Joseph Schwab (1969, 1971, 1973). Although much of my professional work is concerned .... According to McKean. (1977, p.208), the goal of Aristotelian ...
it's worked wonders for environmental education. After the cutbacks of the 1980s the various state governments have finally been convinced of the imporlance of community education. (Traynor 1990, p.4)
Renewing our mythic links with nature: some arts of becoming ecopolitical in curriculum work
Even if delivered tongue-in-cheek, this kind of statement betrays a naive instrumentalism that reduces education to being a mere palliative for social and environmental ills. More importantly, the advocates of instrumentally conceived forms of education characteristically overlook the contributions that instrumentalism itself may make to the social and environmental pathologies they are hoping to ameliorate. This point is nicely captured in a recent essay by CA. Bowers (1990) 'Educational computing and the ecological crisis: some questions about our curriculum priorities':
I will argue here that becoming ecopolitical is a desirable and defensible aspiration for learners, teachers and other curriculum workers. I will also argue that among the practical arts of becoming ecopolitical in curriculum work are those concerned with the renewal of cultural myths, such as are to be found in children's stories, and the selective and creative unnaming of objects and concepts to which we attend in our work. My reasons for advancing these arguments are concerned less with the politics of ecological problems and issues than with the politics of learning and arise from my commitment to a practical (or deliberative) approach to curriculum inquiry, as exemplified in the writings of the late Joseph Schwab (1969, 1971, 1973).
.. the use of the computer - in drill and practice, simulations, and word processing can be viewed as transmitting a curriculum that reinforces a Cartesian way of thinking.... The computer is useful in helping us to understand the nature and complexity of ecological disruption, but it is of little use in coming to grips with the culturally embedded pattern. of consciousness that causes us to act as though we are not an interdependent part of the biotic community. (Bowers 1990, pp. 74-5)
Although much of my professional work is concerned with environmental education I am neither an advocate nor an apologist for it (though I am committed to its improvement). Environmental education, like most kinds of 'adjectival' education (peace education, development education, health education etc.), asks far too little of its practitioners. Much education conceived in this vein is little more than a narrowly instrumental response to circumstances that are not to our liking, such as depletion of the ozone layer, the greenhouse effect, the exploitation of developing countries by Western governments and transnational corporations, overpopulation, the threat of global nuclear war and so on. The problems of atmospheric pollution justify the kinds of environmental education that are the social equivalents of personal toilet training, but they do not in themselves provide a rationale for educational practices which transcend technical interests. Indeed, the increasing attention given to environmental issues by the mass media and the general public may have accelerated the growth of technical rationality. For example, the Director of the Commission for the Future recently claimed, with no hint of irony, that 'the Greenhouse Effect.. .is actually a blessing in disguise' because it has been instrumental in 'forcing us to think 40 years ahead' and in promoting 'cooperative globalism' (Ellyard 1989, p.2). Similarly, in a statement reminiscent of peace educators welcoming the threat of war, a Vice President of the Australian Association for Environmental Education wrote:
Educational computing is not the only element of conventional school curricula that merits this kind of criticism. But the educational problems that arise from the intersection of Green politics with schooling are not obvious - in the way that, say, fouling our own nest with chlorofluorocarbon gases is obvious. Rather, they involve 'the culturally embedded pattern of consciousness' to which Bowers refers. The investigation of such problems requires that we address questions about the worldviews, paradigms and myths that are the subliminal foundations of our experience and practice in education. For example, if we agree that there is some virtue in seeing ourselves as 'an interdependent part of the biotic community' then we must be prepared to relinquish our dependence on the vices of abstraction and atomism. As Michael and Anderson (1986, p.115) put it: The most striking feature of the postmodern world is its systemic character, its astounding proliferation of linkages among once-separate cultures, governments, economies and ecosystems. . .
