Sustainability, Creativity and Culture

Exploring the pedagogical intersections between ecology, education and culture

On Being Radical – Dismantling Education in the Service of Life

Writing about education for sustainability leads us into that most contentious and thorny, yet most fundamental of questions, “What are the purposes of education?” And of course this leads to other bedrock educational questions, “What type of learning is most important as we embark on the 21st century? What knowledge, skills, attitudes, and beliefs do we hope to foster in children and young people? What is worth knowing?  How do school systems designed for 19th and 20th century purposes adapt to the demands and challenges of a new century?“


Globally, we continue to face critical environmental, social, and economic challenges such as increased poverty, human-induced climate change, rapid depletion of our natural resources, the spread of infectious diseases, violation of human rights, and so forth. In order to match the scale of these challenges, a whole generation will need to be engaged to think and act in a way that enables responsible choices about our economies, our societies, and the environment. We require a citizenry educated to live well in the places they inhabit, but as importantly, we need to nurture a developing sense of global citizenship. What it means to be “educated” changes over time. The skills and knowledge necessary to be considered “educated” in 1915 are very different than in 2015.  Children entering Kindergarten in 2015 will graduate from a post secondary institution around 2030.  What skills, knowledge, and aptitudes will be required of a graduate in 2030? As educators, how do we begin to think about preparing global citizens for the world of 2030? 

There are educators who have been asking just such questions and they are proposing a radical re-thinking and re-orienting of education that aligns with emergent future global realities. I do not use the word radical lightly. It certainly means as the dictionary defines it, a “thorough or extreme  change to acceptable or traditional forms.” But radical means more. I use the word radical to recover a sense with which the word was once imbued.  The word comes from the Late Latin radical-is and meant “the direct source or sense.”  It is a word rich in depth and nuance as it is related to “roots and rooting.”  In medieval philosophy “the radical humour” or moisture was inherent in all plants and animals, its presence being a necessary condition of vitality and life.  It is this sense of the word radical that I invoke; it is its reference to the fundamental, primary, essential condition of life. Dr. Atul Gawande said recently in the BBC 2014 Reith Lectures,“ The 20th century was the age of the molecule; the 21st century will be the age of the system.” Education for 2030 must be an education that is designed for a very different set of purposes than for which education in the 20th century was designed. The technical, managerialist, positivistic, industrial view on which education was built is inadequate for today and certainly for 2030. We require a view of education for “radical interconnectedness.”  David Orr succinctly outlines a vision of education in which the goal is not just mastery of subject matter but making connections.  He wrote of his vision,

First, it aims toward the establishment of a community of life that includes future generations, male and female, rich and poor, and the natural world.  The essence of community is recognition, indeed celebration, of interdependence between all parts.  Its indicators are the requisites of sustainability, peace, harmony and justice and participation.

We require a vision of education and curriculum that is inclusive, encompassing, expansive, generous, life-affirming and reaches toward a place of deep transformation.  William Pinar says curriculum theory is “about discovering and articulating, for oneself and with others, the educational significance of the school subjects for self and society in the ever-changing historical moment.”

In future posts I hope to delve more deeply into a radical re-visioning of education for the community of life and a better understanding of education’s general purposes. Much work has been done in this area and ways forward exist. As is the case when we speak of changing our destructive habits to safeguard the planet and human health, we often hear, “We have the means, we have the technology, we only require the will.” So, too it is with education. We have profoundly important and transformative models of teaching and learning designed to dismantle traditional and often moribund educational practices; we know of approaches that will excite and engage children to prepare future citizens for life in the 21st century  - what we require now is the will.

Posted 197 weeks ago
<p>International National B.Ed job fair, Halifax, NS January 2014</p>

International National B.Ed job fair, Halifax, NS January 2014

Posted 250 weeks ago
Make no small plans, they hold no power to stir men’s hearts.
Posted 250 weeks ago