Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Monthly Archives: July 2017

Mrs M's cunning strategy

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I've written before about Mrs M's hold on the German people, and to understand modern Germany, I think it's helpful to recall the idea of the panopticon.

As you know, the original panopticon was the brainchild, we're told, of Jeremy Bentham, the English philosopher social theorist.  Its design enabled all the inmates of an institution (say, a poorhouse) to be observed by one individual without their knowing whether they were actually being watched at any particular time.  Although impossible for any watcher actually to observe everyone, knowing it might be happening meant that it was wise to ensure it was, thus constantly controlling behaviour.

A classic design is a circular structure with an inspection house at its centre.  Bentham is said to have thought that the idea was equally applicable to asylums, hospitals and schools, as well as (most obviously) to prisons.  I'd have added universities at least as far as staff are concerned.  Bentham is said to have described the Panopticon prison as "a mill for grinding rogues honest".

Now, Germany is quite obviously not one giant physical panopticon with Mrs M at its centre.  How she works her controlling magic is much more subtle, and we might look to Michel Foucault for an explanation.  Building on Bentham's idea of the panopticon Foucault thought about disciplinary mechanisms rather than physical structures.  He wrote in Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison:

"A real subjection is born mechanically from a fictitious relation [...] He who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; he makes them play spontaneously upon himself; he inscribed in himself the power relation in which he simultaneously plays both roles; he becomes the principle of his own subjection.”

I'll be off to Germany again next month to see how Mrs M is doing and how the experiment is going.  Meanwhile, it's time for a period of quiet reflection.


Pearson and the architects of tomorrow’s world

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This is the front page of what Pearson has to say about its global learning programme:

The Global Learning Programme (GLP) is a funded programme of support that’s helping teachers in primary, secondary and special schools to deliver effective teaching and learning about development and global issues at Key Stages 2 and 3.  Over 5500 schools now using support provided by the Global Learning Programme.  Together with free curriculum support, resources, training and funding, the Global Learning Programme (GLP) is building a national network of like-minded schools committed to equipping their students to make a positive contribution to a globalised world.  Thousands of GLP schools across the country are already experiencing the positive impact that global learning can have on pupils’ engagement, knowledge, skills and values.  Global education makes the learning more relevant and interesting for pupils, and so it contributes to their enthusiasm for learning.

The GLP supports teachers to help pupils learn about the challenges our world faces and think critically about issues such as poverty, inequality and sustainability. It helps pupils make sense of the world in which they live and understand their role in a global society.  By using global learning to enrich the curriculum, GLP schools are finding that global learning is helping to develop critical thinking skills, promote SMSC (spiritual, moral, social and cultural development), and foster values such as respect and empathy.

A recent Ofsted School Inspection Update notes that, as the GLP ‘maps onto the four Ofsted core judgements and to SMSC’, schools on the programme should be able ‘to set out how the GLP is contributing to their provision and outcomes for pupils’. Highlighted positively in inspection reports, global learning is reported as contributing to the enjoyment and learning of pupils in GLP schools – reinforcing their curriculum knowledge and understanding.  "Students’ outstanding spiritual, moral social and cultural development has been enhanced by the strong international links that have been well established. They are very well prepared for their role as citizens of modern Britain." [Extract from the March 2015 Polesworth School Ofsted report]

Following the launch of the Global Goals and the World’s Largest Lesson, schools across England are building on the excitement of this vital initiative focused on commitment to world change by joining the Global Learning Programme (GLP).

Oddly, there's no mention of ESD.  However, if you delve deeper, you find this gets a mention in their 2020 sustainability plan "Read about how the Global Learning Programme is teaching children about sustainable development", although this seems to under-sell what they say they are doing.  For example, their sustainability report for 2016 says:

"Today’s learners will be the architects of tomorrow’s world.  It is imperative that we foster a generation of informed global citizens who understand global issues such as poverty, inequality, and climate change, and think about their role in making society more sustainable.  A better understanding of these issues can drive lifestyle and career choices that impact future generations to come.  There is rising demand from educators for the integration of sustainable development topics into content, courses, and curricula.  By integrating sustainability-related content into our products, we can explore new market opportunities while making a direct contribution to Sustainable Development Goal 4.7 (to promote sustainable development education) and inspiring the next generation to create the world they want."

But is this "integration of sustainable development topics into content, courses, and curricula", what UNESCO knows as ESD?   It sounds unlikely, although sensible.