Thank God for the greenhouse effect! While global wanning isn't great news for the planet,
In the postmodern world, 66
connected to everything so that cause and effect, present and future, we and they are utterly ensnarled; even separating them for analytic purposes becomes far less convincing than it was in the heady recent times when academics talked with great confidence of factors and variables. (Michael & Anderson 1986, p.115)
St. Francis to cry out 'Sister sparrow, brother wolf!' was a great thing. But for the Buddha to be a jackal or a monkey was no big deal. And for the people Civilization calls 'primitive', 'savage', or 'undeveloped', including young children, the continuity, interdependence, and community of all life, all fonns of being on earth, is a lived fact, made conscious in narrative (myth, ritual, fiction). This continuity of existence,...is fundamental to whatever morality may be built upon it. Only Civilization builds its morality by denying its foundation.
Green politics is a manifestation of increasing awareness of the extent to which 'everything is connected to everything' and some scholars see it as a 'new paradigm' in the social construction of reality, nature and human nature (e.g., Ash 1980, Capra 1983, Hutton 1987). Some curriculum implications of this paradigm shift are reasonably obvious if we agree that education should be shaped by conceptions of what we take to be 'real' in a philosophical sense (namely, that which is presumed to exist independently of human imagination). Thus, if we agree that the world is really systemic (that 'everything is connected to everything'), then we may also agree that school curricula should reflect and impart an holistic understanding of this reality.
By climbing up into his head and shutting out every voice but his own, 'Civilized Man' has gone deaf. He can't hear the wolf calling him brother - not Master, but brother. He can't hear the earth calling him child - not Father, but son. He hears only his own words making up the world. He can't hear the animals, they have nothing to say. Children babble, and have to be taught how to climb into their heads and shut the doors of perception.... This is the myth of Civilization, embodied in the monotheisms which assign soul to Man alone.
But there is more to changing worldviews than changing conceptions of reality. Social institutions like schooling also arise from humans imagining that which is non-real, supernatural and transcendental. Worldviews are myths - stories that embed individual experiences in a larger framework of shared values, meanings and purposes and that persist in a culture over relatively long periods of time. Conceptions of 'reality' are more readily subsumed within myths than vice versa, especially if we accept the non-realistic image of the universe suggested by quantum mechanics (see Mccusker and Mccusker 1988, p.78).
And so it is this myth which all talking-animal stories mock, or simply subvert. So long as 'man' 'rules', animals will make rude remarks about him (Le Guin 1987, pp.11-12).
Le Guin practices what she preaches and, in so doing, provides some clues as to how we might subvert atomism in education. In one of her own talking-animal stories, aptly titled 'She Unnames Them', Le Guin (1987, pp.194-6) mocks and subverts the biblical assertion that 'Man gave names to all the animals'. In this story Eve collaborates with the animals in undoing Adam's work: 'Most of them accepted namelessness with the perfect indifference with which they had so long accepted and ignored their names'. Le Guin thus demonstrates the practicality of some complementary insights that can be drawn from deep ecology and semiotics. Deep ecology cultivates a 'state of being... that sustains the widest (and deepest) possible identification' of oneself with one's environments (Fox 1986, p.87). It is a morality built on the continuity of existence. Deep ecology can be contrasted with the shallow environmentalism of Cartesian science which maintains clear distinctions and discontinuities between subject and object and, thus, between humans and other beings, plant and animal, living and non-living, and so on (see Figure 1). In semiotic terms, these distinctions are sustained by the deliberate act of naming, which divides the world into that which is named and everything else. Naming is not just a matter of labelling distinctions that are already thought to exist. Assigning a name to something constructs the illusion that what has been
A mythic sense of worldviews emphasises their endurance through time. The realisation that 'everything is connected to everything' is not unique to the postmodern world. Perceptions of universal wholeness and the identification of human existence with all existence are common in premodern and non-Western cultures and have survived Western modernity through various forms of subversive storytelling. An abstracted and atomistic worldview is largely an invention of 'Civilised Man' - of the predominantly Christian patriarchy which willingly embraced positivist science and industrialism. Stories which subvert this worldview have been told by people outside of the cultural mainstream, such as women and children, and the evidence for their survival lies not in academic literature but, for example, in stories told by and for children. This point is elaborated by Ursula Le Guin in her discussion of talking-animal stories. In the dreadful self-isolation of the Church, ...for 67
were conceived as practical arts (rather than as theoretic 'sciences'). The purposes of studying literature, religion, natural history or social history were similar: to help resolve the practical problems faced by humans when their desires fail to match their circumstances. These disciplines focused on the interrelationships between human moral purposes and the personal, social and physical environments in which they were situated. According to McKean (1977, p.208), the goal of Aristotelian scholarship was practical ('to perform good works'), rather than theoretic (to discover or demonstrate some fmal good or universal truth). This goal changed under the influence of 'scientific method' and many humane disciplines were reconceived as social 'sciences'.
