Academic journal article Social Alternatives

'Being More, Not Having More' Education for Global Change

Academic journal article Social Alternatives

'Being More, Not Having More' Education for Global Change

Article excerpt


Earth Charter Education is currently the most ambitious and extensive initiative to pursue a more peaceful, just and sustainable world through education. It has historical antecedents in the socially-critical education movements of the past several decades. Earth Charter Education, however, has some features likely to produce more success than those earlier initiatives. At the same time, it faces some substantial obstacles. This article highlights one of those obstacles - the contradiction between Earth Charter principles and the commodified consumer culture within which most young people in wealthier countries are immersed. The author sees promise in Earth Charter Education's advocacy of experientially-rich learning.

A Perplexing Episode

Several years ago I presented a guest session at an elite girls' school. I spoke to senior students about work, trade and justice in our globalising world. They'd just begun a term-long study of those issues. At the end of their study I asked their teacher how they had responded. She described their interest, enthusiasm and sense of moral outrage at what they had learned about their world. They clearly appreciated the opportunity she'd offered them to engage with some stark global connections. But, she added, they were bemused by her suggestion that some of them might consider becoming teachers themselves and doing similar work with young people No, they insisted, teaching lacked both status and financial reward. In the main, their sights were set on careers in law, business and similarly rewarding areas.

That simple episode seems to encapsulate a paradox that bedevils attempts to teach for a 'better world'. On the one hand, Australian classrooms abound with critical and challenging studies of (for example) global injustice. On the other, it seems such studies can fail to touch the hearts and minds of young people with enough force to change the way they see their own place in the world.

In this article I explore both sides of this paradox, with particular reference to educational initiatives linked to the Earth Charter movement. In the main I focus on the minority world1. The roots of most social and environmental problems around the globe can be traced to the wealthiest nations and peoples of the world. Nothing will change unless minority world people and their institutions change what they value and what they do. That is where Earth Charter Education's most vital work will be done. Increasingly, however, much of what is analysed and advocated in this article applies to the rapidlygrowing, aspirational middle classes in India and China.

What is Earth Charter Education?

At its best, the flavour of Earth Charter Education is encapsulated in these words from Sally Jensen, a Canadian teacher describing an initiative at her school.

(It) embraces the fundamental principles of the Earth Charter that encourages us to strive for a more just, sustainable and peaceful global society. We seek to uphold the inclusive ethical vision of the Earth Charter that recognises that environmental protection, human rights, equitable development and peace are interdependent and indivisible. In this respect, we make conscientious efforts to work collaboratively with all members of our school community - students, parents, teachers, administration, staff and other members of the local community - to help raise awareness on social and environmental issues, to learn to examine our values, to help integrate a sense of global ethics and, through school community activism, commit to a sustainable way of life that can inspire commitment, cooperation and positive change.

Visionary indeed. And ambitious. Sally was describing an 'Earth Charter Festival' through which Vaughan secondary School promoted the Earth Charter among students and the wider community alike.

Sally's description comes from a website collation of North American Earth Charter projects in 2005. …

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