetary impact. In many of the circles I run in, this is an uncontroversial idea, and, indeed, the conversation has moved on, to discussing how we decouple better lives from ecological footprints (or even go beyond, and build a society that restores the ecosystems on which it depends).

To say, however, that the standard of zero impact is not widely understood and endorsed would be a whopping understatement. Most people rarely see the things they do, buy and use as directly part of the living systems of the planet. Few people who do think of their connection to nature have ever conceived their lives designed to have no impact at all. For most people, a ten percent or twenty percent improvement sounds like a big deal -- in large part because the improvements they're most familiar with involve giving things up. When they do encounter it, the idea of "zero" looms like a giant wall of deprivation in front of them. The idea that zero might not be the end of the good life, but in fact the beginning of a much better way of life, is simply inconceivable to the vast, vast majority of them. When we talk zero, we sound crazy.

But when Bill Gates talks zero, he sounds visionary. Gates, whatever else he did Friday, just made the most important idea on the planet mainstream credible. That's a big, big deal.

Was his articulation ideal? No. In fact, I think it has some big flaws. The biggest flaw is that the Gates Climate Equation could lead to carbon blindness, a self-defeating willingness to destroy critical environmental systems in the name of saving the planet from climate change. Climate is not the only absolutely vital planetary boundary we're straining. The biosphere transcends the climate crisis.

What's more, protecting and healing the biosphere is essential to meeting the climate crisis itself. Logging our forests, over-burdening our oceans, converting land for agriculture and grazing, all these are huge contributors to our climate problem, and restoring the capacities of natural systems to absorb carbon dioxide is a critical part of the solution.

In order to truly succeed, we need to improve the quality of our natural systems at about the same rate at which we're converting the economy to clean energy. Properly, Gates' Equation would include a value for nature:

CO2 = P x S x E x C ÷ N

There's another big gap here, though: the prosperity represented by S.

Now we might start with the energy use to deliver those services (E in the Equation). The energy intensity of any given form of prosperity can, I believe, be improved quite a bit; but the idea that E can be dramatically improved without improving the kind of prosperity we're attempting to provide is the very definition of what I call The Swap. The Swap doesn't work.

And we don't need it to. The idea that contemporary suburban American lifestyles (the kind of prosperity most people around the world aspire to, thanks to Hollywood and advertising), the idea that McMansions, SUVs and fast food chicken wraps somehow represent the best form of prosperity we could possibly invent is, of course, obviously ludicrous.

We can reinvent what prosperity means and how it works, and, in the process both reduce the ecological demands of that prosperity and improve the quality of our lives. In most cases, this is a smarter approach than simply improving efficiency.

The answer to the problem of cars and automotive emissions, for instance, isn't designing a better car, it's designing a better city. The answer to the problem of overconsumption isn't recycling cans or green shopping, it's changing our relationship to stuff, so that everything we use and live with is designed for zero waste, and either meant to last ("heirloom design" and "durability") or to be shared ("product service systems") or both. The best living we've ever had is waiting beyond zero. What looks like a wall to many people from this side of zero, looks to like a trellis from the other side, a foundation on which new thinking can flourish.

Cities are the tools we need for reinventing prosperity. We can build zero-impact cities, and we need to. Any answer to the problem of climate change needs to be as focused on reinventing the future as powering it.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

weed it and reap 2

So the temperature is rising for those of us who are trying to establish a link to a sustainable food related way of living and being. Never mind the details and technicalities of the debate in the US, where those folks bashing away against the mainstream continue to inspire and innovate, we have just as many home grown contenders for the 'Flanagan rebuff' crown.
My latest battle has been with someone with whom I have spend a good deal of my working time over the years and who I thought might know better, (they will remain nameless' but, the cheap shot hit home when the work was described as California dreaming. My first feeling was surprise, then shock and disappointment, then confusion, surely I had misunderstood, and then stepping back I began to realise, he just doesn't get this stuff and I dont think that he can be bothered to even try and learn about it because his world is quite comfortable as it is.
That I think lies at the very heart of the problem, when the attention we place on education is driven by ego, people simply cannot make the connection to the eco. All the weaknesses of the 'Flanagan' critique stack together as a complete failure to understand what is happening and why. We might just as easily respond by asking - Where are their great solutions? where are the more equitable societies? where are the health benefits? where are the opportunities for people to live more worthwhile and fulfilling lives, where is the economic growth and economic gain, what are they doing to ensure that there is a degree of hope for the next generation and not a wilderness of despair? where is their great education reform leading them?
My gut feeling is that we dig deeper, literally and metaphorically, we generate examples everywhere we can and we connect together and grow ever stronger. Solidarity brothers and sisters.

and from Alec patton

by Alec Patton

I’ve just finished reading Caitlin Flanagan’s deeply misguided article, ‘Cultivating Failure’, in the Atlantic.

The article is one long warning against the evils of ‘The Edible Schoolyard’ a California project spearheaded by the chef and gardener Alice Waters’s Chez Panisse Foundation, which supports schools in developing gardens and connecting them to the curriculum. According to Flanagan, this is what happened in the pilot school: ‘In English class students composed recipes, in math they measured the garden beds, and in history they ground corn as a way of studying pre-Columbian civilizations.’ The result of this nefarious scheme was, Flanagan explains, that ‘students’ grades quickly improved.’

Those trying to grasp what, exactly, Flanagan’s problem with ‘The Edible Schoolyard’ is will grasp in vain. Her evidence amounts to this: in California, there is a huge achievement gap between Black and Latino students and their white peers. And she reasons that if students spend 1.5 hours per week in a garden (yes, that’s the amount of time we’re talking about here), that’s 1.5 hours that the Black and Latino students are spending doing the sort of manual labour that their forbears have been trying to escape.

There’s a deep vein of snobbery here, thinly disguised as concern for the underprivileged. Contrary to what Flanagan seems to think, agriculture is a complex, multidisciplinary business. It requires careful planning, complex calculation, precise implementation, and continuing observation. If she thinks working in a garden is a waste of time because she doesn’t see how it will help performance on standardised tests (which she regards as the only educational outcome worth anyone’s attention), she might as well demand to know why chemistry students are larking about with test tubes when their laboratory experience will never be reflected in their performance on paper-based exams. But Flanagan won’t ask this question, because mixing chemicals in a lab is ‘real’ learning, while measuring the PH of a soil sample in order to grow food is what farmers do.

