Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Monthly Archives: November 2012

Do we really understand The Future we Want?

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Apparently, "November 2012 saw the launch of a UK dialogue process to explore the future of education for sustainability in the UK", or so EAUC reports.   "At the invitation of the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges (EAUC) in collaboration with the Education Dialogue Group (EDG), 25 organisations and agencies met at the University of Westminster to explore the commitments of Rio+20 and how to put them into action."

The report on the meeting continues ...

With participants ranging across schools, university-level education, NGOs, faith-based organisations and bodies such as the NUS and UCU, each was invited to articulate a response to a collaborative discussion paper identifying our responsibilities within the Rio+20 outcome document “The Future we Want” and to share ideas about individual and collective next steps.  The meeting opened with a short address from the Rt. Hon David Heath MP, recently-appointed Minister of State in DEFRA, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. He opened by referring to the Millennium Development Goals, posing the question:

Our ambitions on the environment have not been met.  How do we grow our economy and lift people out of poverty without depleting resources, while thinking of people below voting age and those yet to be born?  While Rio was the start of a process and the Sustainable Development Goals a significant outcome, there is more work to be done.”

How I wish I'd been there!   Although the report went on, I gave up at this point, brought to my metaphorical knees by the text which followed the minister's words of wisdom:

The SDGs aim to balance sustainability and development objectives

This is tosh, and thankfully the UN website says no such thing.  Although it's not really clear whether this is what the hapless Heath actually said, or whether it's just what his EAUC interlocutors are saying, I rather hope it's the former, and that Defra's briefing can be blamed for such crassness.  The alternative is even less comforting.

Let me just ask: how can "sustainability" and "development" be balanced when the latter is an integral part of the former?

The balance in question (for sustainable development) is between human economic and social development, on the one hand, and the quality and integrity of the biosphere and its services, on the other.  Of course, the very idea of balance is not particularly helpful, with its images of static scales and acrobatic poses.  What we're taking about here is a dynamic, edgy and inherently unstable business – more like riding a unicycle.

All this is SD 101.  Why doesn't everyone know it?

Shockingly good news for Mr Gove – which he may not welcome

📥  Comment, New Publications

The BBC reports an Economist Intelligence Unit paper on world education rankings which puts the UK 6th in the top 20 developed countries.  The usual suspects (Finland, South Korea,, Singapore, ...) are ahead of us – as we know.  This is a broader measure than we're used to seeing, as the Beeb notes ...

The rankings combine international test results and data such as graduation rates between 2006 and 2010.  … International comparisons in education have become increasingly significant - and this latest league table is based upon a series of global test results combined with measures of education systems, such as how many people go on to university.  This composite picture puts the UK in a stronger position than the influential Pisa tests from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) - which is also one of the tests included in this ranking.

It's also about the UK, not just England, so the (good) Irish and Scots schools data, the (poor) Welsh outcomes, and the (middle-ish) English ones are leavened by tertiary considerations.  Mr Gove should cheer quietly, once he recovers from the shock.  As the FT notes, he has built his policies on the UK's poor international performances, so the good news may not be all that welcome.

The Economist's own report is here.


Top of the Eco-schools league

📥  News and Updates

I've been catching up with Eco-school stats for England.   The Untidy Britain Group has a helpful league table showing the top twenty local authorities where Eco-school registrations are compared with the number of schools in a particular area.  Unsurprisingly, perhaps, 93% of Wigan's 132 schools are registered, which means that only a brave 9 institutions hold out against the flooding tide.  They surely deserve an award of their own.  For the record, 16,676 schools in England are now registered with Eco-Schools, and ~10% have green flags.

Top of the authority league, however, and likely to stay there for a good while, is the Isles of Scilly which is in the happy position of having its one school registered, thus ensuring an unbeatable 100%.  Huzzar!   Oddly, surely through some oversight, it doesn't yet have a green flag.

Too late for two degrees?

📥  Comment, New Publications, News and Updates

Absolutely, says PricewaterhouseCoopers [pcw] in their latest Low Carbon Index Report.  This is the Report's Foreword by Leo Johnson, pcw Partner for sustainability and climate change:

It’s time to plan for a warmer world.

