Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Watts Up

📥  News and Updates

After much research and deliberation, we decided to ignore the doubters (George Monbiot, perhaps), and are now helping out the National Grid by generating photo-voltaic electricity.  We went on line last week, so don't hesitate to have that extra-hot shower as the grid's capacity to support your needs and wants is just that little bit greater (and "greener").  As for me, well, in future, when the  Paddington train crawls past Didcot's designer power station, I shall gaze at its gazillion tonnes of coal with a superior, zero-emissions, sort of stare – even if it is producing slightly more electricity than we are – and at night!


The Wrong Values

📥  New Publications

In the aftermath of the 1953 uprising in East Germany, which arose because of the population’s failure to appreciate government efforts to build a socialist paradise for them, Bertolt Brecht wrote the following in Die Lösung:

After the uprising of the 17th of June

The Secretary of the Writers Union

Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee

Stating that the people

Had thrown away the confidence of the government

And could win it back only

By redoubled efforts.  Would it not be easier

In that case for the government

To dissolve the people

And elect another?

I was reminded of this, somewhat obliquely, and no doubt unfairly, as I read Andrew Darnton’s recent report for Oxfam / DfID: Finding Frames: new ways to engage the UK public in global poverty.   The report begins:

The aim of the study was to explore the potential for frames theory to be used as a practical tool to re-engage the UK public in global poverty – an objective not pursued in concert by the development sector since Make Poverty History in 2005.  In exploring the uses of frames theory, we have built on work by Tom Crompton at WWF-UK, who began the task of linking values to frames and thereby suggesting new ways forward for engaging the public in environmental issues and actions.  An important finding from his Common Cause paper is that there is a common set of values that can motivate people to tackle a range of ‘bigger than self’ problems, including the environment and global poverty.  The implication is that large coalitions can – and must – be built across third-sector organisations to bring about a values change in society.  This report responds to that call.

This is a very interesting read, and I do commend it to you, especially the parts around values and framing, but the implication could hardly be clearer: the trouble with the British is that we've got the wrong values.  To put this even more starkly: we don't share DfID's and its associated NGOs' values in relation to addressing global poverty – not that I wish to imply that anyone is going to be calling on Russian tanks any time soon to impress their seriousness on the public.

In relation to all this, the report's discussion of public reaction to the notion that corruption might be a factor in global poverty and the problems alleviating this, is illuminating.  This citing of corruption is widespread, as various research studies have pointed out and seems a reason that people give for inaction – the report calls this an "excuse" which is not quite the same thing and shows something of its bias.  The report suggests that corruption or the ineffectiveness of aid is something that campaigners should shy away from.

These [Corruption / Aid effectiveness] are cited as examples of current negative framings.  Other such negatives are:

Charity         Aid           Development             Communications         Campaigns

Rather than emphasise such activity and ways of thinking, alternative, positive frames are put forward.  These are:

Justice / Fairness         Movements / NGOs         Mutual support / Partnership

Well-being / Freedom / Responsibility                 Good / bad governance / Fraud

Conversations                Engagements / Dialogues

The report notes:

"These alternative frames should be regarded as range finders, suggested to help others find positive ways of framing their messages."

You will need to read the report, however, if you are to understand just why talking about corruption is bad whilst discussing bad governance isn't, as I'm not sure I can do justice to the argument, especially in a blog which is already over-long.  Perhaps you should read this report as it affects how you will be targeted by NGOs in the future.  As a reward, if you persevere to page 109 you'll find a provocative section on charity shops, and by now you'll understand something of their problem, given that how we refer to them is doubly negatively framed.


The most Important, Urgent and Practical Things

📥  Comment

I was asked the other day by someone from a Community Interest Company:

What do you think are the most important, urgent and practical things that can and should be done in schools and in the community to advance ESD?
My response was two-fold.  Firstly, to say:

help school leaders understand the learning and other (often very tangible) benefits that can accrue from taking sustainability seriously

help teachers make connections between what they and other teachers teach, and with the management of the school, and what's going on in the community

help learners make some collected sense of the disparate sustainability-focused experiences they have in and out of school – and

help them develop the skills of citizenly activity so that they are able to work with others to foster positive socio-environmental change.

And then I said:

The trouble, though, is that these are rather abstract ideas because they are not [yet] grounded in the real context of a school – a community, in its community.  Thus, the most useful & urgent things that might be done will differ from school to school – as will, just to complicate matters, views on what is useful & urgent.  So, if you're looking to work with local schools, there's no short-cut to finding out what they do and would like to do.

So, what would you have said?


