Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Topic: News and Updates

Troubles in the USA

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The details of the Trump administration's proposals around environmental protection (and education) are becoming clear.  This is what the Executive Director of the North American Association for Environmental Education [NAAEE] had to say to its members last week:

Dear Friends:

The work you do couldn’t be more important than it is right now.  And the opportunity to stand up for what you believe couldn’t be more important than it is today.

The Administration’s budget, as many of you know, was released last week, and included massive cuts for education, environmental protection, science, STEM, the arts, after school programs, social innovation, and so many other areas that enhance our work in environmental education to create a more just and sustainable future.  It also specifically cuts funding for environmental education in EPA [Environmental Protection Agency], NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration], and other federal agencies that have supported environmental education, under every administration, for decades.  Although the proposed cuts are deep, Congress needs to approve the budget and we are working tirelessly with our Affiliates and other partners to restore funding for environmental education in the 2018 budget.

Many of you have asked how you can help support the programs that you care about without taking a political stand.  It’s important to remember that environmental education is a non-partisan issue: Environmental education does not advocate a particular viewpoint or course of action, but focuses on creating a nation of learners and thinkers who are civically engaged and are actively working to protect environmental quality, promote social equity, and strive for shared prosperity for all.

The note went on to advocate 6 areas of action:

  • Meet, Write, and Call Your Members of Congress: Your Voice Counts!
  • Take Part in the Marches, Town Hall Meetings, and Other Activities that Support Your Work and Values: Numbers Count
  • Join NAAEE’s Action Network and eePRO: Participation Counts
  • Get Involved in Your Community: Civic Engagement Counts
  • Submit a Proposal for Puerto Rico: Collective Impact Counts
  • Donate to NAAEE: Your Support Counts

The first seems the most crucial.  All of these are the sort of things that those based in the USA can do, but I'm wondering what I can do.  I'm minded to write to the US Ambassador to 'the Court of St James' saying how wanton and shocking all this seems.  What are you doing?



The Mississippi's orphan tears

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The NAEE blog, on March 16th and March 24th, carried stories about rivers getting legal status as people.  The rivers in question were the Whanganui river in New Zealand and the Ganges and Yamuna rivers in India.

The March 24th post cited an Economist feature on both these developments, and quoted how the article ended:

Days after the law passed, an Indian court declared two of the biggest and most sacred rivers in India, the Ganges and Yamuna, to be people too.  Making explicit reference to the Whanganui settlement, the court assigned legal “parents” to protect and conserve their waters.  Local lawyers think the ruling might help fight severe pollution: the rivers’ defenders will no longer have to prove that discharges into them harm anyone, since any sullying of the waters will now be a crime against the river itself.  There is no doubt that of the 1.3bn-odd people in India, the Ganges and the Yamuna must be among the most downtrodden.

Will this idea spread, I wonder?  Perhaps even to the USA where the Mississippi has surely cried enough orphan tears for rivers everywhere.  Giving it First Amendment rights as well would seem in order.  After all, the US deems corporations to have legal rights as people, so why not rivers?  Sadly, I suspect that expensive lawyers are already queuing for two blocks for a chance to ridicule this idea.


a WEEC whose days are long

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News came the other day of a day-long workshop for WEEC participants on the question of what environmental education is, should be, and either might or must become.  Such a "is, should be, and either might or must become" confection can only have been dreamt up by a committee tired of arguing.  The blurb continues:

Drawing on local to international perspectives, expert contributions and debate, we invite participants to re-engage this question at a critical juncture in the politics of the environment.  The workshop uses three distinct markers from historic to contemporary international policy developments to engage these questions:

  • it is 40 years since the UN’s Tbilisi Declaration on the framework, principles, and guidelines for environmental education at all levels.
  • since the end of the UN’s Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, environmental education has been positioned as central to a wide range of initiatives, including the Sustainable Development Goals, the Global Action Programme, and Climate Change Education.
  • on May 26, 2016, the United Nations Environment Programme secured over 200 national signatories to a resolution entitled, “Investing in human capacity for sustainable development through environmental education and training” during the United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya.

