Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Posts By: Bill Scott

Online Anarchy Optional

📥  Comment, News and Updates

This is part of an editorial in Thursday's Times.

Online Anarchy Optional

YouTube added a black ribbon to its logo this week as a mark of respect to those killed and maimed in Monday’s gruesome attack.  Yet as the site mourns today’s victims, it aids tomorrow’s terrorists.  The Times reveals that YouTube, which is owned by Google, is publishing how-to guides for mass murderers, including video manuals for bomb-makers.  Facebook publishes similar content. With every week that the internet giants continue to shirk their moral and legal responsibilities as publishers, the case for robust regulation grows stronger.

One Facebook page contains an 11,000-word guide to making bombs.  The guide explains how to maximise devastation with household items.  Another page tells readers how to manufacture explosives with a highly unstable chemical compound.  YouTube publishes video guides on how to make an explosive belt, weave incendiary devices into clothing and make ball-bearing bombs. “Our blood is a fuel for Sharia,” one video says.

This is only the latest in a string of investigations which show social media companies publishing and profiting from hateful and sometimes illegal content.  This newspaper has found child abuse images on Facebook, terrorist propaganda on Twitter, genocidal rants on YouTube and much else.

After months of prevarication, social media companies are inching towards a response.  Facebook has hired 3,000 extra staff to respond to reports of hate speech and child abuse.  They are still doing too little, however.  This content is not difficult to find, a simple search is often enough, but the companies refuse to look for it. Instead they remain passive.  They do not even consider whether hateful or dangerous content should be taken down until a user has reported it.  In any case the guidelines that frame moderators’ decisions are often perverse. Facebook’s internal rulebook, recently leaked, says that staff should remove some death threats, but not others.  ...

It is a scandal that these companies should be able to disseminate bomb-making guides with impunity.  No normal publisher could get away with this.  The internet companies must seek this content out and take it down.  If not, the authorities should intervene.

I have not verified any of this by doing my own searches — being rather fearful of having my collar felt by the Wiltshire police, but also because I have no need to know any of it, so I left my curiosity at the door.  It seems to me that none of this is covered by a free speech defence (something that I'm normally keen on), and all is inimical to a sustainable society.  What to do?

Well I gave up using Google as a search engine about 2 years ago as there are more benign ones out there that are just as good (if not better), but I still do use YouTube occasionally and am a passive user of Facebook.  Perhaps I should give up both (and Google maps!) as a token of respect to the families of those butchered in Manchester and elsewhere.


The problem with Doughnut Economics

📥  Comment, New Publications

Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think like a 21st Century Economist, by Kate Raworth, was published earlier this month.  This is a development of her paper for Oxfam in 2012 which I commented on a while back.  You can find details here – and the Resilience website has a quick summary.

I hope to write about the ideas in the book at some point, but, for me, there is still a flaw in the doughnut model.  This is that the boundaries that it embodies are fundamentally different.  This is what I wrote about the issue back in 2013:

"More fundamentally, this concerns the way that paper uses the idea of boundaries.  It does this in two ways: first as socially-constructed desired minimum levels, and secondly as thresholds above which environmental problems are likely.  But these social and environmental dimensions are not equivalent.  It's uncomfortable, too much so for Oxfam perhaps, but one (the environmental one) is not amenable to social construction in the same way that the social one is, and it is likely to be more absolute than relative.

For example, were income poverty (currently defined as <$1.25 / day) ever to be eradicated, it would immediately be redefined as, say, <$1.5 or <$2 / day.  Indeed, this would happen long before everyone in the world reached the $1.25 level. ** In this sense, poverty levels (and hence poverty itself) will be re-defined such that the poor will remain with us for a long time, just as they always have.  Similarly, acceptable levels of child mortality will likely be politically adjusted, should they ever fall significantly.

Conversely, we cannot define for ourselves what the critical natural thresholds are for ocean pH, atmospheric carbon, etc, though we may come to learn what these are in time.  These are not socially constructed, except in the narrow sense that we create limits for ourselves in the policy process in order to increase our chances of staying within those limits – whatever they turn out to be.  Think of blowing up a balloon. We may caution not to go beyond a 30cm diameter, but there will be a limit set by the material-air system (not our wishes or thinking) at which the material will fail and balloon burst.  The 30cm diameter is likely to be our best guess / estimate at staying well below the material failure limit.

It is unfortunate, therefore, that Oxfam has decided that its two boundaries are equivalent in some fashion.  They are obviously both important (and loosely coupled); it's just that one is much more fundamental than the other.  We do ourselves or anybody else no favours by pretending otherwise."

