Photo courtesy of Witty Sandle.

The extent to which we think in unsustainable and ecologically destructive ways is in large part due to how our educational system teaches us. The creation of an ideal of “universal education” during the western European Enlightenment and its institutionalization in the form of mandatory formal schooling, first in the West in the nineteenth century, then globally post-World War II in the twentieth century, has also meant the global spread of Enlightenment ideals of science, technology, progress, industrialization, democratization, and so on. David Orr is one of the most passionate voices on record speaking against this form of education as being ecologically-destructive, and offering a positive alternative wherein the primary form of literacy educated for is neither technoscientific nor literary-textual, but ecological. (While some of his books, such as Ecological Literacy and Earth in Mind, present the argument in detail, here is Orr’s much shorter E. F. Schumacher lecture “Ecological literacy: education as if the earth mattered“.)

Perhaps the centerpiece of Orr’s position on ecological education and developing ecological literacy in children, is his argument that education should begin in direct, embodied knowledge of the place where you live. So children should be taught in the woods of their neighbourhoods, or about the river in their city first by boating on the river and getting muddy along its shoreline. Our imagination needs to be fired by these experiences, and needs to be developed and refined within a correspondingly appropriate ecological scale. Orr believes that with this as a base the young will be equipped for the challenges of healing the planet and living with it rather than pretending we can dominate it through technology and progress.

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The Oberlin Project was started by David Orr in Oberlin, Ohio, and embodies much of his work and vision.

Although to my knowledge The Center for Ecological Literacy was not begun by David Orr, it does feature much of his work and thinking on its website and does carry on many of the basic principles of ecological education that Orr advocates.

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