The workshop is for environmental educators, activists, scholars and researchers.  It will include invited panels and participatory discussion sessions that:

  • investigate how we understand environmental education, including its origins, turning points and contexts for development;
  • debate key considerations from the past to present and into the future, from the worlds of practice, policy and scholarship; and
  • strategize for impact across a diversity of possible approaches, new directions and future scenarios for the field.

Sadly, however, you have to go to WEEC in order to participate.  The email that brought these glad tidings came with a photograph of a woman with her face buried deep in her shawl, clearly distressed at this news.




A balanced view of balance

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Balance / balanced is one of those ideas that everyone seems to understand, and the word can conjure up an image: maybe of a seesaw, or a pair of weighing scales.  In one sense, it's obvious how these work, but that's only because we have an understanding of Newton's gravitational theory; this understanding may be intuitive or conceptually-based.

However, this is not the sort of balance that we mean when we speak of a "broad and balanced curriculum" as the 2002 Education Act does in England.

The idea of a balanced diet is nearer to the 2002 use of balance because understanding the idea of a balanced diet requires a theory of nutrition that allows you to know what to include in a diet, and in what proportion.  Without such a theory there's a risk that you will consume a range of things that will not do you any good.  It seems that a lot of us do this nowadays.

And thus it is that, without a theory of curriculum, there's a risk that you will study and learn things that will not do you much good.  Thus, when the Head of Ofsted talks about 'deep' and 'rich' but does not mention 'balance', alarm bells should ring.

I have written to Ofsted and to the DfE to ask what's going on.



Blue Space

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Debra has funded two new projects:

1. Barriers to children visiting green spaces (Childhood Gateway Project)

There is a substantial and growing body of evidence regarding the benefits of spending time in and connecting to nature.  However, the evidence also suggests that a substantial minority of children do not spend any time in nature, with recent MENE data suggesting 1 in 9 may not have visited green/blue spaces in the last year.  Defra has therefore commissioned the Childhood Gateway Project to explore why some children are not spending any time in natural environments, and what could be done in practice to change this.  The project team is keen to review evidence relevant to these questions.  In particular, evidence is sought on:

· Audience - Who are the children who are not spending time in and connecting with nature?

· Barriers - What are the reasons why this audience are not spending time in and connecting with nature?

· Competition - What are they doing instead?

· Interventions - What approaches are being used (and by whom) to try to get this audience to spend time in nature, and what can be learned from these interventions?

· Trends - How have patterns of children spending time in and connecting with nature changed over time, and why?

The project is not seeking to review evidence on the benefits of spending time in and connecting with nature.  The project started at the end of February and will be completed in the middle of May.  It would be very helpful if you could send any relevant evidence to the Childwise-led research team - Jenny Ehren ( and Simon Christmas ( - by this Friday.


2. What works briefing on natural environment and health interventions

The aim of the project is to identify what works regarding the use of the natural environment as a setting or resource in health promotion, focusing on three topics:

· Urban people’s use of urban greenspaces

· Deprived and marginalised groups’ health related use of natural environments

· Children and young people’s natural environment based physical activity

Through a rapid review of evidence and current practice the project aims to assess:

· The effectiveness of interventions  - in terms of either improving health, wellbeing, quality of life or health behaviours (e.g. physical activity), or increasing health related access to or use of natural environments

· The facilitators, barriers and challenges to successful delivery

The project began at the beginning of February and will be completed in the middle of April.  It is being undertaken by Becca Lovell at the European Centre for Environment and Human Health, University of Exeter Medical School.  It would be helpful if you could send details of relevant evidence and current practice to Becca - focusing especially on project reports, case studies etc. that may be harder for her to get hold of - by Friday 24th March.