Four years on, this remains a problem and no amount of wishful thinking can sweep it away.  However, this is only one aspect of what promises to be an interesting book – about which more later.


** This has already happened.


All those manifestos

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I've been reading the election manifestos – well, three of them (and a sort of manifesto from the Greens).  I did some searches for the number of times the following came up:

  • education for sustainable development / sustainability
  • education for sustainability
  • environmental education
  • ESD / EfS / LSD/ SDE / etc

The answers are 0, 0, 0 and 0.  Could it be that all these parties think that ESD etc is so mainstreamed now that there's no need to mention it?  Or, that ...?

There's nothing more mainstream than curriculum, so how many mentions did that get?

Liberal Democrats 10       Labour 6       Conservatives 7       Green 0

The Conservatives had an emphasis on technical education and on the education provided through the Overseas Aid Budget, particularly for girls.  Labour talked about a National Education Service [NES] and the removal of fees from (seemingly) everything.  Are PhD studentships going to be free as well, do you suppose – and yoga?  The LDs set out plans for an educational standards authority [ESA] which sounds like an awful combination of SCAA and the CQC.  The Greens want to introduce political and active citizenship education into schools, but say nothing else about what should be taught.  In point of fact, none of them suggest that the curriculum is in need of more thinking, or that it might be more than the plaything of civil servants.  A pity.



Ofsted on Rich and Deep – a promise made

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Still not having had a response from Ofsted to my March 2017 enquiry, I wrote again:

Earlier this year, I listened with great interest to the Chief Inspector’s first interview on Radio 4, and I then read her speech to the ASCL conference (on-line). I was puzzled by this sentence:

"I suspect no one here will disagree with the vital importance of a curriculum which is broad, rich and deep.”

Given that Section 78 of the 2002 Education Act says this:

(1) The curriculum for a maintained school or maintained nursery school satisfies the requirements of this section if it is a balanced and broadly based curriculum which ...

(a) promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at the school and of society, and

(b) prepares pupils at the school for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life.

… I wondered why the Chief Inspector talked about "rich and deep", but not "balanced". My questions to you are:

[i] Has Ofsted abandoned the idea of balance?
[ii] what do "rich" and "deep" mean to Ofsted in relation to the curriculum?


... and got a response last week.  But all this said that I'd get an answer to my question in due course.



Encounters on empty classroom day

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I was on the Shropshire hills for empty classroom day [ECD] this year, and stumbled across a year happy-looking 6 group from Hertfordshire.  Rather splendidly, they were having nothing to do with ECD as they were enjoying ECW: empty classroom week – staying at a field centre in the Onny valley.  Well done those schools who persist in seeing the value for children of such experiences.  No one in the group seemed to have heard of ECD.

There were also bus loads of children in the Cardingmill valley, all clip-boarded up, fighting for space with pensioners in the National Trust toilets.  I thought to myself, I hope you're not here for a course in hydrology, as the streams are barely running in some places.  The elderly heading for the waterfall higher up in the hills might also have been disappointed.

The final encounters were with a skylark, perched on some burnt-out heather about 10m away, singing as if the world were theirs, and a cuckoo, out of sight, but not sound.  It was my first cuckoo of the year and may well be the last as one per year is the usual rate these deprived days – thanks, in large part, to the EU Commission's toleration of the spring butchery of song birds in the Mediterranean, that goes by the name of 'traditional practice' .



America First: education for sustainability benchmarks

📥  Comment, New Publications

The eponymous Jaimie Cloud, President of the Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education, sent this message out the other day to her ESD/ EfS / LSD / SDE / etc collaborators on a Benchmarking project.  She wrote:

Dear Authors and Reviewers,

I am proud to attach the Education for a Sustainable Future: Benchmarks for Individual and Social Learning which will be officially published in the Journal of Sustainability Education on Earth Day—this Saturday April 22nd.   You all played a critical role in the development of these Benchmarks, and your unique contributions made it possible for this document to become synergistic.  This is the first time forty-two scholars of EfS/ESD have come together to attempt to define the field, and I hope it won’t be the last.  This document represents what we agree on right now, and what the field is saying is essential to educating for a sustainable future.  As our thinking evolves it will make sense to innovate them periodically to create Benchmarks 2.0, 3.0 etc.  Next time it won’t take us so long… I hope.

