Sustainability by Default: Co-creating Care and Relationality Through Early Childhood Education

ECEMOOC

The above illustration comes from the new Harvard MOOC on Early Childhood Development and Sustainability

This new paper will be part of a special issue on early childhood education and sustainable development. I wrote the piece  based on a keynote address presented at the 68th OMEP World Assembly and International Conference held in Seoul in July 2016. In the paper I argue that children are more in tune with sustainability than most adults and that both adults and children can benefit from intergenerational dialogue and expanded learning opportunities in so-called ecologies of learning. First the idea of growing up in the Anthropocene, the new geological epoch that is shaped by one single species, home sapiens, is introduced. What does growing up in the Anthropocene mean for today’s children? A short critique is provided of the neoliberal forces that increasingly influence what happens in education and care settings and that essentially make unsustainability the default in our society. Drawing on Martin Buber’s ideas of relational ways of being in the world; Nell Nodding’s notions of care; and George Siemen’s ideas about learning ecologies, some suggestions are offered for co-creating early childhood education and care with people and the planet in mind.

The paper ends with the following: “What seems critical is that children encounter a multiplicity of different worlds by crossing boundaries, both individually and together, and having bodily experiences that strengthen their relationality with the human, the non-human and the material. It is through these encounters that agency, care and empathy can develop. All three of these qualities are foundational for a world that is more sustainable than the one currently in prospect.

Citation: Wals, A.E.J. (2017) Sustainability by default: Co-creating Care and Relationality Through Early Childhood Education, International Journal of Early Childhood Education doi:10.1007/s13158-017-0193-5

Note that this is an open access publication that can be downloaded for free here: Sustainability by default

Envisioning Futures for Environmental and Sustainability Education – now available

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Last month the fifth book in the Wageningen Academic Publishers Series on Education in the context of Sustainable Development, that started almost 10 years ago with Social learning towards a Sustainable World, appeared. Envisioning Futures for Environmental and Sustainability Education invited educational practitioners and theorists to speculate on – and craft visions for – the future of environmental and sustainability education. The book, I co-edited with Peter Blaze Corcoran and Joe Weakland, explores what educational methods and practices might exist on the horizon, waiting for discovery and implementation. A global array of authors imagines alternative futures for the field and attempts to rethink environmental and sustainability education institutionally, intellectually, and pedagogically. These thought leaders chart how emerging modes of critical speculation might function as a means to remap and redesign the future of environmental and sustainability education today.

Previous volumes within this United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development series have responded to the complexity of environmental education in our contemporary moment with concepts such as social learning, intergenerational learning, and transformative leadership for sustainable futures. ‘Envisioning Futures for Environmental and Sustainability Education’ builds on this earlier work – as well as the work of others. It seeks to foster modes of intellectual engagement with ecological futures in the Anthropocene; to develop resilient, adaptable pedagogies as a hedge against future ecological uncertainties; and to spark discussion concerning how futures thinking can generate theoretical and applied innovations within the field.

The future of environmental education is an urgent question in the larger context of the Anthropocene, the geological epoch in which human activities have become the dominant driver in the ongoing evolution of Earth’s biosphere. Our contemporary ecological moment is characterized by complexity, uncertainty, and ‘accelerating change’ (Wals and Corcoran 2012). While the global impact of anthropogenic climate change is undeniable, the pace of temperature and sea level rise depends on ecological feedback loops that are not fully understood – and which may be increasing the rate of biosphere destabilization (Hansen et al.2015). From a social perspective, the Anthropocene is an age of what humanities scholar Rob Nixon (2011) terms ‘slow violence,’ or ecological violence and environmental injustice that occurs on spatial and temporal scales that are hard to understand or represent, most often against the world’s poorest peoples. In light of such developments, educators need strategies for anticipatory engagement with changing socio-ecological realities – both in the present and future – in order to be effective within their various embodied contexts. This volume explores how environmental educators can engage in imaginative mapping concerning large scale global processes, as well as create useful, situated knowledge for dissemination within their respective socio-ecological contexts.

Keywords: sustainability education, environmental education, education, sustainable development, social learning, transformative leadership, intergenerational learning

The opening chapter is available here: introchapterenvisioningfutures for free as an open access publication or at the publisher’s website where the book can be purchased: http://www.wageningenacademic.com/doi/abs/10.3920/978-90-8686-846-9

 

Towards Transgressive Learning through Ontological Politics: Answering the “Call of the Mountain” in a Colombian Network of Sustainability

Just before the end of the year a fascinating paper appeared in the journal Sustainability authored by a multi-author team led by Martha Chaves who just completed het PhD in Wageningen last month.