The annual Low Carbon Economy Index centres on one core statistic: the rate of change of global carbon intensity.
This year we estimated that the required improvement in global carbon intensity to meet a 2°C warming target has risen to 5.1% a year, from now to 2050. We have passed a critical threshold – not once since World War 2 has the world achieved that rate of decarbonisation, but the task now confronting us is to achieve it for 39 consecutive years.

The 2011 rate of improvement in carbon intensity was 0.7%, giving an average rate of decarbonisation of 0.8% a year since 2000. If the world continues to decarbonise at the rate since the turn of the millenium, there will be an emissions gap of approximately 12 GtCO2 by 2020, 30GtCO2 by 2030 and nearly 70GtCO2 by 2050, as compared to our 2-degree scenario.

Even doubling our current rate of decarbonisation, would still lead to emissions consistent with 6 degrees of warming by the end of the century.  To give ourselves a more than 50% chance of avoiding 2 degrees will require a six-fold improvement in our rate of decarbonisation.

In the emerging markets, where the E7 are now emitting more than the G7, improvements in carbon intensity have largely stalled, with strong GDP growth closely coupled with rapid emissions growth. Meanwhile the policy context for carbon capture and storage (CCS) and nuclear, critical technologies for low carbon energy generation, remains uncertain. Government support for renewable energy technologies is also being scaled back. As negotiators convene every year to attempt to agree a global deal, carbon emissions continue to rise in most parts of the world.

Business leaders have been asking for clarity in political ambition on climate change. Now one thing is clear: businesses, governments and communities across the world need to plan for a warming world – not just 2°C, but 4°C, or even 6°C.

Just to be clear, this is not some wacky bunch of scaremongers; it's PricewaterhouseCoopers.

I wonder if education ministries will start to plan for a warmer world?  Well, maybe.  Whatever that turns out to be, I wonder how it will relate to what UNESCO now calls ESD.


Are there are still innocents abroad ...

📥  Comment, News and Updates

... who think that the UK government has a clear and coherent energy policy despite all the evidence around them?  Are there those who really believe that carbon targets will be met, or that the lights will stay on, or that we won't end up paying $zillions to rapacious gas wholesalers?  If so, they should read Geoffrey Lean, last week, ...

Ensuring the country has enough energy is one of the most important, if unspectacular, tasks of government.  And ministers face what [Energy Secretary] Davey calls “the biggest overhaul of our energy infrastructure for decades”, as a fifth of power stations come offline over the next 10 years.  A decision on how to replace them has been repeatedly put off, and has now been delayed again following this week’s events.  The dithering is largely down to [Chancellor] Osborne, who has been pressing to scale down plans for renewable energy and further boost gas, which already dominates our energy supply.  He seems to believe that increasing clean energy and “decarbonising” electricity generation will be bad for business, increase household bills and impede growth.

Yet, all autumn, groups of major companies have been writing to him and the Prime Minister to urge them to press on with decarbonisation to, as one letter put it, give “investors the certainty they need”. Rising gas prices have caused much the greatest increase in electricity bills; blaming renewables instead has succeeded in diverting attention. And the CBI has shown that green business is one of the few parts of the economy to be “growing steadily” through the recession.  Worse, the indecision and the assault on clean power is deterring the investment needed to keep the lights on – and increasing the cost of capital, and thus future energy bills.

... or this week's Economist ...

This is part of a wider retreat from the green policies that the Conservative Party once trumpeted. In hard times, reticence is driven by fears over their high costs.  George Osborne, the chancellor of the exchequer, is now fighting to shrink the green ambitions of a forthcoming energy bill.  But the objections of many Tories suggest a deeper animus, fuelled by Euroscepticism, climate-change denial and an attachment to a turbine-free English landscape. … Many are concerned about the growing clout of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), which is keen to collect votes from the Tories in the 2015 general election. UKIP lambasts onshore wind farms as “uneconomical and inefficient” and accuses the government of backing them “to secure the ‘green’ vote and to keep the EU happy”.

