Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Monthly Archives: January 2011

Another boost for liberal education

📥  Comment

Given how dire so many are, it is often hard to know how (or whether) to respond to a questionnaire, even when it is in your area.  A sense of responsibility says, do it; the need for quality of life retorts, don't be daft.  A long time ago now, a colleague was faced with a questionnaire that had a tear-off corner which showed his unique response number – the idea being that he could remove this if he wished anonymity of response.  As the instrument in question was right down there with UNESCO / UNECE standards of Absolute Direness, he decided to throw the questionnaire away, but return the tear-off corner.

Oddly, perhaps, I was reminded of this when I read a response from a parent to an investigation of a school-based initiative that was encouraging the child to discuss xxxx at home (a popular obsession, this school to home transfer, as you know).

It said:

My child’s involvement in xxxx has had Zero impact (non, nil, zilch) on discussions at home. This is a good thing as time given over to this, to meet the latest government fads is time taken away from real education (by which I mean liberal education rooted in subject-based knowledge, but I doubt you would understand that).

Perfect ...


The Daily Mash reports new insights into Stonehenge

📥  News and Updates

I have, rather belatedly, discovered The Daily Mash.  Google describes this as a:

"British satire site offering funny stories on news, politics and sport, an agony aunt column and polls"

And so it is (and does).  The temptation to make this my Home Page is strong, but it will wear off, I don't doubt.  The Mash has three immediate attractions:

[i] it is scurrilous and irreverent;   [ii] it is funny (largely because of [i], of course), and  [iii] there's no mention of sustainable development or  ESD (largely, I suppose, of the need to be [ii]).

Anyway, here's the Stonehenge story.  Pretty convincing stuff ...


Blaming the Poor Young Consumer

📥  Comment

I have just reviewed a paper from the USA which describes an educational intervention aimed at persuading young people to use less water.   At the end, of what seemed a well thought through empirical study, most young people said they would use less water in their everyday habits.  Well, they would.

Whilst I have no doubt that this study was carried out as effectively as is reported in the paper, I cannot share the authors' optimism about its likely impacts on water shortages.  In many ways, this is a very familiar environmental educational intervention which can be characterised (or caricatured) in this way:

1.  a socio-environmental problem is identified

2.  ignorance is measured

3.  somebody is blamed

4.  an intervention programme is designed, implemented and evaluated

5.  people promise to change

6.  success is celebrated

We have seen this so often down the years that the wonder is how there can be any problems left.  But of course, there are.

In such activities, it is often the case that all the issues and problems in a context are not properly identified.  For example, in this present case, I looked in vain for any data on water use over time by business, agriculture, etc.  This was not included because those involved decided, a priori, that it was only domestic consumers who were important here (ie, were to blame) – hence their intervention.  But is this really the case?  Stories abound across the US of industries and agriculture putting undue and often unchecked pressure on acquifers.  So, it is all very well (and much too easy) to blame individual consumers for this problem. But can they ever make a real difference given all the other (and presumably growing) demands on the watershed?

Whatever the answer, isn't it irresponsible not to ask this question?


Bill Bailey's about FACE

📥  News and Updates

If you're still not sure where your food comes from, FACE and Bill Bailey have got together to put you straight – sort of.  Satire, I think.   Enjoy, just don't think about the ethics too much.


LSIS, NIACE and McDonald's

📥  News and Updates

On behalf of the Learning & Skills Improvement Service (LSIS), NIACE (with others) have developed Sustaining Our Future which is a "draft framework for moving towards a sustainable learning and skills sector", and there's an online consultation on all this.  I spend more time than I intended filling this in yesterday and was nearly driven to drink it was so dispiriting.   As I am loath to spend even more time thinking about this, I'll only give one example of the problem.  This, is the draft vision:

"A learning and skills sector which maximises and mainstreams environmental, economic and social sustainability"

I was underwhelmed and commented that McDonald's would probably do as well / badly as this.  Actually, they do. McDonald's says:

"Our vision for a sustainable supply chain links responsibility for ethical, environmental and economic outcomes"

It is as though drafting team know which words to use, but cannot communicate what they mean by them.  In Alan Hansen's oft-repeated words: grit and determination, there may be, but there's little sign of flair and imagination.  When the essence is to communicate to people who do not habitually think about such matters, this is crucial.

