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The pattern which connects: teacher education and ecological understanding April 22, 2012

Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Early Childhood Education, Engaging Learning Environments, Primary Education, Secondary Education, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
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from Dr David Wright

It is a necessary truth that as the context of education changes education systems must also change (Kalantzis & Cope, 2008). This includes teacher education systems. With scientific evidence foreshadowing significant developments in human-environmental relationships (see for example Costanza, Graumlich & Steffen, 2011), teacher education systems need to respond. This is more than an ‘environmental’ problem. It is our collective problem. In this respect Orr (1992, 2004) puts the case for a new core competency: ‘ecological literacy’. Orr describes ecological literacy as a ‘quality of mind that seeks out connections’ and says it is the opposite of the ‘specialisation and narrowness characteristic of most education’ (1992:92). How can a divergent ‘quality of mind’ be learned? How can it be taught?

Questions about ecology and consciousness are not new. They go back to the pre-Socratics. Heraclitus observed, “no man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man” (Allen 1966). This brings issues of nature,  experience and understanding together very succinctly. What is new is the breadth and depth of contemporary insight into the world we experience – ‘the river’ – and the relationship between the world we experience and the way we understand and respond to that experience – ‘the man’. Inevitably, education is a part of any such response. In this respect, Thomas Berry’s argument, in his foreword to Edmund O’Sullivan’s (1999) treatise on the transformation required for an emerging ‘ecozioc’ era, is worth citing;

Every profession and occupation of humans must establish itself within the integral functioning of the planet. The earth is the primary teacher in economics, in medicine, in law, in religion. Earth is the primary educator. Ecology is not a part of economics. Economics is an extension of ecology (xiv).

Similarly, Saylan & Blumstein (2011) call for “a full integration of environmental education in a form that inspires practical and critical re-evaluation of education as a whole” (3). Other writers, for example Judson (2010), suggest that such inspiration can be furthered by reference to ‘ecological’ rather than ‘environmental’ learning. “Ecological education emphasises the symbiotic relationship between human beings and nature” (10). It refuses to allow the environment to be considered separate from human kind.

How can teacher education and professional learning contribute to ecological understanding? Contemporary politics tells this is a troubling area for learning. Diverse responses emerge, often very passionately; diverse agendas govern responses. If education – and teacher education in particular – is to engage in this field how can it position itself? Can we we identify models of practice worthy of admiration? Are there glimpses of inspiration that can lead us toward meaningful change, as a consequence of critical, ecological understanding? What forms does the required pedagogy take if amelioration is to occur?


At 9.30 each morning Kindergarten, Year 1 and Year 2 students at K…… School, a small independent non-systemic school in Sydney’s Blue Mountains, gather with their teachers and those parents who have lingered after the morning drop-off and join in what can be seen as an elegantly designed example of ecological pedagogy.

Standing in a circle all sing and recite a series of poems that, in turn, acknowledge the new day, evoke respect for all students, situate the learning in a physical environment comprising animals and plants and look forward to a rewarding day of interactive learning. This opening constructs a shared experience. Situated at the beginning of the day, it constructs a platform for the future. It uses rhythm and emotion. It uses movement and group action. It seeks to connect directly with the values that motivate students in their relationships with the world around them. It is ritual learning that anticipates and supports the learning that will follow. It begins with a short song.

The bush is dancing in a ray of sunshine, / the birds and animals are all at play, / the world is breathing with the sound of daytime, / wake up, welcome the day. / Wake up (CLAP, CLAP), everybody wake up (CLAP, CLAP), wake up, welcome the day

This is followed by a poem, recited by all, that extends these sentiments. It begins,

Good morning dear earth, good morning dear sun, / good morning dear stones and flowers everyone, / good morning to beasties and birds in the tree, / good morning to you and good morning to me…

The third element, a song performed with movement and often in rounds, celebrates those present. It begins,

Circle of friends I love, let me tell you how I feel / You have given me such pleasure, circle round again…

This is followed by another brief poem, a minute of quiet and, a third poem beginning,


Down is the earth and up is the sky, here are my friends and here am I.


The final element is a ritual ‘Good morning’ sung in turn by each staff member and a ritual ‘Good bye’ sungto all parents still present. Parents then shuffle from the room waving goodbye and blowing kisses. The staff take command and the day moves on.

This simple ritual can be seen as a form of an education that Gregory Bateson (1979) bemoaned the absence of. He referred to it as “the pattern which connects”:

The pattern which connects: Why do schools teach almost nothing of the pattern which connects? … What’s wrong with them? What pattern connects the crab to the lobster and the orchid to the primrose and all four of them to me? And me to you? And all six of us to the amoeba in one direction and to the back-ward schizophrenic in another? (Bateson 1979:8).

The link between an understanding of connectedness and processes of learning lies in the ways in which both ecological understanding and pedagogy draw on an applied appreciation of the construction and communication of relationships. It is through an appreciation of patterns in relationships that students are able to experience themselves in relation to learning subject matter. It is here that a depth of learning resides.

