Sustainability and Schools, from Center for Ecoliteracy

Posted by on December 15, 2008 in Green Schools | 0 comments

Sustainability and Schools

The Center for Ecoliteracy has based most of its work in schools. The values, habits, and worldviews of individuals are often set, and hard to change, by the time that people become adults. Society gives schools the responsibility for passing on cultural values.

The “hidden curricula” of schools convey the values that are really important to the school, even when they contradict the lessons of the classroom (for instance, a soda machine in the hallway can speak louder than any number of lectures about nutrition). Schools are systems, and they are communities. Schools are themselves important nodes in the web of institutions that constitutes society. Whatever happens in schools will have profound effects on the rest of society.
CEL has also identified a number of qualities and practices that characterize schools that are most effective in educating for ecological literacy:

Schools as communities
The most effective schools are often communities that model the traits of sustainable societies:
– They know that children’s ability to learn, and what they learn, are greatly affected by the vibrancy and health of the culture of the school and the quality of the relationships within it
– They function as “apprenticeship communities” in which leadership is shared and members of the community see themselves and others as both teachers and learners
– They recognize that “the curriculum is anywhere that learning occurs” (whether or not it is intended or directed by educators)

Practices of effective schools
These effective schools often incorporate one or several of the following practices:
– They connect children with the natural world through programs and projects outside the classroom, such as school gardens, habitat restoration, and communicating their experience in nature through painting and poetry
– They practice place-based education that teaches students about the people, history, culture, and natural features of their local community and region
– They practice environmental project-based learning, involving students in local projects that are meaningful and make real contributions to their communities
– They integrate in-class learning with hands-on experiences and with all of the activities (including, e.g., lunch) of the school
– They address whole children, recognizing that children’s ability to learn is affected by their health and well-being, and that these are in turn affected by such factors as nutrition, exercise, and the health of the natural environment
– They employ the best current understandings of how brains and minds develop and how children learn. They attend to children in all their dimensions, including cognitive, emotional, and aesthetic

Transforming education
Implementing this kind of education often requires changing educational institutions, relationships, and practices. Because schools are expected to pass on cultural values, they are among the more conservative of our society’s democratic institutions, and therefore among the slowest to change.
Classrooms, schools, and districts are also systems; effective change agents often use systems thinking and ecological concepts when devising strategies for changing those systems:
– They create networks of students, parents, teachers, administrators, and community organizations working together for change
– They change hierarchical authority patterns to promote the development of learning communities
– They solve for pattern rather than try to address individual “problems”
– They recognize and direct change efforts toward nested systems at multiple levels of organization (classrooms within schools within districts within communities within societies, etc.)
– They build strategies on the understanding that it is in the nature of systems to maintain a dynamic balance (Outside intervention doesn’t really “change” a system; it only disturbs it, creating an opportunity for reorganizing in a different, and not completely predictable, way.)

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