named is genuinely distinguishable from all else. In creating such distinctions, humans can lose sight of the seamlessness of that which is signified by their words and abstractions. Thus, in Le Guin's story, Eve says: None were left now to unname, and yet how close I felt to them when I saw one of them swim or fly or trot or crawl across my way or over my skin, or stalk me in the night, or go along beside me for a while in the day. They seemed far closer than when their names had stood between myself and them like a clear barrier... (Le Guin 1987, p. 195).
We could do with some creative unnaming in curriculum work. Much of what Schwab (1958) called 'the corruption of education by psychology has been wrought by naming - by constructing illusions to suggest that a meaningful distinction can be made between 'perception' and 'cognition', or that 'cognitive', 'affective' and 'psychomotor' domains of consciousness are separate entities. Several generations of educators have been tragically corrupted by accepting that the least complex level of Bloom's taxonomy of educational objectives for the cognitive domain should be named 'knowledge'. It is tragic because this particular exercise in naming has helped to institutionalise the view that 'knowing' can be demonstrated in ways that resemble playing games of 'Trivial Pursuit'.
In the language of ancient Greece 'practical' is indistinguishable from 'political' (see Lobkowicz 1967) and this common ancestry points to some complementarities between contemporary ecopolitics and the revival of a neo-Aristotelian conception of 'practical' curriculum study, initially explicated by Schwab (1969, 1971, 1973) and refmed by Reid (1981) and others as 'deliberative' curriculum study. To say that curriculum problems are practical rather than theoretic is to say that such problems are also ecopolitical in a broad sense. Curriculum problems can only be resolved in the light of the complex interrelationships of humans with environments which must be treated holistically rather than atomistically and which necessarily involve subjectivity rather than the 'objective' methods of the sciences and technologies.
But the Cartesian grip on Western culture (and ultimately curriculum) is weakening. Willis Harman (1985, p.325) cites evidence of a recent strengthening of 'inner-directed' values (ecological, humane, spiritual) in Western industrialised countries as well as a deeper and more subtle shift in beliefs 'away from the confident scientific materialism of the earlier part of this century'. Harman also notes that a parallel shift in developing countries is, again, away from Western materialism and toward a reassertion of native cultural values and beliefs: 'The change in both cases is fundamentally a shift in our attitude toward our inner, subjective experience, affirming its importance and its validity'. This attitude change is a departure from the norms of the recent past but the strengthened beliefs are no novelty in the longer term history of Western culture and education. In the Aristotelian scholastic curriculum which predominated in Europe until the eighteenth century, no strong distinction was made between matters of fact and matters of value (Reid 1981). The ideal of scientific detachment, or of any attempt to eliminate human values from supposedly 'objective' worldviews, was foreign to this scholarly tradition, regardless of whether one was studying nature, human nature or the supernatural.
Thus, an interest in curriculum (and curriculum study) becoming more practical is confluent with concerns for our culture to become more ecopolitical. In many ways, the worldview of contemporary ecopolitics renews cultural and scholarly traditions which span more than two thousand years. Against these traditions, the domination of modern education by abstraction, atomism and Cartesian dualism for a mere two centuries is perhaps best seen as a relatively recent (and short lived) aberration. But we also need to do some unnaming in Aristotle's moral universe. With two thousand years of hindsight Aristotle's concepts of 'man' and of the polis are too limiting, but his sense of their interrelationships retains its wisdom: 'man' is still a political animal who becomes what he is capable of becoming in the context of the polis. We must unname 'man' and attend instead to what it means to be human. We must also unname the polis so that we identify ourselves as citizens of ecopolis - so that we aspire to become whatever we are capable of becoming in the larger context of an evolving biosphere (see also Gough 1989).