It’s tempting to laugh at an association this facile, and I recommend you do so. It’s utterly preposterous. The subject of laughter brings me to Flanagan’s vision for education – or rather, the vision that she hears when she speaks to Michael Piscal, founder and CEO of the Inner City Education Foundation Public Schools, the White Knight that she sets against the ‘dowager queen’ (her phrase) Alice Waters:

“Look,” he said, when pressed, “there’s nothing wrong with kids getting together after school and working on a garden; that’s very nice. But when it becomes the center of everything—as it usually does—it’s absurd. The only question in education reform that’s worth anything is this: What are you doing to prepare these kids for college? If I can get a kid to read Shakespeare and laugh at the right places, I can get him to college. That’s all that matters to me.”

This is as intellectually impoverished a vision for education as I have ever encountered. It’s straight out of My Fair Lady: ‘let’s not teach kids to engage critically with literature, just make sure they can blend in with high society by laughing at the right spots.’

The idea that we must choose between a generation of graduates who can grow food and a generation who can recognise an Elizabethan double-entendre is a false dichotomy – but if I had to choose, I know which skill I’d want them to have.


I was speaking today with a mom at my sons' school. She was concerned about a teacher who was doing such a poor job that even his students were complaining that they weren't learning enough.

"We're all worried about the economy," she said. In this climate, any sign that a school (even an excellent or basically good one) may be failing to absolutely and definitively prepare our children for whatever the future will bring is likely to provoke greater anxiety than usual.

This collective economic angst, I believe, is what Caitlin Flanagan played into in "Cultivating Failure," an article that lambastes school gardens in the January/February 2010 Atlantic. But to separate the angst from the facts, it is necessary to first look at the angst and then the facts.

Student with Amarinth

Flanagan opens the article by asking the reader to imagine being a young and desperately poor Mexican who has made the dangerous and illegal journey to California to work in the fields to give his or her child the chance at a better life. An entirely different life. A life that embodies the American dream. A life made possible by education.

But, ironically, it turns out this child is forced to spend hours tending a garden at school so he may learn what his parents could easily teach him about how food grows. He is effectively robbed, Flanagan argues, of the time he should be spending reading important books and learning math — the things he actually needs to lift himself out of poverty. In the end, he is likely to be relegated to an "uneducated underclass" while his better educated peers prepare to pass him by.

With the growing trend of school gardens, "the idea of a school as a venue in which to advance a social agenda has reached rock bottom," she concludes. And who is to blame? An "agglomeration of foodies and educational reformers who are propelled by a vacuous if well-meaning ideology" — in other words, by unexamined assumptions that spending time in school gardens will give children a better chance at getting an education and a high-school diploma.

To some, this may have appeared (at least on first blush) to be a devastating critique. Moreover, it pitted the more advantaged in our society against those desperately counting on school to help them raise themselves out of poverty. And this invocation of class differences, as well as racial and ethnic ones, beckons the reader into the terrain of charged emotions, where it can be challenging to keep one's focus on the facts.

In truth, the first time I read Flanagan's article, I too felt a paroxysm of worry. Was this growing trend in education actually robbing our most vulnerable students of more basic and important learning experiences? Were school gardens, more broadly, ill-suited to the central task of nurturing what we all want for our children, that they grow up to be happy and well-rounded young people who can successfully make their way in the world?

Or, as one Berkeley resident commented on an Atlantic blog: "No one is opposed to gardens. No one is opposed to healthy eating. Just don't put it in the schools." What if he and Flanagan were right? What if school gardens are not part of the solution to the problem of bad schools, but, rather, part of the problem?

In Search of Answers

With these questions in mind, I called Michelle Ratcliffe, one of few people in the United States who has a doctorate in agriculture, food, and the environment.

"She's right about two things," said Ratcliffe. "One is that not everyone learns from experiential place-based education," which is often a feature of school gardens.

"The other thing is that school gardens are not a fringe element anymore, but are becoming a social norm," said Ratcliffe, farm-to-school program manager for the Oregon State Department of Agriculture. "I must have received 1,000 calls this past year from people asking me to help them start a school garden or farm-to-school program." There are, as Flanagan cites, already nearly 4,000 school gardens in California alone and many more nationwide.

But what about Flanagan's main argument — or, rather, the rationale on which she rests her criticism of school gardens — that there is not "one bit of proof" that spending time in a school garden will result in kids' getting an education or a high-school diploma?

Student with Journal

"She is so wrong about that," said Ratcliffe, echoing the sentiment of numerous other experts who have been writing on the subject in recent weeks.

To be sure, school gardens are still relatively new in the world of education, which means that there has not yet been time to develop a robust body of peer-reviewed quantitative controlled studies on the topic. But there is research and a significant body of teacher experience to consider, as evidenced by many of the educators who have written responses to this article.

But here is the larger and more insidious point: Flanagan suggests that because there has not yet been significant research to show that school gardens advance reading and math, they are a distraction from a school's central mission.

This reflects a jump in logic that would make most teachers' heads spin. School gardens are not in the same category as after-school electives, such as chess, cooking club, or chorus. Schools use gardens not to give their students a chance to develop a hobby but to enhance their overall instruction. They see gardens as laboratories where students apply what they have learned in the classroom and where a fragmented curriculum can become unified through hands-on experience that draws on math, science, and social science. They are places where students can explore the living environment and be challenged to consider: What is the web of life? How do organisms interact with each other and the physical environment? How do we get and use the food energy all living organisms need to survive and begin to understand the effect of human activities on the biosphere?

Moreover, Flanagan ignores an enormous body of research (on social and emotional learning, project-based learning, and student health and academic achievement, as well as the study of science and ecological literacy.) She also ignores nearly a century of educational philosophy and practice that makes one basic point very clear: If you want students to perform well in school and beyond, you have to consider the whole child and whole-school experience.

Social and emotional learning. The whole student, of course, includes the student's social and emotional learning, something that can be naturally cultivated in the garden. And as a recent meta analysis published by the Collaborative on Emotional and Social Learning reported (), schools with social and emotional learning programs lead on average to a:

* 11 percent improvement in achievement test scores
* 9 percent improvement in school and class behavior
* 9 percent decrease in conduct problems, such as classroom misbehavior and aggression.

