Sustainable Education

Diminishing returns

I’m not just talking about a curriculum that includes educating students about sustainability, though that’s also important. I’m talking about the system of educational diminishing returns that we’re seeing, especially in the United States. I’ve got a family full of teachers, so I’ve been exposed to the particular challenges they face for my whole life, and I’ve seen first-hand the disgusting lack of support for all teachers, but more specifically for teachers that work with the students that need the most support – children with behavioral disorders, learning styles that are at odds with the current system, language impairments, math-based learning disorders, physical disabilities, and developmental disorders. The recent U.S. Education Sequester has made things worse, disproportionately so for the teachers and kids in special & alternative education programs. Let’s face it – even with the current economic difficulties, this is an incredibly wealthy country. We’re just not using the power of our wealth to back the right horse. And if we don’t start changing things when we can, I think it will eventually lead to a situation where we don’t have the wealth or the skill-set that makes change like this potentially so easy to implement.

Education refugees

knowledge-1052011_640Because of the diminishing returns that are being seen by all students, more of us are looking outside our borders to pursue higher education. “The number of U.S. students at Canadian colleges rose 50 percent in a decade.” And that’s just Canada, one of our closest neighbors. Lots of us are going to other countries where we can get an excellent education for half the cost, or less. I’m an education refugee myself, and I’m in the Netherlands. I took my brains and my work ethic and moved them overseas. Not because I don’t love my country, but because it doesn’t love me. It loves big agra and big pharma and a big military. It certainly wasn’t the easier choice in the short-term, but it’s the more sustainable choice for me, for many reasons, one being that I no longer need a car; I go everywhere by bicycle, train or bus, greatly reducing my personal carbon footprint. Another thing that makes it a more sustainable choice is that I don’t have the crippling student loans I would have had otherwise. I still needed student loans, and they’re still through the US federal government, who’s robbing me blind on interest, but it’s tens of thousands less than it could have been.

learn-793095_640There’s another way to read ‘education refugees.’ Current and potential teachers are making other choices for careers. When I was younger, I wanted to be a teacher because of the inherent ability of the profession to inspire future generations, and the massive contributions teachers make to the general good of society. But that ability is being eroded by increasingly bad policies, like the rise in emphasis on standardized testing which forces them to ‘teach to the test’ instead of accenting critical thinking, research, and interactive learning, all of which engage students. Also eroding that ability is decreasing federal funding. Schools are closing, kids are being shuffled around, teachers are losing their jobs, and the ones remaining have bigger class sizes, more work, and mountains of stress. This is a downward spiral – by nature not sustainable.

Back to being green

Of course, this all has serious ramifications for the overall sustainability movement as well. Everything’s related. If we aren’t inspiring and educating people to be good critical thinkers and inventors, we’ll have a hard time coming up with new technologies that will help move us away from dependence on fossil fuels. Research and development are vital to this process. For example, biotecture wouldn’t be feasible without a really good understanding of how different materials interact with heat, and how to use that knowledge to increase the self-sufficiency of buildings. We’re actually holding back our own scientific development, and increasing the overall danger to the entire world, and that’s just unforgivable.

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