The disciplines of the medieval scholastic curriculum 68
Thus, an important task of deliberative curriculum study is to explore, critically and creatively, what 'becoming ecopolitical' might mean in curriculum work. The moral principles of becoming ecopolitical are similar to those of deep ecology, but the term 'ecopolitical' emphasises that identifying with environments - with ecopolis - is a matter of practical (i.e., political) choice, decision and action rather than the contemplation of a logos (a subject of study). I also prefer to think of becoming ecopolitical, rather than of attaining the 'state of being' sought by deep ecologists, to emphasise that human identification with the continuity, interdependence, and community of all life is dynamic and transactional and not a static or stable 'state'.
Mccusker, B . and Mccusker, C . (1988), The modern scientific view of the universe. In D. Dufty and H. Dufty (eds), Thinking whole: the quest for a new educational paradigm. Readings and resources prepared for the conference of the Social Education Association of Australia (University of Sydney, NSW), 77-81 McKean, R. (1977) Person and community: metaphysical and political. Ethics, 88: 207-17 Michael, D. N. and Anderson, W. T. (1986) Norms in conflict and confusion. In H. Didsbury (ed.) Challenges and Opportunities: From Now to 2001, Washington, World Future Society Reid, W. A. (1981), The deliberative approach to the study of the curriculum and its relation to critical pluralism. In M. Lawn and L. Barton (eds) Rethinking Curriculum Studies, London, Croom Helm, 160-87
Ash, M. (1980), Green Politics: The New Paradigm, London, The Green Alliance Bowers, CA. (1990), Educational computing and the ecological crisis: some questions about our curriculum priorities. Journal of Curriculum Studies 22 (1): 72-76
Schwab, JJ. (1958), On the corruption of education by psychology. School Review, 66: 168-84 (1969), The practical: a language for curriculum. School Review, 78 (1): 1-24
Capra, F. (1983), The Turning Point, London, Fontana
(1971), The practical: arts of eclectic. School Review, 79 (4): 493-542
Ellyard, P. (1989), The role of the Commission for the Future. Paper presented to a colloquium, Futures for Australia and the Pacific, Centre for Applied Research on the Future, The University of Melbourne, 27 October
(1973), The practical 3: translation into curriculum. School Review, 81 (4): 501-522
Traynor, S. (1990), Greenhouse in the Northern Territory. ozEEnews: Newsletter ofthe Australian Association for Environmental Education, 41: 4
Fox, W. (1986), Approaching Deep Ecology: A Response to Richard Sylvan's Critique of Deep Ecology [Environmental Studies Occasional Paper No. 20], Hobart, Centre for Environmental Studies, University of Tasmania
Unleashing the Genii ecopolis from the classroom: an environmental design and communication project
Gough, N. (1989), From epistemology to ecopolitics: renewing a paradigm for curriculum. Journal of Curriculum Studies 21 (3): 225-241
Harman, W. W. (1985), Colour the future green? The uncertain significance of global Green politics. Futures, 17 (4): 318-30
During the 1960s and '70s, anti-school sentiments were aroused in a wave of critical literature which characterised the classroom as a prison, a day corral for children, an advertisement for the dominant culture, and so on. Paul Goodman (1962), Ivan Illich (1971) and John Holt (1972) were among the notable writers who were persuasive in their attack on compulsory education and in their vision for a deschooled society.
Hutton, D. (ed.), (1987) Green Politics in Australia, Sydney, Angus and Robertson Le Guin, U (1987), Buffalo Gals and Other Animal Presences, Santa Barbara, Capra Press Lobkowicz, N. (1967), Theory and Practice, Notre Dame, University of Notre Dame Press