Critical Reaction / Review / Comparison*
Earth in Mind
On Education, Environment and the Human Prospect
David W. Orr
Environmental Educators Dancing Away From Mechanism
James Gray-Donald & David Selby (Eds.)
We are technologically sophisticated and morally retarded.
“Earth in Mind”, by David Orr (2004), is a book about Education. I keep asking myself the questions the author addresses in the introduction of the 10th anniversary edition. How do we prepare the young to think clearly about important things in a culture? How do we prepare them to comprehend systems, patterns, and larger context in a society much distracted by entertainment and given to specialization? How do we equip the young to value healthy food? How do we teach the value of law in an unfair society? How do we teach democracy, fairness, citizenship and community values? How do we teach them to honor the planet and to think critically if we confine them indoors? (Orr, 2004).
We are living in a self-destructive society with distorted values, what makes these ‘how-to’ tasks even more challenging. Orr calls for a reflection about formal education reminding us all that we are lifelong learners, as John Dewey (2007) would advocate. And that we must go against the “banking model of education”, as the Brazilian Paulo Freire (1921) described the marketization of educational policies. Orr connects his ideas to the inevitable attention we must pay to the ecological changes we have been facing. He states, “Against all odds, the outlines of a global ecological enlightenment have begun to emerge.” (Orr, 2004, p. XiV). I found this statement especially interesting because on February 1st, 2010, I posted on my personal blog (http://ideiasemgotas.blogspot.com) a text called ‘Environmental Enlightenment: What are you thirsty of? What are you hungry of?’ The post discussed the need for a change of consciousness in relation to humanity’s knowledge, dispositions and values that dominate the current era (R. V. Farrell, personal communication, Spring 2010).
Despite the fact that our society is questioning more and more the socioeconomic values guided by globalization, politicians and policymakers keep applying it to educational systems. As to Gentili (1995), “globalization exacerbates processes of alienation and produces a “pedagogy of exclusion” that produces economic and human deserts” (as cited in Kempner & Jurema, 2002). In chapter 3, ‘The Problem of Education” (Orr, 2004, p. 26), Orr cites an American journalist, essayist, magazine editor and satirist: “H.L. Mencken concluded that significant improvement required only that the schools be burned to the ground and all of the professorate be hanged.” This is a strong citation. And it is so true.
I just came from a New York trip. I met a Spanish girl on the flight, Aldara Ortega. She recommended me to go to the Broadway musical Fela! (http://www.felaonbroadway.com/). It tells the true story of Fela Kuti, the legendary Nigerian musician who developed the style of music known as Afrobeat and whose passion inspired a generation. Influenced by his mother, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, a civil rights activist, he defied a corrupt and oppressive military government and devoted his life and music to the struggle for freedom and human dignity. Fela’s mother was Nigeria’s first feminist activist, and the first woman to drive a car in the country. In one of his songs, “Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense”, he says “If good-u teacher teach-ee something”. Fela would certainly agree with Mencken… Those words made me reflect a lot about education and the role of teachers. The marketization of education detaches us from what really matters. And teachers became breeders of the status quo. Orr (2004) talks about this detachment in chapter 7, Architecture as Pedagogy (p. 112). The author states that our academic buildings are not designed for learning to take place. They confine, instead of setting us free to experience the world and make the proper connections to have the desired creativity life requires.
Just like Orr’s book, Gray-Donald and Selby’s book “Green Frontiers: Environmental Educators Dancing Away From Mechanism” (2008) advocates for ecological enlightenment. It is a different kind of book as it has chapters by different authors and mixes personal stories and experiences with concepts. The 1st section “What are our bearings?” questions Environmental Education stating that experience and other formative influences are the key to really impact people to have a positive behavior towards the natural environment. Not schooling. When Gray-Donald states in the 1st chapter “Narratives of Exploration” that he believes “there is a vast amount of fascinating EE knowledge in a range of languages” (p.14) I could not help myself from making connections to my home country, Brazil. When I am inspired by articles and write for my personal blog I usually do not find the same books and concepts in Portuguese. Most of the books with interesting discussions are not translated to Portuguese. What I find more easily are articles written by scholars and they are restricted to academic environments and to people who are into the subject. There is a lack of information to the general public, in an easy language, like Orr’s book, for instance. I also dare to say that in South America awareness of environmental topics is very little if compared to North America, Western Europe and Australia. And Environmental Education is very shallow, especially in public schools.
