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Eco-literacy and a New Green Generation
Hana Loftus, 6 Oct 06

extended-schools-garden.jpg Here at Worldchanging we talk a lot about technological solutions for making a greener world. But if we really are going to create a sustainable future, the first thing that really has to change is our mindsets. It may be that ‘solutions’ are not enough: what is required is for us to fundamentally reassess why we aspire to work hard in ‘good jobs’ for social status, fly abroad to broaden our minds, live in cities far from our families and then travel to see them. Why simple things can’t make us happy because we think we’re failing if we don’t ‘do well’; and how to give all of us the confidence and the desire to do things differently.

Mayer Hillman starts to tackle this question in his book but one of the most interesting and proponents of how to instill this headshift in the next generation is based in California, at the Center for Ecoliteracy. Co-founded by Fritjof Capra, who coined the term ‘ecoliteracy’, its principles aim to fundamentally alter the way the people think about what they do on a very everyday level. Based in systems theory, it focuses on understanding emotionally and instinctively the connectedness of things between scales, from the smallest items through to industries, political systems and cities. It posits itself as the antithesis to the paralysing view of environmental issues generally propagated, which prompts pessimism or guilt, ensuring that shutting it out is the only way most people can psychologically cope.

The reasoning behind ecoliteracy is that if we learn to understand how things fit together, emotionally and deeply rather than through lecturing or abstract fact-based knowledge, then a shift will happen in how we prioritise and make decisions about things: not simply buying local or turning off the light but indeed questioning the value system that means that we feel obliged to lead such wasteful lives in the first place, in pursuit of a prescribed model of success. Its founders believe in community and understanding the integration of diverse elements as being at the heart of sustainability; “Communities, whether ecosystems or human systems, are made up of sets, or networks, of relationships. In the systems view, the "objects" of study are networks of relationships.” They emphasize relationship-based processes such as cooperation and consensus decision-making, and context-based learning as a way of learning to question and attempt to understand the whole picture.

The Center for Ecoliteracy focuses its work on schools, believing that “teaching this ecological knowledge – which may be called 'principles of ecology,' 'principles of sustainability,' 'principles of community,' or even the 'basic facts of life' – will be the most important role of education in the next century.” It sees learning to think systemically as critical to education for sustainability and claims that this gives children a more balanced set of skills, including analytical thinking, cross-disciplinary perspectives and problem-solving, as well as the less tangible values of ethical commitment, confidence and calmness. Marrying the cognitive with the emotional, their programs and grants are presently focused on food, particularly the Rethinking School Lunch initiative that has grown out of the trailblazing Edible Schoolyard programme to encompass the entire Berkeley public school system.

An extraordinary program in itself, RSL links schools food buying programs to local producers, recycling and composting systems and to the curriculum of the students across the syllabus. Its model, and demonstrating ecoliteracy in action, the Edible Schoolyard takes every single student in the 1000-strong Martin Luther King Middle School (40% free school lunches, 36% African-American, 22 languages spoken) into the garden to dig and hoe, and into the kitchen to cook and eat, every year. In the words of its founder Alice Waters of Chez Panisse, this is “not just as a practical life exercise, but as a way of putting beauty and meaning into their lives. When the hearts and minds of our children are captured by a school lunch curriculum, enriched with experience in the garden, sustainability will become the lens through which they see the world.”

The confidence to change the way a generation lives may be taught through school lunches. Now, that’s worldchanging.

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This, following Alex's recent post, to me, cuts to the heart of the issues we're facing. Well spoken, Hana.

Posted by: Gyrus on 6 Oct 06

Thank you. Even the smallest drops of water are part of a bigger ocean! Even school lunches are a good place for changing mindsets.

Posted by: John H. Pieper, OblSB on 11 Oct 06



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