Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Missing Naomi

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Sadly, I missed the ubiquitous Ms Klein when she jetted into Brighton the other week, but, happily, YouTube was there to capture her address to the faithful, most of whom appeared to lap it up: solidarity for and with all it seems – apart from / with / for those with capital.  But do you think the grey, unsmiling men (and they are all men) who are the puppet-masters to this revolution, and who prefer the shadows to the light, are really interested in this stuff?   For them, I wonder, isn’t she just another useful idiot?

I forced myself to watch it all in its gruesomeness as she told the faithful over and over again how wonderful they were.  Oh, how they whooped and hollowed as she stroked their egos and tickled their considerable bellies.  It was skilled, even though some of the rhetoric was beyond me; for example, "the era of triangulation and tinkering is over".  Not everyone in the room was impressed and many sat on their hands as she laughed endlessly at her own poor jokes, too many of which inevitably were anti-US.

It wasn't all tosh, of course, but neither was it coherent.  Just how the economies of the global south are to improve the lot of their citizens if it's the duty of the global north to welcome migrants and refugees she was unwilling to explain.


Border Crossings

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Have you ever wondered how interesting other conference might be?  That is, conferences whose subject has nothing to do with your own academic interests or expertise.  Take, for example, the International Conference of Dress Historians which meets in London at the end of the month.  Don't these papers sound not only interesting, but also more interesting that some of the stuff you have to sit through at your usual events:

‘She Was Naught...of a Woman except in Sex’: The Cross–Dressing of Queen Christina of Sweden, 1626–1689

Not a Pistol in His Pocket: Eldridge Cleaver’s Post-Revolutionary Trousers, 1976-1980

Challenging Gendering: Three Centuries of British Children’s Clothing

Sartorial Assimilation: A Case Study of the Vestiary Cross–Cultural Adaption of First–Generation Ethnic Chinese Women who Migrated to Britain from Vietnam, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia during 1966–1983

Fashioning Colonial Masculinity: The Male Suit as a Cross–Cultural Dress in British–Ruled Palestine

Beyond Gender: Latex Fashion Design and Subcultural Style in the 1980s

Non Binary Dress: A Look at Fashion and Identity along the Gender Spectrum

Of course, I'm only going by the titles, but most of these seem constructed to appeal.  What a pity I can't go ...


Scotland did it yesterday

📥  Comment, New Publications

I've been reading, rather belatedly, the concluding report (March 2016) of Scotland's  Learning for Sustainability National Implementation Group.  This is packed with flag-waving claims.  Given Scotland's reputation for claiming that it does things differently, better and yesterday, I was not surprised to find this:

Leading the world to a more sustainable future

Scotland is a renowned nation of innovation, science and great thinkers.  We take pride in listing the many Scottish discoveries and inventions such as the television, telephone, pneumatic tyres and even the overdraft!  Less well-known perhaps is Scotland’s contribution to the creation of a more sustainable world.

  • 1827 – Scottish essayist and writer Thomas Carlyle introduces the word ‘environment’ to the world.
  • 1890 – The conservation work of Scottish-born John Muir in Yosemite in California leads him to be known as the ‘Father of National Parks’.
  • 1915 – Prominent Scottish thinker, town planner and environmentalist, Patrick Geddes, introduces the concepts of ‘environmental sustainability’ and ‘thinking global, acting local’.
  • 1992 – Professor John Smyth co-writes the education chapter of the United Nations Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (Rio Earth Summit).
  • 1999 – Opening of new Scottish Parliament. Emergence of a policy agenda building on the work of many of the great thinkers above leading to Land Reform and Naional Parks Acts, etc.
  • 2005 – The Governments of Scotland and Malawi sign a Cooperation Agreement, leading to a decade of reciprocal exchange and partnership working on education, health, agriculture and renewable energy.
  • 2009 – Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 becomes the most ambitious legislation of its kind in the world setting targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 42% by 2020 and 80% by 2050.
  • 2013 – Scotland becomes the first nation to join the Circular Economy 100 Group. It also becomes one of the world’s first Fair Trade Nations – second only to Wales.
  • 2014 – Scotland becomes the first nation to embed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and learning for sustainability in its professional standards for education practitioners.
  • 2014 – Voting is extended to sixteen year-olds to allow them to participate in the Referendum on Scottish Independence.
  • 2015 – Scotland is the first nation to commit to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
  • 2016 – The Foundation for Environmental Education recognises the success of the Eco-Schools Scotland programme by awarding Scotland the status of the best country in the world for sustainable development education and environmental education.