And then there's: "Today’s learners will be the architects of tomorrow’s world".  Well, up to a point Lord Copper.  Surely it's global giants such as Pearson that really see themselves in the architecture business.



What would Wordsworth have said?

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It's well known that William W was against the railways, but what would he have made of UNESCO making the English Lake District a World heritage Site?  We'll never know, but that's ok because we've got George Monbiot.  He wrote an impassioned article in the Guardian when the announcement came.  This begins quietly enough:

Everything that has gone wrong with conservation is exemplified by this decision: the cowardice, the grovelling, the blandishments, the falsehoods. The way conservation groups rolled over is shameful, but also familiar. They did nothing to prevent the Lake District, England’s largest and most spectacular national park, from being officially designated a Beatrix Potter-themed sheep museum.

It continued ...

On Sunday, the UN agency Unesco granted the Lake District world heritage status. This, according to the report on which the decision was based, will correct an “imbalance” between “natural values” and “the cultural values of farming practices”.  The entire high fells have been reduced by sheep to a treeless waste of cropped turf whose monotony is relieved only by erosion gullies, exposed soil and bare rock.  Almost all the bird, mammal and insect species you might expect to find in a national park are suppressed or absent, and 75% of wildlife sites are in an unfavourable condition. So you could be forgiven for thinking that the balance should be tilted back towards nature.  Oh no: apparently it’s “the cultural values and benefits of the farming activities” that have been neglected.

Given that sheep-worship is the official religion in the Lake District, and that sheep exist here only because of lashings of public money (hill farming is sustained entirely through subsidies), it’s not easy to see what more can be done. But world heritage status will make attempts to defend our natural heritage much harder. It will be used to block efforts to reduce grazing pressure, protect the soil and bring back trees.

The Lake District’s new designation is based on a fairytale with great cultural power. For 3,000 years this story has presented sheep farming as the seat of innocence and purity; an Arcadian refuge from the corruption of the city, an idyll in perfect harmony with the natural world.

The reality couldn’t be more different. Sheep farming is now characterised by land consolidation, subsidy harvesting, ranching on a scale that looks more like Argentina than anything Wordsworth would have recognised, quad bikes, steel barns and absentee ownership. But the myths persist, and they blind us to some brutal realities.

Sheep, by nibbling out tree seedlings and other edible species, are a fully automated system for ecological destruction. They cleanse the land of almost all wildlife. In the UK they occupy some 4m hectares of our uplands. Compare this to the built environment (houses, factories, offices, roads, railways, airports, even parks and gardens) that covers 1.7m hectares. Yet this vast area, which is roughly equivalent to all our arable land, produces around 1.2% of our food (probably a good deal less, as the figure includes lamb from lowland farms). Our infertile uplands, including most of our national parks, would be better used to protect and restore the wonders of the living world. If we are to spend £3bn a year of public money, it should be deployed for ecological restoration rather than destruction. But the cultural power of this industry is so great that hardly anyone dares challenge it.

In trying to contest the bid for world heritage status, I found myself almost alone: only a handful of independent ecologists spoke out. Privately, major conservation groups might have expressed misgivings, but in public they not only failed to oppose this attack on everything they claim to defend: they actually put their names to it. The National Trust, the RSPB, the Lake District national park authority and Cumbria Wildlife Trust are members of the partnership that petitioned for world heritage status. These turkeys not only voted for Christmas; they canvassed for it.

It’s not hard to see why. There’s a tangible atmosphere of fear in the Lake District: any environmental group that speaks out knows it will be Thorneythwaited. In other words, it will be treated as the National Trust was when it bought a farm at Thorneythwaite, in Borrowdale, without the farmhouse. This seeded the suspicion (sadly baseless) that it intended to remove the sheep.

If there was a fault, it surely lay with the seller, who had split the house from the land, rather than the buyer. But the national media, taking its cue from the sheep farmers it fetishises, subscribed to this concocted controversy and lambasted the National Trust. Its chastisement stands as a ghastly warning to anyone who questions the holy cult. But appeasement only empowers your opponents. What makes the collaboration of these groups so grisly is that the British conservation movement began in the Lake District. It is here that the circle has been closed, with the comprehensive betrayal of its own legacy.

The Lake District partnership commissioned its economic evaluation from a company called Rebanks Consulting. It is owned and run by James Rebanks, a Lake District sheep farmer. He was paid £30,000, in effect, to promote his own industry’s interests. The bid was riddled with errors and omissions: the claim that the park is in “good physical condition”, that the relationship between sheep and wildlife is “harmonious”, that farming there is “wholly authentic in terms of … its traditions, techniques and management systems”. Leaving the European Union – on which, through subsidies, sheep farming is wholly reliant – wasn’t mentioned.

