One of the principles of the Time Space Education consultancy is the pursuit of wisdom. We define this as “seeing the big picture, having a sense of proportion and observing how things play out over a period of time.”
The intention of this principle is that education, and educators, know and understand that there is a difference between knowledge and wisdom, and that knowledge – on its own – is just not enough. Educators must, themselves, be in the pursuit of wisdom so that they may become the genuine mentors that they are supposed to be as they guide young people through their childhood. To believe we are solely purveyors of pieces of information and mechanical skills is to misunderstand the purpose and significance of the profession. It is to shirk our responsibility.
I write this blog post from a wooden bar on the beach in Zanzibar on the coast of East Africa. I have returned here after an absence of 30 years and this hiatus gives me the gift of “observing how things play out over a period of time”.
What I see is not a revelation, it is a reminder.
30 years ago these beaches were pristine. Fortunately, they’re still pretty clean… but they are not pristine. A walk along the beach reveals a large amount of plastic bottles and other plastic detritus. Nothing like the staggering quantities I have found on beaches in Thailand, Vietnam or Indonesia, but I guess it’s that “over time” aspect that hits me hardest here.
It is just as easy to accept no responsibility for this as to take on all the guilt for it. For me, the source of guilt is the fact that I have worked in a series of international schools in which we have done nothing, or done very little, about this issue. This is despite the fact that, as adult people who have experienced places without plastic, we know about the problem. As international educators, we have all stepped into many sullied paradises… of that I am sure.
But what is the effect of those experiences on us, thousands of teachers, thousands of us influencing – or at least with the capacity to influence – those young minds who look to us for guidance?
Well… let me tell you.
Many schools still sell drinks in plastic bottles.
Many schools still provide food in plastic containers and with plastic cutlery.
Many schools still run conferences and distribute plastic to participants.
Many teachers still order take-away food and stuff the packaging into crammed trash cans.
Many schools routinely order kilo after kilo of plastic crap, or other stuff that comes contained in plastic crap.
Many schools’ curricula contain glib references to environmental issues yet the schools themselves remain repeat offenders.
Many schools service the owners or employees of the industries that are the biggest offenders.
I could go on making this list for a while, but it would be very boring – anyone reading the blog post knows what’s coming. Like I said, It’s not the knowledge that is the problem. The problem is the absence of wisdom.
Wisdom would tell us to take a stance (something we are not really accustomed to doing in our profession).
Wisdom would tell us to bring the environment to the front and center of everything we do.
Wisdom would tell us to stop accepting, stop perpetuating, stop ignoring.
Wisdom would tell us that the custodianship of our world is one of only a few things that really matters, not an afterthought… not a thing to be left to the kids.
It is our responsibility to hold their hands… to show them what is happening, to help them learn about the systems and mental models that are the causes as well as the potential solutions, to demonstrate how to live differently and to empower them to live more differently than we can imagine. To live in ways that they can imagine, not to be prisoners of our indifference.
So – all those in the profession of education – be brave. Put things in place in your places of work that show you are wise, or at least in the pursuit of wisdom. Stop hiding behind meaningless educational jargon, and do something.
Maybe, just maybe, these Zanzibar beaches might be pristine again in 30 years time.