We used the grounded theory methodology to ensure that the Benchmarks represent as best they can, our consensus on what defines our field.  Each author sees EfS/ESD from a different point of view, a different discipline perspective, and a different set of experiences.  This is what makes the Benchmarks so rich.  None of the authors had all the pieces, but together, I would argue that it is the most comprehensive treatment of EfS/ESD to date.  Having said that, I am sure it is not perfect.  All the reviewers (some of whom were also authors) and I as Editor did our best to track the patterns, connect the dots, combine like ideas and question assumptions.  The section in the beginning called, “Insights’ will give you an idea of the struggles we had and the decisions we made to resolve them.  I do hope that when all is said and done, it is useful to you and to your constituents.  We would love to hear what you think of the Benchmarks, how you are using them and how your clients and students are using them.  If there is anything in the Benchmarks that you take issue with, please let me know and we will figure out how to handle that.  It will always remain a work in progress as all living things are, and once we see how the roll out goes, we will be in a better position to design a process for continuous improvement.  Just a reminder—the next step is the Call for Exemplars.  It is all explained below and in the EfS Benchmarks, and feel free to call or write me to discuss any and all aspects of this endeavor.

Cloud ended by pointing to "a Sample Press Release".  This is it:

Long Awaited Education for Sustainability Benchmarks to Be Released on Earth Day

Educating for a Sustainable Future:  Benchmarks for Individual and Social Learning will be released by The Journal of Sustainability Education on Earth Day, April 22, 2017.  This 70-page account is authored by, and represents the current and best thinking of forty-two of the major scholars and practitioners of the field of Education for Sustainability (EfS).  The Benchmarks include the Big Ideas, Thinking Skills, Applied Knowledge, Dispositions, Actions, and Community Connections that define Education for Sustainability.  They embody the essential elements that administrators, curriculum professionals, faculty, board and community members need to adopt Education for Sustainability; to align with it; to self-assess their own performance, and to intentionally and effectively educate for the future we want by design. In addition, The Benchmarks embody the consensus that the field needs to demonstrate the impact of EfS and to catalyze wide spread implementation.

Following the Benchmarks, are Supporting Instructional Practices and Perspectives, Organizational Policies and Practices, an Afterword and several Appendices that provide information about the topics often associated with EfS, contributing disciplines, aligned innovations, preliminary research findings on the impact of EfS, and a bibliography.  The next step is the Call for Exemplars.  We are asking educators at all levels of education to send The Journal of Sustainability Education the evidence they have of Education for Sustainability as defined by The Benchmarks.  We want to know what EfS looks like, how educators are achieving the results, and how they are communicating quality criteria at various depths of knowledge, grade levels and degrees of quality.  We are inviting curriculum plans, assessment instruments, performance indicators, quality criteria and exemplary student work, and we want to know which aspect(s) of EfS the authors designed for, and which ones they achieved.  We will build an open source data base of these exemplars so that the field can begin to calibrate the work for developmental appropriateness, continuity, creativity and continuous improvement.

Where to begin?

Perhaps with the fact that  38 of the 42 authors seem to be from the USA – an example of America First policies, perhaps, but then the USA always tended to think it has a monopoly of wisdom when it comes to environmental education (etc)?.  

That said, the question these Benchmarks were developed to address is this:

What are the essential elements that distinguish and define the field of Education for Sustainability?

More on this later on, no doubt, but my first reaction to the question is:

  1. it has contributed little to solving the world's problems over its 50 year history – and achieved less
  2. it's never been taken seriously by anyone that matters in core educational circles – largely because it's never really engaged with them


A coal-free day

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I was pleased to see that the UK didn't use coal to generate electricity for a full day last month – April 21st.  Climate Action said that this was "the first time since the Industrial Revolution" which is hardly the case, although it was the first time ever.

It seems that low electricity demand and a prolonged period of high winds meant the grid completed 24 hours without using coal.  Cordi O'Hara, Director, UK System Operator at National Grid, said it was "a watershed moment in how our energy system is changing”, although he also got confused about the industrial revolution point.  The National Grid expects more coal-free days throughout the summer, and days when, by the early 2020s, burning coal will become increasingly rare.

I wonder how long it will be before gas-burning becomes as rare.  I fancy I'll not live to see it which is a pity as it should be coming sooner rather than later if we're to undo the climate damage we've brought on.  Personally, I was pleased that the Semington A power plant has played a small part in this revolution – in fact a very small part, but we do the best we can with what little we have.