Subsidies for onshore wind are valued at some £400m ($640m) a year, but the cost per megawatt hour is half that of offshore wind or solar panels.  Renewables now generate around 10% of the country’s electricity, which means more need building to reach the 2020 goal.  Though the target has involved overspending and government meddling, it has also served as an important green light for investors.  And as turbines get bigger and more efficient, the costs for operating and maintaining them are falling. Subsidies for the technology were cut 10% this year, and may soon be snipped further.  Michael Liebricht, head of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a research firm, predicts that onshore wind could soon compete with coal and gas, as prices rise for fossil fuels and carbon.

Polls show that most Britons back the technology, although views change when turbines are planned nearby.  The government is now looking into ways to get the NIMBYs on board. Most proposals involve some sort of compensation, either through reduced electricity bills or investments in local infrastructure.  This approach has helped to pacify critics in Denmark, where wind power is meant to generate half of all electricity by 2020. Developers there must also reimburse residents for any loss in property value. In Britain, though, the government—and green investors—seem to be twisting in the wind.

... and then sober up.

It must be hard to teach about energy these days without straying into politics and citizenship, given that the energy mix, its future reliability, and its pricing are all subject to political influence.  What is a physics teacher to do?

Just teach physics, of course; that is forces, energy, circuits, magnets, etc, all that timeless stuff – just like the Sabre-tooth curriculum, and Mr Gove, say.


The BBC Science Club

📥  Comment, News and Updates, Talks and Presentations

I watched this the other night as it promised to be Brian Cox-free.  It was, and I was impressed with what went on: populist, but serious-ish.  I actually learned something – about Einstein's work on fridges.

The kitchen experiment to measure the speed of light using only a microwave oven and some cheese slices was worth the hour spend watching.  The experiment (you can do this at home) gave an outcome of 3.2 x 10 (to the power 8) m/s, which is only ~7% higher than the accepted speed.  Given that [i] the measurement of wavelength was done with a ruler, [ii] the hot spots on the cheese were rather diffuse, and [iii] the geek trusted with the ruler confessed to be a theoretician, this must have been well within experimental error – not that anyone bothered to mention such arcane niceties.  There was also much glossing over of important bits of the calculation, amidst mumblings about GigaHertz, such that it was all rather breathless and not completely satisfactory.  The cheese was also underdone.

I shall be watching the next episode when "extinction" is on the agenda.  Brian Cox perhaps ...


The sabre-tooth curriculum

📥  Comment, New Publications

I have been searching for a while now for a web-version of the Sabre-tooth curriculum.  I remember this from my teacher training, those long years ago, when teachers were encouraged (that is, required) to think about curriculum – as opposed to just schemes of work and lesson plans.  The source is: Benjamin HRW (1939) Saber‐tooth Curriculum, Including Other Lectures in the History of Paleolithic Education. McGraw‐Hill.

Here it is in all its truth.  Read, and weep:

The first great educational theorist and practitioner of whom my imagination has any record (began Dr. Peddiwell in his best professorial tone) was a man of Chellean times whose full name was New‐Fist‐Hammer‐Maker but whom, for convenience I shall hereafter call New‐Fist.

New‐Fist was a doer, in spite of the fact that there was little in his environment with which to do anything very complex. You have undoubtedly heard of the pear‐ shaped, chipped‐stone tool which archeologists call the coup‐de‐point or fist hammer. New‐Fist gained his name and a considerable local prestige by producing one of these artifacts in a less rough and more useful form than any previously known to his tribe. His hunting clubs were generally superior weapons, moreover, and his fire‐using techniques were patterns of simplicity and precision. He knew how to do things his community needed to have done, and he had the energy and will to go ahead and do them. By virtue of these characteristics he was an educated man. New‐Fist was also a thinker. Then, as now, there were few lengths to which men would not go to avoid the labor ad pain of thought. More readily than his fellows, New‐Fist pushed himself beyond those lengths to the point where cerebration was inevitable. The same quality of intelligence which led him into the socially approved activity of producing a superior artifact also led him to engage in the socially disapproved practice of thinking. When other men gorged themselves on the proceeds of a successful hunt and vegetated in dull stupor for many hours thereafter, New‐Fist ate a little less heartily, slept a little less stupidly, and arose a little earlier than his comrades to sit by the fire and think. He would stare moodily at the flickering flames and wonder about various parts of his environment until he finally got to the point where he became strongly dissatisfied with the accustomed ways of his tribe. He began to catch glimpses of ways in which life might be made better for himself, his family, and his group. By virtue of this development, he became a dangerous man.

