Sustainability, Creativity and Culture

Exploring the pedagogical intersections between ecology, education and culture

Teaching and Learning for Experiential Renewal: The ‘Living’ School

Education must go beyond “interdisciplinary”. By changing the structure and purposes of education… it aims toward the establishment of a community of life that includes future generations…all races and nations, rich and poor, and the natural world. The essence of community is the celebration of interdependence…its indicators are…peace, harmony, justice and participation. (David Orr)

What does education look like when ‘life’ is central to the enterprise? What kind of education is being called for in Orr’s vision that moves us toward a ‘community of life’? How would a ‘Living” school’ look compared to traditional schools with which we are so familiar? To answer these questions, we need to understand more deeply the ways in which life and living are embedded in a vision of education that sustains the individual, the social, and the biotic and to see the three as inextricably interconnected. Philosophy can help us here.

Philosophy helps us focus on the experiential, and the basic tenet that our thoughts, feelings, emotions, ideas, and behaviours all arise as direct result of our contact with the world.  Our existence is a “… network of relations; our being is not locked up inside us, but is in fact spread throughout this web of worldly interactions in which our existence continually unfolds,” says eco-psychologist Andy Fisher.

 This concept of experience as interaction has profound implications for a vision of education predicated on experience and an experiential approach grounded in the world - the social world, the human built world, but also the natural world.  At this point in our human history it is not a strange thing to pay close attention, to be aware of the demands of the natural world, and to understand fully that we, too, are nature and to appreciate the profound implications this realization has on our lives.  

We interact with the world through a bodily felt awareness; our experience is an interactive process. Honouring our embodied interaction and learning to listen and focus on what we truly need as human beings to reach our full potential requires an experiential sense and speaks to the cultivation of the dialogical nature of the Living School concept. It is a rejection of a mind/body dualism in which we are isolated from our bodies and living in our heads.

 If we think about how education was structured not so long ago with children seated in hard desks in serried rows for long stretches of time, the sense of the separation is not hard to grasp. The Living School concept gives authority to education that is based on an organismic wisdom of the experiential and attends to what young people, children and their teachers are experiencing. It is education motivated by life forwarding processes, by the creativity that emerges out of the life process where new energy, ideas and innovation can emerge and develop.  

The Living School fosters contact and dialogue with the world. Con-tact connotes the experiencing of learning from life, of the sense of touch, of being energized and physically moved through our relationships. Recent pedagogical approaches associated with 21st century learning such as project-based, real-world, authentic and deep learning, in many respects, reflect this meaningful contact. By sharing, taking risks, and coming into contact with others and the natural world, we are changed and such meaningful contact with the world carries our lives forward. Dialogue recognizes the power of language and conversation and the importance of finding one’s voice and being truly heard. It involves honouring children’s inherent, spontaneous interest in the world and celebrating with young people their interests, or as David Jardine points out ‘…their inter esse, their being in the middle of things.”

Teachers in a Living School are challenged to find, or re-discover the joy, the mystery, and inherent love in learning about the world and become guides and facilitators who respect and nurture the integrity of what comes natural to children, an awe and wonderment for the world. This integrity is also related to pursuing interests across boundaries, across disciplines to follow them where authentic contact and dialogue lead. 

The Living School recognizes that an integrated curriculum is difficult and messy, yet such a curriculum has an inherent integrity for the two words are related. Yet, the wholeness of a curriculum lived with children and young people leads to movement, vitality, liveliness and, yes, difficulty and risk, that are generative and life forwarding. Thus, a Living School involves approaches to learning that enable students and teachers to be fully engaged in the depth of things in ways that enhance well-being for all. 

** for  in-depth look at what a Living School can look like, go to and explore what is being proposed in Australia.   

Posted 83 weeks ago