Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Sustainability - Freire - And Coming Full Circle

Some Mandala examples

I have an exceptional 16 year old daughter called Elizabeth who is Cultural Coordinator for the Environment at her school, Youth rep on Sustainable Dunedin Committee, An active member of the Dunedin Secondary Students Climate Forum, a member of the Otago Regeneration crew and environmental rep on the DCC Youth Action Committee. She rock climbs, sails, attends kick boxing, plays basket ball and netball, leads a fairly active social life and does pretty well at school, particularly in geography. I worry about her sustainability but she once told me "don't oppress me mum" and I needed no further telling.

Having a daughter who is so passionate and actively involved in climate change, environmental and sustainability issues eventually rubs off. I asked her what it is that I can do to include sustainability education in my course. Our conversation went as follows;


What's my role in including sustainability in my course?


There are two things - Let people make their own choices – Give them information so that they can make choices about their views

on sustainability.


What information? - I don't understand the climate and Peak oil issues like you.


Make them aware of the most recent scientific reports


How do I incorporate that in a mental health course that is already full on?


Use the video's I show you - Show them the video's.


Okay so what's the other thing?


Encourage people to think about regeneration


What's regeneration?


You know like the idea of building a better community


What does a better community look like?


Get people to visualise there ideal and plan steps to get there.


That's my stuff, that's what I do. Social work, community building, the recovery model, aspiration based strengths planning!


Yea - but regeneration encompasses envisioning a new way of life.


Like hippy communes - Empowerment, solidarity and organic vegetarian food!


LOL - Yea mum like that and tell them to ride share or ride bikes.

Thanks to this little conversation with my daughter I am beginning to get an understanding of sustainability that I can grab hold of. Sustainability in the context we are using it is the new Empowerment Theory or a branch of it.

This got me me thinking about my dear old Freire and I popped on to wikipedia for a wee look. Wouldn't you know it - Freire initiated work on ecopedagogy before he died which obviously links directly to sustainability and the earth charter. Wow I love learning and linking it all up.

So now I know that I do sustainability in my course, I have always done sustainability, I kind of suspected I might and actually I probably do it more than most with my passion for social justice, recovery, strengths and my emphasis on holistic and multi-cultural concepts of health and well-being which encompass mind, body, spirit, community, political and environmental elements.

I half formulated an idea one lunch time about sustainability in our school and it seems to have popped up as our sustainability strategy. It links sustainability to social justice which is all good and well but this feels like only half the story. It has to come full circle. I was thinking that social justice has to link back to the environment and then I read this in wikipedia

"The Earth Charter's ethical vision proposes that environmental protection, human rights, equitable human development, and peace are interdependent and indivisible"

and that makes sense to me. It get's me thinking about Maori models of health and well-being and I'm also thinking about Carl Jung's work with mandala's and the idea of universal connection. I suppose that brings me to the more contemporary concept of connectivism and wonder of wonders here I am back at online learning and the possibilities this provides in terms of access to knowledge and collaboration.

Check out Carl Jung's death experience and A great wee summary of Carl Young's key ideas

So back to sustainability in my class - apart from the problem of shoving to much information at my students in too short a time there seems no reason why I can't include some of Elizabeth's video's in my class. Here's a wee few from Elizabeth to get me started....

ACT NOW: cute vid with a young girl narrator, talking about climate change and how the "men in black suits" aren't listening despite all the warnings. 4 mins

PLASTIC BAG TVC: funny little turtle guy talking about plastic bags and why we should not use them... 30 seconds

CANVAS BAGS BY TIM MINCHIN: very VERY funny song about canvas bags.... this guy won awards for this song!! :P 3.15 mins

PEAK OIL: HOW WILL YOU RIDE THE SLIDE?: kynda quirky vid about peak oil and explaing (simply) what peak oil means... or is going to mean for us. 2 mins

HOW IT ALL ENDS: really cool vid, making the science of climate change/global warming really simple and easy to understand! 10mins

THE GREAT PACIFIC GARBAGE PATCH: doco about how disgusting the great pacific garbage patch is, and how much damage its causing! something like 6 pieces of platic particla for every one plankton!! just under 10 mins.

THE DANGERS OF PLASTIC BAGS: really beautiful video with images and scary facts about plastic bags and how much they harm our environment. Really good!! 9 mins.

Plus a couple of power ful photographs to finish on.


  1. Hi Jenny

    I find it quite bizarre to hear this word "sustainability" being used in an educational setting. After listening to the audio recording of Leigh Blackall interviewing Anna Hughes, I was left with the impression that sustainability at Otago Polytechnic is very much about getting students to have more ownership and buy-in and to be more self-directed and responsible. This may be an expanding concept of sustainability, but it's far different from my own concept of it. In fact, it's very like the idea of "empowerment" that I studied a long time ago in management papers and that for a time was a fad in human resource management (and maybe still is - I don't do that work anymore). It is amazing to see these ideas now part of education, and pretty late too, along with the idea of using goal setting 'contracts' between children, teachers and parents in primary schools. My response - that's already been tried in the workplace and it didn't really work there either!! My it's funny how these things go around and around again a bit like fashion!