These fables passed unchallenged into Unesco’s own report. Some were even compounded: Unesco’s consultants claimed that while overgrazing damaged wildlife “in the past”, it has now been “corrected”. It doesn’t say how, because no such thing has occurred. Even the bid documents acknowledged that sheep numbers in the Lake District have risen by 9% in four years, leading to “issues such as overgrazing”.

I tried to warn Unesco, but everyone I wrote to passed the buck to someone else (on my website I detail the comical ways in which I was fobbed off). I discovered that accountability, transparency and public engagement are alien concepts: Unesco is a black box. Without the support of NGOs, my efforts were bound to fail. Groups such as the National Trust, the RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts publish pungent reports documenting the rapid loss of wildlife and ecosystems, but they have failed to mobilise their vast memberships in defence of the living world. On the contrary, they bamboozle their members through their display boards and pamphlets, describing devastated landscapes as “wild” and “unspoilt”, and even celebrating cutting, burning and grazing, which are the major causes of environmental destruction.

The culture of deference in the countryside afflicts almost everyone. Those who own and farm the land are treated as heroes, while anyone who challenges them is denounced as an “extremist”: this is what Eric Robson, who presents Gardeners’ Question Time on Radio 4, called me on Monday, for raising objections. Our national parks are wiped clean, our natural heritage erased for the sake of an ersatz farm fantasy. And there is nowhere to turn.

I've quoted this in full because it's such a fine polemic, but also because I think am coming to agree with the main premise of its argument.  I was born not far from all this devastation and occasionally re-visit these barren uplands we like to see as beautiful.  Of course, I'm more likely these days to be seen on the Wiltshire downs which are greener but similarly sheep-affected.

Here are  few thoughts of my own on the Lakeland sheep issue – from 2014.


About FACE

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LEAF [ Linking Environment And Farming ] recently merged with (that is, acquired) FACE [ Farming And Countryside Education ], although you'd not know this from a look at the front pages of its website, or at the board of directors, none of whom has an education background (although one is a primary school governor).  And try putting FACE into their website's search field to see really how Faceless LEAF has become.

FACE does get a passing reference in the 5 year strategy, although only because of the acquisition.  That said, the strategy does say this:

"Leading a collaborative approach within the industry for better public engagement and education among consumers, children and young people"

and, under Building public respect for farming, LEAF says:

"We will drive a confident, yet visionary approach to build farming’s respect, trust and understanding among consumers, children and young people.  Working with others, we will continue to develop strong strategic alliances within the farming and education sectors building on our inspiring education and public engagement activities.  These include LEAF Open Farm Sunday, LEAF Open Farm School Days, Countryside Classroom, Speak Out, LEAF Virtual Farm Walk, Schools' Resources, and inspiring projects.  We will also identify novel and effective techniques to improve public understanding and trust in food, farming and the environment."

It's clear from this that, although FACE seems to have vanished, not all its activities have.  Whether they will be quite the same (or rather more corporate) remains to be seen.  I hope LEAF understands that building public respect for anything requires an educational approach, and not just a communications effort.  As NAEE notes today, there's a chance in September to see how all this is working out.


Unconscious and Conscious Competence

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Just for your enjoyment, I'm pasting the whole of EAUC's message about the "wild success" of the 2017 Leadership Lab.  Surely it cannot have been as bad as all this implies.

Turning Our Unconscious Competence into Conscious Competence

The power and value of sustainability leaders ratcheted up yet another gear at this year’s EAUC Leadership Lab at Cambridge.  Westminster College buzzed as a talented and experienced group of leaders grasped a new language of change and recognition of their pivotal role in driving it.

The capacity for change will be the difference between institutional thriving and surviving in these times of momentous change. The value sustainability brings is only starting to be recognised by senior management teams and this is firmly at the centre of the EAUC’s new mission.  The annual Leadership Lab at Cambridge is a critical opportunity to catalyse and advance the collective intelligence and experience of sustainability and institutional leaders to ensure our graduates can embrace the profound challenges and opportunities they will face as employees and citizens.

