Yet another binder of stuff to cram in?

Posted on November 7, 2007


At Otago Polytechnic we’re committed to an “every graduate” approach to sustainability. We’re working towards the integration of education for sustainability in every programme by 2009. But are we going about it the right way? sometimes when you are so close to a project, it is hard to see past the gravel to the path and indeed the direction you’re travelling.

I met last week with Charles (Chuck) Hopkins at his home in Toronto. He holds, among lots of other things, the UNESCO chair in Education for Sustainability. We talked at length about the approach we are taking. It was good to receive encouragement from Chuck that we’re on the right path.

Chuck talked about the importance of sustainability being core to education, rather than contributing to adjectile education (ie sustainability education). He warns the need to avoiding “binders”, the folders of information describing causes promoted by well meaning enthusiasts – yet another thing for teachers to squeeze into their curriculum. It was a relief then, to have him describe our Education for Sustainability approach as a “strengths model” – working with disciplines – allowing them to play to their strengths.     Every discipline has a role in a sustainable future, and this strengths model encourages every discipline to contribute to getting there.   This model of education is both transformative and incremental.

He foresees profound exponential growth of education for sustainability in the next few years. Just how close we are to the tipping point depends on our ability to network and channel the work of the champions and to provide vehicles for others to come on board (note: these badly mixed metaphors are a paraphrase of what he said much more eloquently).

Chuck argues that the core of EfS comes down to asking a simple question:

to what extent is what you do contributing to or hindering a sustainable future?

We talked about barriers (and coincidentally have both been working on identifying excuses: see my growing list).   A challenge for me is people who say, “I’ve been doing this for years, it doesn’t make a difference”.  Chuck suggests saying  “thank you for holding the torch for us, now it is time for your second wind”. The trick will be to capture what they are doing so that we can possibly share it as exemplar material.

As you know, we were in Toronto talking about our SimPa initiative, so we spent a long time talking about the incorporation of traditional ecological knowledge into wider education.

Charles (“Chuck”) Hopkins is perhaps the most welcoming and empowering person I’ve ever met.  If you ever have the chance to talk with him – take that opportunity.