Tuesday, March 22, 2005

From Classroom to Community and Beyond: Educating for a Sustainable Future

Remember when we cared about the future that we would be leaving for our children and grandchildren? Remember when we defined education as something more than just penciling in the correct answer on a test? Remember when we recognized that education is not just prepared/deposited and that learning doesn't begin/end at the classroom doors? Remember when we thought of an active, informed citizenry, people who ask questions and know how to pursue answers, as the best hope for a strong democracy?

Here is an example of forward-looking educational propositions from the Clinton years (just beginning to perceive some possibilities--yeah you asshole they had flaws, but at least they were thinking about it), think about these in the context of the underfunded, ignored, testing-as-all-powerful-measurement device, "No Child Left Behind", Bush policies... for crying-out loud the Pentagon, the Pentagon!!! released a REPORT! stating that we are destroying the environment and that this is our most important concern/danger for the future. When will we learn? Who has the courage to speak the truth-to-power...

Report of the Public Linkage, Dialogue, and Education Task Force of President Clinton's Council on Sustainable Development

February 1997

From Ch. 2:

Education for sustainability is the continual refinement of the knowledge and skills that lead to an informed citizenry that is committed to responsible individual and collaborative actions that will result in an ecologically sound, economically prosperous, and equitable society for present and future generations. The principles underlying education for sustainability include, but are not limited to, strong core academics, understanding the relationships between disciplines, systems thinking, lifelong learning, hands-on experiential learning, community-based learning, technology, partnerships, family involvement, and personal responsibility.
-- President's Council on Sustainable Development

How Can Education for Sustainability Be Accomplished?
Education for sustainability can give people the tools, skills, and experience they need to understand, process, and use information about sustainable development. It will help them make individual and collective decisions that both benefit themselves and promote the development of sustainable communities. And it will provide a means for creating a more highly skilled and globally competitive workforce and developing a more informed, active, and responsible citizenry.
But how can it be accomplished? The following are key principles about education for sustainability that the Task Force identified.

Education for sustainability must involve everyone.
Education on any topic, but particularly on sustainability, should flow from school to community and back again. Educators at all levels should reach beyond school walls, as many successful programs already do, to involve parents, industry, communities, and government in the education process. Colleges and universities should work with other schools and communities -- to deliver information, identify questions for research, and provide direct services to help solve community problems. For their part, communities should take a stronger interest in educating their citizens for sustainability, recognizing that current and future generations will need to be well-educated on this topic in order to bring about a sustainable future.

Education for sustainability emphasizes relationships between formal and nonformal education.
It thrives in all types of classrooms, exposing students to local, state, national, and international issues through hands-on, experiential learning in alternative educational environments -- such as wading through streams to do water quality testing, volunteering in the community, or participating in school-to-work programs. Because sustainability is all-encompassing, learning about it cannot and should not be confined to formal settings such as schools, universities, colleges, and training institutions. Nonformal education settings, such as museums, zoos, extension programs, libraries, parks, and mass media, provide significant opportunities to complement and build on classroom learning. This means that formal and nonformal educators should work together to produce an educated citizenry.

Education for sustainability is about connections.
Educating for sustainability does not follow academic theories according to a single discipline but rather emphasizes connections among all subject areas, as well as geographic and cultural relationships. Rather than weaken the rigor of individual disciplines, education for sustainability offers an opportunity to strengthen them by demonstrating vital interrelationships. For example, Dartmouth College requires students to take an international leadership course stressing business and environmental components. Students must strive to achieve high standards within the core disciplines, even as they develop an understanding of the connections across these disciplines. Further, education for sustainability involves consideration of diverse perspectives, including those of ethnic groups, businesses, citizens, workers, government entities, and other countries.

Education for sustainability is practical.
While delving into many disciplines, education for sustainability helps students apply what they learn to their daily lives. It engenders a sense of efficacy. Part of sustainability education is learning citizenship skills and understanding that citizens have the power to shape their lives and their communities in light of their vision of a healthy and prosperous future.