I wish I could recommend it to you, but when you're only as good as McDonalds,  ...


The soft bigotry of low expectations

📥  Comment

This, rather un-Gove, phrase stood out me as I read his speech at the Education World Forum last week in London.  Mr Gove did not attribute it, but as it seems firmly associated with one of George Bush Jnr's speechwriters (Michael Gerson), that is understandable.  An informative speech, all in all, about the government's position and policy, the English Baccalaureat, and its determination to address and undo the bigotry (as I see it of parents / teachers / governors / unions – and probably caretakers and cleaners as well).  But it was all very dull.  A pity, then, about all the cuts, as, otherwise, Gerson might be on the team full time.


World Rankings for Green Universities

📥  News and Updates

Just when you thought it was safe not to think about league tables of universities for a while, up pops another green ranking – this time an international one.  Whilst the UK has 6 out of the top 25 places, these institutions are not the obvious ones, or those that feature strongly in the UK's People & Planet tables – other than Bangor which is 17th (=) in the UK, and 11th in the world.  Meanwhile, Nottingham comes 2nd in the world but is only 53rd (=) in the UK, which is rather like Charlton Athletic's being ranked second to Barcelona in a FIFA league table, which is something that's only remotely possible if the quality of the gravy in the meat pies is highly weighted.  Something methodologically dubious in all this, of course, but if I'd any responsibility at Plymouth, Gloucestershire, Hertfordshire, Central Lancashire, Aston, Nottingham Trent, Bradford, ... I'd be looking to my laurels (or lawyers).


More on the Academy's linguistic contortions

📥  Comment

I wrote the other day [ 22 December ] about the Higher Education Academy's revision of its professional standards framework, and its attempts to add a reference to sustainability within these as a new professional value.  I noted the difficulties it ran into in relation to the use of  jargon-ridden language that will not be clear to anyone not already steeped in thinking about HE and sustainability.   The Academy has drafted the new value as:

“a commitment to the sustainability of higher education and the concept of global citizenship”

... which illustrates something of the problem: why should anyone commit to a concept – and a vague one at that; and to the endurance of HE (did they really mean that)?

All this is now out for consultation, and the ever-dependable EAUC has a draft response on which it has asked for feedback.  EAUC is also critical of the language, but is more polite than I have been.  The ways in which the new value is to be demonstrated by academics includes:

"Knowledge of sustainable curriculum approaches, and an understanding of its implications for personal, professional practice"

EAUC notes that "sustainable curriculum approaches" suffers from the same problem as "the sustainability of HE", and has suggested:

"Knowledge of sustainability curriculum approaches and an understanding of ..."

... instead.  This is obviously better, but I think that a clearer way to help people think about this (if they've not thought about it before) might be:

In relation to both what is taught, and how, a nuanced understanding of how higher education students can, most appropriately, be helped to engage critically with the theory and practice of sustainability.

More words, sadly, but more meaning?  We'll see.  ...


Let's hear it for SusEd

📥  Comment

I've reviewing what I think has evolved into a rather good paper for EER.  In it, the author uses (following Stephen Sterling's lead) the phrase sustainability education as a "generic and inclusive term that can accommodate different interpretations".   Well, I wonder about that.  It has, of course, the considerable merit of not involving prepositions (no:  for / in / about / by / under / etc) and therefore affords less scope for tendentious pedants everywhere to find a determinism where none may exist.  However, it does not, I think, absolve the user from explaining what they mean – a discipline we all might benefit from.

But why stop there?  At the end of the day, sustainability education is still a mouthful: a whole 10 syllables and 23 characters.  Think of how much ink, time and finger strain could be saved  if it were abbreviated.  So, what about SusEd – as green a term as you'd wish to find – and in these austere times this could be a major  contribution to getting the world out of its economic difficulties.  Maybe ...

Sadly, but for the neologistic record, 'sused' is already a Slovak word for neighbour.