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A Reflection on Education in the 21st Century

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The UN Sustainable Development Goals

As I reflect back over my teaching during the five years that I have been in Israel, I am very mindful of the increasing role that ideas of "sustainability" have in my work. Of course, "sustainability" is the consequence of a variety of approaches which we often refer to by the label of "sustainability." One might also refer to this as how we will go about living within our planetary budget in the foreseeable future.

I am aware of how more and more I bring these ideas into my work at various institutions and in different capacities especially in the classroom. In a very mundane way, it is not different than what we in the MBA curriculum all did a decade or two ago in bringing ideas of "quality" into our work. Deming and his work was the trend and no business school curriculum would be doing its job without reference to this body of knowledge. Along with Deming was the idea of teams and teamwork and similarly, we would have been remiss in not teaching our students these new approaches. Collaboration is another approach that has become part of the fabric of our efforts.

As we stand now several years beyond the Paris Climate Accord, one thing is unfortunately very clear. This is that our world is changing in hugely significant ways. Sooner or later, a larger number of our species will become aware that our survival as a species may be at stake. At the least, we are leaving what some writers call the Holocene Era, a twelve thousand year long period which was a time when the Earth's climate and resources were ideal in meeting our needs, to the Anthropocene Era which is the result of human activity and will be a far more challenging time. In the meantime, we have the duty and moral responsibility to educate and train our students to be be prepared to live in, manage, consult to and be part of the leadership in this new world. They need to be good citizens in this world.

Assuming that we take action before it is too late, we will have a huge role in shaping our response and the kind of world and communities we all will live in, the way we make our living, and the types of organizations in which we will add value. In turn, we will need to have created an economy that accommodates all of this along with our changed relationship to the natural capital of our planet (the ability of our planet to provide resources, absorb waste, eliminate CO2 from the atmosphere and produce food.)

The question is what should we be teaching. Clearly, we should be open to questioning some of the knowledge and approaches of the past. This includes the nature of organizations, their goals, the ways they do business and their relationship to economic principles that have likely outgrown their usefulness. We should be laying the groundwork for the future rather than continually revisiting the past.

We remain human beings and, thus, learning about our individual psychology and psychology in groups remains relevant though, perhaps, new things will need to be stressed as the requirements of our new, emerging world become more apparent.

Beyond this, the types of organizations and businesses will change as we deal with changes in the Anthropocene Era. The goals and values of these enterprises will be different. Their legal forms will be different to accommodate triple bottom line (economic, environmental, social) goals. Development will take precedence over growth; circular businesses and a circular economy will require changed approaches to production and consumption. Conservation will play a driving role. How we work together will likely change. We will be seeing the world in terms of ecosystems and networks and in other ways not yet imagined. Our fields of study in part will be different. For example, the field of Biomimicy will likely be far more important as we learn the value of replicating the organic processes of nature in our communities, enterprises and products.

It can be a very exciting though challenging time for those who choose to commit to playing a role in helping our global and local societies develop appropriately. For those who make this choice, opportunities for work may be abundant.

I like to think that in terms of Israel, the U.S., UK and other countries meeting this current challenge will enable them to fulfill their national destiny. All members of the United Nations Community can pursue the Sustainable Development Goals as a global destiny.

I believe we all will be remiss as educators and human beings if we do not acquaint young people with the challenges awaiting them. Ironically, it is many of the younger generation who are educating older people about these challenges. We have much to learn from each other.

I appreciate that this will not be easy as we all grapple with reactions of denial, resistance and anxiety. We have the responsibility to work with our students in developing organizational and societal solutions for the future and developing the skills that will be needed. There are many important conversations that can take place in an educational context. Our students hopefully will play an important role in the momentous societal and organizational changes of the future. They are called upon even now to help their respective societies embark upon these changes. I believe our responsibility is to help put in place the appropriate foundation to support them.

 

 


Toward A Story of Place

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Bioregionalism as a Story of Place

Bioregionalism is seen by a number of writers and practitioners in the field of sustainability as an important part of the solution to the current challenges facing our planet including Climate Change and injustice and inequity.

Bioregionalism is essentially a story of place - of how life anchored in a given place supports success, fulfillment and sustainability. It is the story of human beings living in harmony with the land and its various species.

A number of people such as the author Daniel Christian Wahl have offered definitions of bioregionalism which tend to revolve around the idea that a bioregion is a region defined by characteristics of the natural environment rather than by human-made divisions. These characteristics include: climate, soil, landforms, watershed, native plants and animals. They can include indigenous culture, local community knowledge, environmental history and geography. In a number of writings, Wahl provides these additional insights.

Bioregionalism is a comprehensive way of defining and understanding the place where we live with the aim to live in that place sustainably and respectfully - developing sustainable means to satisfy human needs - access to food water, energy, shelter, materials and education. It involves becoming fully alive in and with such a place.

