This blog post was originally written for and published in Akasha Innovation, a social enterprise that aims to prepare and empower young changemakers to become future sustainability leaders. Go check out their amazing work and be ready to become inspired!
While completing my social entrepreneurship minor at Hult IBS, I had the opportunity to take a class with Akasha’s Chief Innovation Officer Mike Edwards about the global environmental crisis and sustainability. With his open-ended assignments, he genuinely encouraged us to find our passions and seek ways to speak our truths. In one of the assignments, I decided to write for him about a realisation I had in that school term because of his class and my work as a facilitator (or teaching assistant, as it is called): our global crisis of disconnection.
But disconnection from what exactly? Most people argue this is the most connected we have ever been given the many ways (fastest methods of transportation, the Internet and other technologies) that we can connect to each other and to the world in this globalised era.
And perhaps, this is true. But I am talking about the global crisis of disconnection from nature and from each other that has reached its peak in the past few years. This disconnection has proven to be lethal, as it has worsened climate change, biodiversity loss and social inequality.
To radically transform our current state of disconnection, we need to get to the roots of the problem. What is causing this disconnection? How is this disconnection affecting us? And once we find those answers, we need to envision a viable solution.
Disconnection is one of the critical symptoms we suffer from by living in a system that alienates us from nature, our food and our communities. Marx and Engels tell us that alienation happens when individuals become estranged and detached from the world in which they live in. Consumers are alienated from the source of the products they buy because they rely on factories that abuse the land and other creatures to satisfy our needs. Businesses dehumanise people and exploit their labour in several countries of ‘the Global South’.
This alienation and the subsequent disconnection from nature and from each other has been furthered in our society by a history of uneven power relations and linear modes of production. Can you guess what I’m talking about by now?
Our capitalist society and its never-ending need to consume has normalised the belief that everything is disposable. A thing that is disposable can be thrown away after use – similarly, a disposable person is considered to be owned and ready to be dismissed when the service is done. A culture of disposability enables linear modes of thought and action. Capitalism reproduces this linear model in two ways. Firstly, it promotes a society that likes to waste resources rather than preserving, recycling and reusing. Secondly, privileges a business model that dehumanises people and sees them as disposable and replaceable, rather than seeing them as whole persons with dignity and rights.
Not surprisingly though, this disposable culture that breeds disconnection from nature and each other has injected itself into every aspect of our lives – especially and most disturbingly, in the education system.
Over the decades, capitalism, has transformed the purpose of education and the ways we educate our children and youngsters. Henry Giroux explains that the purpose of education is to preserve our capitalist order by corporatising education. If individuals internalise corporate interests through the banking model of education, they will become subjects that fit within the mainstream cultural (corporate) norms of our society of economic growth and consumerism. This purpose is achieved by implementing pedagogical strategies such as the ‘the banking system’ of education.
Paulo Freire, considered one of the founding fathers of critical pedagogy, describes some of the features of this new ‘banking system’ of education in his book, ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’:
- It reproduces dichotomies such as teacher/student, active/passive, literate/illiterate, domineering/submissive and so on because of the positionality and power dynamics between teacher and student.
- The teachers, the ones that possess the knowledge that the students ‘need’ to know, assume the role of a narrator that explains the students about the world outside the classroom.
- The students become passive recipients that are supposed to fill their “empty heads” with the knowledge provided by the teacher. They become listeners that are completely disengaged and disconnected from the reality the teacher is supposed to be teaching them about.
- The teacher is considered to be a powerful and knowledgeable authority while the students are considered to be completely ignorant. This dehumanises the students by deeming them incapable of providing any kind of knowledge to the classroom.
- The students exist to memorise, repeat and accept the information being taught without questioning or challenging it. As a result, they are left without understanding how this imparted “knowledge” is useful for them.
- The teachers are better teachers the more they fill the students’ empty brains with information that they will memorise and repeat in a test. The more the students agree to accept this information and repeat it in the test, the better students they are.
The banking system of education is preventing learners from becoming agents of environmental and social change because of its lack of inquiry of practices, discourses and identities that we consider ‘normal’.
The current environmental education content being taught in schools suffers from the narration sickness inherent in the banking system of education. Not only do students not get to experience the environment they are learning about (which means they learn out of context); but also, environmental education has become descriptive and passive. It focuses mostly on the description of our ecosystem’s processes in isolation from one another, reflecting the way we try to address environmental crises and its causes.
This banking model of education perpetuates social oppression and inequality since it is favoured against a model that aims for the liberation of oppressed groups of people such as queer pedagogy and critical pedagogy. To quote Henry Giroux’s On Critical Pedagogy, the neoliberal education system “strips education of its public values, critical content, and civic responsibilities as part of its broader goal of creating new subjects wedded to the logic of privatisation, efficiency, flexibility, the accumulation of capital, and the destruction of the social state”.
Since everyone can be a learner and an educator at the same time, how do you address our global crisis of disconnection? We need a revolutionary and vibrant form of education. By applying the principles of ecology (the language of nature) such as systems thinking, networks, cycles, interdependence and diversity to the way we teach and school curricula; we can achieve a truly sustainable change in education that will make us ‘see the world anew’. Fritjof Capra explains in ‘Ecological Literacy’ that in order to use resources and treat people in a way that does not compromise the ‘needs and aspirations’ of future generations, we need to imitate how sustainable natural ecosystems work.
Modeling the school curriculum and our pedagogical strategies on the principles of ecology allows us to understand the importance of connectedness, relationships, context and resilience. Education for sustainable communities teaches us to see environmental and social issues as a whole and not as isolated issues that have different causes and effects. It disrupts the teacher/student dichotomy by bringing equality to the classroom where everyone is both a learner and an educator. It teaches that when you get ‘knocked down’, you ‘gotta get up again’ because that’s the essence of nature: rebirth, growth and transformation.
Current educators, leaders, business people, organisations, institutions and governments need to revolutionise education for it to challenge the environmental and social crises that are detrimental to the needs and aspirations of future generations.
If you want to support Akasha Innovation and its wonderful Young Pioneers Programme, please contribute to their kickstarter campaign here. It is of utmost important that we take steps towards a better future, and Akasha is doing just that by guiding young changemakers to become the change they wish to see in this world! Please contribute, these are the best people I know 🙂 ❤