Did you spend thousands of hours and dollars to get your degree and finally be recognized as a formal intellectual and be ‘successful’? Did you spend sleepless nights stressed about getting a good grade for your class?
But what, and who, is all this education really for?
In this discussion, I’m going to attempt to tackle a very big and scary topic: education and our environment. David Orr’s chapter on ‘What is Education for’ will be the basis of this discussion. I’ve definitely come to new realizations from these 6 realities, and I hope you do as well. We need to have new ways of thinking for the environmental problems we’re facing today and tomorrow.
REALITY #1: “Ignorance is not a solvable problem…[it’s] an inescapable part of the human condition.” (Orr 8)
In our life, we are all somewhat ignorant about certain things; whether it is about the current political/economical issues around the world, or simple unawareness like how eating McDonald’s everyday can cause you health issues in the long-term. Orr explains how ignorance follows knowledge like a lost puppy.
We cannot live without one or the other, and it can sometimes be detrimental to our planet. For example, the exploration of fossil fuels in 10- and 20-year intervals between 1860 and 1920 were driven as a source of power for humans, but ignorance as to what this substance does to the Earth was also present, leading to one of the main factors of global warming today: fossil fuel burning.
This lead to knowledge on CO2 and technologies to help reduce these huge emission levels. Another example would be food ignorance; we used to not really know or understand where our food came from and what it did to our bodies. But with more kids getting food allergies today, parents couldn’t have the blissful life of ignoring what their food had for the safety of their children.
Now, David Orr makes a valid point in that we humans can be pretty ignorant and selfless apes sometimes, but I think that overall, we are learning from our mistakes and are understanding system dynamics, relationships, and environmental movements are growing everyday to help educate the public on how every small action has some kind of effect on our planet.
REALITY #2: “the complexity of Earth and its life systems can never be safely managed […] What might be managed is us: human desires, economies, politics, and communities.” (Orr 9)
I couldn’t agree more with this statement and what it stands for. Why do we think we’re at the top of the food chain? Because we think we can control our planet? Because we have technology and a conscience? Humans are absolutely fascinated with the idea of making our lives simpler, with computers, electricity, and the internet, that we forget that the Earth is the most complex and unmanageable thing in this universe.
Complexity and life will never be safely managed, and Orr points out how ecological and environmental sciences are still largely unknown with regard to the bigger picture and the different ways that everything is interconnected to each other.
The belief that if you can measure it, you can manage it, is flawed when talking about the environment and our planet; understanding the science behind a planet whose core formed over 30 million years ago.
So, if we can’t manage the planet, what can we manage? Simple: OURSELVES! Yep, that easy. Instead of focusing on whether you want the latest iPhone or the newest Jeep model, focus on morality, ethics, common sense, and reshape yourself to fit the world we now live in, a world that requires us to change ASAP.
Avoiding hard choices like political or moral choices are the easy way to just turn a blind eye to what’s happening, but now, you can’t turn anywhere blindly; the environment’s degradation is blindingly bright everywhere you look.
REALITY #3: “some knowledge is increasing while other kinds of knowledge are being lost.” (Orr 10)
My two grandmothers have incredible botanical and agricultural knowledge of their land and home: the south of France, Aix-en-Provence. Now, although we do have extraordinary rosé wine here, the land is very tough and dry, with few crops being able to grow without a good knowledge and understanding of the soil, land, and needs of the crops.
One of my grandmothers, Jeannine, used to have a relatively large garden in our summerhouse, growing fresh tomatoes to olives and strawberries. Today, as the years accumulate, she is no longer able to take care of the land and it’s now just a dry patch of area by the summerhouse, with the only reminder of a garden ever being there in old pictures printed over 10 years ago.
Her knowledge was not something I was taught, although I watched and listened to as much as I could when I was younger. If today you give me that land, I can’t work the same magic my grandmother could 15 years ago, even though the land has not changed and the climate is still relatively the same.