Students in project-based learning program

Project-based and place-based learning. School gardens can create opportunities for what is called project-based and place-based learning; and on this there is a growing body of research that highlights benefits, including:

* Higher scores on standardized reading, writing, math, science, and social studies tests
* Improved behavior in class
* Increases in self-esteem
* Improved conflict resolution, problem solving, and higher-level thinking

Research also shows that teachers become more excited and motivated, more engaged with students, and more able to collaborate effectively with other educators. (For a sampling of some of the research, see the Center for Place-Based Learning and Community Engagement: , and the Buck Institute for Education: .)

Student health and academic achievement. After decades of epidemic rates of childhood obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and other diet-related illnesses, the health of young people has recently become the focus of a new initiative led by Michelle Obama (who, yes, planted an organic garden with school children on the White House lawn in 2009).

Given this trend, it is not surprising that more schools have planted gardens, where students have the opportunity to gain first-hand knowledge of fresh and healthy food; where, as garden educators nearly universally report, students are more likely to try fruit and vegetables they have never tried before; and where, as research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows, they may develop the habits that make them more likely to eat healthier foods as adults.

It is also not surprising, as reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention () have stated: "The academic success of America's youth is strongly linked with their health." Children who eat well are more likely to perform well and have fewer behavior problems (a finding that might resonate with any of us who have ever noticed the impact of food on our own performance).

Students with pumpkins

The only surprising thing is that the Atlantic published an article that failed to make these basic connections.

Science and ecological literacy. While Flanagan narrowed her look at school gardens down to whether they promote reading and math, she ignored the field that has been the focus of most research — namely, science.

For example, one 2005 study, "Growing Minds: The Effect of a School Gardening Program on the Science Achievement of Elementary Students," ( ) found that students who participated in school gardening activities scored significantly higher on science achievement tests compared to students who had no garden-based learning.

She also ignores the fact that gardens are an ideal right-sized place for students to develop the ecological literacy they will need to address the coming environmental challenges and be leaders and citizens who understand how the natural world works, see the patterns that connect human activity to nature, and have the knowledge and values to act effectively on that understanding.

As Dorothy Blair, an assistant professor at Penn State University, concluded in a review of the research on the benefits of school gardens in the Winter 2009 issue of The Journal of Environmental Education ():

"Gardens can improve the ecological complexity of the schoolyard in ways that promote effective experiential learning in many subject areas, particularly the areas of science, environmental education, and food education."

Where Are We Now?

Flanagan's critique deeply upset many educators who have reason, experience, and, it turns out, the research to support their belief that school gardens have a positive influence on students and the whole schooling experience.

In times when so many truly serious challenges face us — in education, the economy, and the environment — that is unfortunate. It serves no discernable social purpose to take sweeping potshots at people doing good, creative, and heartfelt work on behalf of students. Instead of tilting at windmills, one wonders: Why not bring such skillful and passionate writing to the real problems that plague schools, including inadequate funding, bureaucracies that stifle teacher independence, and a system which continues to put test performance above actual learning and, perhaps more important, above cultivation of a love of learning?

Still, in the end, perhaps Flanagan has done the school garden movement a great service. Anyone who loves education, after all, ought to love a good debate. So let's thank her for raising the tough questions — for while she may have failed to answer them, she provided a fine platform for others to do so.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Bring it on!!!! How school gardens are cheating our most vulnerable students

When I get a chance I will answer this, but in the meantime happy reading folks!!!

How school gardens are cheating our most vulnerable students

by Caitlin Flanagan
Cultivating Failure

Image credit: Kim Rosen

Imagine that as a young and desperately poor Mexican man, you had made the dangerous and illegal journey to California to work in the fields with other migrants. There, you performed stoop labor, picking lettuce and bell peppers and table grapes; what made such an existence bearable was the dream of a better life. You met a woman and had a child with her, and because that child was born in the U.S., he was made a citizen of this great country. He will lead a life entirely different from yours; he will be educated. Now that child is about to begin middle school in the American city whose name is synonymous with higher learning, as it is the home of one of the greatest universities in the world: Berkeley. On the first day of sixth grade, the boy walks though the imposing double doors of his new school, stows his backpack, and then heads out to the field, where he stoops under a hot sun and begins to pick lettuce.

It’s rare for an immigrant experience to go the whole 360 in a single generation—one imagines the novel of assimilation, The White Man Calls It Romaine. The cruel trick has been pulled on this benighted child by an agglomeration of foodies and educational reformers who are propelled by a vacuous if well-meaning ideology that is responsible for robbing an increasing number of American schoolchildren of hours they might other wise have spent reading important books or learning higher math (attaining the cultural achievements, in other words, that have lifted uncounted generations of human beings out of the desperate daily scrabble to wrest sustenance from dirt). The galvanizing force behind this ideology is Alice Waters, the dowager queen of the grown-locally movement. Her goal is that children might become “eco-gastronomes” and discover “how food grows”—a lesson, if ever there was one, that our farm worker’s son might have learned at his father’s knee—leaving the Emerson and Euclid to the professionals over at the schoolhouse. Waters’s enormous celebrity, combined with her decision in the 1990s to expand her horizons into the field of public-school education, has helped thrust thousands of schoolchildren into the grip of a giant experiment, one that is predicated on a set of assumptions that are largely unproved, even unexamined. That no one is calling foul on this is only one manifestation of the way the new Food Hysteria has come to dominate and diminish our shared cultural life, and to make an educational reformer out of someone whose brilliant cookery and laudable goals may not be the best qualifications for designing academic curricula for the public schools.

Waters, described by her biographer, Thomas McNamee, as “arguably the most famous restaurateur in the United States,” is, of course, the founder of Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, an eatery where the right-on, “yes we can,” ACORN-loving, public-option-supporting man or woman of the people can tuck into a nice table d’hôte menu of scallops, guinea hen, and tarte tatin for a modest 95 clams—wine, tax, and oppressively sanctimonious and relentlessly conversation-busting service not included. (I’ve had major surgeries in which I was less scrupulously informed about what was about to happen to me, what was happening to me, and what had just happened to me than I’ve been during a dinner there.) It was at Chez Panisse that Waters worked out her new American gastronomic credo, which is built on the concept of using ingredients that are “fresh, local, seasonal, and where possible organic.” Fair enough, and perfectly delicious, but the scope of her operation—which is fueled not only by the skill of its founder, but also by the weird, almost erotic power she wields over a certain kind of educated, professional-class, middle-aged woman (the same kind of woman who tends to light, midway through life’s journey, on school voluntarism as a locus of her fathomless energies)—has widened so far beyond the simple cooking and serving of food that it can hardly be quantified. As McNamee rightly observes, Chez Panisse

is a much larger enterprise than a restaurant. It is a standard-bearer for a system of moral values. It is the leader of a style of cooking, of a social movement, and of a comprehensive philosophy of doing good and living well.