The commencing ritual at K….. School is a brief few minutes in an extended school day. From the point of view of an outsider who has observed this ritual, it introduces values and attitudes to the young children present. It requires teachers to model those values and attitudes. It is not an attempt to instil behaviours or provide solutions. It indicates and communicates an approach to learning, developed over time that contributes to the identity and orientation of the school. It is an attempt to draw children into connectedness with each other and the world beyond, and thereby a sense of belonging.

The design of an ecological education goes beyond acknowledging the complexity of interconnected life. It requires reflection upon the assumptions that inform educational practice. Saylan & Blumstein (2011) argue, “change is not only possible but within reach if all of us begin to look at the problems differently and accept the collective and individual responsibilities required” (xii). Not all commentators exhibit the same confidence. Spratt & Sutton (2008) argue,

All countries, no matter what their political system… will struggle to achieve the needed change unless they engage their communities in a deliberative process to learn about the… issue (265).

If these questions are to be addressed meaningfully in educational policy and practice, they need to be addressed meaningfully in teacher education and professional learning. Ecological literacy challenges long held assumptions about educational practice. New generations of educators cannot be encouraged to limit and compartmentalise knowledge and practice in traditional ways. Change is an experience we encounter together. Our fellow teachers and students, our children and our grandchildren are our responsibility, just as we are theirs.

 References:   Allen, R.E. (1966) Greek philosophy: Thales to Aristotle. New York: Free Press.    Bateson, G. (1972) Steps to an ecology of mind. New York: Ballantine Books.    Bateson, G.  (1979) Mind and nature. New York: Bantam Books.    Costanza, Graumlich & Steffen (eds) (2011) Sustainability or collapse: An integrated history and future of people on Earth. Cambridge Mass: MIT Press.    Harries-Jones, P. (1995) A recursive vision: Ecological understanding and Gregory Bateson. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.    Judson, G. (2010) A new approach to ecological education. New York, Peter Lang.    Kalantzis & Cope (2008) New learning. Port Melbourne, Vic: Cambridge University Press.    Orr, D. (1992) Ecological literacy. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.   Orr, D. (2004) Earth in mind. Washington: Island Press.    O’Sullivan, E. (1999) Transformative learning. London. Zed Books.    O’Sullivan, E. & Taylor, M. (2004) Learning towards an ecological consciousness. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.    Saylan, C. & Blumstein, D.T. (2011) The failure of environmental education. Berkeley, University of California Press.    Spratt, D. & Sutton, P. (2008) Climate code red. Melbourne, Scribe.

David Wright is a Senior Lecturer in education and social ecology in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. His research interests lie in the overlapping fields of cognition, embodiment, performance, creativity, learning and systems thinking. He approaches this work through the lens of Social Ecology, which looks at the relationships that facilitate understanding.

Surviving Economic Crises through Education April 8, 2012

Posted by Editor21C in Education Policy and Politics, Primary Education, Secondary Education, Social Justice and Equity through Education.
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from Associate Professor David R. Cole

How does one survive an economic crisis? The answer to this question comes in a set of new essays that examine the relationships between economic crises and education. A new book – Surviving Economic Crises through Education (Peter Lang, 2012), looks at educative life from the perspective of complex and entwined material practices – sometimes unconscious. These essays suggest that one survives economic crises through education by closely examining breaks and rupture points in which new tendencies in society are disclosed and made apparent.

Education has been connected to the formations of the state and its citizens since at least Plato (1965 [360 B.C.])[i]. In these globally connected, accelerated times of instantaneous capital investment, the citizen is a product of consumerist values and state intervention in community affairs. Education is mandated to produce these citizens, and to do this, teaching and learning must presently inculcate: the requisite duties, speeds and repetitions of everyday life (in order to pay taxes), notions of services and product creation appropriate to market conditions (including efficiency markers such as linguistic and numerical skills), and robust self-building and resilience studies (effective affect-cognition, suitable for sales, interview situations and decision making under stress). Admittedly, there is another side to these through-lines in contemporary education, which have been neatly summarized by Negarestani (2011) to link education with economic crises:

As the event immanent to the polis, the citizen is the horizon whereby the trauma of the human organism is transplanted within the territorial trauma of the city and the state (p. 15).

In other words, the notion of economic crisis is a traumatising agency. In an accelerated economic situation, the likelihood of further crises and therefore increased trauma is amplified. One could, perhaps straightforwardly, relate these dispersed factors in the analysis of trauma to a type of non-representative affect relation, as Nigel Thrift (2004) has done in his analysis of cities. Yet, in order to effectively place education in the frame of an undulating economic curve of boom and bust, that perhaps goes back to the 1500s as Braudel (1967) suggests, one must take into account the notion of citizenship. The machinery of citizenship is laid out like an extended cage and shadow over and beyond the specific highs and lows of economic contextualization.

The essays in this book link economic crisis with education through the mask of apparatuses such as the citizen; with its requisite traumas detracting from understanding the ways in which teaching and learning have altered due to the crises. The set up of containment strategies for populations by power elites, who have benefitted most from economic growth, unravels when the economic situation deteriorates (see Scott, 1998). This means that educational mores, often conceptualised during a period of strong economic activity, carry on through resource retraction, and may appear as a type of nostalgia for the golden times when progress, money and social cohesion had been easier to achieve.

