Environmental sustainability as the essential education question of our time

I suggest that the essential question we face is how we should live on the earth that is healthy not only for humans but for all life, and meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It is imperative that we figure out how to use less energy, produce fewer toxins (water, soil, and air pollution), reduce global warming, and protect other species. Moreover, because we lack both the knowledge and the shared values that would enable us to solve these and other environmental problems means that we need a venue for exploring these questions, assessing what we know, conducting future research, and proposing solutions. This venue should be our educational institutions. Furthermore, such exploration and problem solving should begin as early as possible, even in elementary school.  Last, because educators should be preparing students to live in and change the world, I would argue that it is immoral for educators not to integrate questions of creating an environmentally sustainable planet into the curriculum.

This fall I am teaching a doctoral course on teaching about environmental sustainability that will aim to integrate ethics, economics, politics, and science into a coherent whole in an aim to show how our elementary, secondary, and post secondary institutions might approach the subject. While the course is limited to doctoral students, I would welcome talking with anyone who is interested in pursuing these issues.

Thinking beyond the spectacle

After watching the inauguration on the Internet, I thought to myself that I just felt like a cheerleader for the State. The jingoism of flag waving, empty symbolism, demonstration of military might and the worship of celebrity demonstrated how the inauguration contained seemingly incompatible ideologies that still coexisted with each other and maintained ideological hegemony.  In other words, U.S. State power appeared permanent, fixed and “real”, as well as, a place to locate social change.  This idea comes despite the historical and primary source data that highlights imperialist States, like England and the U.S. for example, have been the biggest perpetrators of violence against people of color, indigenous societies, women, people categorized and labeled “disabled,” working class communities, homosexuals, etc. over the past 350 years.  This last part is important, as social and progressive change cannot be realized within a hierarchical, racist, sexist, classist, ableist, colonialist, and an inherently oppressive institution like a State as I hope this blog will demonstrate.  I know that I refer to the United States, but by no means am I trying to paint “villains” or “evil-doers” and other nation-states have just as much to answer for as the United States does.  Instead, as you will see, power is reproduced much more sophisticatedly than just top-down or through simplistic binaries of Us vs. Them, but also through what we consider knowledge or how we understand the world around us.  States are merely one piece to a much larger puzzle.

However, I am quite aware of the historical significance of the election of Obama.  It effectively demonstrates what radicals have argued all along: that political hope can amass people out of complacency into action. I am also aware that an election of an African American man speaks volumes that people are willing to adapt their beliefs about race and ethnicity, which points to the possibility of social change occurring in the future which should sustain hope for all of us. I am not critiquing the President per se, but more his symbolic and representational existence and the political frameworks we are given that are deemed appropriate, real, or possible.  I am not concerned with Obama the individual, then, but Obama as representational of a larger system of meanings, discourses, ontological frameworks, epistemologies, and ideologies.  The individual, as it has been constructed in the West, is more of a testament to the emergence and rise of mercantile capitalism rather than some empirical reality of us overcoming odds, persevering, and working hard to master and tame our world. Continue reading “Thinking beyond the spectacle”

What do we do when everyone comes?

by Joanne Larson

I have been doing some reading outside of education lately that has deeply informed my thinking about literacy in an information and communication economy. I have been working through some ideas about the consequences of what researchers are calling the most profound change in human communication since the invention of the printing press – the collaborative knowledge production made possible by internet technologies, particularly open source practices. What happens when we make the shift from a one-to-many form of communication and knowledge production to a many to many, collaborative process?

Two books I read recently have really pushed my thinking. Clay Shirky’s book, Here comes everybody: The power of organizing without organizations, looks at what happens when people can organize (or lead or educate) without needing traditional organizational (or leadership or educational) structures. Axel Bruns discusses the concept of produsage in his book, Blogs, wikipedia, second life and beyond: From production to produsage. He argues that humans are experiencing a profound shift in how culture and knowledge are produced and circulated, moving from traditional production models, to a participatory process in which we (non-professionals or pro-ams) have shifted from consumers to produsers (producing and using the knowledge that is produced). In his discussion of citizen journalism and wikipedia, he describes a process he calls casual collapse, where traditional (one to many) knowledge producers (newspapers and encyclopedias, specifically) have not fully grasped the nature and extent of the transformation humanity is going through. It made me wonder what schools may have missed and whether they are also experiencing this casual collapse.

