For nearly 30 years as a student, teacher, writer, and editor, I have argued for replacing standardized, industrial-age learning with a holistic education that nourishes the body, mind, and soul, and connects one to community and nature. Because this view challenges the educational agenda of corporate globalism, which demands efficient assessment and allocation of so-called human resources, it has largely failed to significantly influence official education policy.
Now, the imminent end of the era of cheap energy forces us to consider what some are calling “the great reskilling.” Instead of preparing for careers in offices or chain stores, our very survival requires an ability to feed, house, heat, and clothe ourselves using the resources of local communities and bioregions.
I recently realized that even holistic education is inadequate if it remains conceptual and classroom-bound rather than becoming intensely practical, and I had to acknowledge that my own education, as impressive as it might be, leaves me utterly incapable of inhabiting this new/old civilization. So I have begun to re-educate myself by learning real skills in gardening and permaculture. I need to get my hands into the soil, but this is no weekend hobby; my education must now extend from concepts to craft so that I can contribute meaningfully to a more resilient local food culture.
I need to master not just the concept but the application—specific details about plant growth, the relationships between different plant species, and the effects of their cultivation on the Vermont landscape.
I am rediscovering what Emerson observed in the early days of our public school system: “We are students of words: we are shut up in schools, and colleges, and recitation rooms, for 10 or 15 years, and come out at last with a bag of wind, a memory of words, and do not know a thing.” We could afford an education like that for these last 160 years, when we lived off the work of fossil fuels. But the Earth could not afford it, and now, neither can we.
Ron Miller wrote this article for Learn as You Go, the Fall 2009 issue of YES! Magazine. Ron is editor of Education Revolution magazine and author of several books on educational alternatives. He teaches at Champlain College in Vermont.
Interested? Read “Soil, Seeds, Salt: Education Brought Down
to Earth,” an article by Madhu Suri Prakash.
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