Dung Beetles and Monday Mornings

Friday February 19, 2016

NB Before you read this blog, open up the BBC news headlines website in another tab. We’ll need it later.

On Saturday 13th Feb 2016 we held a different sort of event for Independent Thinking. It wasn’t a day course, an INSET session or a conference but a not-for-profit gathering of interested teachers and Associates. We were there, Barnsley to be precise, because we all felt we needed to do something about that point where education and environmental issues met.

When we say ‘we’ we mean you as well, all of us. And when we say, environmental issues’, we mean catastrophic, ‘this changes everything’, end of the world as we know it environmental issues. 

Climate change  - countering it and dealing with the effects of how bad it has already become – is simply not on the government’s radar when it comes to education. The fact that this is very bad news is not a political statement. It’s more serious than that.

In a nutshell we have a three-part plan to face up to:

1 – We need to look in the eyes of every child we work with and say, ‘Sorry, we screwed up the planet. Please help’.

2 – We need to radically change the mental map we have about our place in the cosmos.

3 – We need to do something, all of us.

The inevitable and necessary frustrations that bubbled up in all of the participants during the event came as a result of step two.  To radically change our mental maps, to move as Professor Paul Clarke put it on the day, from ‘ego to eco’ is a big step. Doing something is easy compared to that.

Take a look at that BBC news website. Is there a story on Syria? Is there a story about refugees in Calais? Is there something about the drought in California as well as other parts of the world? Is there something about unrest in Egypt? Is there a story about a wild animal rampaging through a town in Africa or India? Is there a story about the Zika virus? Or shark attacks? Or Is there a story about a storm with a name hitting the UK? Is there a story about insurance policies? Is there a story about car companies cheating in emissions tests? Is there a story about problems in the EU, frustrations with the UN or politics in the US? Is there a story about fracking? Or oil prices? Or gas profits? Is there a story about the UK government cosying up with investment bankers?*

All of these and more are all different sides of the same story. The story of what is happening to our planet as it suffers from climate change. In the same way that a divided curriculum means children never get to make the links between different but interconnected disciplines, news sections prevent us from ever grasping the real problem. And you can’t solve a problem you can’t see.

But change how we look at the world, change our mental maps, and we might have a chance.

We are used to thinking of our place on the planet as the top of a wonderful pyramid with single cell organisms and politicians at the bottom. You can blame God for this. You can blame Darwin for this. Whichever view of life you espouse, it effectively has human beings and their amazing intelligence as the culmination of some pretty impressive design work. Yet if we are that clever, surely we can use this intelligence to grasp the fact that there are other forms of intelligence. 

Dung beetles navigate by using the Milky Way. The growth of trees is affected by the movement of the stars. The forest knows you are there.  If it wasn’t for single cell organisms, we wouldn’t be alive at all.

The days of the pyramid metaphor have to be over. Like it is with technology, the web is where it is at, with everything connected to everything else and human beings just a part of it, tangled inextricably with the worms, the mycelium, the dung beetles and the eagles.

This, then, is the starting point. Not simply better understanding the problem but actually grasping the setting in which this problem exists at a cosmic level. Literally.

And this can cause a frustration when it comes to step three and the ‘what are we going to do on Monday morning?’ question, something further exacerbated by the many and various other demands educators have thrust upon them on daily.

Whilst fully understanding that pressure, the issues we are dealing with aren’t just complicated, they are complex. Rushing into action in one place may make things worse somewhere else. In complexity these are called ‘externalities’, the unintended, unpredictable and unwanted consequences of our actions. (The book Aid on the Edge of Chaos is worth a read on complexity and how we have made a mess of so many countries by helping them.)

So, on Monday morning, don’t do anything different but do start to think differently. Think in a way that doesn’t put you – the human - first. Think in a way that acknowledges your place in the web. As Paul Clarke pointed out, drawing from his work in permaculture, make decisions that take fully into account care for people, care for the planet, return of surplus. Think eco not ego and start to change those mental maps in all you are with.

Then we can start on step three. More on that later...


* OK, probably not on the BBC. You have to go to Greenpeace for that.



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