At the heart of the lab is a change model, which EAUC have refined with global partners including Harvard University. If sustainability leaders can turn our unconscious competence into conscious competence, our value and impact can be transformational. But this year’s lab also benefitted from even more diverse and innovative change leadership insight. This included Agility and Resilience from Professor Wendy Purcell. The 5 R’s of Responsibility - Regulation, Reducing costs, Reputation, Risk reduction and ‘right thing to do’ from Professor Janet Haddock-Fraser, aligning through shared purpose our institutions formal management system with the dynamism of staff and student social networks from Jane Davidson, and an exciting insight into how we might redefine and re-measure our institutions total value to society from Malcolm Preston of PwC the Lab sponsor.

The EAUC’s leadership alumni has grown by 25 and we have taken yet another significant step to reframing the value proposition of what our members do day in and day out to ensure our institutions become fit for the future, and ensure that sustainability becomes ‘just good business’.

What a relief to have missed it all.


Who's who in UKSSD

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I've written about UKSSD before when I wondered about why there were so few educational members.  They are in the news again and here's a question: How many of these significant people have you heard of:

  • Dominic White - Head of International Policy, WWF-UK
  • Farooq Ullah - Director, Stakeholder Forum
  • Emily Auckland - Bioregional
  • Francesca Sharp - Sustainability Manager, ICAEW
  • Nick Davies - Founder, Neighbourly
  • Steve Kenzie - Executive Director, UN Global Compact UK Network
  • Louise Scott – Director Global Sustainability, PwC
  • Prof. Steve Martin – English Learning for Sustainability Alliance
  • Jason Perks – Director Sustainability UK, DNVGL
  • Dr Wanda Wyporska – Executive Director, The Equality Trust
  • Amanda Powell-Smith – Chief Executive, Forster Communications
  • Colin Curtis – Strategy Director, TBL Services

They are the new steering group of UKSSD, which as you know,

"creates a space to mobilise people, communities and organisations in the UK so they can play their part to create decent work in a prosperous economy and a fair and just society – all within the Earth’s limits."

How did you do?  I managed out of 12.  Not too bad ... .

You might ask yourself the same question about the 38 partners.  I managed to recognise 13.  Clearly, I should get out more, but let me ask again, where's the TUC?  Where's the CBI?  Where's UUK?  Where's the NUT?  Where's John Lewis?  Where's the Co-op.  Even, where's Aldersgate?  It's a puzzle as to who UKSSD represents.


Did everyone get a prize?

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After the exhausting gloom of the planning enquiry that I wrote about recently, we set off for the Home Counties and the RHS's Hampton Court Flower Show.  We stayed in a hotel of decaying splendour which was once a fine place to stay – though not recently.  The day at the Show was wonderful: such beauty – and a pleasure mixing with people whose working lives are dedicated to it.  I was particularly taken with the bonsai, one of which was about 100 years older than me – and, it should be said, in better shape.

One thing perturbed me; in the long tent filled with stands every one seemed to have a prize.  Is there grade inflation amongst the peonies, I wondered.

And there was no litter.  Why was this?  Was it because of the sort of people who went there?  Or that, unlike, other events – Glastonbury comes to mind – were there just a lot of convenient bins?  Well, there were bins – but there were at Glastonbury as well.  I came away not thinking about the bins or non-litter, but about the flowers.


All those declarations

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I wrote about Tbilisi about 6 months ago, wondering how that eponymous declaration would be celebrated, 40 years on.  And, about 5 years ago, I set out a list of the significant EE world conferences etc.  This was thanks to Alan Reid's very helpful posting to the EE Mailbase: making links to EE declarations / resolutions / reports / charters / strategies /  from 1972 onwards.  For the record, here they are:

The Stockholm Declaration 1972

The Belgrade Charter 1975

The Tbilisi Declaration Report 1977

The Moscow Strategy 1987

The Rio Declaration 1992

The Thessaloniki Declaration 1997

The Johannesburg Declaration 2002

United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development 2005-2014

UNECE Strategy for ESD

The Ahmedabad Declaration 2007

The Bonn Declaration 2009

This is not as long a list as some would like, and the world is full of folk who want to add their own immodest efforts to what's here.  Nothing here either about WEEC or UNECE, for example (whatever happened to UNECE by the way?), or the various COPs or the widening GAP.  I commented at the time I compiled this list: Reading the early [reports] reminds us how little progress we have made, suggesting that we read Tbilisi, and weep.  If only we'd done what we said we would.  If only different factions hadn't been so certain.  If only we hadn't attacked each other so much.  If only, ... .