This is, of course, a record to shout about, but you cannot help but note the shift over time from the achievements of Scots (as individuals) to those of the Scottish government (as an institution).  Are there no great (in a sustainability sense) individual Scots any more?  Or are the sort of people who draw up such lists just likely to promote what government does?


Stephen Sterling and the Gruffalo

📥  Comment, News and Updates

It seemed a fair bet that the phrase: Stephen Sterling and the Gruffalo – has not been written very frequently if at all.  I thought to check, and the best that my (un-Google) search engine could come up with was: Education for Sustainability by Stephen Sterling, John Huckle ...  which brought a wry smile to my face.

My putting them together is because they were, in very different ways, two highlights (one was actually a lowlight) of recent trips down 'the peninsular'  – which is how those of us quartered safely in Wiltshire think of the four counties to the south / south-west of us.  I made three visits in the space of 10 days which shows an unusual dedication to travel.

The first was to go to Stephen's 'retirement do' in Plymouth which was in the grip of some mercifully-attenuated hurricane that had belted across the Atlantic.  It was wild 'n' wet outside, but the canapés were fine, the wine was dry, and the Deputy-VC's speech of appreciation was brief, pertinent and well judged.  The university has emeritised Stephen and it hopes that he will continue to work with staff and management as they continue in their development as a sustainable university.  Stephen's response was more pointed, setting out the agenda of unfinished business that the university has if it is to make a success of such development.  There are, of course, limits to what one Emeritus Professor can do without significant resource and tangible top-management support, including money.  It was a nice occasion and it was good to be there, even if it did mean an interminable, uncomfortable time on Last Great Western whose stations get more poorly appointed the farther you are from London.

I came across the Gruffalo in a Cornish wood c/o the Forestry Commission's dalliance with Julia Donaldson.  There were various interpretation boards along the paths drawing attention to forest animals, including the G.  However, you had to use a Smart phone App to access some of the information – so much for communing with nature I thought, if impulses from a brumal wood are dependent on apps.   To make matters worse, we were all being encouraged to look for red squirrels, the nearest of which must have been well over 100 miles away.  It was a spectacular walk in parts and there was a forest school in the middle of it.

The third trip was to Dorset – profound England.  It's always a pleasure to be there even if I do travel with some trepidation because of the squirearchy's predilection for locking up first-time offenders.  Anyway, the highlight was following an (obviously polluting) VW car whose owner had converted the rear VW badge into a Devil logo complete with horns, tail and trident.  I took this to be an admission that the poor bloke was stuck with a smelly heap of junk, and had concocted a DIY comment on the injustice of it all.  However, I later discovered that the kit is available (for any brand) on the web for a modest price.  It would look really good on my VW Electric Up!, but as that is one of the few VW cars that doesn't spew out noxious gases, it seems inappropriate.  I was in Dorset to visit the magnificent Etches Collection.

But back to Stephen.  My wishes for a happy retirement is qualified only by the desire that he uses it to write ...


Another UNESCO ESD prize for the UK

📥  Comment, News and Updates

EAUC reported last week that the UK-based Hard Rain Project has been selected as one of the three winners of the international UNESCO-Japan Prize on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) 2017.  Thus, hot on the heels of the award of the same prize to NUS last year, the UK, it seems, does it again.

EAUC (quoting UNESCO) said:

The Hard Rain Project was selected for its international programme “Hard Rain” and its follow-up “Whole Earth?”, which bring art, science and education together to raise awareness on pressing global issues such as poverty and climate change, and to stimulate thinking and action towards more positive futures.  It works with world-renowned artists, scientists and communicators to carry its message to schools and universities, and to a wider public, through exhibitions, books, films, talks and events.

It is estimated that 15 million people have seen Hard Rain and Whole Earth? exhibitions in Europe, the US, Africa and Asia and attended talks and associated events. This makes them among the most successful environmental exhibitions every created, attracting huge public and critical acclaim along with the endorsement of political and environmental leaders across the world.

Whether UNESCO's description of Hard Rain as "a UK-based education for sustainable development programme" is really appropriate is perhaps beside the point.  More pertinent is to wonder how effective it has been.  It may be "among the most successful environmental exhibitions every created", but what has it achieved?  If I can put it like this: how many have been sufficiently radicalised by exposure to it to effect a revolution in their thinking and actions?  Does anyone know?

More on those SDG learning objectives

📥  Comment, New Publications

I wrote back in January about the zillions (actually 255) of learning objectives that UNESCO has dreamed up to go with the SDGs, and so it's good to see Ben Ballin commenting on them on an NAEE blog the other day: A catechism for sustainability? The UNESCO Learning Objectives.