For example, in the USA, the boom times of the 1990s, and the ‘dot com.’ revolutions still resonate in terms of developing new economic, social and educative progress. Indeed, much of the global interest in new ways to educate for the 21st century and the future come directly from this period, with the exultation of ICT solutions to social and educative problems touted as the most efficient ways to produce learning communities (e.g. Lauder, Brown, Dillabough & Halsey, 2006). Yet educators working in poverty-stricken communities know that installing IWBs in the classroom will not immediately fix low educational expectations and achievement. Rather, one must look to the sources of the power imbalances (which are often institutionalised), and try to understand how and why they have become operative in the affective-cognitive practice of education over time:

It is here that Nietzsche speaks of a break, a rupture, a leap. Who are these beings, they who come like fate? – Some pack of blonde beasts of prey, a conqueror and master race which, organized for war and with the ability to organize, unhesitatingly lays its terrible claws upon a populace perhaps tremendously superior but still formless –. Even the most ancient African myths talk to us of these blonde men. They are the founders of the state. (Deleuze & Guattari, 1984, p. 192).

Surviving Economic Crises

Surviving Economic Crises

This much quoted and misunderstood reference from Nietzsche, that Deleuze & Guattari (1984) use in their analysis of the state, is relevant to questions of education and economic crises. This is because the ways in which practices are conditioned and ingrained in populations over time comes from an originatory spark of life outside of the practice (see Cole & Hager, 2010). In the case of education, the spark has come from disciplinary, religious and military forms of organization. This is why it can be so difficult to initiate and sustain creative responses to learning and change in contemporary education, as the organisational forms that educational systems carry with them, such as timetabling and lesson planning, have been rigidly determined in advance and through history by state controlled curricula mechanisms (see Land, Meyer & Smith, 2008).

These states control disciplinary mechanisms, e.g. prisons, laws and the police force, the military, and have strategic alliances with large-scale religious organizations such as the Catholic Church. The answer to the problem of state control in educative systems is not to turn over the running of schools and universities to private ownership, as the corporate sector has equally inflexible systems and hierarchies that depend on capital flows, investment strategies and shareholder value (often dependent on merging, asset savings and future(s) orientation). Rather, the ways in which the business of education should be run requires a new organisational mode to emerge, one that breaks with the state controls of the past, and allows for differentiated and local concerns to determine the ways in which teaching and learning relate to the life of the socius (Agamben, 2005) and without falling back into pure ‘economism’.

The main idea of this book is that when an economic crisis such as the recent events of the GFC unfolded in 2008 in the USA, one is given the opportunity to question and examine normatively determined forms of living that may have carried on previous to the crisis. These forms of living entwine and become other in the context of a practice such as education (see Cole, 2010). This entwinement means that the outside forces that may have started the practice, such as military organization or religious belief, become progressively hidden beneath the cloaks of educative values and stasis. In the context of an economic crisis, the cloaks are unveiled, and the ways in which the entwinements have been knotted will be revealed. This happens because the resourcing systems of education depend on surplus capital flows, and the disequilibrium of an economic crisis forms tipping points whereby different directions in practice, such as the new modes of educative organisation mentioned above, may become apparent. To this extent, an economic crisis is an opportunity for reflection and change. It is a chance for educators, students and teachers to use this moment for the purposes of coming together, breaking the blinkers and limitations that have been set up for teaching and learning in the past, and designing a new path in education.

References:   Agamben, G. (2005). State of Exception. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.   Braudel, F. (1967). Capitalism and Material Life: 1400–1800 (M. Kochan, Trans.). New York: Harper and Row.  Cole, D. R. (2010, December). The Reproduction of Philosophical Bodies in Education with Language. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 42, (8), 816–829.   Cole, D. R., & Hager, P. (2010). Learning-practice: The Ghosts in the Education Machine. Education Inquiry, 1 (1), 21–40.   Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1984). Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (R. Hurley, M. Steem, & H. R. Lane, Trans.). London: The Athlone Press.   Land, R., Meyer, J., & Smith, J. (2008). Threshold Concepts within the Disciplines. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.   Lauder, H., Brown, P., Dillabough, J. A., Halsey, H. (Eds.). (2006). Education, Globalization and Social Change. Oxford: Oxford University Press.   Negarestani, R. (2011). On the Revolutionary Earth: A Dialectic in Territopic Materialism. Presentation at Kingston University of London.   Plato. (1965 [360 B.C.]). The Republic (A. D. Lindsay, Trans.). London: J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd.    Scott, J. (1998). Seeing like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.   Thrift, N. (2004). Intensities of Feeling: Towards a Spatial Politics of Affect. Geogr. Ann., 86 B (1), 57–78.

[i] In The Republic education consists of music and gymnastics. These are the two formative aspects of Greek education.

David Cole is an Associate Professor in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, Australia, and a member of the Centre for Educational Research. He researches in the fields of affective literacy, multiple literacies theory (MLT) and multiliteracies, where he applies Deleuzian theory to open up and examine pertinent questions in education. He has recently been looking at the voices that influence young Muslims in Australia and immigrant family literacies.

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