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Food-“E”-scapes – Part 1: Learning Food

Food-“E”-scapes – Part 1: Learning Food

Posted by on Nov 25, 2013 in all posts, on the road | 0 comments







When we set off on this journey I never imagined that I would learn so much about food. I did not consider that what I knew, thought and felt about food would change so much nor that I would be exploring the connection between food, learning and higher education.

As it turned out, I have come to learn quite a lot over the last year about the various ways that food is connected to our identities, our relation to our environment, to humans and non-human beings, but more broadly on the various processes of production, processing and waste surrounding food. All of these processes and the different relationships, practices and experiences they create have diverse, and often competing, kinds of knowledge systems behind them – distinct paradigms and cosmologies and as such this has become a key topic in Enlivened Learning.

I am calling this total system of relation to food, involving relationships, knowledges and practices, the foodscape. This is not a made-up term as there seems to be increasing use of it, especially in Geography (not to mention by certain photographers who make cities out of vegetables – just google it). I guess a foodscape is the particular way in which we relate to, know and intervene upon particular aspects of the environment involved in our sustenance.

bison mural.jpg

It is strange to think how, without a conscious intention, so many of the posts Kelly and I have written here over the last few months have been about foodscapes: Blackfoot Buffalo hunting and the extermination of the herds by the settlers; Blackfoot knowledge of the land, plants and animals in Alberta; the cultivation of corn and the rise of Meso-American civilization; urban gardening and dry compostable toilets in Oaxaca; communal agriculture amongst the Quechua Lamas in Upper Amazon in Peru (choba choba); extractive forest reserves and the struggle of indigenous communities, rubber tappers against rich landowners in the Amazon region in Acre, Brazil; the Landless Movement’s (MST) struggle for rural peasants and against agribusiness across Brazil.

Lamas - chacra - choba choba.jpg

Before we head into the other higher education initiatives we visited in Latin America I wanted to reflect a bit and try to synthesize some thoughts, experiences, readings, sharing some of what I have learnt around all this.




What was noticeable within almost all the learning places we visited in our journey was the centrality of foodscapes in their knowledge and pedagogy (teaching/learning practice and philosophy). This in turn made me consider the almost complete absence of learning about foodscapes in my own educational trajectory.

Unitierra - urban roof garden 2.jpg

No doubt people have different experiences of this, but what I remember from my formal education in respect to this is learning about the digestive system in biology, and maybe a bit of nutrition, a vague memory of something called Rural Studies when I was 14 (where we learnt about sheep and the teacher dissected a rabbit). I remember that cooking classes, or Home Economics, was fun but all I remember from there was making a swiss-roll and profiteroles. I do not remember ever really being taught where my food came from, how it was grown, produced and processed and where, what knowledge was involved in these processes and what kinds of foodscapes exist or have existed.

Peru - medicinal garden 2 pueblo.jpg

This has prompted me to think about the great ‘E’ that has inserted itself in the center of our food-‘E’-scape in our industrial society. That is, how often the systems industrial society creates for sourcing, processing and selling food means an ever-greater distance, or escape, from the importance of wholesome food relationships.

In contrast, the centrality of foodscapes in the places we visited reflected a greater concern, reciprocity and care for the land, the environment and all its beings, for sustainability in the use of resources for the production of food and shelter and in the water system and in the production of waste. Many of the places also showed a much greater awareness and care for the economic relations between those involved in food growing with concepts of cooperative work in growing food being key organising nodes (especially in indigenous communities – ie. comunalidad in Oaxaca, Mexico, choba choba in the Peruvian Upper Amazon with the Quechua Lamas).

Sao Paulo, MST, garden.jpg

As well as the communal production of food we also noted the great importance of cultural activities surrounding cooking and eating. As Gustavo Esteva, founder of Unitierra put it, the term comida in Mexico means much more than the English term ‘food’ – it is not just about material sustenance but the whole complex culture that surrounds cooking, sharing food and eating together. Perhaps this is much closer to the notion and movement surrounding ‘slow food’ which started in Italy in the 1980s as a re-assertion of local culinary cultures and practices of sourcing food in the face of the onslaught of globalised industrial Fast Food culture and agricultural production. I write more on the Fast/Slow food battles in the next post.

Oaxaca - indigenous resistance corn advert.jpg




I have been wondering and learning about the consequences of our Food-E-scape – how we have become so dramatically cut off from the sources of our food, from the beings we eat and the landscapes they inhabit, from how they are killed and processed and transformed and stored and transported.

We, collectively in contemporary society, or at least the highly industrialised urban part of it, seem to learn (and educate the newest generations) so little about how our Food-E-Scape is severely transforming and destroying bio-diversity, soil, waterways, increasing pollution, affecting the climate and using the Earth’s resources in an unsustainable way.

It has also come to my attention how this lack of education or mis-education is actually being promoted by the few large corporations that are in charge of the agro-industrial Food-E-Scape, especially in places like North America.

As I recently learned in reading Michael Pollen’s excellent 2006 book The Omnivore’s Dilemma and watching several well-made and informative documentaries King Corn (2007), Food Inc. (2008), The World According to Monsanto (2008) abattoirs, meat processing plants, chicken factory farms and even high fructose corn syrup processing plants all refuse access to their facilities to those interested in learning what goes on inside.

180px-The-world-according-to-monsant.jpg

Further, agri-industry and bio-tech industry lobbyist, scientists, lawyers and managers wield tremendous power in Washington D.C. and are involved in drafting the legislation to oversee the industry or, as is often the case, convince politicians that no oversight is necessary. Huge pressure is also exerted on the government to keep the subsidies going for farmers to increase the production of commodities like corn and soya which are largely responsible for the current shape of US industrial agriculture.