This notion—that it is agreeably possible to do good (school gardens!) and live well (guinea hens!)—bears the hallmark of contemporary progressivism, a kind of win-win, “let them eat tarte tatin” approach to the world and one’s place in it that is prompting an improbable alliance of school reformers, volunteers, movie stars, politicians’ wives, and agricultural concerns (the California Fertilizer Foundation is a big friend of school gardens) to insert its values into the schools.

The Edible Schoolyard program was born when Waters noticed a barren lot next to the Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley. Inspired by the notion that a garden would afford students “experience-based learning that illustrates the pleasure of meaningful work, personal responsibility, the need for nutritious, sustainably raised, and sensually stimulating food, and the important socializing effect of the ritual of the table,” and spurred on by the school principal, Waters offered to build a garden and help create a curriculum to go along with it.

An Aztec dance troupe performed on the day the first cover crop was planted (imagine it as a set piece for The White Man Calls It Romaine), and soon the exciting garden had made its influence felt across the disciplines. In English class students composed recipes, in math they measured the garden beds, and in history they ground corn as a way of studying pre-Columbian civilizations. Students’ grades quickly improved at King, which makes sense given that a recipe is much easier to write than a coherent paragraph on The Crucible.

Fads in education tend to take off quickly, but nothing else has come into our public schools at the rocket-blast rate of school gardens, particularly here in my home state of California. To be sure, this was hardly a new phenomenon in California, where school gardens waxed and waned over the years, propelled by the state’s agricultural interests, the back-to-the-land movement of the ’70s, and so on. But by the time Waters came onto the scene, organic food, nutrition, and sustainability were becoming the pet issues of the volunteering set. In the 1990s, Waters found a powerful ally in Delaine Eastin, the newly elected state superintendent of instruction (herself a “devoted gardener, home cook and recycler”), who called for “A Garden in Every School” the same year the Edible Schoolyard began.

Together, the bureaucrat and the celebrity paved the way for an enormous movement: by 2002, 2,000 of the state’s 9,000 schools had a garden, and by 2008 that number had risen to 3,849, and it continues to grow. Waters, with her charisma and high political profile (which includes her friendship with the Clintons), has been hailed as one of the most important educational innovators not just in the state, but in the nation. In 1998, she received an Excellence in Education Award from Senator Barbara Boxer, as well as an Education Heroes Award from the U.S. Department of Education; the Smithsonian has sponsored an Edible Schoolyard exhibit on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Only four school gardens across the country bear the coveted Chez Panisse Foundation imprimatur (just two of them in California), but their influence has been profound. Not only has the foundation published a mind-numbingly earnest series of books on lesson planning, policy planning, and public policy, but it also has a teacher-training program and offers regular tours of the garden at King. In July, a Los Angles Times article was titled “A New Crop of School Gardens: Even as State Funds Are Wilting, Support for School Gardens Is Still Growing.” Maria Shriver, the first lady of California, is a strong supporter and, like all the proponents of this kind of education, she urges schools to use the gardens across all disciplines.

Of course, Waters herself is guilty of nothing more terrible than being a visionary and a woman of tremendous persuasive abilities. It’s the state’s Department of Education that is to blame for allowing these gardens to hijack the curricula of so many schools. But although garden-based curricula are advanced as a means of redressing a wide spectrum of poverty’s ills, the animating spirit behind them is impossible to separate from the haute-bourgeois predilections of the Alice Waters fan club, as best expressed in one of her most oft-repeated philosophies: “Gardens help students to learn the pleasure of physical work.” Does the immigrant farm worker dream that his child will learn to enjoy manual labor, or that his child will be freed from it? What is the goal of an education, of what we once called “book learning”? These are questions best left unasked when it comes to the gardens.

Hispanics constitute 49 percent of the students in California’s public schools. Ever since the state adopted standards-based education (each child must learn a comprehensive set of skills and material) in 1997—coincidentally, at the same moment that garden learning was taking off—a notorious achievement gap has opened between Hispanic and African American students on the one hand, and whites and Asians on the other. Indeed, Hispanic students do particularly poorly at King Middle School. According to the 2009 Federal Accountability Requirements, statewide, more than 39 percent of Latinos are proficient in English and 44 percent in math, but at the King school, those numbers are a dismal 30 percent and 29 percent, respectively. Where do Berkeley’s African American and Hispanic middle-schoolers do well? At a gardenless charter school called Cal Prep, where 92 percent of the students are black or Latino, where the focus is on academic achievement, and where test scores have been rising steadily.

The garden-based curriculum has good news for the state’s catastrophically underachieving students: a giant team of volunteers is ready to help them. Here is how our garden-loving, home-cooking, recycling superintendent of instruction describes one of the program’s principal advantages in the introduction to A Child’s Garden of Standards, a gargantuan compendium of charts and lesson plans intended to link the beloved method of gardening with the hard-ass objectives of the state standards:

Some families, particularly those from other countries, may feel uncomfortable when asked to help out at school because their English skills or educational background do not give them a solid classroom footing. For these families, the living classroom of a garden can be a much more inviting environment in which to engage in their children’s education.

If this patronizing agenda were promulgated in the Jim Crow South by a white man who was espousing a sharecropping curriculum for African American students, we would see it for what it is: a way of bestowing field work and low expectations on a giant population of students who might become troublesome if they actually got an education.

Here is the essential question we must ask about the school gardens: What evidence do we have that participation in one of these programs—so enthusiastically supported, so uncritically championed—improves a child’s chances of doing well on the state tests that will determine his or her future (especially the all-important high-school exit exam) and passing Algebra I, which is becoming the make-or-break class for California high-school students? I have spent many hours poring over the endless research on the positive effects of garden curricula, and in all that time, I have yet to find a single study that suggests classroom gardens help students meet the state standards for English and math. Our kids are working in these gardens with the promise of a better chance at getting an education and a high-school diploma but without one bit of proof that their hard work will result in either. We should remember, by the way, that the California high-school exit exam, which so many are failing, is hardly onerous: it requires a mastery of eighth-grade math (students need to score a mere 55 percent on that portion of the test) and 10th-grade English language and composition (on which they need to score 60 percent or higher). And so I would say this to our state’s new child farm laborers: ¡Huelga! Strike!