This was the background that made this doer and thinker hit upon the concept of a conscious, systematic education. The immediate stimulus which put him directly into the practice of education came from watching his children at play. He saw these children at the cave entrance before the fire engaged in activity with bones and sticks and brightly colored pebbles. He noted that they seemed to have no purpose in their play beyond immediate pleasure in the activity itself. He compared their activity with that of the grown‐up members of the tribe. The children played for fun; the adults worked for security and enrichment of their lives. The children dealt with bones, sticks, and pebbles; the adults dealt with food, shelter, and clothing. The children protected themselves from boredom; the
adults protected themselves from danger.

"If I could only get these children to do things that will give more and better food, shelter, clothing, and security," thought New‐Fist, "I would be helping this tribe to have a better life.  When the children became grown, they would have more meat to eat, more skins to keep them warm, better caves in which to sleep, and less danger from the striped death with the curving teeth that walks these trails by night."  Having set up an educational goal, New‐Fist proceeded to construct a curriculum for reaching that goal.  "What things must we tribesmen know how to do in order to live with full bellies, warm backs, and minds free from fear?" he asked himself.

To answer this question, he ran various activities over in his mind. "We have to catch fish with our bare hands in the pool far up the creek beyond that big bend," he said to himself. "We have to catch fish with our bare hands in the pool right at the bend. We have to catch them in the same way in the pool just this side of the bend. And so we catch them in the next pool and the next and the next. Always we catch them with our bare hands."  Thus New‐Fist discovered the first subject of the first curriculum – fish‐grabbing‐with‐the‐bare‐hands.

"Also we club the little woolly horses," he continued with his analysis. "We club them along the bank of the creek where they come down to drink. We club them in the thickets where they lie down to sleep. We club them in the upland meadow where they graze. Wherever we find them we club them."  So woolly‐horse‐clubbing was seen to be the second main subject in the curriculum.

"And finally, we drive away the saber‐tooth tigers with fire," New‐Fist went on in his thinking. "We drive them from the mouth of our caves with fire. We drive them from our trail with burning branches. We wave firebrands to drive them from our drinking hole. Always we have to drive them away, and always we drive them with fire."  Thus was discovered the third subject‐‐saber‐tooth‐tiger? scaring‐with‐fire. Having developed a curriculum, New‐Fist took his children with him as he went about his activities. He gave them an opportunity to practice these three subjects. The children liked to learn. It was more fun for them to engage in these purposeful activities than to play with colored stones just for the fun of it. They learned the new activities well, and so the educational system was a success.

As New‐Fist's children grew older, it was plain to see that they had an advantage in good and safe living over other children who had never been educated systematically. Some of the more intelligent members of the tribe began to do as New‐Fist had done, and the teaching of fish‐grabbing, horse‐clubbing, and tiger scaring came more and more to be accepted as the heart of real education.

For a long time, however, there were certain more conservative members of the tribe who resisted the new, formal education system on religious grounds. "The Great Mystery who speaks in thunder and moves in lightning," they announced impressively, "the Great Mystery who gives men life and takes it from them as he wills – if that Great Mystery had wanted children to practice fish‐grabbing, horse‐ clubbing, and tiger‐scaring before they were grown up, he would have aught them these activities himself by implanting in their natures instincts for fish‐grabbing, horse‐clubbing, and tiger‐scaring. New‐Fist is not only impious to attempt something the Great Mystery never intended to have done; he is also a damned fool for trying to change human nature."  Whereupon approximately half of these critics took up the solemn chant, "If you oppose the will of the Great Mystery, you must die," and the remainder sang derisively in unison, "You can't change human nature."

Being an educational statesman as well as an educational administrator and theorist, New‐Fist replied politely to both arguments. To the more theologically minded, he said that, as a matter of fact, the Great Mystery had ordered this new work done, that he even did the work himself by causing children to want to learn, that children could not learn by themselves without divine aid, that they could not learn at all except through the power of the Great Mystery, and that nobody could really understand the will of the Great Mystery concerning fish, horse, and saber‐ tooth tigers unless he had been well grounded in the three fundamental subjects of the New‐Fist school. To the human‐nature‐cannot‐be? changed shouters, New‐Fist pointed out the fact that Paleolithic culture had attained its high level by changes in human nature and that it seemed almost unpatriotic to deny the very process which had made the community great.

