The AASHE (Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education) continued Monday afternoon with several presenters covering an array of topics in both operations and curriculum. Here are the notes from two of the afternoon’s events. The 12:30 session was in front of a packed audience at the Colorado Convention Center. (For a recap of the morning sessions, click here).
12:30 Session: Core Competencies in Learning for Sustainability
Harold Glasser: Western Michigan University
Glasser’s presentation covered the gamut of sustainability. Here are some notes from his talk.
Glasser discussed the various United Nations conferences focused on the environment and those concerned with environmental education. In addition, he briefly discussed the decade of education for sustainable development.
- 1972 UN Conference on Human Environment (Stockholm) and the 1972 First report of the Club of Rome: Limits to Growth
- World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) 1987: Our Common Future or The Brundtland Report
- UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) 1992: Rio Declaration and Agenda 21.
- The Johannesburg Conference 2002
Glasser presented three key ideas:
- The environment is often seen as a luxury good. However, cultures are being lost faster than biodiversity (i.e. we need to also think about the loss of cultural diversity)
- Developing nations’ citizens are willing to give environmental protection priority at risk of slowing economic growth
- Concern for the environment is widespread, but it’s not an instrumental/institutional value
There is a gap between our current unsustainable behaviors and the shift toward a sustainable society. The gap can be attributed to the following:
1. Effects of unsustainable behaviors are often uncertain and distributed over space and time
2. Those causing the effects are often able to insulate themselves from any potential impacts
3. The interwoven relationships among different effects and drivers is often poorly understood and counterintuitive
4. Society generally models unsustainable behaviors
5. Passive social learning favors maladaptive behaviors that preference narrow interests over the common good
“The volume of education continues to increase, yet so do pollution and exhaustion of resources and the dangers of ecological capacity. If still more education is to save us, it will have to be an education of a different kind, an education that takes us to the depths of things.”
- E.F. Schumacher (1973) Small is Beautiful
Higher Education (HE) still largely operates on the Enlightenment Notion of Progress (scientific, technological, economic and social progress are all bound together in continuous forward movement) but in experience they are all contingent. In HE we have Disciplines not Institutional Structures and Processes designed to solve problems.
How might formal education be re-imagined (not just re-oriented) to help us gain the competencies to provide ourselves with food, energy, etc.
- In economic view, nature is a wholly owned subsidiary of the economy
- In environmental economic view, economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of nature
2:30 Session: Experiential Learning and Sustainability Education
International Sustainable Development Studies Institute (based in Thailand)
Mark Ritchie, Director
ISDSI is a study abroad program that uses experiential learning to teach sustainability. Their mission is to “Link highly demanding academic focus with real world experience, taught by the people directly engaged in the solving the problems of sustainability.”
The program uses local, indigenous knowledge as a key component of their curriculum. The following quotation from the presentation emphasized this point:
“If you came to help me, you can go home again. But if you see my struggle as part of your own survival, then perhaps we can work together.”
- Indigenous Woman, form “The Manila Declaration on People’s Participation and Sustainable Development”
The school focuses on the cross-section of Culture (how we live – cultura) and Ecology (our home – oikos). The courses were driven by the intrinsic motivation in experiential learning, which provide direct and immediate feedback. They were organized as expeditionary field courses with 1 week in the classroom followed by 3 weeks of field study to provide hands on, real world connections to the concepts.
One of the fundamental questions asked prior to embarking on the semester was “Are students ready to learn what you’re ready to teach them?” If not, can students learn what they are being taught?