With the shift in communication (many to many) and the transformative potential of immediate social action (flash mobs), and considering the speed and level of these practices, I am wondering whether schools have completely missed the boat? What if it’s already too late? Schools are so busy transmitting static knowledge and putting increasingly severe boundaries around what is allowed that I fear irrelevance has already set in. Publishing is global and free, social action and political change is possible without formal organizations and infrastructures, knowledge and information are generated at lightening speed by everyone, and it’s clear schools haven’t paid attention. James Paul Gee makes the point that schools are bad for everyone, white kids just get A’s for it, and he argues they will be irrelevant if they don’t account for these ontological changes.

Some of these ideas connect well with social practice theories of literacy and sociocultural-historical theories of learning, but we need more thinking about this. Bruns’s concept of equipotentiality (the assumption that while the skills and abilities of all participants are not equal, they have an equal ability to make a worthy contribution to the project) reminds me of Rogoff’s concept of community of learners, Lave and Wenger’s concept of communities of practice, and Gee’s concept of affinity spaces. Maybe we can figure this out after all?

The Economic Crisis and Education

by David Hursh

As I write this, the United States and much of the rest of the world face an economic crisis caused by several decades of neoliberal policies. Neoliberal proponents, such as Thomas Friedman, have hijacked globalization to argue that we have no choice but to adopt neoliberal policies. In The Lexus and the Olive Tree (1999), Friedman asserted that “the driving force behind globalization is free market capitalism” (1999, p. 9) and, therefore, we have no alternative other than to promote deregulation, privatization, and markets. However, recent economic events reveal neoliberalism as a flawed and failed policy, and, consequently, governments are now intervening to bail out the finance industry.

The financial collapse came about as minimally regulated investment banks sought profits through risky mortgage loans, thus contributing to a housing bubble that finally burst. Faced with imminent collapse of the economic system, the Bush administration and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, concluding that government is not, after all, the problem but, instead, part of the solution, proposed to use $700 billion in public funds to pay for the questionable loans.

Continue reading “The Economic Crisis and Education”

In Tribute to Donald Stevens

by Donna Harris

For my first blog entry I will devote to the tragic killing of Donald Stevens, an East High School student, on the early morning of September 17. I did not know this young man but I am saddened by his death because he will never be able to fulfill his fullest potential. I am troubled that he was the sixth young person under 20 to die as a result of violence in Rochester.

Some of the discussion about Donald Steven’s death has focused on the fact that he was on the city streets past the city curfew of 11 p.m. This line of thinking suggests that if Donald had complied with the curfew policy, then he would still be with us today. However this tragic killing could have happened before the curfew. Are we suggesting that this young man’s behavior played into his own death? Would we find it more palatable if Donald has been killed at 10:30 p.m. and not 12:30 a.m.? As a result, should the public be less sympathetic about this loss? In reviewing the blog discussion on the Democrat and Chronicle, the commentary about this event, comments either questioned why Donald Stevens was on the street after the 11 p.m. city-imposed curfew or focused on the senselessness associated with this loss of this young person. Regardless of whether we fully understand the circumstances that led to this young man being on the streets alone at night, I must ask why the city streets are not safe at any time of the day. If Donald Stevens had not been the victim at this time, there is the possibility that the victim would have been someone else.

This tragic event shows that the curfew policy alone cannot shield all youth from harm and does not address the issue of illegal guns on city streets that are used to commit crime. The continuing violence in Rochester causes great alarm because too many African American adolescents and young men are either being buried or being arrested for crimes that will incarcerate them for many years. We must be concerned with what will happen to our community if a disproportionate number of males in Donald Steven’s generation disappear because they are either dead or in jail. This loss will have direct implications for our social and public institutions including families and schools. The disproportionate death and incarceration rates among African American males and the poor must part of a larger initiative that addresses their realities. What needs to change in Rochester in order to decrease violence? What will it take to start a social movement to preserve the lives of our youth?