The ever-evolving rationale behind the school-garden movement mushes together two emotionally stirring ideas: first, that kids will learn by doing, and second, that millions of poor kids have so little access to fruits and vegetables that if they don’t spend their school day growing some on campus, they will never get any at all. As a pro-Waters friend observed to me in a recent e-mail, “There’s only 7-Eleven in the hood.”

As it happens, I live fewer than 20 miles from the most famous American hood, Compton, and on a recent Wednesday morning I drove over there to do a little grocery shopping. The Ralphs was vast, well-lit, bountifully stocked, and possessed of a huge and well-tended produce section. Using my Ralphs card, I bought four ears of corn for a dollar, green grapes and nectarines (both grown in the state, both 49 cents a pound), a pound of fresh tortillas for $1.69, and a half gallon of low-fat milk for $2.19. The staff, California friendly, outnumbered the customers, and the place had the dreamy, lost-in-time feeling that empty American supermarkets often have.

But across Compton Boulevard, it was a different story. Anyone who says that Americans have lost the desire and ability to cook fresh produce has never been to the Superior Super Warehouse in Compton. The produce section—packed with large families, most of them Hispanic—was like a dreamscape of strange and wonderful offerings: tomatillos, giant mangoes, cactus leaves, bunches of beets with their leaves on, chayote squash, red yams, yucca root. An entire string section of chiles: serrano, Anaheim, green, red, yellow. All of it was dirt cheap, as were the bulk beans and rice. Small children stood beside shopping carts with the complacent, slightly dazed look of kids whose mothers are taking care of business.

What we see at Superior Super Warehouse is an example of capitalism doing what it does best: locating a market need (in this case, poor people living in an American inner city who desire a wide variety of fruits and vegetables and who are willing to devote their time and money to acquiring them) and filling it.

But the existence of the monastically quiet Ralphs in Compton reflects something quite different: advocacy. Over the past decade, many well-intentioned factions have made a focused effort to bring supermarkets—and with them, abundant fresh produce—to poor urban areas. Although the battle is far from over, there has been some progress. This seems to me a more sensible approach to getting produce to children than asking the unfortunate tykes to spend precious school hours growing it themselves. Why not make them build the buses that will take them to and from school, or rotate in shifts through the boiler room?

This notion of the school day as an interlude during which children can desperately attempt to cheat ignorance and death by growing the snap peas and zucchini flowers that are the essential building blocks of life comes with a lofty set of ideals. It is a grand vision, which Waters is happy to expand upon to any reporter who takes an interest, and it was described in the following way in last July’s Los Angeles Times:

Waters says there is a shift in priorities that needs to happen within federal policy to give garden programs longevity. In the 1960s, John F. Kennedy implemented the President’s Council on Physical Fitness to instill values of physical fitness. She considers the current prevalence of childhood obesity and early-onset Type 2 diabetes to be signals for immediate action similar to the fitness council.

Well, there’s a leap of logic. Waters calls for a new federal program based on an old one, but the new one is necessary only because the old one has obviously failed: American kids are fatter and sicker than ever.

Why are obesity and Type 2 diabetes so closely related to low incomes in this country? Surely a good part of the answer lies in a heartrending truth about the experience of poverty that many conservatives (and not a few liberals) either don’t know or choose not to know, and it is something I see at my volunteer job in a Los Angeles food bank, where the clients scoop as many candies out of the basket on my desk as I’ll let them have (if I didn’t set a limit, only the first person would get any) before glumly turning to the matter of filling out their food order form, which offers such basic and unexciting items as tuna, rice, and (yes) fresh fruits and vegetables, often including delicious oranges, pears, and peaches that people with fruit trees donate the day they’re picked. The simple truth is expressed clearly by George Orwell in The Road to Wigan Pier, his book about the grinding poverty experienced in the North of England in the 1930s:

The peculiar evil is this: that the less money you have, the less inclined you feel to spend it on wholesome food … When you are unemployed, which is to say when you are underfed, harassed, bored, and miserable, you don’t want to eat dull wholesome food. You want something a little bit “tasty.” There is always some cheaply pleasant thing to tempt you. Let’s have a three pennorth of chips! Run out and buy us a two-penny ice cream! Put the kettle on and we’ll all have a nice cup of tea … Unemployment is an endless misery that has got to be palliated.

The suicidal dietary choices of so many poor people are the result of a problem, not the problem itself. The solution lies in an education that will propel students into a higher economic class, where they will live better and therefore eat better.

I started to ask Michael Piscal, founder and CEO of the Inner City Education Foundation Public Schools, which runs 15 successful charter schools in South Los Angeles, what he thought about the Edible Schoolyard and school gardens in general, but he cut me off. “I ignore all those e-mails,” he told me bluntly. “Look,” he said, when pressed, “there’s nothing wrong with kids getting together after school and working on a garden; that’s very nice. But when it becomes the center of everything—as it usually does—it’s absurd. The only question in education reform that’s worth anything is this: What are you doing to prepare these kids for college? If I can get a kid to read Shakespeare and laugh at the right places, I can get him to college. That’s all that matters to me.”

With the Edible Schoolyard, and the thousands of similar programs, the idea of a school as a venue in which to advance a social agenda has reached rock bottom. This kind of misuse of instructional time began in the Progressive Era, and it has been employed to cheat kids out of thousands of crucial learning hours over the years, so that they might be indoctrinated in whatever the fashionable idea of the moment or the school district might be. One year it’s hygiene and another it’s anti-Communism; in one city it’s safe-sex “outer-course,” and in another it’s abstinence-only education. (Sixth-graders at King spend an hour and a half each week in the garden or the kitchen—and that doesn’t include the time they spend in the classroom, in efforts effective or not, to apply the experiences of planting and cooking to learning the skills and subjects that the state of California mandates must be mastered.) But with these gardens—and their implication that one of the few important things we as a culture have to teach the next generation is what and how to eat—we’re mocking one of our most ennobling American ideals. Our children don’t get an education because they’re lucky, or because we’ve generously decided to give them one as a special gift. Our children get an education—or should get an education—because they have a right to one. At the very least, shouldn’t we ensure that the person who makes her mark on the curricula we teach be someone other than an extremely talented cook with a highly political agenda?

