Education's Ecology

-- An Overview

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The concept of Education Ecology began to emerge in my thinking about 12-15 years ago while I was taking retrospective stock of my own career as a biology faculty member in Minnesota's changing structures for higher education. I left teaching abruptly after 33 years at a relatively young 57. My life and finances had at times been fraught but good enough for some new freedom. It was time for something new. Education remained a prospective consideration for the unique contributions I might make pursuing a new chapter in my life as an independent consultant in rural northwestern Wisconsin.. The concept of Education's Ecology continues to unfold from and through my writing and speaking. The paragraphs below are just a start. The Book is still a work in progress.

Education Ecology is, it now seems to me, all about everything important for life. This is a characteristic shared by Education and Ecology; a consilience of sorts. Accordingly it is entirely appropriate to link these two enormously important conceptual dimensions of thought and human concern. Economics is a subsidiary of both ecology and education, but we may discover that economics is much more fundamental to all of life than our simple conceptions of money flows, utility and balancing the books. Biology is also about flow, satisfaction of needs and dynamic balance. I am almost perfectly comfortable with the notion that nothing in education will make sense except in the light of biology.

Education Ecology is not environmental education in any usual sense such as an Environmental Biology class. It is, rather, a planetary imperative for a World at Risk. It's goals are to think globally with actionable ideas, which can only be locally implemented at a community level of organization. Think globally, Act Locally. There is a need for the human species to recognize that what has served human adaptation, satisfaction and governance in the past cannot be a foundation for the future; to believe it can is insanity or absurd. This is particularly true for schools and the whole notion of schooling as a suitable path for education  Schools will be obsolete as education evolves beyond the mandates of an industrial model built to serve the fading industrial age. The Anthropocene arrived with the industrial revolution and some 200 years later our very survival demands evolution of human consciousness beyond the mythic and magical, even rational, thinking of the past toward an ecology of mind that is integral and consistent with a planetary imperative of stewardship. Getting into the future will not be for the faint of heart or for those who are fearful of the new ideas that will solve the problems we, humans, have created on this earth. Think globally, Interact regionally, Act locally. Ask Questions! What do you mean? How do you know?  What difference does it make? These three questions, judiciously and creatively applied in conversation, can form a productive dialogue.  Dialogue is a foundation for the learning that will be essential for our planetary future.

Education's Ecology cannot be planned as there can be no lasting organization; certainly nothing resembling our current system of schools. Natural ecosystems are never static; they change by succession and evolution across time in response to alterations in in their physical conditions and ebb and flow of populations within their communities. Education will evolve as its conditions and constituents change. Accordingly what emerges from thinking about Education Ecology is not expected to be a new enduring institution. Rather what endures is process. An evolutionary process, which follows a pattern of many evolutionary conversations stimulated by a flow of new ideas for education.  Exciting ideas will spring from a social design and vision for education that has no permanence physically, intellectually, emotionally or spiritually.

Above all Education's Ecology will shed the traditions and dogma attached to schools. Our schools emerged across many centuries from philosophy and theology. These writings and teachings predate the new realities of a new world created by technologies and innovation. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle as well as the founders of monotheistic and polytheistic religions, and not to exclude the Constitutional authors of American democracy, could never have anticipated the breadth and depth of change wrought by science, technologies, engineering and math across the two to three centuries of the Industrial Age.  

Learning is an inherent part of life processes that adapt an organism for survival and is enabled by a will to live. Education may well be an extension of learning in this sense for the human organism. Yet it may be a rather grave human mistake to lump too many important matters under the term learning. "Learning" to recognize your mother's face as an infant and "learning" to walk and ride a bicycle are many orders of magnitude different from "learning" to solve a differential equation or to lead a corporation, institution or government. It may be past time to enlarge our vocabulary about these things we casually and unthinkingly call learning. If education is about "learning" it too is in need of rethinking and redefining. In fact we may discover that what we call education is about life itself.

With that discovery we may never again see lifelong learning and adult education as just something that happens after our school, college and university experience is done. Education is never "done." We may also discover some ugly things about much of what contemporary schooling is and does. Schooling through whatever level is expected to provide qualification as a credential, socialize individuals to enable culture to sustain itself and something Gert Biesta calls “subjectification” in which individuals grow and develop to become the subject of their own objective selves. Education's Ecology will enable us to see teachers, textbooks, tests and technology in a light that reveals that each and their collective combinations in schools is simply not enough.

Everything evolves including the conversations from which we learn. These learning conversations form and inform our relationships across every border and boundary. Accordingly education ecology is all about relationships. Our relationships connect us and enable the construction of knowledge that has personal meaning across time and geography.

No one's knowledge is ever absolute unless they accept and embrace dogma. But, of course, dogma is an illusion of the absolute. Schools are enigmatic for education ecology because they impose arbitrary order on someone's social imperatives and do so through what is essentially totalitarian means. Accordingly, meaning is circumscribed and inevitably incomplete. Education Ecology is obligated to ask: Why is this so?

The objective for this page and the entire website is to illuminate whole-fabric thinking about education.  

Revised 6 February 2020.

© Bruce Lindgren 2020.

bflind (at) cheqnet (dot) net