Ben comments:

 "It is no doubt a laudable achievement to create fifteen learning objectives for each of the seventeen goals: that’s a very productive 255 learning objectives in total.  ... On top of the learning objectives for each goal, there are extensive lists of suggested topics, learning approaches and methods.  At this point, I start to lose count (and quite possibly the will to live).  Categorising all those objectives in such a tidy manner must have taken a vast amount of work, involving many embattled hours around the international conference table, a forest of post-its and many carefully-considered words in many languages. The process probably had great value for those involved and such a learning processes is not to be sniffed at.   But what about the rest of us?  How useful is it to us?"

What indeed.  Ben's post ends on a qualified positive note:

"...  this is a flawed report that overlays the existing demands on teachers and schools with many further demands.  It is perhaps symptomatic of what happens when committees and conferences decide what is best for the rest of us.  It is not, however, without its uses: not least of these is to serve as a reminder of where our time and energy might more productively spent if we are to really build on the excellent work that already exists."

It seems clear, however, that whatever innovation actually takes place on the ground with real children will be as a result of teacher enterprise and not this dirigiste stuff that UNESCO so likes which is an admission that it doesn't much trust teachers to think for themselves.


Transformative Learning to the rescue

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I have been humming and hawing (and then, much worse, humming again) for a while now about whether I should buy a more modern smart phone.  My phone seems to have developed a form of early on-set dementia and is rather unresponsive both to being spoken to nicely, or prodded and poked.  It is clearly no longer "smart" although it does still send and receive calls.  Whilst I can remember that this is what phones were once for, that seems a very long time ago.

But the makers of smart phones are filthy rich, market-exploiting capitalists – so much so that it's something of a surprise to find young people using phones, given their antipathy towards both social injustice and unequal wealth distribution.  They are also, we're told, rapers and pillagers of the Earth, exploiting indigenous people to get at the rare earths that phones are full of these days, leaving environmental devastation and social turmoil in their wake, and then exploring the sweated labour of the masses who make the things.  I know all this must be the case because NGOs say so on social media.

But what am I to do given that my phone's not much good anymore for all those modern, essential uses?

Well, I was still H&Hing when the latest Transformative Learning blog arrived.  It featured an interview with Arjen Wals who explored in some detail the pros and cons of smart phone ownership and use.  You can see it here.

About 1 minute 40 into this video, came the answer to my dilemma.  Notwithstanding all the social and environmental evils that a phone embodies (it's really like have a VW car in your pocket), you can offset all this it seems by using the phone to help you live a more sustainable life.  For example, Wals said, by using apps that make car pooling or tool sharing easier, that enable the mapping of local biodiversity, or which allow you to monitor CO2 emissions and air quality.

Given my absolute intentions to use the phone to pursue social and environmental justice, and not just fritter my time away on Twitter or Facebook, this good intention completely overcomes any problems from the smart phone's huge environmental and social footprint.  Phew!  Thank you Transformative Learning for providing such a smart justification for a purchase.


Schools and the SDGs

📥  Comment, News and Updates

This is what EAUC had to say recently about universities and the SDGs:

Universities and colleges recognise our unique role in fostering and empowering youth as a force for change, and in fulfilling the urgent need for new knowledge, rigorous debate and critical academic engagement to support the SDGs.  The SDGs can inspire our teaching and learning with their goal of education, for all, for sustainable development.  The SDGs can be a focus for our research: this vision of a fair future for our shared planet generates an agenda of innovation and discovery, but also scrutiny and challenge.  The SDGs offer a catalyst for engagement beyond our institutions, with policymakers and publics alike.  But they also provide an opportunity to turn our gaze inwards, striving for inclusion, equity and sustainability in all aspects of our operations.  In our collaborative endeavours towards common goals, universities and colleges embody the spirit of the SDGs.  We recognise our potential as agents of change for sustainable development - at the heart of local communities, and as part of national, regional, and global networks.

I read this and wondered how much of this applied to schools.  A lot, you might think.  After all ...

  • don't schools have a role in fostering and empowering youth as a force for change?
  • shouldn't schools be encouraging rigorous debate and critical engagement to support the SDGs?
  • can't schools use the SDGs to inspire teaching and learning using their goal of education, for all, for sustainable development?
  • won't the SDG vision of a fair future for our shared planet generate an agenda of innovation and discovery for schools?
  • couldn't the goals also generate opportunities for scrutiny and challenge?
  • isn't it the case that the SDGs provide a catalyst for engagement beyond schools?
  • might not they also provide opportunities to help schools strive for inclusion, equity and sustainability in their operations?
  • may not schools have the potential to be agents of change for sustainable development at the heart of local communities, and as part of national, regional, and global networks?

