Our Pale Blue Dot

earth

Looking to our immediate solar system, we have been granted with a planet that has evolved quicker than any other due to the appropriate catalysts for the growth of life.  It strains the mind to think of what the universe may hold in other galaxies.  Due to the short life span of a human being we must understand that these ambitions may never come to fruition so the paramount path we can take is to understand and care for what we have now and ensure its use for future generations.  The entire Earth is aesthetically stimulating, philosophically challenging, and ethically disturbing.  The current need within any form of education is to rethink a budding vision of Earth and the place of human life upon it, or as David Orr states “the worth of education must now be measured against the standards of decency and human survival” (p.8). I will be using Orr`s philosophy in his book Earth in Mind to aid in discussing the vital issues that face educational institutions`roles in educating generations to take care of our pale blue dot in space.  I suggest you give it a read.  For those teachers and students fortunate enough to have the perspective of Earth as a whole in space, the many thoughts that come to light are that of beauty, fertility and that of its small size in the relative space of our universe.  It is a gift to have a planet so full of life yet because of so many individual’s limited spectrum of knowledge this idea can be nothing more than a pretty picture.  It must be disseminated to future generations that Earth is to be treasured and nurtured.  It must endure so that future generations can have the same feelings and emotions.

Two of the greatest marvels on our planet are life and mind, both among the rarest things in the known universe.  Orr understands this and states that our educational systems ignore these types of amazing aspects of life on this planet when he says that education “emphasizes theories, not values; abstraction rather than consciousness; neat answers instead of questions; and technical efficiency over conscience” (p.8). Humans have become startling in their powers to rebuild and modify the Earth along with the more prevalent power of degradation.  We are facing many problems from population to ecological which are all intertwined.  Humanity’s desires for maximum development on Earth have caused an escalation in the exploitation of the environment.  Therefore, we are searching for an education adequate to respect life on Earth, the only planet yet known with an ecology.  Orr states that our intelligence to aid in developing this respect within education has been overshadowed by cleverness, he states that: “True intelligence is long range and aims toward wholeness.  Cleverness is mostly short range and tends to break reality into bits and pieces” (p.11).  Therefore, humans can be regarded as the wise species that now hold the future of Earth in its hands, however we still find it difficult to stray away from cleverness instead of embracing true intelligence, especially within educational institutions and how it is broken down into those bits in pieces through isolated subjects.  Through this characteristic of wisdom, humans have established education within cultural spheres to allow for the dissemination of wisdom, knowledge and skills.  However, education’s role in developing an ecological consciousness within students has been underwhelming.

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Many ecologically conscious individuals will say that Western cultures have become so destructive to planet Earth due to the human centred or anthropocentric ideals that are established through education.  This term has various forms; egocentrism, selfishness, ignorance, capitalist, but all have one thing in common, their lack of ecological ethics.  Orr believes this to be one of humanity’s greatest follies as “there is a myth that our culture represents the pinnacle of human achievement.  This, of course, represents cultural arrogance of the worst sort and a gross misreading of history and anthropology” (p.12). This human centred outlook has grown worse with every generation, causing us to lose touch with ourselves as natural beings.  We are part of the same biosphere as every other entity on the planet, all with a dependence on a healthy biosphere.  Over time, humanity has created a conception of the human identity as a part of its own sphere, not connected to nature and ecology which Orr states is the “result of an education that alienates us from life in the name of human domination, fragments instead of unifies, overemphasizes success and careers, separates feeling from intellect and the practical from the theoretical, and unleashes on the world minds ignorant of their own ignorance” (p.17).  Since most view education as relating only to this human sphere, the environment is exempt from its influence and our relationship with it becomes an afterthought.  Many educators who do not view the environment from this human centred view are divided about how to challenge the dominant framework in Western educational thought and how far ecology should extend into this  human sphere when discussing curriculum practices.  In this challenge Orr believes that “all education is environmental education” (p.12).