I note, as the conference season looms, that various groups are out to celebrate the legacy of Tbilisi.  You know how the argument will go: There's a direct line of successful activism from Tbilisi to Paris.  This is another way of saving that if it hadn't been for environmental education, the Paris Agreement would not have happened.  But it's nonsense, and there’s a lot to be said for due modesty.  How about this as an account of how it works:

  1. Effective environmental education (etc) informs and enriches the school experience ...
  2. Resulting in both child and and family learning about sustainability ...
  3. Leading to a higher proportion of people who are aware, informed and concerned about the issues we face ...
  4. Who (can then) bring influence and pressure to bear, as consumers and citizens, on business and government ...
  5. Leading to informed shifts in policy and practice, locally, nationally and globally ...
  6. Resulting in improved socio-economic and environmental conditions – including ...
  7. An education system where environmental education (etc) are no longer needed because they are part of the mainstream.

This is not good enough, in part because it fails the dog-training test, so expect more about this.


Is 'circular' really just a bit less linear?

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This is a complement to my post the other day.  The title question is not mine but one recently asked by Ronald Rovers in three blogs:




This is how the first begins:

"Circular is “hot”.  But the interpretation of ‘circular’ is crippled.  As I can conclude after reading some recent reports on the topic.  For sure when its coupled to economy, its more about business as about closing cycles or circularity.  And money as a reference, is a artificial measuring unit, in its current form designed for making more money, create growth, and not designed to reduce emissions, or less resource use. Its no wonder that the motor behind circular economy is the MacArthur foundation, financed by many commercial multinationals.  Unfortunately many international reports take the MacArthur approach for granted and use these as starting points{1,2,3].  Even governments and their advisory institutes.  That's worrying, at the least.

Circular as a result is not well defined, and is stuck to some adaptations of the linear process.

Let me try to specify this.   To start with where we came from: A paradise world without people. After billions of years there is a balance in what the earth generates, driven by solar energy, and what all species, plants and animals consume.  The resource flow of resources, food water energy, materials are constant, they are balanced.  Next thing mankind turns up.  Until the industrial revolution, mankind , with max 2 billion people, adapts to the flows as all the other species.  The balance remains.  At some moments things tend to go wrong, but the system corrects this, cultures die out, plagues interfere, dirty cities create many deaths, and the system restarts.  Flows are used, and wasted, but at a speed that the system can handle, like waste water from cities flowing to the seas , cleaned up and via rain replenishing the system.  The same for food: its grown, eaten and defecated, and in may cultures used again as nutrients.  In some regions in China you were supposed, after having dinner at someones place, to not leave until going to the toilet, to leave the nutrients behind. ..."

The second post starts:

"Circular, is about closing cycles, isn’t it?  So its restoring the original stock.  Otherwise its depleted, and we run out of stock.  Yes?  But thats precisely what is kept silent in the circular economy approach.  No wonder, since its quit disrupting. But its by no means circular what is advocated so far.  Which does not say its wrong what is done under circular economy, but its not circular, thats misleading. Its linear slow down. As argued previously.  What happens is not closing the cycle, but slow down degradation of of resources in its way to equilibrium, diluted in the environment. Since thats the natural Faith of all resources. (unless substantial energy is added, but thats for later)

It only becomes circular is you take responsibility for restoring the original stock.  Closing the cycles, so that future generations have the same options, and do not have to live from our waste.  And since the future will be even more people as now…"

And the third:

"So how could you do that, restoring minerals or metals?"

This is challenging stuff for those who think (and teach) that a circular economy is the way forward for 9 billion people.  I'll be watching how this debate develops.


Sachs at the T20

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I listened to Jeffrey Sachs (Director, Center for Sustainable Development, Columbia University) the other day (on YouTube) speaking at the T20 Summit in Berlin: Global Solutions.  Mercifully, it was only 22 minutes long.  The first 14 minutes were gloomy stuff, and, if I'd taken it totally seriously, I'd have popped outside and slit my wrists in desperation.  He also mentioned "Trump" and "Danger" far too often, and failed to rise above being an American talking about the problems of America, especially the problems of Trump.  It was a tedious nostra-culpa.  The last part was better when he turned to the issues we ought to be thinking about, and there was no mention of Trump or China or the Kochs or the Republicans for at least a minute, although he did at the end say we ought really to stop thinking about Trump.  Indeed, I thought; you might lead the way on this.

I asked myself what was new in what he said.  It was that Think Tanks ought to Think and engage with the important questions.  Well, Huzzah! to that.