Gray-Donald also talks about attitude and the importance of being more sensitive towards the environment instead of having knowledge through schooling. This reminded me of the concept of biophilia we discussed in chapter 5 of Earth in Mind (Orr, 2004) called “Love”. Orr starts the chapter citing the biologist Stephen Jay Gould “for we will not fight to save what we do not love”. He highlights that emotional bonds are crucial and I agree. At this point we can also agree with Gray-Donald’s findings that acting positively toward ecological principals is more closely aligned with the degree to which one is environmentally sensitive rather than knowledgeable (Gray-Donald & Selby, 2008, p. 18-19). Edward O. Wilson’s Biophilia Hypothesis (Kellert & Wilson, 1993) states that our affinity with nature is innate. Because of our actual condition of detachment we must awaken this connection.
Gray-Donald and Selby open section IV with the article “A Forgotten But Close(d) Frontier”. They discourse about the need to achieve social justice through humane education. Humane education encompasses the creation of a peaceful and just world for all species. It is beyond environmental education and without it we do not reach ecological enlightenment. The authors are followed by Robert Caine who talks about the importance of humane education as being the starting point to the other types of education. It’s about values and respect. Shifting from a human-centered perspective to a life-centered one. He suggests important actions to school administrators to adopt humane values and to make this shift happen (p. 191).
Kim Robinson’s chapter “Critical Zoo Education” is very enlightening. The author’s criticism of the role of zoos makes total sense. All the insights about human-centered attitude show clearly how we intend to dominate nature instead of living in harmony with it. Robinson shows how disconnected we are from the natural process of life. The information that there are no published studies that demonstrated that zoos are effective in educating is important to expose the idea that zoos help to alter people’s perceptions of animals and the natural world (p.213). Zoos give the false idea that we are helping the environment and reinforce human control, domination, and manipulation of non-human animals. The suggestion of using IMAX technology and 3-D television is indeed an excellent way to substitute zoos.
Green Frontiers’ article by Sandy Steen “Bastions of Mechanisms – Castles Built on Sand: A Critique of Schooling from an Ecological Perspective” points out the need for a shift on education so that environmental connections can happen. I really liked that the author criticized the actual school system advocating for a movement towards “a more organic, systemic, holistic or ecological approach to education” (p.228). The chapter makes connections between the model of schooling and the impossibility to educate ecologically. Reductionism, separation and specialization leave no room for environmental education: schools themselves are anti-environmental. Again, we see the system created a model that ended up detaching people from what really matters. Schools were built to incarcerate, control and segregate.
Both books gave me important insights, however they have a totally different point of view. Orr advocates that environmental education is the path to provoke a change, while Gray-Donald and Selby assert education is not enough. The consensus is that we really need to change to live in a better world. There must be a shift of mentality. Maybe because schools are important transforming actors Orr suggests that this change takes place through formal education, but I really think that it can also start inside our homes.
* FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY / COLLEGE OF EDUCATION / Miami, Florida / A paper submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the course EDF 7937 to Professor Robert Farrell – Spring 2010
Dewey, J. (2007). Democracy and education. Middlesex: The Echo Library.
Freire, P. (1921). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc.
Gentili, P. (1995). Pedagogia da Exclusão: Crítica ao Neoliberalismo em Educação. Petrópolis: Vozes.
Gray-Donald, James and David Selby. eds. (2008). Green Frontiers: Environmental Educators Dancing Away from Mechanism. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.
Kellert, S. R. and Wilson, E. O. (1993). The Biophilia Hypothesis. Washington D.C.: Island Press.
Kempner, K. & Jurema, A. L. (2002). The global politics of education: Brazil and the World Bank. Higher Education. 43 331-354.
Orr, D. (2004). Earth in Mind. On Education, Environment, and the Human Prospect. Washington, D.C.: Island Press.