Education and the environmental issue

Why focus on the environmental crisis? It seems clear that the activities of humankind are leading, in an irrational way, to self-destruction. Obviously, it is also directly connected to the other crises we have: political, social and economic. We will suggest a possible root of the environmental crisis and indeed, the other crises as well. The question is- why is it important to get to the root?

We need to get to the root of these problems because an understanding of the root would lead to right response and action. This understanding would be more than an intellectual knowing.

What is this root cause of the environmental problem? There are two ways in which we contribute to it.

1. Directly: Through energy use, waste production, resource use, types of food, etc.

2. Indirectly: Through the political/social system of our culture that contains values and beliefs shared by us all. This is often called our worldview. A worldview includes, among other things, our views and beliefs on the value of nature, money, individual security, competition, ambition, pride, nationalism, sport, entertainment and educational values. We will look at this later. In this seminar, we would like to focus on the worldview aspect and its relevance to education.

Where does the Western worldview come from? Obviously, it comes from historical / religious / political development but, in terms of environment and education, some people have focused on the scientific factor which has come from the thinking of people like Descartes, Bacon and Galileo: the view of man's need to dominate nature and other ideas that separate man from nature. This has become a powerful influence because science allied with technology gave the Industrial Revolution a strong impetus, developing a culture that believes in this dominating view of nature. This worldview also contains assumptions about objectivity, the observer being separate from the observed, and views and assumptions about the importance of knowledge, that persists in our education.

But why did such a worldview develop? What we are suggesting is that the root of all the crises in the world is the fragmentary nature of thought as pursued and clarified by Krishnamurti and David Bohm over many years. By fragmentary we mean falsely divided, incoherently divided, taking a division beyond its meaningful limit. What is suggested is that thought always operates in a limited area or context. This may work well when dealing with the material world as shown by science and technology. However, this does not work well when applied to our psychological world and other areas of life and nature. Indeed it leads to the conflicts and crises that we see today. Thought here includes memory, knowledge, images, and symbols. It is the process of the brain and involves abstraction.

There is a deep problem in the thought processes that human beings engage. It has existed for a long time, since man has been destroying his environment over a long period. For example, thought loses track of its operation and consequences; thought produces maps of the world, and confuses this with the world, and sees its map as the world, and so deals with it as separately produced, which is a mistake and leads to wrong actions. Of more direct consequence to the environment is our search for security. Thought has produced the abstract ideas of nation, money, sets of values built up over time, rights of individuals to pursue their own ambitions, profit being a valid goal - leading to competition and the survival of the fittest. As said earlier, thought has produced our modern worldview which has some of the scientific paradigm of the mind /matter division, objectivity, attitude to nature. This worldview has led to the industrial world's increased energy use, producing the carbon dioxide which is causing global warming.

Our question here is, what is the problem with 'normal' education? We will base our discussion on the root cause being fragmented thought, with its false divisions and limitations that lead to wrong action, lack of meaning and conflict.

'Normal' Education contains the following aspects :

The division of knowledge from emotion and feelings, manual and artistic skills and the mind/body divide. From this we get the emphasis on logical, mathematical and linguistic intelligence at the expense of other intelligences, as discussed by Gardner.

It emphasises on knowledge that will divide it from ignorance in a false way. For example, more knowledge does not mean less ignorance. Krishnamurti has talked often of the limitations of accumulated knowledge and the error of separating the known from the unknown. It localises teaching and learning in a limited context in the classroom at specific times. This is part of the division of education from life, causing in students a lack of a sense of relevance of classes to their lives, except to get a job or career which, though important, is of limited meaning to a young person.

Normal Education contains the division of subjects, English, Mathematics, History, etc., which don't reflect the inter-connectedness of the movement of our lives in nature. Thought loses track of the original purposes of these divisions. There may be practical reasons to continue with these divisions even if no longer valid, but these false divisions continue to convey a wrong message and are not self-evidently sensible.

Its assessment and exams measure a limited range of skills that may have a place, but exams have led to much fear and the divisions of failure and success, of reward and punishment. They also give undeserved status to students who have passed exams in such a limited range of skills and abilities.

It encourages the division of career from calling. A career without a calling uses skills, capacities, ambition to achieve the limited goals of money, status and security, which often seem to support a destructive life style. Students lose a sense of wonder and joy about discovering the way things are. Healthy curiosity is lost. Calling being a self -discovered deep purpose to livelihood perhaps comes from deep values and a feeling for the needs of life beyond the life.

Normal Education needs to measure achievement, but continuous learning for its own sake in any aspect of life cannot be measured and extra value is given to acquisition of knowledge in a limited area because it can be measured. Curiosity is undervalued for the same reason, viz. it cannot be measured!

Education is divided from life with a view that education finishes with formal instruction at school and college. The possibility that education and learning continue through life has little or no place in normal education. It conditions students to believe that the divisions and limitations inherent in education are actually how the way life, and the world, really is.

In conclusion right education frees the teacher of the hidden curriculum and the assumptions of normal education. Then the teacher's lifestyle and activities can reflect a sense of integrity, care and joy, showing that you can respond positively (at many levels) to the environmental crisis.

Outline of a talk given at the Educational Seminar at Brockwood Park, England in August 1996.

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