"I know you, my fellow tribesmen," the pioneer educator ended his argument gravely, "I know you as humble and devoted servants of the Great Mystery. I know that you would not for one moment consciously oppose yourselves to his will. I know you as intelligent and loyal citizens of this great cave‐realm, and I know that your pure and noble patriotism will not permit you to do anything which will block the development of that most cave‐realmish of all our institutions‐‐the Paleolithic educational system. Now that you understand the true nature and purpose of this institution, I am serenely confident that there are no reasonable lengths to which you will not go in its defense and its support."

By this appeal the forces of conservatism were won over to the side of the new school, and in due time everybody who was anybody in the community knew that the heart of good education lay in the three subjects of fish‐grabbing, horse‐clubbing, and tiger scaring. New‐Fist and his contemporaries grew old and were gathered by the Great Mystery to the Land of the Sunset far down the creek. Other men followed their educational ways more and more, until at last all the children of the tribe were practiced systematically in the three fundamentals. Thus the tribe prospered and was happy in the possession of adequate meat, skins, and security.

It is to be supposed that all would have gone well forever with this good educational system if conditions of life in that community had remained forever the same. But conditions changed, and life which had once been so safe and happy in the cave‐realm valley became insecure and disturbing.  A new ice age was approaching in that part of the world. A great glacier came down from the neighboring mountain range to the north. Year after year it crept closer and closer to the head waters of the creek which ran through the tribe's valley, until at length it reached the stream and began to melt into the water. Dirt and gravel which the glacier had collected on its long journey were dropped into the creek. The water grew muddy. What had once been a crystal‐clear stream in which one could see easily to the bottom was now a milky stream into which one could not see at all.

At once the life of the community was changed in one very important aspect. It was no longer possible to catch fish with the bare hands. The fish could not be seen in the muddy water. For some years, moreover, the fish in this creek had been getting more timid, agile, and intelligent. The stupid, clumsy, brave fish, of which originally there had been a great many, had been caught with the bare hands for fish generation after fish generation, until only fish of superior intelligence and agility were left. These smart fish, hiding in the muddy water under the newly deposited glacial boulders, eluded the hands of the most expertly trained fish‐ grabbers. Those tribesmen who had studied advanced fish‐grabbing in the secondary school could do no better than their less well‐educated fellows who had taken only an elementary course in the subject, and even the university graduates with majors in ichthyology were baffled by the problem. No matter how good a man's fish‐grabbing education had been, he could not grab fish when he could not find fish to grab.

The melting waters of the approaching ice sheet also made the country wetter. The ground became marshy far back from the banks of the creek. The stupid woolly horses, standing only five or six hands high and running on four‐toed front feet and three‐toed hind feet, although admirable objects for clubbing, had one dangerous characteristic. They were ambitious. They all wanted to learn to run on their middle toes. They all had visions of becoming powerful and aggressive animals instead of little and timid ones. They dreamed of a far‐distant day when some of their descendants would be sixteen hands high, weigh more than half a ton, and be able to pitch their would‐be riders into the dirt. They knew they could never attain these goals in a wet, marshy country, so they all went east to the dry, open plains, far from the Paleolithic hunting grounds. Their places were taken by little antelopes who came down with the ice sheet and were so shy and speedy and had so keen a scent for danger that no one could approach them closely to club them.  The best trained horse‐clubbers of the tribe went out day after day and employed the most efficient techniques taught in the schools, but day after day they returned empty‐handed.  A horse clubbing education of the highest type could get no results when there were no horses to club.

