Monday, November 2, 2015

Sourcing knowledge, sharing the journey

I had the wonderful privilege of co-presenting two workshops at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability (AASHE) Conference on "Transforming Sustainability Education" in Minneapolis this past week, and am so pleased to report that not only were both sessions really well attended, our participants were deeply engaged and passionate about both topics: "Re-thinking Options for Curriculum and Faculty Development: How will we take it to the next level?" and "Sustainability Officers: The Dream, the Sometimes Harsh Reality, the Reasons You Want Us on Your Leadership Team" (a video shoot). Many thanks to my colleagues for a great collaborative experience!

It's rejuvenating to be in the company of such thoughtful and skilled sustainability educators, and I keep finding new facets of meaning in "sustainability" (even if the term sometimes falls short as a tool to convey an idea). There was a strong voice for change in both workshops - toward livelier communication with our peers, stronger connections across disciplines and industries, a more robust and inclusive body of curriculum that both models and nurtures a deep understanding of complexity. I would add to this a reverence for our birthplace, Earth, and the preciousness of this moment.

I'm working on ways to weave these voices into my research, in part because I really believe we are on the brink of a paradigm shift, and that sustainability is the seismic force that's catalyzing it. I am particularly interested in cooperative partnerships between higher education institutions and communities around resilient, restorative local food systems, but I see that area as just one gateway into new, dynamic roles for both. As tied as it is to culture, ecology, well-being, economic policy, (and of course, enjoyment), food is a wonderful access point to the conversation. The shift that is happening in higher education, I think, is both a response and a solution for the change that's demanded in the rest of the world.

As David Orr and others have said, higher education is already doing the easy things - investing in clean energy, incorporating sustainability into planning, reducing our climate footprint, promoting responsible environmental behaviors. Yet as necessary and laudable as these actions are, they do not change the reality that we still work in silos, we do not hear one another, we lack the organizational supports to do real trans-disciplinary work. The more arduous, even dangerous (i.e., exciting) work is ahead: challenging higher education's purpose, its value, its reasons for existence. How do we cultivate planetary citizenship? How can we engage across boundaries in a way that changes the boundary itself? How does our thinking limit or create possibility? What must we change in ourselves?

In the meantime, I'll be co-presenting two more workshops next week, at the New England Environmental Education Alliance (NEEEA) Conference on "Climate of Change":

"Everyone Eats: Community Gardening as a Practice of Civic Ecology and Resilience"
How can garden-based education empower people, increase food security, mitigate climate change, and build community resilience? Here we explore tools, practices, and programming approaches designed to do just that.

"Climate Change and Environmental Education: An Open Space Dialogue."
This participatory session creates space for educators to engage with each other around issues of equity and justice in the face of climate change impacts. Come ready to actively contribute to, and be inspired by, what matters most in this essential work.

Maybe I'll see you there!