Education for sustainability is lifelong.
Continual efforts should be made to institute programs about sustainability in a variety of arenas, including the workplace and community centers and through the media. A citizenry knowledgeable about the benefits of sustainable living will have the capacity to create and maintain lasting change. Benefits to the individual include an understanding of and ability to participate in the social and economic changes that will affect their lives. For example, many communities have used planning processes that engage citizens in defining a desired future plan for their community. Using their plan, citizens work to achieve a sustainable future for themselves, their children, and their community.

Policy Recommendation 1:

Formal Education Reform
Encourage changes in the formal education system to help all students (kindergarten through higher education), educators, and education administrators learn about the environment, the economy, and social equity as they relate to all academic disciplines and to their daily lives.

Action 1. Parents and representatives from states, schools, educational organizations, community groups, businesses, and other education stakeholders should identify the essential skills and knowledge that all students should have at specified benchmark grades for a basic understanding of the interrelationships among environmental, economic, and social equity issues. This set of voluntary standards could serve as a model for states and communities to use in setting their own requirements for academic performance.
Action 2. State officials, school administrators, and other educators and stakeholders should continue to support education reform; emphasize systems thinking and interdisciplinary approaches; and pursue experiential, hands-on learning at all levels, from elementary and secondary schools to universities, colleges, community colleges, and technical schools.

Action 3. Colleges and universities should incorporate education about sustainability into pre-service training and in-service professional development for educators of all types, at all levels, and in all institutions.

Action 4. Schools, colleges, and universities should promote curriculum and community awareness about sustainable development and should follow sustainable practices in school and on campus.

Policy Recommendation 2:

Nonformal Education and Outreach
Encourage nonformal access to information on, and opportunities to learn and make informed decisions about, sustainability as it relates to citizens' personal, work, and community lives.

Action 1. Nonformal educators should encourage lifelong learning about sustainability through adult education programs, community and civic organizations, and nonformal education programs -- such as those sponsored by museums, zoos, nature centers, and 4-H clubs -- so that individuals can make well-informed decisions.
Action 2. Media strategists and sustainable development experts should develop an integrated approach for raising public awareness of and support for sustainability goals, conveying information on indicators of sustainable development, and encouraging people to adopt sustainable decision making in their daily lives.

Action 3. A new or expanded national extension network should be developed to provide needed information to enhance the capacity of individuals and communities to exist sustainably.

Action 4. Local and state governments should continue to extend their partnerships with community organizations and other levels of government to support community sustainability planning processes and periodic assessments.

Action 5. Employers -- in partnership with all levels of government, community organizations, businesses, educational institutions, and others -- should develop training programs to create a workforce with the skills and abilities needed to adapt to changes brought on by the national and global transition to sustainability.

Policy Recommendation 3:

Strengthened Education for Sustainability
Institute policy changes at the federal, state, and local levels to encourage equitable education for sustainability; develop, use, and expand access to information technologies in all educational settings; and encourage understanding about how local issues fit into state, national, and international contexts.

Action 1. Federal, state, and local governments should form partnerships with private sector organizations, businesses, professional societies, educational institutions, and community groups to develop and implement coordinated strategies supporting education for sustainability.
Action 2. The public and private sectors should support the development of and equitable access to enhanced multimedia telecommunications technologies and improved clearinghouse capabilities that promote an understanding of sustainability.

Action 3. Educators in both formal and nonformal learning programs should help students understand the international factors that affect the nation's transition to a sustainable society.

Action 4. Formal and nonformal educators should ensure that education for sustainability invites and involves diverse viewpoints, and that everyone -- regardless of background and origin -- has opportunities to participate in all aspects of the learning process. This will ensure that education for sustainability is enriched by, and relevant to, all points of view.

Read The Entire Report

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