This is what Orr is trying to explain. Yes, our pursuit of instant and accessible knowledge (ex: the internet) has been highly enhanced; what used to take hours to research at the local library now takes a few seconds to type on your computer. The lack of science on land health is still missing, with more emphasis on economical, business, engineering, and biological sciences. This is very frightening because it causes us to lose touch of our origins, how to respect and cherish the land, as well as understand our roots.
I think this is really important for someone to be self-aware of their actions on the planet and how everything has an effect.
Orr, however, states that we are losing this knowledge, but I think that it’s just shifting mediums. It used to be knowledge that was common sense: how to take care of the land, understand your place, how different animals live, and the abiotic factors that are always in play. Now, it’s knowledge that is simply available if we search for it, or if we want it. It hasn’t disappeared, it’s just lost among the useless information we get daily about the latest episode of so-and-so TV show, or how so-and-so celebrity didn’t wear makeup today…
REALITY #4: “we have fragmented the world into bits and pieces called disciplines and subdisciplines.” (Orr 11)
Unity. Ever heard of that word in terms of ecology? If yes, then great, it means you understand how everything is related, connected, and united to everything else. If not, don’t worry, that’s why you’re (hopefully) reading this.
Waldo Tobler’s First Law of Geography states that “everything is related to everything else”, but is that too simple of an idea for our complex world? Not really. The interconnectedness of human knowledge and nature is one of the major aspects and defining features of environmental knowledge. There is unity amongst diversity, and understanding that we are part of our world rather than beings who are better or apart from the natural world is a misconception. We are united to it, as it is united to us.
We can’t put back together what we have dismantled, but we can learn from incomplete education, and put into every discipline the role of ecological unity and understanding. For example, if an economist has basic understanding of land erosion, soil depletion, and resource depletion, then national accounting systems could take into consideration these processes and how they’re affecting the bigger picture.
REALITY #5: “[…]the planet does not need more “successful” people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every shape and form.” (Orr 12)
Let me tell you a bit about myself. I’m a child of French parents but I grew up in Costa Rica, Ecuador, Panama, and Colombia respectively. When I left home to study environmental studies in Canada, I’d come back (and still do) during breaks and holidays to visit my parents. When we would be invited to dinners, it was hard explaining to certain people that I was studying the environment, its resources, and how to be sustainable.
This notion was probably the weirdest thing some of these people had heard. They’d say “Oh, do you mean you’re studying environmental engineering or like environmental architecture?” or they’d just stare at me confused and waiting for me to say more. I found myself having to defend my degree as something that was actually being studied, no need for engineering or architecture to follow. I was seen as a joke almost, someone who didn’t have a future. I was even asked if I would actually get a job, and what kind of jobs actually needed someone like that…
Wow, how uplifting for a 18-year old at the time to hear.
For people back home, the fact that I was doing something for something else (the environment), was very confusing. The fact that I was contributing for the future generations to have clean air, water, and land, to have intact ecosystems, and to have a healthy understanding of our place among this planet, was seen as almost useless for some people.
Orr tries to explain that the competitive need for success is not what’s needed, rather those who are brave enough to fight to make the world habitable and humane again.
Tim Minchin’s nine life lessons also explore this idea, that ultimately you don’t need to have a dream, just remember to be kind and humble, think critically and be hard on your beliefs.
REALITY #6: “The fact is that we live in a disintegrating culture.” (Orr 13)
Our society cultivates technological advancement, rather than imagination, sensitivity, compassion and generosity. Our society nourishes GDP’s and GNP’s, rather than happiness and gentleness among ourselves and others.
This mentality is what has driven the monstrous destruction and ignorance towards the ecological and environmental habitats of our planet. If we could foster love, storytelling, richness of thought, spiritual sensitivity, and humbleness, our world would definitely look different. Rather than competing with one another for being the CEO or making the most money, lets work together and on ourselves to make tomorrow liveable, beautiful, and healthy.
This is what education should strive towards; otherwise, what is it for?