What is most essential for children to learn considering the undeniable reality that our biosphere is in peril?
First and foremost they will need to learn that we are, as Aldo Leopold once put it, plain members and citizens of a biotic community. To learn this it would be critical to relook at the myth of human dominance, our extreme short sightedness and the story that we constantly live out- about our separation from Earth!
I share below some thoughts on essentials for both education and life which my colleagues and I have worked with both at Bhoomi College and Prakriya Green Wisdom School.
We would need to question the intent of formal schooling and re-imagine not just the content but also the processes through which children and adults learn. Schools need to model themselves on eco-systems rather than factories; and children need to experience the myriad interconnections that exist. When respect for diversity and collaboration is a lived reality children will be able to feel into being part of the whole. The experience of a sense of community would also be a deeply anchoring experience.
Reverence for Life!
We have a natural affinity for life simply because we are life. What education needs to do is foster and nurture this affinity for life and allow it space to flourish. Reverence for our miraculous, beautiful, animate earth needs to be reinforced frequently to help us think out of our utilitarian mindset. Process perception rather than object perception, holistic thinking and not just reductionist thinking needs to be focused on to enable an understanding of the complexity that exists in nature. This would enable a more balanced and realistic view of our place in the scheme of things in nature. It would also enable us to move away from short term quick fix solutions and lead us to look for systemic solutions.
More outdoor classes
To feel into the truth that we are embedded in nature and that the complex web of life is all around us, children need to be outdoors! They need to be gardening, involving themselves in nature walks, season watches and wilderness experiences. Learning about soil, water and forests, in a hands-on manner would need to be central rather than incidental. These experiences would enable children to clue in with these essentials. It would also help them to think and act with soil sense and water wisdom and not treat these precious gifts with indifference.
Shram daan experience
To offer one’s labour and participate in day to day chores enable children to experience the joy of being contributors and instill a deep sense of belonging and ownership. It can also be a matter of fact way of taking responsibility of mundane and routine activities which are essential for any community.
Real life Projects
Being involved in real life eco-projects teaches valuable life skills, builds perspectives, and fosters consciousness, critical thinking and spirit of inquiry. It opens possibilities of linking up with people engaged in the specific area of work, learning from them and being inspired by them. It also gives opportunities to deliberate on real issues/concerns of the community and focus on solutions instead of dwelling on problems alone or ignoring them altogether.
Learn about the present and Learn for the future
In most formal learning systems there is too much of focus on content heavy learning about the past with very little room to dwell on the present. While we celebrate and learn from the past, it is also important to understand/question how the dominant development oriented world view has kept the focus on reductionist science and reductionist thinking. This has led us to the ecological crisis we are facing in the present. It is critical for children to recognize that we as a species have been living irresponsibly and we need to move towards ecological sanity. We need to turn towards holistic thinking and eco wise ways of living (including traditional wisdom) to give shape to a new future; to make a new future possible!
Question notions of development and a good life
We need to look at the myths and truths behind these basics that shroud our lives to enable the search for alternatives. It will also help children – and adults – consider the price we have paid for many of the conveniences we enjoy and celebrate as achievements of our culture. The ethical dimension, the social justice and equity perspective can be woven in to foster informed decision making in children.
Nurture custodians and not consumers
We need to collectively and individually be asking this question- What education should truly be for. If it doesn’t inspire a drive to care for and protect; if it doesn’t stoke a fire to take action when needed; if it doesn’t equip with skills and knowledge to be custodians of our commons then how good is it? Education for essentials should do all of these and more. Then we will begin to see ourselves as part of a pattern that connects and links up. We, as a species will value the eternal over the ephemeral.
Is such a scenario possible is the logical question to ask. I believe it is possible and doable. Twenty years of work at the Prakriya Green Wisdom School has revealed to us that children often see the sense in these essentials more than adults! And offering the one year course on Sustainable Living and Holistic Education at Bhoomi College has shown us that adults also see the value of these basics. And as they move out of the college they go on to fashion careers that keep them anchored as Earth citizens.
It is not only possible and doable, it is an imperative now. We do need to recognize and realize that our biosphere, the delicate realm that supports all life needs to be seen, honoured and valued. We need to see the truth for what it is and also see through our world of appearances. We need to live out our story of reunion with Earth, we need to celebrate, our connect with her!
As Tagore said, “Relationship is the fundamental truth of this world of appearance.”