You've only got 3 days to do all this.  I'd be helping, if only I knew what "blue space" was:  "... MENE data suggesting 1 in 9 may not have visited green/blue spaces in the last year."

I should say that I think these MENE data are nonsense.  It suggests that 11% of children never leave the house.  There are clearly, as I've commented before, definitional issues here.



One for sorrow, Two for joy, ...

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... Three for a girl, Four for a boy, Five for silver, Six for gold, Seven for a secret Never to be told, Eight for a wish, Nine for a kiss, Ten for a bird You must not miss.

Magpies that is. I saw at the weekend that we have two nesting in a larch in the garden for the first time.  I have mixed feelings about these birds; a certain respect is due as they are, after all, a part of nature, but they are a mite (or should that be might) too successful for my liking and are as good as the Maltese are at killing small birds — though not for fun, I suppose. They are also strutting, noisy, brash, and braggartly with a staccato line in communication that is unbirdlike.  If birds had social media, magpies would be tweeting at 5 in the morning.

Does all this remind you of anyone?  Could be a tricky summer.


NB, the original version of the verse I quoted at the start of the blog is said to be ...

One for sorrow, Two for mirth, Three for a wedding, And four for death.

Although you'd have thought that "birth" would have been a happier rhyme in every sense, death might have been a more likely outcome.


The Oxford Comma

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I tend to use a lot of commas; probably using them a bit too frequently.  But there is method in it all, and the use of the so-called serial (or 'Oxford') comma can remove ambiguity.  Here's the Guardian style guide showing why this can be important:

A comma before the final “and” in lists: straightforward ones (he ate ham, eggs and chips) do not need one, but sometimes it can help the reader (he ate cereal, kippers, bacon, eggs, toast and marmalade, and tea).  Sometimes it is essential: compare

I dedicate this book to my parents, Martin Amis, and JK Rowling


I dedicate this book to my parents, Martin Amis and JK Rowling

All this has surfaced because of an arcane legal case in Maine about overtime payment.  As the Times put it this morning:

"The state’s law exempts the following activities from the requirement to pay workers overtime: “The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of: (1) Agricultural produce; (2) Meat and fish products; and (3) Perishable foods.”

It seems clear that State legal drafters may have meant to write: "... for shipment, or distribution.", but they didn't include the comma – and lost the case.  The judge noted:

“the exemption’s scope is actually not so clear in this regard”

There you are – a diversion.  And I'd really meant to write about the US draft budget with its proposals to ...

  • cut all funding for climate-change research at Nasa
  • cut all federal financing for the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts
  • cut all the $3 billion programme that helps poor Americans to heat their homes will end, and all spending on items such as affordable housing and homelessness schemes
  • cut all federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which currently receives $450 million a year
  • cut all payments to the UN Green Climate Fund, part of Washington’s commitment to the Paris climate agreement.cut spending on the State Department and the Agency for International Development (US Aid)  by $10 billion, or 28 per cent
  • cut contributions to UN peacekeeping
  • cut payments to the World Bank by $650 million
  • cut funding for the National Institutes of Health, the world’s largest public funder of biomedical research, by 18 per cent
  • cut the Environmental Protection Agency funding by 31 per cent cut to $5.7 billion

Of course, this is, as yet, just a shopping list which the Senate will have views about.  60% votes are needed for most of this, so we can expect lots of compromise – and commas.

PS, Here's the Economist with an optimistic take (and nice graph)

A broad but unbalanced curriculum

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I wrote the other day about the new Head of Ofsted's first unsuccessful foray into curriculum, and in particular about the lack of mention of 'balance' in what she said.  She preferred to focus on 'broad' rather than 'balanced' despite what section 78 of the 2002 Education Act says.