Many argue that human centeredness is inevitable and that there is no way we can ever disband the shackles of our human conceptual tools to see the world differently.   Since there never has been direct competition to the human species, other than other humans, we have been stuck in our view of dominance over the natural world despite climatic disturbances.  This view of dominance pervades our human sphere as oppression occurs to other humans as well, and within our educational institutions with Orr stating that: “Higher education has largely been shaped by the drive to extend human domination to its fullest” (p.9).  Many teachers give up on restructuring their lives or advocating for change within educational institutions due to the difficulties they face attempting to be environmentally conscious and become a role model for students, as Orr states educational institutions need these “faculty and administrators who provide role models of integrity, care, and thoughtfulness” (p.14). Their inability to do so has come from accepting the rules of a problematic educational framework as their attempts only become cynical or pessimistic.  However, just looking at what our planet is capable of, seen in the video embedded below, it may provide solace that there are ways to save the human species.

When attempting to move away from human centered approaches to ecological education in both public and higher education, it is important to understand that we cannot avoid thinking in terms of our own interests.  Most attempts today at ecological ethics and literacy in schools have always retained human interests into consideration before anything else.  Subjects within schools focus on how Ozone depletion and pollution harm human health, how over fishing destroys resources for future humans, why global warming could unleash potentially catastrophic climatic changes and extremes, and so on.  We are humans and we cannot evade our needs, to ignore humanity and only consider the effects on the planet would be irrelevant to the practical politics of ecological activism.  Human knowledge is rooted in experience and is therefore different from other species.  Orr agrees with this when he says that “we cannot say that we know something until we understand the effects of this knowledge on real people and their communities” (p.13). Despite this, humans must still understand that in order to treat other species, beings, ecosystems and so on with consideration of their welfare, humans must take some distance from our own immediate impulses, desires, and interests in order to consider their relation to the demands of others.

Therefore, teachers must have authentic empathy for the planet and understand that its needs are both similar and different from our own.  However, it must be connected that all subjects within an educational institution are connected to ecology, despite the fact they may serve human interests.  As Orr describes, if these connections are not established students may “believe that there is such a thing as politics separate from ecology or that economics has nothing to do with physics” (p.23). Through this, authentic ecological education can take place and provide students with a new perspective on our relationship with the natural systems that provide us with life, including our own.  Attempting to keep a view like this becomes difficult as it requires us to extend our understanding beyond our own location and interests, but it does not require us to eliminate them.  This is quite the endeavour for many teachers and students as today’s educational subjects and content focus on the here and now or as Orr states the “skills, aptitudes, and attitudes necessary to industrialize the earth” (p.17), rather than the extension of one’s self.  Awareness is the only way that this can change.  Since human interests are shared by all some may only finally understand the need for empathy when it is too late to act.

Humans must be accountable for what they are doing to their Earth, which is our life support system.  We are not responsible for creating Earth’s systems and resources; we are late in evolutionary history.  Despite this fact we have become increasingly responsible for Earth’s health and future.  The most important aspect in ensuring Earth’s future is to see ourselves, humans, as Earth residents with global interests.  Hopefully over time boundaries and governments will become much more amalgamated with this worldview in mind.  Humanity is a by-product of Earth’s grand systems, mainly evolution.  For a large majority of Earth’s history humans did not exist along with the cultural entities that come along with them, which includes education.  In the time of humanity’s absence, Earth was only a natural system; it is only recently that it has gone under the stress of supporting cultural systems.  Our modern cultures threaten the health, stability and future of Earth and the cultural systems on it.  We must advance forward in creating a culture in harmony with nature and learn to handle ourselves and direct ourselves away from “intellectual emphasis, loyalties, affections, and convictions” (p.33).  Our next step is to discover the appropriate respect for ecology; we must examine our lives and our world and choose to protect the highest of goods, Earth.

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~ by thecosmosreader on February 27, 2009.

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