I have spent my life, it seems, in and around schools. For complicated reasons, I attended a score of them, both in the United States and abroad; I taught in Louisiana and Los Angeles for more than a decade; I have volunteered in all sorts of schools, and am now a mother of elementary-school students. I have never seen an entire school system as fundamentally broken and rudderless as the California public schools, a system in which one out of five high-school students drops out before graduation, and in which scarcely 60 percent of the African American and Hispanic students leave school with a diploma. These young people are cast adrift in a $50 billion system in which failure is almost a foregone conclusion.

So why not give these troubled kids a bit of engagement and excitement out in the nourishing gardens, which if nothing else might slim them down and thus extend their lives? Really: How can that hurt?

Last October, we lost the greatest educational reformer of the late 20th century, Theodore Sizer, the founder of the Essential Schools movement, who was brave enough to say that when a school is in crisis, its leaders should strip away every program and resource that is not essential to the mission of schooling. He wrote in his classic 1984 book, Horace’s Compromise:

If students have yet to meet the fundamental standards of literacy, numeracy and civic understanding, programs should focus exclusively on these. Some critics will argue that the school must go beyond these subjects to hold the interest of the pupils … but a fourteen year old who is semi-literate is an adolescent in need of intensive, focused attention.

My state is full of semiliterate 14- year-olds. Let their after-school hours be filled with whatever enriching programs the good volunteers and philanthropic organizations of California care to offer them: club sports, choruses, creative-writing workshops, gardens. But until our kids have a decent chance at mastering the essential skills and knowledge that they will need to graduate from high school, we should devote every resource and every moment of their academic day to helping them realize that life-changing goal. Otherwise, we become complicit— through our best intentions—in an act of theft that will not only contribute to the creation of a permanent, uneducated underclass but will rob that group of the very force necessary to change its fate. The state, which failed these students as children and adolescents, will have to shoulder them in adulthood, for it will have created not a generation of gentleman farmers but one of intellectual sharecroppers, whose fortunes depend on the largesse or political whim of their educated peers.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

The illusion of certainty

All the notions we thought solid, all the values of civilized life, all that made for stability in international relations, all that made for regularity in the a word, all that tended happily to limit the uncertainty of the morrow...all this seems badly compromised. I have consulted all the augurs I could find, of every species, and I have heard only vague words, contradictory prophecies, curiously feeble assurances. Never has humanity combined so much power with so much disorder, so much anxiety with so many playthings, so much knowledge with so much uncertainty.
Paul Valery Historical Fact (1932)
The concept of Education for Sustainable Development would appear to be a sound basis upon which to develop a strategic response to environmental change. It has the support across national boundaries, it is founded upon three program areas for redefining education and learning:
1) reorienting education to sustainable development;
2) increasing public awareness, and
3) promoting training.
These objectives from Agenda 21 clearly step beyond the school site and demonstrate a need to establish a more systemic understanding and application of sustainable ‘capacities’ in the mainstream of daily life. Learning to know, do, live together and to be, the four pillars of Education for Sustainable Development are credible founding ideas, they generate an air of certainty.
However, there remains a fundamental question that lies with the very notion of Education for Sustainable Development, What do we mean by development?
As I wrote the first draft of this chapter the world financial markets were in crisis. Each day a significant financial institution, was absorbed into US or UK Government ownership, or merged into ever bigger conglomerate institutions but the uncertainty remained. The national structures, which we take to be solid and permanent, suddenly began to be seen for what they are, temporal, socially constructed and therefore socially changeable institutions. For some commentators the banking crisis was an end of an empire, for others it was a readjustment (Soros 2009). But for everyone it raised a question, it challenged the accepted idea that has come to dominate political systems over the last century that stability, growth and economic development are absolutes and givens upon which our nations flourish.
The fluctuations of money markets have other repercussions and serve to illuminate and enlighten our ability to see beyond self to the dynamics of what is often an opaque set of relationships. It is fair to say that many people were angry and shocked at the circumstances that led to the banking collapse, and this anger was compounded by the amounts of money that their governments had to then use to bring balance back to the markets. In the newsgroups, papers and in general conversations about financial meltdown people were expressing a strange mix of fear, anxiety, unease and sometimes optimism about the future, for themselves, and their families.
This readjustment and reconsideration of opinion of such established institutions is interesting. While for some people there was a clear concern for self, there was also a concern for the universal, beyond self, not simply to find a solution to money markets, but to stop and consider the broader direction of travel of this form of speculative capitalism. For the first time in memory the established way that the economy functioned was being seriously questioned and substantive answers were not quickly forthcoming. A deluge of questions were raised: Is it more than merely a blip in an otherwise upward march of ‘progress’? Is it a moment of possible transition, where human society recognizes the inherent weakness in the way it is organized, and perhaps understands that we have choices we can make about the direction we might choose to take? Is it to be business as usual? Or are we facing up to a new realization, a new sense of possibility that transcends national perspectives and begins to foster a different perspective which is at once local – related to my own place and connections and kinships, and global, to draw this realization to a wider picture, to consider the global dimension of what we do in our own settings through the narratives we choose to follow?
This broader theme is taken up by Chrispen Tickell (in Lovelock 2006) who 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’ (Tickell in Lovelock 2006).
So it is within this frame of enquiry that we can turn to the question of Sustainable Development. Sustainable development is fashionable and fits perhaps rather too cosily with the old world order that still believes in the main that global warming is fiction, or at least fixable, and favours business as usual structured around the existing order with a trust in technology as the solution to the current problems we face. But as James Lovelock (2006) 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 the 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 and its relationship with sustainable development. 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 consumers, reliant upon economic development. 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.

This may seem rather remote from the central question in this book of educational reform or transformation, but I maintain that it is fundamentally important to our topic because without a clear idea of what we are hoping to develop, we may find our actions aligned to the mast of education for sustainability but see ourselves sailing into the sunset of continuous economic growth, with all of the destructive resource implications associated with that way of knowing, doing living and being, suited to a world that is sold on the illusion of certainty.
Redefining sustainable development
Instead, let us consider a different meaning to the idea of development and its connection with sustainability. I want to emphasise the importance of growth, but through a much wider notion than the singular economic preoccupation with financial concerns. Instead, I want to suggest that we think of growth in terms of the way we might establish learning communities that will equip people with the tools, ideas and capabilities so that we can work together to reposition ourselves in relation to our planet.
This repositioning of the basic action of education as a form of new development is what Thomas Berry (1999) calls ‘The Great Work’ of our time. This is where we learn how to provide sustainable food, energy, water, minerals, livelihood, health and shelter for everyone. Thus, we can only consider to have demonstrated growth in a sustainable manner when we have transformed our existing systems to attend to these life forces across the planet from self to universal. Berry (ibid) argues that we will achieve this through the creation of authentic, creative and vibrant sustainable communities.
These communities are deeply embedded in responding to cultural, social, ecological, economic and spiritual needs, with closely aligned connections to local food, local work, interconnected networks of similar communities. Each of these communities are looking at new forms of building for sustainable living, exploring how we educate all members of the community to begin to participate in what Senge calls metanoia - a shift of mind and practice in response to a changed environment.