The perils of breadth without balance are obvious.  Here's a broad curriculum:

  1. Society's debt to Surrealist art and fashion
  2. The writings of Shakespeare, Jonson, Rattigan and Pinter
  3. The genesis and genius of Bebop
  4. Moral dilemmas within genetic engineering
  5. Synchronised swimming (depths 1 to 4)
  6. Mandarin Chinese conversation
  7. Fortran programming, probability and the Taylor series
  8. The history and philosophy of science in the Enlightenment
  9. Cooking traditional English pastries, puddings, pasties and pies
  10. Flint snapping theory and practice
  11. The sexual preferences of the kings and queens of England (1066 to 1603)
  12. Contrasting Shia and Sunni approaches to the good life in the 20th Century CE

The above might be a broad curriculum — from flint knapping to Ben Jonson and Cornish pasties to Fortran — but is it balanced?   A much more significant question, of course, is how could we tell?  Balance is usually enshrined in educational aims and Robin Alexander has argued that it is deeply undemocratic only to think of aims once content (like the above) has been decided (usually by expert others).  It is like thinking about nutrition only after a year's meals have been decided upon.


Rain falls on the just and the unjust alike

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A while back, The Economist's Erasmus column carried a feature article on a clutch of Islamic scholars joining the chorus of religious voices calling for the planet to be cooled.  It quotes some apposite verses, and ends with this:

Of course, one of the troubles with religious and inter-religious talk about the environment is that it can easily sound pollyanna-isa.  There is a huge incentive to play down differences and stress commonalities across religions, and between the world of religion and secular environmentalism.  Secular environmentalists often find religious eco-talk too anthropocentric; some secular environmental sceptics probably find it insufficiently anthropocentric, in the sense that it sentimentalises nature.  In any case, is it honest or convincing for people, religious or otherwise, with very different ideas about metaphysical matters to stress how much they agree on the fate of the earth?

In defence of ecumenical greenery, the very nature of environmental challenges gives a certain integrity to eco-religious discussions.  Rising sea levels, melting glaciers and expanding deserts will affect everybody, regardless of what they believe.  The intensity of that effect may vary according to how much money people have to protect themselves from environmental change, but it will not, as far as we know, affect Hindus, Christians, Muslims or atheists in different degrees.  As a verse in the New Testament puts it, rain falls on the just and the unjust alike. To that extent, it surely behoves all schools of religious and non-religious thought to think hard about the fate of the earth and to talk to one another.

One trouble with scripture tends to be the existence of verses saying diametrically opposite things: witness Anglicanism's continuing problems with sexuality and the priesthood.  On low-lying ground, clerical thinkers may well still be arguing about such matters when the waters lap over their feet.


The new Ofsted Chief's unimpressive start

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The new head of Ofsted, Amanda Spielman, having announced a new investigation into the curriculum, gave her first interview last week on BBC radio 4's TWAO.  I didn't find it impressive as her answers were mostly much less precise than the questions posed.  You can listen on iPlayer and form your own judgement.

Her main point, I think, was that there was evidence of a narrowing of the school curriculum to the detriment of young people's general education.  She certainly mentioned 'broad' a lot in the interview; but she also went on about 'deep' and 'rich' as well.  The significant thing about these words is that broad is a key word in curriculum policy in England, but deep and rich are not; wonderful words they may be, but in relation to curriculum terms they have no meaning.  The Ofsted webpage announcing all this quotes this from her speech:

"We know that there are some schools that are narrowing the curriculum, using qualifications inappropriately, and moving out pupils who would drag down results.  That is nothing short of a scandal.  Childhood isn’t deferrable; young people get one opportunity to learn in school; and we owe it to them make sure they all get an education that is broad, rich and deep."

There was no mention of balance in Spielman's interview.  Section 78 of England's 2002 Education Act begins like this:

78 – General requirements in relation to curriculum

(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.

It has to be worrying that Spielman stressed 'rich' and 'deep' and 'broad' but omitted 'balanced' as, if you have breadth without balance, anything goes.