Has George Monbiot discovered CP Snow?

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

Re-discovered more like.  I cannot really believe that George Monbiot (Stowe, Brasenose, & The Guardian) hasn't read Snow's two cultures exploration of how deep divisions in England about culture (and what it is to be cultured) continue to scar education provision and curriculum priorities.  This is something that Paul Vare and I write about in our forthcoming book: Learning, Environment and Sustainability: a history of ideas.  Reading Monbiot's recent blog, however, would lead the unsuspecting (or uncultured?) reader to think that he was discovering these truths ab initio.  But, hey!  Maybe that's the difference between a book and a blog; it's all in (or not) the footnotes.  

Monbiot writes:

"Imagine mentioning William Shakespeare to a university graduate and discovering they had never heard of him. You would be incredulous. But it’s common and acceptable not to know what an arthropod is, or a vertebrate, or to be unable to explain the difference between an insect and spider. No one is embarrassed when a “well-educated” person cannot provide even a rough explanation of the greenhouse effect, the carbon cycle or the water cycle, or of how soils form."

Indeed.  Snow wrote about the laws of thermodynamics, not vertebrates, but the distinction holds – as Flanders & Swann wittily explained.   The heart of the blog is about Monbiot's lockdown foray into an ecological education with his daughter and one of her friends.  And well done him, I say. He writes:

"I believe that education should work outwards from our principal challenges and aims. This doesn’t mean we should forget Shakespeare, or the other wonders of art and culture, but that the matters crucial to our continued survival are given the weight they deserve. During the lockdown, I’ve been doing something I’ve long dreamt about: experimenting with an ecological education."

It would be nice to think that more people were doing that.  His point is that more young people should be having the sort of experience he is trying to provide, albeit as he admits probably in a better structured way; that is, organised by a properly prepared and knowledgable person, skilled in the pedagogical arts.  Amen to that.  This is how his post (almost) ends: "This is the time for a Great Reset. Let’s use it to change the way we see ourselves and our place on Earth."

Whilst I can enthuse about GM's environmental education, as usual I don't agree with everything in the post; I rarely do as Monbiot is more trusting and collectivist than me, sensing a deep well of goodness in the human herd that I just don't perceive.

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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  • Interesting indeed. So, are we thus meant to give education over to the technocrats to save humanity from itself? This assumes the old scientific belief that technology is inherently neutral. Further removing the layer of humanities and arts that provided the philosophical basis of morality, once meant to guide our humanity, seems a risky step to make - a further layer of censorship towards a new technocracy. I merely look at the past many weeks of the damage that technocrats can inflict upon an unsuspecting world that believes in the goodness of technology.