    People are smarter than the designers of these systems think - I know because I used to be one! We cannot underestimate the ability of people to see straight through the bumph to the real issues of sustainability.

  2. continued...

    After visiting the Polytech a couple of weeks ago, I was impressed with just how far away from my own concept of sustainability this organisation is. When I was coming to Polytech night classes as an 18-year old I never noticed all the large, warm, well-equipped EMPTY rooms and all the underutilised facilities (it was night afterall!), but I guess 18 years later I also look at things a little differently. As I now toy with appropriate organisational structures and infrastructure to support my own business and more socially-based ideas, I have begun to appreciate just how short a term I would be able to support that level of redundancy for - even though my scale is much smaller! It is inconceivable to me to have a capital investment sit idle without it being an urgent matter of priority to rectify the situation. I didn't notice this sense of urgency within the short time I was at the Polytech, nor indeed have I ever noticed it when present there.

    The reason why such redundancy is inconceivable to me is that I am starting out from scratch. Doing things from scratch which are dependent on my own ability to develop the awareness, attitude, knowledge, techniques, and the physical abilities to support myself and my family and encourage others to do the same so that I can also be dependent on real people who are doing real, honest, healthy things which help others become more resourceful and resilient rather than dependent on industrialised products and services. After all, industrialisation as one of your daughter's videos pointed out, is where the idea of global warming seems to start from. Even more important than the environmental effects is the affect that it has had on people's bodies and along with that their natural abilities and skills to take proper care of themselves, their families and their communities. Regarding cultural fairness I would urge you to read Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston Price (see www.westonaprice.org/). It shows photos and written evidence of how the dental and general physical health of Maori was affected by the change in diet to a reliance on industrialised food. The examples given are devastating. This was back in the 1920's and I suspect that food today is significantly more industrialised than it was back then. The changes could be reversed, but Price suggested it would take four generations to regain what has been lost. Aside from all the other insults that industrialisation may bring, loss of health (both mental and physical) along with the ability to pass on heath to future generations would have to be the worst in my mind. If I want anything for my children, it is the ability to become parents of (and propperly care for)children who are strong and healthy and have the ability to have strong, health children of their own. This is something which is clearly under threat as infertility becomes more common and is even joked about in the media. Price basically linked fertility, birth difficulties and some deformities to parental malnutrition by correlating the timing of dietary change with the changes evident in the offspring.

  3. MORE...

    I cringe to see sustainability as it is currently being packaged creeping into primary schools when many children, dare I say, do not receive the kind of nutrition that Price discovered was vital to their futures both within and beyond the present generation. How can poorly nourished children be expected to change the world? How is that fair? Is it even realistic?

    Additionally, children are not yet responsible for the plastic bags for example, because they don't have control of the spending. It is the parents who need educating (if anyone does) and it is not the children's job to do it. It is unfair to put this responsibility on them. Children learn a lot by immitating their parents, much more I think than being told at school that something is bad/wrong and to stop doing it. I consider that my children are responsible for what THEY ask for themselves. So if they ask for this toy or that toy or their own computer, I try to get them to immagine the life cycle of that product, particularly what they will do with it when it's finished with. I try to get them to think creatively about what if there were no rubbish tips etc and they had to dispose of it on our own pristine ground, heaven forbid!! That gets them thinking. My kids don't want their vegies growing amongst bits of old computer. Of course to make this work requires common thinking and co-operating right down the supply chain. This is the cradle to cradle concept see www.mcdonough.com/writings/ and I believe one day we will all 'get' this idea.

    In a way, I see that Otago Polytechnic's approach to sustainability is like that of asking the children to fix their parents' plastic bag problem. It's passing the buck.

    Thanks for the stimulating post. Tracey

  4. Hi Tracey

    Thanks for such a stimulating and interesting response. There is something very freeing about this media in terms of it being a forum to just say what you want to say eh!

    I'm not sure you and I are quite on the same page but I do hear you. I too studied management papers and economics alongside my social work qualification. I have always been intrigued by the extent to which the same theories are presented in different disciplines. I do need to be very clear that the neo-liberal individualised version of empowerment theory taught in management papers is not the'empowerenment theory' I know and love passionately. Unfortunately much of the radical theory growing up out of the 1960s and 70s landed bang, smack in the neoliberal climate of the 8os and 90s. Empowerment theory provided a wonderful platform for user pays - self responsibility - back to the community (without any funding) - 'efficiency and effectiveness' type policies and as a result gained a negative rep. Do read the link to Freire as he was the forefather of empowerment, (others might agrue this was Rousseau and still others may suggest it was Jesus - ideas do keep going around) and as it turns out which I found a delightful discovery, Freire contributed significantly to theorising on ecopedacogy. 'Sustainability' as a theoretial concept does seem to have grown out of a radical social justice perspective but I suspect as you seem to have suggested that it too has somewhat fallen prey to the neo-liberal policies of self-responsibility and the negative issues that this brings. The very fact that the new budget has withdrawn enviroschools funding is evidence in my mind of such a downward turn. As a socal worker, I worked with the casualities of our last neo-liberal round. Jenny Shipley's budget of 1991 was a disaster - I hate to think how much funding went in to setting up the welfare infra-structure required to clean up the resulting social mess. Not to worry, the mess will be made and then we'll head back down the indstrialised society ot 'third way' as it was called in the last round path of establishing a welfare state all over again. Yee ha!