I thought so ...


Is it only Ends that matter in these progressive days?

📥  Comment, News and Updates

I said the other day that it was hard to understand why so many people had a positive view of the UN and its agencies; but is it?

Could it be that it’s the aims and purposes of the UN that render it somewhat immune from criticism.  For example, who can be against world peace, the end of poverty, the enhancement of social justice, the elimination of hunger, etc, etc?  Never mind that the organisation has feet of clay, just remember what it’s trying to do.  How could you not be on the UN’s side, and willing to defend it through thick and thin?

This point is not confined to the UN, but is applicable, it seems, to any organisation or institution that has laudable aims.  It’s a partial explanation of why the German National Socialist regime of 1933 to 1945 is so thoroughly reviled, whilst the policies of communist governments which resulted in far more deaths of their own and other citizens, are never viewed in the same way.  They, after all, were trying to create a better society, weren’t they, one way or another: the new Jerusalem.

Thus it is that the means can be forgiven provided the Ends are ok.  We see the same today in the UK where political outfits that claim to be pursuing progressive Ends built on the idea of human perfectibility are given a relatively easy ride by the liberal-left media.  For example, what does it matter that a few hundred million pounds are lost, pilfered or wasted from the overseas aid budget when the goal is so laudable?  And if this is how you think, it's apparently unthinkable that others can think differently; hence intolerance grows.

I wonder, in passing, what the many global learning programmes teach about the UN.  Is it a questioning ESD2 approach or a more transmissive but less rounded ESD1 one?

More on the World We'll Leave Behind

📥  New Publications

As you know, The World We'll Leave Behind is the new book that Paul Vare and I have written for Routledge / Greenleaf which they will publish in February.

There are 55 self-contained chapters, typically around 1000 words.  Each one focuses on a key idea setting out its essence and showing its connections to other ideas.  These are presented in three sections: issues concepts, and strategies.  Inevitably, however, the distinction between these is not always clear-cut because one thing is inevitably connected to another; usually to many others.

[i] Issues – These are the real challenges we now face because of our own past and present activities. 

Many of these are problems we have created in the biosphere by how we have acted.  These include: warming the atmosphere and ocean, depleting the ozone in the stratosphere, making the seas more acidic, polluting the air and sources of fresh water, destroying habitats and eco-systems, reducing biodiversity and driving species to near extinction, and, of course, rapid climate change.  They also include the consequences of these actions, such as food scarcity and famine, and the plight of refugees.  But some of the challenges are different.  These are the problems that we have created by how we think about other people, for example, inequality, gender disparity, discrimination, and the lack of environmental justice which are, in turn, related to issues of economic growth and the global human population.

[ii] Concepts – These are the ideas and mental frameworks that we use us to think about and understand these challenges. 

Some of these are about understanding nature and the biosphere, ideas such as biodiversity and phenomena such as the greenhouse effect, and the idea of the Earth as a living organism: Gaia.  Some are concerned with how we think about the relationships between humanity and the biosphere, for example, the Anthropocene, systems thinking, harmony, complexity and resilience.  Others are about the ideas we have developed to explain what has gone wrong, and what we might do to improve matters, such as sustainable development and its 17 global goals, and how such ideas are framed.  Some are about notions such as globalisation and neoliberalism that concern the politics of global commerce.

[iii] Strategies – These are the means through which such challenges might be addressed and possibly resolved or overcome.

Some of these are things that governments can do, through policies, legislation, and formal education programmes.  Some are social, such as the transition movement, and are led by ordinary people, and some arise from international agencies and global charities, for example, the sustainable development goals and the Earth Charter, the protection of endangered species, and the identification of protected areas for wildlife.  Some are what business can initiate, for example, the circular economy and carbon capture and storage.  Alongside these practical strategies, there are also particular ways of thinking and approaching problems, for example, through biomimicry and rewilding.

We have written the book for anyone who has an interest in the environmental and social challenges facing humanity today.  For anyone who would like to have a brief introduction to these challenges, the ideas that help explain them and some of the possible strategies for addressing them.  We don't set out to provide an in-depth account of the problems facing us, or a deep historical perspective on their development.  Neither is this a toolkit, self-help book or a set of instructions for good living.  Books about environmental and social sustainability with these purposes already exist.  Rather, we set out to summarise ideas in a way that will help people join in the public and political debate, and think about the state of the world that we shall all leave behind.