Monday, October 10, 2011

Educating "sustainable" individuals

DJ Ferguson is a teacher at Chelsea High School here in southeast Michigan, and is an incredibly inspiring individual. He filled the amphiteatre at the Nichols Arboretum in Ann Arbor yesterday with vigour, passion, and enthusiasm when he gave a talk for TEDxNicholsArboretum. The theme of the conference was Actions and Reactions, and was focused on how to change the decisions we make that are inevitably degrading the environment not only for future generations (of everything), but also degrading our lives, here and now.

To that end, DJ Ferguson talked about the importance of creating "sustainable" individuals. The choices we need to be making, the changes we need to be advocating for, the emotions we must have invested in this spiritual journey must be embodied and articulated in teaching and education. Instead, as DJ mentioned, the education we promote is one focused on scores, and one in which there is no emotional investment in what we learn. The process of learning itself is void of any play, of any creativity, of any end other than the grade, the job, the money. There is no money to be made in education, and so of course the government and private institutions neglect the importance of truly critical and questioning individuals. (They probably don't want critical individuals, anyway. Look at how the government and the finance sectors have responded to the Occupy Wall Street movement.) This makes me think about how Wendell Berry has written about the mindless slavery of industrialisation and capitalism.

According to DJ, most everything about how we educate people is counter to the creation of sustainable individuals. First, in no way is learning balanced between mind and body. To him, there is an excessive focus on mind (and mindless) education, and almost none focused on the body. Therefore, it is not surprising to see ever increasing body image issues and diseases, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. Second, the motivators for education are always the end goal, or are external motivators. For example, we go to college so that we can get a job, or we go to college so that we please our parents. It is like being paid a hundred dollars to push a button again and again and again and again. If we were internally motivated, however, we would see that education is not an end goal, but a process of constant thinking, of constant learning, of constant criticism, of constant enjoyment. Education is then a spiritual journey that knows no bounds, hopefully leading to an understanding that we live in a physically limited world, but one in which our love and emotions can continue to grow. Thirdly, the education we promote is decidely unintegrated with the greater world. We are tested in isolation, we sit indoors, no longer under trees as students learned in ancient India. But as with most everything we do, our actions unfold in contexts larger than the testing room, larger than the classroom.

I highly recommend watching his talk when it is put online. I will be sure to post it.

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