Each year the new DTC students have spent a week at Schumacher College near Totnes, Devon, learning about sustainable development. Schumacher College provide 'transformative courses for sustainable living' and offer masters qualifications in Holistic Science, Economics for Transition and Sustainable Horticulture. This is part one of James Stephenson's account of cohort 5's recent time there.
Our experience began with the chime of a bell and a minute of silence. Meditative silence was the first of many unfamiliar, but strangely effective concepts introduced to us at Schumacher College.
Our time at Schumacher was an intensive course in sustainable development. We were introduced to many new ideas and methods, ranging from holistic approaches towards scientific endeavour to personal development through eco-psychology. We were introduced to new perspectives as we seized the opportunity to engage students from the college with entirely different attitudes and backgrounds. However we each had personal aims and goals we wished to achieve from our week stay, from learning about vegetarian cooking styles to "rewilding" our spirits.
A significant change in our perspectives was demonstrated through a simple exercise performed at beginning and end of our stay. By using our positions in a rectangular room represent data points on a 2-D co-ordinate system (with axis representing our optimism and personal significance towards the energy and environmental crisis humanity is facing) we openly expressed our attitudes before and after our Schumacher experience.
It is quite obvious that in one week our attitudes to humanity and sustainability became generally more optimistic, but how did Schumacher achieve this?
An average day at Schumacher would involve waking up in the early hours for meditation, to achieve a peaceful state of mind. After a vegetarian breakfast and an adventurous cup of tea we would attend morning meetings. Before the day’s plan was laid out we had one more matter to attend to: morning exercises. Whether we were listening to whale sounds, pretending to be cats or singing to a call-and-response, we embraced it. We led the morning exercise on our final day: demonstrating polymerisation, different states of matter and crystallisation. We achieved this through holding hands and using our own bodies; we figured this method would go down well at Schumacher. We were right.
A very interesting talk was one of our first, about the Belousov–Zhabotinsky (BZ) reaction. This reaction shows non-linear chemical oscillatory properties as two chemical processes occur, consuming and generating bromine; by using a dye the chemical content of the reaction vessel was shown through oscillatory colour changes. This was a pleasant reaction to observe, as the colour changes could be observed with the naked eye. However this talk yielded such interest for the wrong reasons.
Supposedly, this reaction is held in high regard for its parallels with all sorts of phenomena. For example, the nucleation sites spawn at defect sites on the petri dish, similarly perhaps to how pressure groups form around issues. However, the parallels drawn were tenuous and few. This caused concern within the group.
We were worried that we would feel an indifference to everything we would be shown at Schumacher and it would be a resounding waste of time. Fortunately we were proved wrong by a wide range of interesting and useful talks and exercises. The group considered everything critically as our scientific backgrounds would demand, causing lectures to prompt hours of debate and discussion.
To be continued...