The first coal-fired generations of electricity were in 1866 in Germany (Siemens), in 1882 in the USA (Edison).  In the UK, according to Carbon Brief, it was also in 1882.  This was over 100 years after the Industrial Revolution got under way.


Higher Education for Sustainable Development – a review

📥  Comment, New Publications

Another paper!  Is this a trend?

This time it's my review for EER of Kerry Shephard's Higher Education for Sustainable Development [Palgrave Macmillan, 2015; ISBN: 978-1-137-54840-5].  You will find it here.

This is how it starts – and ends.

When I said that I was reviewing Kerry Shephard’s Higher Education for Sustainable Development for EER, someone said that I might read the last chapter first as this provides a neat summation of what the book’s about.  Whilst I have sometimes done this, especially with long academic texts, in order to see where an author’s meanderings have taken them, I always feel that it’s somewhat disrespectful as an Introduction and Chapter 1 are usually where authors, presumably, intends us all to start reading.  However, this time, I succumbed to temptation, followed advice, and began with chapter 7: A Way Forward, and I’m glad, in one way, that I did.


Finally then, I hope that anyone reading this review will have got the message that I think that this is an engaging book which is well-written, scholarly, accessible, and properly provocative.  And I say all that even though I don’t really accept the proposition which runs through the heart of the text: that there are only two kinds of academic: those advocating for sustainability and those not.  Actually, I don’t think that Kerry Shephard thinks that either, as large parts of Chapter 6 illustrate, but it was an effective heuristic which allowed him to make his valuable points relatively simply and very effectively.



📥  Comment, News and Updates

I see that NAEE had an article the other day about the merger of LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) and FACE (Farming and Countryside Education), and the combined charity is looking for a Director, Education & Public Engagement who will …

“lead and execute an Education and Public Engagement strategy that enables schools to enrich their curriculum and increase public understanding of and demand for sustainable food, farming and environment.”

LEAF Chief Executive, Caroline Drummond, said:

“We are really excited at this opportunity which comes at a time when it has never been more important to demonstrate and state the case for British agriculture.  The potential merger offers a real opportunity for our two organisations to work together even more effectively and efficiently to deliver multiple benefits to our partners and stakeholders.  The proposed merger will enable LEAF to further deepen our public engagement activity and allow the FACE team to scale up their work, nationally and regionally as the interface between agriculture and schools.  Such a combination will undoubtedly strengthen the impact of both organisations and improve the public’s understanding of farming, food and the environment.”

FACE Chief Executive, Dan Corlett, said:

“This is a very exciting moment for FACE.  I am very proud of all that the FACE team has achieved and the place we hold as a leader in taking agriculture into schools.  The exploration of this new phase, would allow us to maximise FACE’s expertise in creating systemic change in education and the potential for this newly expanded organisation to offer stakeholders and partners improved efficiencies, enhanced engagement and create even greater opportunities for educating and engaging the public.”

These mergers never seem to be a coming together of equals, and it looks to me as if LEAF has swallowed up FACE.  However, it's quite possible that this will prove to be a positive move.  A key question for me is this: will the education work they do enable and encourage a critical consideration of the intersection of UK farming, wider countryside practice, and nature and environmental protection – or will the emphasis be on promoting farming industry interests to young people?


EAUC Next Generation Sustainability Strategy and Structure

📥  Comment, New Publications

I got a report from EAUC last week: Next Generation Sustainability Strategy and Structure: Whole-Institution Approaches to Sustainability in Universities and Colleges.  This was the second sentence:

"We work to reposition the agenda at the heart of the leadership and structure of sector institutions and ensure it aligns as a delivery mechanism for member institution’s strategic objectives."

My sigh at such terrible English expression could probably have been heard from a hundred miles away – and the first sentence wasn't much better.  Who writes this stuff?  And does no one in EAUC care about such things?

I decided to soldier on, however, but gave up in exasperation when I got to this on page 5:

"Historically, activity has been limited to environmentally focussed activities based in Estates and Facilities Departments [sic], primarily driven over recent years by legislation, such as the HEFCE sector carbon reduction target in England and Scotland’s mandatory carbon reporting."

No it hasn't / wasn't.  This traduces decades of work by academics and researchers across many institutions where both social justice and environmental issues were focused on.  How could EAUC of all institutions write this?  Work in universities on environmental issues (viewed broadly) began in the mid-1970s, long before EAUC (or HEFCE) was dreamt up.  There are some facts that really should be got right.  You have to wonder if this nonsense gets written to serve a particular interest, or whether it's just plain old-fashioned ignorance.