Becoming more Action Competent: news from the front line

📥  News and Updates

A heart-warming story in today's Telegraph about a one-boy stand against the forces of complacency in his school.  Chris Whitehead, a year 8 student, took exception to a school policy which prevented boys from wearing shorts in hot weather.  But he had a sharp eye for loopholes, and he wore a skirt instead as this wasn't specifically un-allowed by the school policy.  The school's head is reported as saying:

''Our uniform policy had a significant consultation and ours is typical of most schools in Cambridgeshire and the consensus was we were going to go for that.  ... Ultimately the boys can wear a skirt to school because it doesn't say they can't in the uniform policy and we would be discriminating against them if we did not allow it."

Dear me!  Sadly, he went further:

"Chris is a very bright and articulate student and we have got a very strong student council.  He is one of only two year 8 pupils on it.  I know he wants to go into politics and has got strong principles - so maybe Parliament is not the best place for him."

Chris's mother, Liz, is 50 – a fact which seems so important to the Telegraph that I pass it on.

Sustaining our Future – maybe

📥  Comment, New Publications

The Learning & Skills Improvement Service has just published a new draft of its paper:

Sustaining our Future: a framework for moving towards a sustainable learning and skills sector

This begins:

The learning and skills sector is increasingly aware of the relevance of sustainable development to all aspects of the work, including leadership, teaching and learning, operations and partnerships.  Increasing focus on localism and skills for a low carbon society, alongside reforms to the Ofsted Common Inspection Framework, point to an increasing need to focus on sustainability across the learning and skills sector.  This enabling Framework for sustainable development has been developed to support providers and strategic bodies to build on current practice, to support sustainable development practice and to bring collective strength and coherence to provider and cross-sector developments.  The Framework will join up and co-ordinate the strategies and activities of sector bodies in helping providers to achieve real change in this area.  LSIS has taken responsibility for developing the Framework, in partnership and consultation with providers and partners.

Odd, then, that LSIS seems to have buried this text in an unmarked grave somewhere on its website – hence my link, above, to the UCU.

I have, at the 4th time of asking, managed to get through this turgid tome from front to back at one sitting, and do wish I could recommend it to you as a great read: but I cannot.  It is poorly written, and has left me with that uneasy feeling that this is, in part, because of a lack of understanding.   Here are just a few of my concerns:

1. The vision statement is so limited: "a learning and skills sector which maximises and mainstreams environmental, economic and social sustainability".   Dear me!   Why doesn't the vision say what will result from all this "maximising & mainstreaming" as it is these outcomes that society at large is looking for.  This is a confusion of means and ends.

2. Although the paper is about sustainable development, readers have to go to an appendix to see what, and how, LSIS thinks about this.  And when you get there, you find tired old Brundtland and then this: "This broad definition does not go very far in helping us to understand what the agenda really means for us.  Commonly, sustainable development is understood in the context of economic, social and environmental needs and considerations that our thinking and actions should take into account, and the economic, social and environmental impacts that such thinking and actions can have".

I'm still trying to understand what this last sentence means.  Anyway, why aren't there an arresting few words on the front page that  conveys meaning, challenge and urgency – and without going on about the parts:  "economic, social and environmental" rather than the whole?  If the point is to engage readers whose awareness is limited, something punchier seems essential.

3. We are told on page 10 that "ESD is learning that supports sustainable development".  Is it?  This reinforces a view that suffuses the whole paper that sustainable development is something 'out there'.  Something, for example, which can be "linked to" and "supported", and which you can "be influenced by", and "embed".  Such reification won't help either understanding or internalisation.

4. I could find no understanding that, inevitably, controversy and contention are sustainable development's camp followers, and that there will be value clashes.

It's not all bad, of course – but don't take my word for that!  It's just that it's so disappointing, particularly as the "learning and skills sector", which is so important to "all our futures", has been so poorly served up to now compared to schools and HE.


An Original Day Out at Duchy Farm

📥  News and Updates

To Duchy Farm yesterday at the invitation of the Food for Life Programme [FFLP].  I think this may have been because I'd had a hand in drafting the Programme's response to the recent National Curriculum consultation – a very interesting process (and outcome) that I've not been able to blog about.

It was a really good day with key people from the Soil Association and FFLP there, and about a dozen head teachers from FFLP schools: excellent conversations.  We had a farm tour, a trailer ride, and were much nuzzled and licked by the cows.  I learned a lot about organic farming techniques, and had not fully appreciated before how low carbon (well, lower carbon) it is, and how integral this is with its economics – where any lowering of yield is balanced by lower costs (no hugely carbon- and water-dependent ammonium nitrate),  and a closed loop approach to soil nutrition and quality.  Ummh!  And, glory be, there were healthy Wych Elms in the woods.