Bioregionalism involves a sense of belonging to and having responsibility for a place - the region in which we live. It entails having an intimate knowledge of the natural cycles and ecological relationships that operate within it and a sensitivity to disturbances of the ecosystems in which we live. It constitutes a "terrain of consciousness" - about how to live in that place.

A sense of identity comes from our awareness of and knowledge of our immediate environment. This makes people assume responsibility for the place in which they live. This shared sense of belonging to a place strengthens and rebuilds communities. Human cultures develop in relation to the natural ecosystems in the site they inhabit.

The activities carried out in a bioregion are appropriate for maintaining the natural characteristics of the land. The region's economic activity and means of production are tailored to local materials and resources. Agriculture, manufacturing and construction industries need to be transformed to function within the limits of the carrying capacity of the bioregion.

A given bioregion can consist of many co-operating regional communities which are mutually dependent on each other for their existence. Though Bioregionalism acts locally, at the same time there is a connection to the planet by seeking to maintain an equitable, sustainable approach to the carrying capacity of the Earth's biosphere.

Epic Stories of Civilization

It has been said that the use of story is the main way that humans have made sense and communicated throughout their pre-literate and literate history. Many stories over history have been about place - about the communities, people, land and culture of place.

Among the most well-known stories in Western civilization are the Iliad and Odyssey - epic poems by Homer. It is now believed that these were originally recited by Homer in pre-literate times as oral stories (Eighth century, BCE) and then in a later period of history, they were written down.

In "The Formation of the Homeric Epics" by classics professor, Margalit Finkelberg, she discusses the unique role that these stories played in the creation of Greek civilization. She describes a period at the time of the fall of Mycenaean civilization when people were on the move throughout Asia Minor settling in what became the Greek city states. Though earlier epic poetry may have discussed the actual historical events causing the displacement of old populations and the aggregation of new populations, the Iliad and the Odyssey created a different explanatory story - a myth dealing with the ten year Trojan War and the siege of Troy.

In the Iliad, Greeks from many different places joined together in the common enterprise of the Trojan War to obtain the release of Helen, the wife of Menelaus, brother of Greek King Agamemnon held by the Trojans. Throughout the Odyssey, Greek hero Odysseus endeavors to return home from the Trojan War to his wife and son in Greece. These narrative epics gained privileged status in the hands of Homer and according to Professor Finkelberg in accord with the desires of the population to see themselves as one integrated society though initially made up of different languages, dialects and cultural histories.

According to Professor Finkelberg, "This resulted in the emergence of an image of the past shared by all the inhabitants of Iron Age Greece. Epic poetry became the main vehicle for spreading the new image all over the Greek world."

"In the hands of Homer, the story becomes about the establishment of usable ideological foundations for the present and the future. The Iliad and Odyssey provided Greek civilization with a new foundational myth that sustained its validity until the end of antiquity."

"The history of the Homeric poems is not just the history of a literary text but that of a literary text highly privileged in the civilization to which it belonged."

The Story of Earth

I have been wondering whether Earth has a story. Unlike the people in ancient Greece, we on this planet are not coming from many other places though certainly there are differences in language and culture among us. And, life on Earth is made up of many other species and other-than-human intelligences.

I wonder whether what we need at this point in our history on this planet is a story, an epic poem about life on this planet, just as each individual community or bioregion could have a story indigenous to that place.

What if we had a story that could help us to recognize our rich diversity among species along with a recognition of the commonality of life on this planet? A story that can move us to take greater responsibility for the welfare of each other within the human species and across species and within our planetary limits. A story that can motivate us to take action to respond to the Climate Crisis and the other challenges embodied in the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals. A story that can touch us on an individual level, in our communities, jobs, regions and as inhabitants on this planet.

The video at the end of this article may be the best we have as yet for an epic story of Earth.

Tell Your Story of the Land

Likely, few of us are epic poets though together we might be. However, we are all in a position to tell our story of the land and the communities who live on it. Each of us has our stories of living in place, in community, of hopefully beginning to live more sustainably.

Is there a bird near your house that you continuously notice? What color is it? What song does it sing? Does it have a mate, a nest, young ones chirping away? Are there cats in your neighborhood as in mine that have their daily habits? Do you interact with them, feed them? Do you concern yourself with their welfare?

Outside the town where I grew up in New Jersey, there were miles and miles of cornfields. I still remember the pleasant feeling of seeing them, of buying fresh corn from a farmer at a roadside stand.

I remember fondly the farmer's market in my town outside Boston and the joy of buying fresh vegetables and talking and eating ice cream with my neighbors. I recall the city sparrows who visited my back porch and listening to them chirp away in the early morning.

Where I now live in Haifa, Israel, when I get on a bus, I see secular Israelis in shorts, religious Jews in long black coats, Moslem women with headscarves and soldiers, school kids, elderly people. It is comforting to me to live in a city where all co-exist in our increasingly fragmented world.

So, tell your story. To your kids, parents, family members, friends, strangers. Ask them to tell theirs. Weave them together into your own little epic of life on the land, in community hopefully striving for some degree of harmony with all.

Video: An Epic Story of Earth.