Chaves, M., Macintyre, T, Verschoor, G & Wals, AEJ (2017)Towards Transgressive Learning through Ontological Politics: Answering the “Call of the Mountain” in a Colombian Network of Sustainability. Sustainability 2017, 9, 21; doi:10.3390/su9010021  Link to the paper.

Abstract: In line with the increasing calls for more transformative and transgressive learning in the context of sustainability studies, this article explores how encounters between different ontologies can lead to socio-ecological sustainability. With the dominant one-world universe increasingly being questioned by those who advocate the existence of many worlds—a so-called pluriverse—there lays the possibility of not only imagining other human–nature realities, but also engaging with them in practice. Moving towards an understanding of what happens when a multiplicity of worlds encounter one another, however, entails a sensitivity to the negotiations between often competing ontologies—or ontological politics. Based on an ethnographic methodology and narrative methods, data were collected from two consecutive intercultural gatherings called El Llamado de la Montaña (The Call of the Mountain), which take place for five days every year in different parts of Colombia. By actively participating in these gatherings of multiplicity, which address complex socio-ecological challenges such as food sovereignty and defence of territory, results show how encounters between different ontologies can result in transformative and potentially transgressive learning in terms of disrupting stubborn routines, norms and hegemonic powers which tend to accelerate un-sustainability. Although we argue that a fundamental part of the wicked sustainability puzzle lies in supporting more relational ontologies, we note that such learning environments also lead to conflicts through inflexibility and (ab)use of power which must be addressed if sustained socio-ecological learning is to take place. Keywords: ontological politics; transformative learning; transgressive learning; sustainability; Colombia; narrative methods.

Here’s the cover of Martha Chaves’ PhD-thesis which can be downloaded from the Wageningen University Library system.

marthacover

Unreasonable doubt, viral nonsense and the Post-truth Trump era – avoiding hopelessness and creating sustainability by default

 

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On December 17th, one year ago, the warmest December 17th on record on The Netherlands, I gave my a second inaugural address at Wageningen University titled: Beyond unreasonable doubt –  education and learning for socio-ecological sustainability in the anthropocene  (link to the text) the address took place exactly 6 months after Donald Trump announced his candidacy for President of the USA. At that time nobody really thought he had any chance but that was then. Now that we have entered a new phase of potential depression, hopelessness, psychic numbing, withdrawal, giving up, loss of energy, it seems like the challenge of moving towards a more sustainable world has become greater than ever before which is why I am re-posting the video that Wageningen University made back then about the role of education in creating more critical, mindful, empathic and responsible citizens willing and able to turn the tide and making living lightly and equitably on the Earth the default rather than the exception.

Here is the link to the 2,5 minute video that may be more accessible than the booklet (I hope it spreads as rapidly as some of the non-sense that spreads with lightening speed these days):

Breathing sustainability

 

Education, Transformation and Sustainability – Sharing the stage with a president

Newspaper article covering Mugabe's speech the day after

When asked by good SWEDESD colleague Shepherd Urenje whether I would accept an invitation  to give a keynote at an Education Expo in Zimbabwe on “Growing Socio-economic Opportunity through Quality Education in the 21st Century” I accepted knowing that some excellent people I have worked with over the years are Zimbabweans who are working hard to improve education, learning and People and Planet (Kaleb, Tich Pesanayi, Shepherd, Soul Shava and Mutizwa Mukute). Once I accepted I got a little anxious when the communication about the event was rather limited and I could find little or no information on the Internet… But, two days for my scheduled departure I did receive my ticket to Harare. I was somewhat puzzled by the fact that my keynote was scheduled at 12:00 and my flight was scheduled to land at 12:20… Also, the organizers reserved the whole morning for ‘registration and opening’ without providing any further details. So I made the trip with somewhat tempered expectations. At the airport in Harare I was met by some of the organizers. My first question was – “Has my talk been re-scheduled?” The answer changed my expectation right away: “The President is still giving his opening address. He discarded his prepared written speech and is speaking from the heart”. Apparently the opening was done by President Robert Mugabe… My next question was: “How many participants do you have?” The answer added to my increasing anxiety: “Between 5 and 6 thousand educators, administrators, principals, district heads and some notables including our Ministers of Education, of Women Affairs as well as the Minister of Education from Namibia and the Deputy Minsters of Education from Botswana and South Africa…”

I don’t think I have underestimated and event the way I had done this time… What on Earth was I going to talk about… as the first key note (followed by a Director from Intel Southern Africa who would speak about ICT in Education).