Mississippi God Dam

📥  News and Updates

The US Army Corps of Engineers has been playing God again.  It decided to flood around 130000 acres of farmland rather than let an historic town, Cairo, Illinois, be inundated by the Mississippi.  It did this by busting a hole in one of Old Man River's levees.  A bit of a no-brainer, perhaps, but not to all those farmers who are about to get silt with their compensation.  Mind you, the Corps is no stranger to controversy or the Mississippi (often both together), but it is usually to be found trying to prevent the river from going its own way.   This is a long game.

The best conference I ever attended, in Eugene, Oregon, had a keynote on this very topic: the Corps' heroic struggles to prevent the Mississippi from flowing into the Atchafalaya river.  This was a conference with the very best keynotes: Richard Lewontin (whose input changed my already liberal view on human intelligence and inheritance – for the better, I should say); Donna [Cyborg] Haraway whose frequent references to "bitches" caused a stir amongst her popular (right-on) fan base – nominally, she was talking about dogs, but ...; and then this bloke (a scruffy Brit whose name I cannot remember) from the University of Illinois who read us a parable about the Mississippi and the Atchafalaya.

The scruffy bloke's message to the Corps of Engineers was to give up because the Mississippi would win in the end (more time and patience and infinitely more resource).   His message to the rest of us in relation to sustainability was, like the River, just to go with the flow.   It was stunning – a bit like the Mississippi.


That almost perfect job – in Paris with no income tax

📥  News and Updates

Unesco is advertising five managerial positions in its education sector. One of these is Chief, Section of Education for Sustainable Development

Reading the advert (in a disinterested fashion, I should say), it seems that the post is more about DRR than ESD:

The incumbent will carry out the following duties and responsibilities:

Provide technical support and contribute to the substantive development of the field of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and Education, with a strong focus on prevention, preparedness, coping skills and resilience, as an important contribution to education for sustainable development (ESD) and the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable development (DESD).

Coordinate and act as the Education Sector focal point for the development of Disaster Risk Reduction and Education and, within the framework and orientation of ESD, promote and support the effective and reciprocal linkage between Disaster Risk Reduction and Education, on the one hand, and key thematic issues, notably climate change, loss of biodiversity, deforestation, etc.

Coordinate and provide substantive support to Member States and other key stakeholders in the form of policy advice and guidance, strategy development, capacity-building and programme design in the field of Disaster Risk Reduction and Education, through the medium of formal, non-formal and informal education and public awareness-raising.

Contribute to the DRR-related readiness and preparedness of educational systems and institutions as well as to innovations and good practices in curriculum development, teacher education and training, teaching/learning processes, materials development, educational policies and planning, and safer school facilities within the framework of ESD, incorporating a gender perspective and an understanding of the specific character and dynamics of different disaster threats and situations.


Applications by June 29th – or June 20th depending whether you believe the web or the newspaper advert.  NB, Women are "strongly encouraged to apply".  The salary is €80k+


New Patron, anyone?

📥  Comment

Wouldn't it be wonderful if the new Duchess of Cambridge were found to have a closet interest in the environment?   Well, NGOs in need of a Patron take note:

Kate Middleton has a keen appreciation of the natural world and she derives great joy from the down-to-earth comforts of the physical world, with its myriad of delights. She is quite sensual in a very natural, wholesome way and she knows how to enjoy herself. Middleton is appealing to the opposite sex in an earthy way. She is also a great lover of beauty and her tastes are basically conventional or classic - not modern.

Mind you, this is from which specialises in relationships analysis, and the text begins ...

The following is a description of Kate's basic stance toward life, the way others see her, the way Kate Middleton comes across, the face she shows to the world. In the page about motivation you will read about the inner Kate Middleton - her real motivation, which describes the kind of person she is at heart and where her true priorities lie.

So, maybe not; mind you, there were all those Field Maples in the Abbey ...


William, Kate, and those Welsh Fish

📥  News and Updates

Well, eventually I managed to find an environmental angle to the wedding.  It seems that the use of Welsh gold for the wedding rings might (just might!) pose a threat to trout and salmon spawning.  As TIME notes:

Conservationists and environmental activists fear the April 29 nuptial will spark renewed interest in Welsh gold causing demand to spike—and sending gold prospectors into a frenzy.  And that has consequences for the environment.  Gold panners use shovels and hand-operated suction pumps to remove gravel and expose the bed rock of a river were the heavy metals are found.  That disturbs gravel where salmon and trout have laid their eggs.

It seems that the issue emerged when a panhandler known locally as Irish Brian began digging holes that some officials said were deep enough to drop a car into.   The Forestry Commission put up signs warning would-be prospectors they might well face unlimited fines and jail terms.  It's not at all clear, however, that panning for gold is against the law.  I particularly liked the comment from Vince Thurkettle, a full-time panner and former president of the World Gold Panning Association, who is reported as saying:

You get people poaching for fish but you don't ban all fishermen.