Finally, to complete the disruption of Paleolithic life and education, the new dampness in the air gave the saber‐tooth tigers pneumonia, a disease to which these animals were peculiarly susceptible and to which most of them succumbed. A few moth‐eaten specimens crept south to the desert, it is true, but they were pitifully few and weak representatives of a once numerous and powerful race.  So there were no more tigers to scare in the Paleolithic community, and the best tiger‐scaring techniques became only academic exercises, good in themselves, perhaps, but not necessary for tribal security. Yet this danger to the people was lost only to be replaced by another and even greater danger, for with the advancing ice sheet came ferocious glacial bears which were not afraid of fire, which walked the trails by day as well as by night, and which could not be driven away by the most advanced methods developed in the tiger‐scaring courses of the schools.

The community was now in a very difficult situation. There was no fish or meat for food, no hides for clothing, and no security from the hairy death that walked the trails day and night. Adjustment to this difficulty had to be made at once if the tribe was not to become extinct.  Fortunately for the tribe, however, there were men in it of the old New‐Fist breed, men who had the ability to do and the daring to think. One of them stood by the muddy stream, his stomach contracting with hunger pains, longing for some way to get a fish to eat. Again and again he had tried the old fish‐grabbing technique that day, hoping desperately that at last it might work, but now in black despair he finally rejected all that he had learned in the schools and looked about him for some new way to get fish from the stream. There were stout but slender vines hanging from trees along the bank. He pulled them down and began to fasten them together more or less aimlessly. As he worked, the vision of what he might do to satisfy his hunger and that of his crying children back in the cave grew clearer. His black despair lightened a little. He worked more rapidly and intelligently. At last he had it ‐ a net, a crude seine. He called a companion and explained the device.  The two men took the net into the water, into pool after pool, and in one hour they caught more fish – intelligent fish in muddy water ‐ than the whole tribe could have caught in a day under the best fish‐grabbing conditions.

Another intelligent member of the tribe wandered hungrily through the woods where once the stupid little horses had abounded but where now only the elusive antelope could be seen. He had tried the horse‐clubbing technique on the antelope until he was fully convinced of its futility. He knew that one would starve who relied on school learning to get him meat in those woods. Thus it was that he too, like the fish‐net inventor, was finally impelled by hunger to new ways. He bent a strong, springy young tree over an antelope trail, hung a noosed vine there from, and fastened the whole device in so ingenious a fashion that the passing animal would release a trigger and be snared neatly when the tree jerked upright. By setting a line of these snares, he was able in one night to secure more meat and skins than a dozen horse‐clubbers in the old days had secured in a week.  A third tribesman, determined to meet the problem of the ferocious bears, also forgot what he had been taught in school and began to think in direct and radical fashion. Finally, as a result of this thinking, he dug a deep pit in a bear trail, covered it with branches in such a way that a bear would walk out on it unsuspectingly, fall through to the bottom, and remain trapped until the tribesmen could come up and dispatch him with sticks and stones at their leisure. The inventor showed his friends how to dig and camouflage other pits until all the trails around the community were furnished with them. Thus the tribe had even more security than before and in addition had the great additional store of meat and skins which they secured from the captured bears.

As the knowledge of these new inventions spread, all the members of the tribe were engaged in familiarizing themselves with the new ways of living.  Men worked hard at making fish nets, setting antelope snares, and digging bear pits.  The tribe was busy and prosperous.  There were a few thoughtful men who asked questions as they worked.  Some of them even criticized the schools. These new activities of net‐making and operating, snare‐setting, and pit‐ digging are indispensable to modern existence," they said. "Why can't they be taught in school?"  The safe and sober majority had a quick reply to this naive question. "School!" they snorted derisively. "You aren't in school now.  You are out here in the dirt working to preserve the life and happiness of the tribe. What have these practical activities got to do with schools? You're not saying lessons now. You'd better forget your lessons and your academic ideals of fish‐grabbing, horse‐clubbing, and tiger‐scaring if you want to eat, keep warm, and have some measure of security from sudden death."