  5. Hi again Tracey

    Ooops that was only a response to your first comment. I have far too much to say for myself. I think there is a sense of urgency at poly re rectifying the situation at least in some quarters. Unfortunatey when you are dealing with a relatively large infra stucture that is essentially state funded you do run in to lethargy. I picked up on a sense of do or die in terms of the requirement to change to online learning for example but then there seems to be so much bureaucracy - that the urgency gets swamped ironically in endless paper work. It is interesting to be thinking about organisational structure. One good thing about neo-liberal ideology is that it tends to encourage flatter structure which I find much better than the endless layers of management we have here - it takes soooo long to make change that even someone as high energy as me runs out of steam.

  6. OOps again - I haven't finished responding.
    Thanks for the Weston Price link I will go and look at that. I co teach Te Tiriti o Waitangi so am well aware of the health impacts on Maori of colonisation and industrialisation.

    I hear your committment to genuine sustainability, healthy living, healthy children, healthy world and I commend you for that. But I and many people like me aren't as far down that track as you and many people just won't ever get on it. I am as far as I am because my daughter has brought me here. I do hear you in terms of burdoning our children with responsibilities that are not theirs to carry but I think that children who are passionate about sustainability would tell you otherwise. I have three children and one is and she shares her expertise with the family. My son is really good with technology and he shares that expertise. My husband with maths and science and he shares that and my younger daughter with dance and music which she shares. I have shared with my children my passion for reading, writing and and knowledge.

    My children are 18, 16, and 11. They have taught me more about all sorts of things than I ever would have known on my own. They started teahing me from their conception. From my perspective my children are my greatest source of education and inspiration. They are my teachers and my guides and it seems to me infinately right that this is as it should be. The relatioship that I have with my children is one of mutual empowerment and respect. So I have no concerns that they are learning sustainable practices in their schools. On the contrary, it simply means that there is more scope within the school for children to find their place. There has always been the sporty crowd and the science geeks and the arty kids and now there are the regen growd who measure seaweed growth on quarantine Island, Write submissions to DCC and Govt re eviro issues and grow veges in the school glass house. Not only do they do these things but they actually get acnowledged and rewarded for their efforts. My daughters position in her school as environmental coordinator and the 7th form position of environmental prefect are new - they did not exist before enviro schools - there existance means that enviro friendly pratice is now accepted as mainstream like netball coordinator and Science Prefect.

    One more thought - I thoroughly believe that if you want to change something then you should start with children. You can not get more grass roots, bottom up, preventative and dare I say it 'sustainable'in your approach to making change than investing in children to the extent that enviroschools did. I feel with immense passion that this was one of the most innovative and intelligent mass campaign strategies I have known (If only we could get the same level of funding for social workers in schools. I think shame on National Government for witdrawing this funding and shame on John Key!!!

    Check out Anna Hughes blog Tracey. I expect she would be intersted in your vision and I'm sure you would enjoy her ideas. Anna was my neighbour for a bit - Anna is a relatively new mum - she raised her baby nappy free - I am somewhat in awe!

    Thank you for the stimulating chat but I really must get back to the task at hand.


  7. Hi Jenny

    Sorry it was so long. Sometimes I do go on a bit, but the message about the importance of excellent nutrition of children is just not getting out there. The more it is raised the better. Last night I talked to a Mum of an autisitc boy who said she would love to give him a gluten-free, no clourings, no preservatives diet but just can't afford to. I felt quite sad. We do this for our own children (most the time)and still they often display behaviour (usually at home) that I would say could be labelled as "autistic". I think most kids are capable of this and I tend to think it is healthy to have such reactive responses as we live in a very reative world which asks much from children. Unfortunately the crap food is the cheapest, not to mention most convenient, and that is a fact that is going to be around for a long time yet. I had not realised that the new budget has withdrawn enviroschools funding although I was aware about the policy change regarding healthy food in schools. I immagine some parents breathed a sigh of relief over that one! Re. enviro schools, I tried to get something happening at a primary school my son was at, presenting a comprehensive plan and budget that involved a substantial donation of time and services by our family, but it was turned down because the teachers felt it was too big. No attempt was made to try a smaller version, just a flat refusal. So perhaps, to me, it seems that the government is just following some of the community sentiments anyway and assuming that only a few people care about health and the environment.

    You obviously value your children and the importance of their involvement, as I do. In this case, I agree that it is important to respect their desire to change the world and to help them on their journey.

    I have seen Anna's blog and I raised my second child nappy free because she resused cloth nappes at about two weeks old. It was hard, but there was no choice - I had to learn. If I hadn't learned and hadn't been in a position to acknowledge the innate intelligence of the newborn, then I might have ended up assuming there was a problem. Needless to say, we had lots of disasters, but that's learning isn't it? Tracey.

  8. Sorry that word "resused" is meant to be "refused" !!!


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