I had 20 minutes to make the point that education is not there to only serve the economy, but also people and planet, that ICTs can be helpful but can be a distraction from the things that really matter as well (I had to be diplomatic knowing the Intel-keynote was after me), and that we need to dare to ground teaching and learning in real issues that cannot be captured by the traditional subjects but demand a more holistic and localised approach. I also was able to squeeze in that the persistent emphasis on testing kids, measuring performance and ranking schools, teachers and pupils, can kill deeper learning.

I quickly learnt in the discussion afterwards that ICT is more ‘ sexy’  than sustainability and that Education for Sustainability does not resonate among most of the audience members (I should point out that most participants had left by the time the keynotes started, as had Mugabe who had to go to parliament that afternoon to open the new session (what energy for a 91 year-old…). What does resonate is: relevance, quality education, teacher’s professional development, and using ICTs but also empowering learners to make change. Very little about climate change, food and nutrition security, agriculture, biodiversity, inequity, poverty reduction. In fact it was Robert Mugabe who came closest of all speakers… Here’s an excerpt from the newspaper article covering his speech:

Excerpt Robert Mugabe's Speech from

Excerpt Robert Mugabe’s Speech from “The National”

The other, even more encouraging sign that there is a transformation in education going on – in the margins – came from one of the many exhibits at the conference (90% of them related to ICTs run by commercial companies). It came from an exhibit by a local Primary school where young pupils ran projects on seed diversity and nutrition. The young man on the left in the picture below was extremely articulate and passionate about this project and had a bigger impact on me than all speakers together (which is not to discredit the speakers, many of them were very interesting). And so was the young man on the right who developed a self-refilling drinking water supply mechanism for animals using the same float ball mechanism as used in toilets to regulate water.

On the left: Ziyanda Moyo, Form 1 (first form in secondary school education, immediately after completing Grade 7); Pumula High School. On the right: Muziwandile Moyo, Grade 7, Senzangakhona Primary School

On the left:  On the left: Muziwandile Moyo, Grade 7, Senzangakhona Primary School. On the right: Zivanda Moyo, Form 1 (first grade in secondary education, Pumula High School.

All in all this was a remarkable experience that I will need to reflect on some more for sure.

Let me end this post with the latest publication by PhD student Joana Ameyaw from Ghana who works on ‘responsive curriculum development’ for creating a more sustainable forestry sector. She shows in her work that these new, grounded and interactive forms of curriculum development are not only possible, they are happening!

Her paper was published recently in Forestry and Economics and is titled: “Challenges to responsible forest governance in Ghana and its implications for professional education” Here you can find the AmeyawArtsWals(1) paper for personal use.

Reclaiming Broken Places: Introduction to Civic Ecology – free MOOC starting in April

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My good colleague at Cornell University, Professor Marianne Krasny who has been at the forefront of civic ecology and civic ecology education, along with Keith Tidball, has created a very interesting MOOC on EdX. In the course you will explore why and how people come together to care for nature and cultivate community in places marked by disaster, war, poverty and environmental degradation. As usual participating in a MOOC is free. The course starts on April 10th.

About this Course

The actions of ordinary people are often absent in studies of urban renewal and urban ecology. Around the world, people who are fed up with environmental degradation and the breakdown of their communities come together to transform blighted vacant lots, trashed-out stream corridors, polluted estuaries, and other “broken places.” Civic ecology practices—such as community gardening, wetlands restoration, river cleanups, and tree planting—are a means for people to express resilience and rebuild communities marked by disaster and disinvestment.

Civic ecology draws on psychology, sociology, political science, education, ecology, and social-ecological systems resilience to understand how and why people care for nature and their communities.

Throughout this course, you will:

  • Explore the people, places, and practices that restore nature and revitalize neighborhoods, making a difference in ways big and small.
  • Discuss and evaluate contemporary thinking in resilience, social-ecological systems, and the relationship between nature and human/community well-being.
  • Grasp an understanding of how civil ecology enables those with limited resources to defy and cope with daily struggles, including after disaster and war.
  • Acquire the knowledge and skill set to enact change in your own community.
  • Participate in a civic ecology service learning project to turn classroom learning into real-life application.

This course is ideal for anyone who is intrigued by both social and environmental concerns, or simply has a desire to dive into an emerging 21st century, cross-disciplinary subject area. You will complete this course with a keener awareness of social-ecological issues and concerns, as well as a greater knowledge of the practical steps required to rebuild and maintain community and nature in a world marked by inequality, conflict, and climate change.

More information? go to the course website by clicking here!