Home > Future focussed issues, Shifting schooling > “What’s climate change got to do with education?”

“What’s climate change got to do with education?”


Negev Desert (C) Rachel Bolstad, 2007

The title of this posting is a verbatim question I was asked by a teacher after a presentation I gave at their school last year. At the time, the question left me a bit stunned, and I have been wanting to write a posting about it ever since.

To give you a sense of context (and why the question shocked me), here was the gist of the presentation I’d just given (or at least a small segment of it). I’d used the work of Jane Gilbert and others to discuss how certain Industrial Age social and economic imperatives haveĀ  influenced the development of the systems, structures, and ideas we have about secondary education today. I discussed some of the major shift in concepts of what “knowledge” is and what it does, and how many of these new ideas have arisen in the world outside education (see more about that here and here ). I talked about some of the important capabilities, dispositions, competencies etc that 21st century education ought to be focussing on – such as those mentioned here . Then, I gave what I THOUGHT was a good example to illustrate exactly WHY we must take all this seriously, and WHY these kinds of 21st century learning approaches really do matter.


Delhi, India (C) Rachel Bolstad, 2005

I said something along the lines that the 21st century world brings with it a whole new gamut of changes and challenges – social, economical, political, and environmental – that will require us to be able to think and act in new ways. We are in a world where the future is unknown – and where people need the ability to deal with uncertainty, be confident to take on open-ended challenges, where the solution CAN’T be known in advance, and where we can no longer assume we can leave things up to some “authority” to fix the problems we (and they) have collectively created. A world in which people will need to rapidly build new knowledge to address emerging challenges, collaborating across disciplines, cultures, and nations, drawing on many sources of evidence, and constantly re-evaluating decisions and actions as new knowledge and evidence is generated, with a concern for the impacts of their decisions and actions on the people and world they live in. A world which demands much more of its citizens, and in turn, demands much more of or education systems.


Flooding, Bangkok. (C) Rachel Bolstad, 2006

Climate change – a global problem which is a genuinely open-ended challenge, and which has deeply interconnected social, political, scientific, and economic dimensions – and which we are all affected by (and which we all affect) – what could be a better example to illustrate why we need to think again about what we are doing as educators? Or so I thought.

Yet at the end of my presentation, it seemed at least one teacher could not see that climate change had any relevance whatsoever to education. I wonder, what DID they think was the point of education? Unfortunately I didn’t have the opportunity to have this conversation with the teacher, nor was I able to actually give a response to the question (assuming it was really a question, rather than a rhetorical statement of exasperation at my presentation!)

Since I never was able to discuss this with the teacher, I plan to start this conversation on shiftingthinking.org instead. In the coming weeks and months, we’ll be building up some material on our “Theory” section to explain some of the current thinking in environmental and sustainability education, why it matters, and why this ought to be absolutely central to our thinking about 21st century learning and education. We’ll also be blogging more in this area, and pointing you towards other blogs, resources, and people who can help us learn more.

I’d love to hear from any and all of you out there who are passionate about environmental and sustainability education!

Future focussed issues, Shifting schooling , , , , ,

  1. | #1

    We can’t predict the future exactly, but we can certainly think a lot more deeply about what kind of future we want, and what kinds of people we need to be to make that future happen. I think teachers definitely need to be prepared to question and shift their own thinking, of course they do. Not just teachers – I think that’s something that everyone needs to be able to do. But perhaps society’s tended to push us into thinking that there’s something wrong with uncertainty? That changing your mind, reassessing your own thinking, or admitting you’re not sure, is somehow a sign of intellectual weakness? (I think it’s a sign of being a good learner!)
    However, admitting we don’t know it all, and being willing to expose or question our own thinking is different from relinquishing what you or I can contribute in terms of our wisdom, experience, prior knowledge, intergenerational knowledge, not to mention values, ethics, and principles, etc. Students, it will not surprise you to learn, don’t have all the answers either! I do think students will increasingly be doing more of the guiding and deciding in certain ways, and in perhaps especially in certain areas where they may be more expert than their teachers. But I don’t think we can, or should, assume that increasing students’ involvement in shaping their learning means stepping back completely and thinking they’ll get it sorted themselves. They need our help, guidance, knowledge, support, encouragement, wisdom, etc. But perhaps in less of a we-already-know-it-all-and-now-you’re-going-to-learn-it kind of way…..

  2. Carmen
    | #2

    I have been thinking about 21st Century educational differences compared to 20th century to try and come up with where the major changes in our daily life are….and it got me thinking about the changes that occured from 19th to 20th century life. I recently read about the latest ‘oldest man in the world’ passing away and was thinking about what has happened in his life time in terms of experiencing life in the world and changes that must have been made by teachers & education to accomodate that changing world view. Some things changed drastically (first motor cars to space travel and mass communication by newpaper to radio, TV then Internet) but lots of ideas have not changed, just the way we present them to our students. Predicting the changes of the future is not possible…but how do we prepare? Do we need to prepare our teachers first to be leaders of shifting thinking or let the students guide us more than we have ever done so in the past? Can we trust the judgement of our students completely or do we need to temper it as we have done for so long?

  3. Jack
    | #3

    I’d be interested in reading Ecological Intelligence, and will post an intelligent comment when I get to it. I like that it has the concepts of Ecological and intelligence close to each other – hopefully it is nothing like military intelligence (apologies to the deserv’ed). I think we need to still apply intelligence to these issues – I caught myself getting all emotively caught up on this green wave because I think our environment is vital to our wellbeing in so many ways that we haven’t explicitly costed. But back to climate change (rather than global warming? interesting) in schools, and global climate change at that. Are we still encouraging critical thinking about the subject and about our evidence for it? Or are we indoctrinating them with shallow media hype?

  4. | #4

    No, do you have it? Can I borrow it… or (even mo’ better) do you have time to summarise some of the main ideas you took from it?
    (A compromise position could be to lend me the book with post-it notes marking that bits you liked best!)

  5. Jane
    | #5

    Have you read Ecological Intelligence, by Daniel Goleman yet? (the same guy who wrote Emotional Intelligence AKA EQ). There are lots of ideas for educationists in it (although it’s not specifically an ‘education’ book).

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