To redefine sustainable development from this perspective therefore, we have a number of areas to focus upon.

Sustainable development is the practice of choice and freedom
I am suggesting here that we need to create ways in which we can begin to uncouple ourselves from the destructive effects of development at all costs. Education for sustainable development is at present just a softer version of the already failed solution. If you remain unconvinced, look at the continuing levels of poverty, problems with ill-health and well-being, mental illness, educational failure, ecological pollution, social injustice, economic exploitation of cheap workers the list can run and run. We need a new solution and it will be driven by people making choices and exercising those choices by participating in different ways of resisting the mainstream, until they become the mainstream.
I suggest that this is a starting point to define our selective actions as the starting point of new hope through a shift of mind leading to a shift of behaviour. There is a growing view, coming from many parts of the world, that holds a view that the future will be very different from the past, even the recent past, formed because the main trends that have shaped the global industrial development cannot continue in the ways that they are at present. It is clear that across many different dimensions of human action, there is a crisis, and that our muddling through efforts to resolve it epitomise the paucity of options we seem to have established in our systems to cope and to be able to create alternative approaches. In a world of increasing interdependence, the concentration of wealth is no longer acceptable, in a world of finite resource, we simply cannot waste, throw away and fail to recognise the consequences of our waste, in a world which now has a clear scientific evidence of humankinds effect on climate, we simply cannot continue to burn fossil fuel and think it will just solve itself, or that the problem is over-exaggerated. The trends that have been established over the past century of consumer society are now deeply embedded in our structures and systems, but they are socially constructed, they are fragile and can be changed. It is not beyond us to tackle such challenges, but we have first to admit to the difficulties that they create for those of us who are expressing concern.

Sustainable development redefines the importance of community
I want to challenge the existing formulation of learning community which is too closely aligned to a knowledge society which in turn is designed around a failed economic model. Instead I want to suggest that community needs rethinking in terms of a number of interconnections centred upon different forms of learning. If we position the community as a set of alliances with learning at their core, which connect according to need and act as much more radical agents of real educational transformation, led by people coming together through a range of communities of learning, action, kinship, place, interest and connection we begin to see the importance of community as a reality defining network.

Sustainable development is a local action
Peter Senge (2007) observes that governments are ‘muddling through’ a strategy that ‘characterises most of us in rich northern countries. It embraces a combination of working to preserve the status quo combined with an almost hypnotic fascination with wondrous new technologies that, so the belief goes, will solve our problems’ (px11. I) He suggests that this form of policy-driven action is misguided, even with the best intentions we have managed to create a collusion between government and local action where real purposeful connection with ideas plays second fiddle to a social and moral order wedded to consumerism. Action is very different when released from simply implementing a service or product, it demands new ‘people’ skills, where we learn how to listen and hear each other. As we try to create more sustainable forms of living we have to learn not to create a new form of the old economy where the sustainable lifestyle is a consumer product.

Sustainable development is about knowing a place
In a globalised world, where employees and organizations are able to be uprooted and assigned anywhere on the planet, the direct knowledge of place is of no immediate concern. Being uprooted is literal and metaphorical. But sustainability is all about place, it is about the connection with the earth. It is about the importance of the micro-contexts within which our actions have a direct relationship with the land upon which we live. Place is not a centralised question. Place is the habitat that defines us, locally understood and nurtured according to locally identified need. As such, the sensitivity of place comes in its connection with other important principles of citizenship, participation and empowerment through user-defined action.

Sustainable development is the result of critical consciousness
Education for sustainable development is emancipatory education. It radicalizes people. It gets them to look again at how things are and ask ‘why are they like that?’ instead of taking things as they are, and accepting that this is just how it is, we have to learn to challenge the existing order of things, only through critical analysis can we gain new insights and understandings. We have to be resilient to the inevitable resistance and refutation of the arguments that will come, but in the end I think that we can trust that these are ideas whose time has come, as Martin Buber put it ‘Listen to the course of being in the world...and bring it to reality as it desires.’ We are beginning to know how to respond to the subtle forces that shape and influence our ways of being, by attending to them we learn more about ourselves, how we must change if we are to initiate any such change in the wider system. It is only through deeper examination of self in our situation that it becomes clear that the inner self upon which they draw seems to have a huge influence on the work they subsequently undertake and on its lasting influence. This influence is more than practical and technical in its form. It has something to do with the way in which real learning leaves an imprint that others truly feel. It goes beyond the problems we face in our schools, it is a failure that persists deep down in our cultures across many different developed industrialised nations.

My suggestion is that there is something important we can examine here about the interdependence of people when they generate commitment and action that demonstrates a new idea of development. Despite the united front that many headteachers and leadership teams present, there is a great deal of uncertainty in what they should actually do and how they might engage their colleagues in collaborative effort. It is a difficult subject to examine because of its embeddedness in specific organisational contexts. But in an environment of continuous reform, in which I think we now operate, interdependence seems to really matter as a way of overcoming enormous doubts and uncertainty about action. A decade ago, we talked enthusiastically about ‘school’ improvement. And whilst the school remains, rather strangely, the unit of measure, we understand now that school in itself is not enough. Our reform has become more ambitious and more dispersed. Rather than pursue challenges as individual school communities, it is clear that teams of people across a number of sites can generate greater potential and possibility for change. Not surprisingly in these circumstances they also generate greater levels of interdependence and at the same time these interdependencies breed uncertainty, because new knowledge feeds the possible, they begin to need each other and learn that this need is more than simply about dealing with practical and technical demands of change, it is intimate, personal, it reaches deep inside their inner-self asking them what do they really value. Placing trust in the potential of the larger group to be able to support personal need is a step beyond depending on someone else, it is a public act of faith in a particular way of working together and is not to be underestimated. Governments and their agencies are often keen to know the ‘replication potential’ of any perceived effective reform. Whilst understanding this question, it seems to me that it misses a fundamental point about scale and reform. People working with each other generate trust and a whole social technology around risk taking, meaning making and such like. It is not something that is simply manufactured by a request to implement a reform. There are lots of examples of projects which have worked well in one environment and then fallen flat when efforts are made to put them into place into another. So we might have to look again at exactly what we should perhaps wish to replicate, not things that we do, but how we nurture working relationships that deepen interdependence. We have become more interdependent, and at the same time our organisations are having to move towards greater levels of interdependence, at present it is not entirely clear if we have, as yet, developed an operational method which will enable this to work well.