The radicals persisted a little in their questioning. "Fishnet‐making and using, antelope‐snare construction and operation, and bear‐catching and killing, they pointed out, "require intelligence and skills‐‐things we claim to develop in schools. They are also activities we need to know. Why can't the schools teach them?"  But most of the tribe, and particularly the wise old men who controlled the school, smiled indulgently at this suggestion. "That wouldn't be education," they said gently.  "But why wouldn't it be?" asked the radicals.  "Because it would be mere training," explained the old men patiently. "With all the intricate details of fish‐grabbing, horse‐clubbing, and tiger‐scaring‐the standard cultural subjects‐the school curriculum is too crowded now.  We can't add these fads and frills of net‐making, antelope‐snaring, and – of all things – bear‐killing.  Why, at the very thought, the body of the great New‐Fist, founder of our Paleolithic educational system, would turn over in its burial cairn. What we need to do is to give our young people a more thorough grounding in the fundamentals. Even the graduates of the secondary schools don't know the art of fish‐grabbing in any complete sense nowadays, they swing their horse clubs awkwardly too, and as for the old science of tiger‐scaring-well, even the teachers seem to lack the real flair for the subject which we oldsters got in our teens and never forgot."

"But, damn it," exploded one of the radicals, "how can any person with good sense be interested in such useless activities?  What is the point of trying to catch fish with the bare hands when it just can't be done any more? How can a boy learn to club horses when there are no horses left to club?  And why in hell should children try to scare tigers with fire when the tigers are dead and gone?"  "Don't be foolish," said the wise old men, smiling most kindly smiles. "We don't teach fish‐grabbing to grab fish; we teach it to develop a generalized agility which can never to developed by mere training. We don't teach horse clubbing to club horses; we teach it to develop a generalized strength in the learner which he can never get from so prosaic and specialized a thing as antelope‐snaring.  We don't teach tiger‐scaring to scare tigers; we teach it for the purpose of giving that noble courage which carries over into all the affairs of life and which can never come from so base an activity as bear‐killing."

All the radicals were silenced by this statement, all except the one who was most radical of all. He felt abashed, it is true, but he was so radical that he made one last protest.  "But – but anyway," he suggested, "You will have to admit that times have changed. Couldn't you please try these other more up‐to‐date activities? Maybe they have some educational value after all?"  Even the man's fellow radicals felt that this was going a little too far.

The wise old men were indignant. Their kindly smiles faded. "If you had any education yourself," they said severely, "you would know that the essence of true education is timelessness. It is something that endures through changing conditions like a solid rock standing squarely and firmly in the middle of a raging torrent. You must know that there are some eternal verities, and the saber‐tooth curriculum is one of them!"

ESD – more on supply and demand

📥  Comment

I blogged a couple of weeks ago about supply- and demand-side approaches to ESD provision in formal education programmes.  Here's another dimension to the debate.

ESD is normally presented as a supply-side issue.  It concerns what teachers do, and how courses are framed, rather than what students do; it is concerned with teaching, with learning an after-thought.  As UNESCO’s key characteristics note:

ESD is fundamentally about values, with respect at the centre: respect for others, including those of present and future generations, for difference and diversity, for the environment, for the resources of the planet we inhabit.  It mirrors the concern for education of high quality, in that it is:

  • interdisciplinary and holistic;
  • values-driven;
  • fostering critical thinking and problem solving;
  • multi-method;
  • participatory;
  • applicable to daily life, whether personal or professional;
  • locally relevant in terms of context.

ESD is lifelong learning from childhood to adulthood in all potential spaces, whether formal, non-formal or informal.  The range of learning opportunities within these spaces reflects the wide scope of ESD and the challenges for achieving sustainability in society and assessing progress.

These issues are what teachers (rather than learners) worry about.  The 2010 UNKC report on ESD in the UK noted this ...

People learn in many different ways: whether in formal institutions at various levels, from watching television or reading books and newspapers, through informal conversations with community members, through the influence of local and global media in the daily environment, or through grassroots social movements that raise awareness of sustainable development in society.  Along with these typologies of learning, ESD is also widespread in its concerns – sustainable development is about economic, social and environmental concerns affecting our present and future. ESD embraces not only learning about sustainable development, but also its furtherance through the adoption of (and thinking about) practices in our daily and professional lives, that contribute to more sustainable (or more accurately, perhaps, less unsustainable) development.

... which places learners and learning more centrally.  In fairness, ESD is not all about supply, but professional educators tend to start from there, from what they know, and what they know is important.

Oddly, learners never do.


Letting a thousand civil servants ...

