Davies stresses urgency of learning society

Posted on September 23, 2009


Quotes from Kate Davies’ A learning society from Handbook of Sustainable Literacy.   The whole book is available online from University of Brighton.

On urgency:

There is not much time. The task of developing a learning society to facilitate humankind’s evolution towards sustainability is urgent. Given current trends, our species will need to learn and change more in the next 50 years than it has in the past 50,000. The Agricultural Revolution took thousands of years and the Industrial Revolution took 200. We have so much less time to achieve the massive social changes needed for survival.

On  the need for sustainable literacy skills:

While governments are urging us towards another, even more intensified Industrial Revolution through their skills agendas, it is urgent for us to step back, look at the larger picture, and ask what skills it will take for people to be  able to contribute to thriving, flourishing and, above all, sustainable societies. Let us hope that the urgency of the global situation catalyzes the creation of a learning society where people can gain sustainability literacy skills and dramatically enhance Homo sapiens’ ability both to survive and evolve.

On the need for transformation of the education system:

If learners are to gain the sustainability literacy skills necessary for life in the twenty first century then there will need to be a fundamental reform of the education system. Today’s  schools, colleges and universities serve the needs of the industrial society, fostering consumerism, technicism, competition and individualism. They prepare students to become willing cogs in a vast dysfunctional economic machine. Their approach to learning emphasizes theories over ethics, detachment over relationship, and immediate answers over thoughtful inquiry. Based on a worldview that asserts the superiority of our species above all others, mainstream education perpetuates the patterns of thinking and behaving that cause the ecological crisis.

On systems thinking:

A learning society must be able to think systemically. Based on the belief that the parts of a system can best be understood in the context of their relationships with each other, systemic thinking emphasizes patterns, trends and feedback loops.  Within a learning society, systemic thinking would focus on understanding the interactions between human and ecological systems, and restructuring human systems to be more sustainable. Without systemic thinking, society will continue to apply ineffective band aid solutions that do little to resolve underlying problems.

On whole person learning:

A learning society could foster the development of whole human beings, who can think critically, respond compassionately, and act ethically. Whole person learning enables students to grow as authentic human beings. It develops their personhood. This is very different from contemporary education which focuses on the intellect while ignoring ethical values, emotions, embodied experience and the grounded experience of place.  Contemporary education leaves learners with few practical skills for  sensitive engagement with those around them, for interacting with their local environment, or for navigating the complex world around them. We need a learning society that engages and integrates peoples’ hearts, minds, hands and spirits.

Davies uses Robert Hutchins’ meaning of learning society  – whose primary goals were continuous learning, active citizenship and social well being – “The object of the educational system, taken as a whole, is not to produce hands for industry or to teach the young how to make a living.  It is to produce responsible citizens”.   Davies argues that the term has been misappropriated to mean the continuous updating of workers’ skills.