Sustainable development is timeless
A commitment to learn how to live sustainably is a lifelong commitment which we pass on to others as we develop ourselves. This is what happens when people get together and actually learn together, from each other’s questions and from enquiring into specific issues in depth they gain insights into their own understanding. Our work over the last decade has clearly shown that time spent together, at inter and intra- institutional levels, sharing ideas, deepening understanding of different cultural and social conditions enables people to further connect and relate to each other can be extremely powerful and has transformational potential. Time together, when it is undertaken well can generate trust, and we take greater risks when trust is established and demonstrated.

Sustainable development is global and local
What will the impact be? It will be global and local. We live in a time that is obsessed with impact results and immediate solutions and as such, we look more to surface and immediate issues, rather then wanting to spend our time digging deep examining the relationships that are at play and how they are nurturing the environment for more fruitful ways of working to emerge. All too often the measure of our success is seen in speedy short-term changes, at the forefront of such change is restructuring, establishing what seem to be better aligned systems, ensuring paperwork is up to date, and keeping aligned to new policies. However, the shallowness of these efforts has led to superficial reform and meaningless, draining and futile action that saps human ingenuity, creativity and energy. It is not hard to get below the surface of any organisation and begin to identify the dis-ease - a ‘fragmentation.’ I think that our examination of action, and a method of analysis, can be extremely valuable in assisting communities to learn that real sustainable change is something that happens on a local scale and at a global scale. It only becomes development when it succeeds at the wholistic level, it is not enough to happen just on a local basis, that is not development.

Sustainable development is systemic
When we reconnect self and system, the personal with the universal we begin to practice sustainable development. The observation that across a community of people there is a vast, untapped pool of skill and talent is to understate the importance of having a chance to participate and to be a citizen with other citizens, engaged in common good. Whilst this might not immediately resonate with one as a spiritual dimension to self, I wish to explore that notion later in the book. Clearly, western society has sacrificed the universal in preference for the self, and yet, this pursuit of personal want, which is much more than personal need, has not resulted in personal satisfaction. It is seldom that the community can truly observe that all of the participants feel fulfilled in the things that they do there. More often than not, people are impeded significantly by pointless restrictions and barriers that the organisation has established and which people feel unable to overcome. Sit down and chat with any group of people from any organisation and pretty quickly you will hear the same pained cry - we are doing things we don’t see the need for, we are filling in forms which seem to take more time than the day job, our staff aren’t listening, nobody has time for anyone else, we are always restructuring, we don’t get time to implement one change before the next one comes along, our managers don’t listen to our needs, they undertake consultation but its a sham, if I could afford to I would quit. This is the sorry sum of our days, the fragmentation of our lives, the failure to function systemically. It is no wonder that we face massive problems in our communities, our social lives, our economic lives, and we extend those out to the environment and our presence in the planet. We have lost our ability to connect, we have lost the skill of trusting interconnection and using it to help us to make sense of what we do. Across the education system, the effect of working and living in an environment driven by outcomes is one of rapid pace. A colleague recently commented that he no longer took annual leave of more than four days because he could not ‘stand the feeling of being left behind.’ Resisting the urge to say ‘go and get a life!’ he fully appreciated that it was neither wise nor healthy to approach his work in this way. Yet, despite being an informed, articulate and in a position in our school system of some power, he felt completely trapped by the pressure of work. His predicament is repeated time and again. People know that what they are doing feels wrong for their wellbeing, for their families, for their colleagues and for their workplace, but they express a sense of powerlessness to overcome the problem and nurture a different environment. It seems that our sense of personal and collective agency has been sapped, the trouble is, whilst we might know this, we have grown used to waiting for someone to tell us how to get out of this situation, and no-one, or nothing is coming along to reform this problem. Sustainable development is systemic, it enables people to reconnect and seek wholeness, mental, physical, social and individual – to empower their lives and believe in themselves.

Ecological literacy – how to implement sustainable development
This is a demanding and radical agenda, it needs energy, stamina, courage, leadership and clarity of purpose and competence. So where might we turn to begin such a journey? I think we turn to what Frijof Capra (2005) calls ecological literacy .
Ecological literacy is radical, rather than mainstream, because the content of the vision, desired state and design emerge from the ‘central convictions’ (Sterling 2006 p.12) being informed from an ‘authentic’ educational standpoint which critically asks What education is for? Who it serves? Why it is fashioned like it is? As Sterling says, ‘Sustainable education…is about integrating and balancing process (what it is) with purpose (what education is for), so that they are mutually informing and enhancing’ (p26).
Work underway in the Centre for Ecoliteracy (2009) has been exploring the ideas of the school as the place where we learn to build a sustainable community which builds upon these earlier considerations. A director of the Centre for Ecoliteracy, Frijof Capra observes that we do not need to begin the process of creating sustainable community entirely from scratch. Instead, we can learn from the natural world where ‘life creates conditions conducive to life.’ (Benus 2008). In Capra’s work, sustainable community is centred around natural patterns and processes which provide our ‘lifelong’ lessons. This is a significant departure from earlier formulations of sustainable education literature because it offers a way of interpreting the design of the sustainable paradigm through a new methodological approach more attuned to natural systems, rather than developmental designs drawn from industrial systems (Clarke in press).
To facilitate their work, the Centre for Ecoliteracy (2009) uses four guiding principles, reflecting the simplicity through which they present their message.
These are:
1. Nature is our teacher
2. Sustainability is a community practice
3. The real world is the optimal learning environment
4. Sustainable living is rooted in deep knowledge of place.
In the next chapter I will discuss the development of these ideas in the form of community, leading to capabilities we can learn, and then reframing the idea of school within these communities of learning.
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