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Let's face it, Mr Gove's cunning plan to sack 1000 of his Department's staff is probably not Maoist in intent, though it is in terms of zeal.   He is unlikely to have thought to himself one morning over his organic, fairly-traded, salt-free porridge ...

"Letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend is the policy for promoting progress in the arts and the sciences and a flourishing socialist culture in our land."

... as Mao did in 1957 in an invitation to intellectuals to criticise the political system – though criticism there has certainly been of Gove's decision.  It is, of course, consistent in a rough and ready sort of fashion with his desire to roll back the state's role in education by "freeing up" schools for local decision-making, especially on the curriculum. A DfE spokesperson is quoted as saying:

"We conducted a review to make sure we have the capability to deliver well-designed policies that have a real, measurable impact on the children and young people who need it most, while minimising costs to the taxpayer.  The review found that the DfE has committed and hard-working staff producing high quality work, but that the department can and should work more effectively and efficiently.  Over the coming months we will target our staff time and money on only our top priorities, cutting red tape and concentrating on the work that adds the most value.  We are reducing the size of our backroom staff and merging offices to reduce the cost of our buildings.  The DfE had already committed to reducing its administrative budget in real terms by 42 per cent from 2010/11 to 2014/15.  Following the review, our target is a 50 per cent reduction to £290m by 2015/16 and we have already achieved over half of these savings."

Indeed.  However, none of this will ensure a curriculum that takes our existential dilemmas seriously.  In relation to which, I am told that Mr Gove is reading all the proposals for the revised national curriculum – word by word.


One Wales, one planet, two languages

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A while back, I posted something on the SHED blog about the 2009 report: One Wales: One Planet and a question Jane Davidson asks in a recent lecture: "So what would a sustainable Wales look like?"  This seems to be a topical question, and a cross-party vision had been agreed by WAG last year about it:

Across society there is recognition of the need to live sustainably and reduce our carbon footprint.  People understand how they can contribute to a low carbon, low waste society.  These issues are firmly embedded in the curriculum and workplace training.  People are taking action to reduce resource use, energy use and waste.  They are more strongly focused on environmental, social and economic responsibility, and on local quality of life issues, and there is less emphasis on consumerism.  Participation and transparency are key principles of government at every level, and individuals have become stewards of natural resources.”

For me, this doesn't quite picture a "sustainable Wales"; rather, it's a view of Wales's becoming less unsustainable, and (then, perhaps) just a bit more sustainable, over time (something not to be sniffed at, perhaps).  The verbs used here are all about the journey "… are taking action ..."; "… understand how they can ..."; "… a recognition of the need ..."; etc.  I then went on a bit, and even, in order to query the very idea of "a sustainable Wales", mis-quoted John Donne: "Not even Wales is an Island" – now, what a Meditation that would have been, but sadly Donne didn't think to write it.

Concidently – and this is the eventual point of this post – a new ESDGC resource for schools came into my view at around the same time: A fresh look at tropical rainforests – focus on Africa.  I confess that my first thought, was "Not another ... resource about the ... rain forest", though this one did look nicely done – even down to the use of red and green – and so I read it with some care.

I wondered at the end, though, whether it is clear enough, what young people in Wales are supposed to learn about their lives in Wales, and how these might evolve and become as Wales becomes sustainable?   This wasn't clear to me, and it seemed that the citizenship element had been rather down-played – an odd thought about an ESDGC resource.  But then, ESDGC as an idea was also rather subdued – apart from its repeated footnote use.  There certainly seem to be no specific ESDGC learning outcomes – though there are plenty for geography, alongside the numerous: "Your role as a Geographer is ...".   But then, saying "Your role as an ESDGC professional ..." doesn't quite cut it.

Reading on, we get to page 45, and find this:

'Looking to the future' is suggested as a theme to bring together what has been learnt but also to recognise a range of other issues that could have been considered.  It also provides an opportunity for discussing ideas about future priorities and ways people in Wales are involved in support initiatives.

When you look at this, there's this question: "How do people in Wales see their role in this development? ....  But this is asked by an African child, and not a Welsh one.  I think I must be missing something here.

Indeed, I am told I am – by those who understand ESDGC better than I seem to, and probably have more empathy towards it as an idea.  Ah, now, if only I were Welsh, ...