A recent state-wide referendum in Washington State to introduce labelling on genetically modified foods was defeated at the ballots even though the pro-label group had a large early lead in the polls, after millions of dollars of Monsanto cash supported the advertising campaign of the anti-label side. So millions of dollars are being spent by large agri-business and biotech companies on keeping us ignorant of what we eat and also to reassure us that genetically modified foods are “safe, healthy and good for the planet”.

But I have also been considering the omission of our educational institutions (schools and higher education) of engaging more with our foodscapes. By this I don’t mean just things like campaigns on healthy school lunches, though these are also important, but more awareness of the various aspects of the totality of our foodscapes. How different might learning be in these institutions if learning was also grounded in the foodscapes we are immersed in was a core part of the curriculum, regardless of what degree you did? A part of a wholesome education. As Kelly wrote in the previous post, quoting David Orr, all education is environmental education by virtue of what you teach and omit.

unitierra urban agriculture workshop.jpg

I remember a conversation with Jailson de Sousa e Santos, founder of the Observatório das Favelas, a grass-roots community organisation involved in education, research, capacity building and media communication in Maré, Rio’s largest favela (shanty-town). Jailson started ESPOCC, the School of Critical Communication to engage students in the field of media literacy and critique and give them tools through which to combat the toxic dominant media representation of favela communities in the country.

Jailson, who grew up in Maré and is also a Geography professor in the State university, talked to us about the model of the human being that is promoted in formal education – including universities – painting an image which has stayed with with me. This being – a veritable homo academicus – has a huge head in which to fit a large brain needed to think and record facts, a large hand to constantly write down things and a big ass on which to sit all day on a chair. I imagine the rest of its limbs atrophying from underuse, the rest of its faculties, de-sensitized fail to experience the world in all its wonderful complexity and relatedness. How is the stomach of such being? (We do apparently have millions of neurones there too, so have scientists have recently told us!) We don’t really learn with our stomachs, we don’t think or feel with our guts in these institutional settings.

homunculus.jpg

Travelling backwards up the Americas for thousands of miles to Southern Alberta another image of the human being comes to mind from what Ryan Heavyhead a Blackfoot teacher at Red Crow Community College spoke about in his approach to teaching. Ryan runs a year-long Phenology class for the Kainai Studies students at Red Crow (Kainai is one of the four Blackfoot bands which is resident in this territory).

Phenology is the study of plant and animal life-cycles and the relationship of these to seasonal change. Ryan’s class, as I have written about elsewhere, involves getting students to find a place and sit and learn it for five hours a week until the beings of the place become more familiar, and begin to show you things. This goes on for one year – a whole period of lunar cycles – the important marker in the Blackfoot calendar. After this year was completed the students were so transformed by the experiences they asked for a continuation of the course which Ryan created as a second year ‘Traditional Blackfoot Foods’ course. Here students learn to forage, gather, hunt and prepare traditional foods of this territory, sourcing them at particular times of the year.

Ryan and Adrienne by pond.jpg

Ryan’s immersion in the Blackoot foodscapes was impressive. He, and his wife, had re-learnt much that was forgotten in this territory about sourcing and preparing traditional foods, with the ‘old ways’ forgotten through the imposition of residential schooling (see post on this) but also the encroachment of settler lifestyles and their own foodscapes.

Ryan, amongst the many interested things he taughtme, said something that has stayed with me and is relevant here. That for the Blackfoot the relationship with non-human beings is essentially a relationship of food and that to really enter such relationships is to become fully human. At first this idea might seem strange, from a Western educated mind-set it might bring forth ideas of the ‘survival of the fittest’ of the struggle for survival through domination and consuming another. It reminded me of the Upanishad quote (an ancient Hindu sacred text) translated by Yeats in a film I once saw: “Everything in this world is eater or eaten. The seed is food and fire is eater.”

But this is to misunderstand the respectful and reciprocal characteristic of the relationship to plants, animals and place in the Blackfoot knowledge system that Ryan articulated. To enter a ‘food relationship’ does not mean that you just eat the food, but that you come to learn about the plant and animals being you are eating, about their life-cycles, their environment and their relationship to other beings.

It also means that you are indebted to the being that you eat and to their kind, as in so many hunter-gatherer groups, and so must reciprocate by not taking more than you need and by giving something back to them and the environment. The relationship of food is then not solely one of consumption and domination but of deep respect, gratitude and reciprocity.

sunset and machine mcloud.jpg





How distant these ideas and practices seem from the agro-industrial oil and chemical fed machinery that extracts produce from the Alberta landscape now. Narcisse Blood, a Blackfoot elder who also taught at Red Crow College, lamented the waves of monopolies in this region, first, he told us, there was the Hudson Bay Trading Company and “Now we have Monsanto” monopolizing and transforming the agricultural landscape through a destructive form of farming.

Cut to the isle of a giant supermarket, could be anywhere, but say in the US, where the products of those fields end up. I stare down a neon-lit corridor of brightly packaged food – a cornucopia of diversity. What a multiplicity of flavor combination and shapes and consistencies and colours! But the sheer diversity of products and company names hides their often common source in only a few large parent companies which own most of the homely and rustic seeming brand-names.


supermarket.jpg


I read the labels on a few products, the diversity of ingredients also hides their often common source in a variation of corn, most frequently high fructose corn syrup or some corn (or soy) additive or preservative. This is the relation of food to many of us – one of reading – oh homo academicus… More recently I have learnt how much the seeming multiplicity of the US diet and by consequence of US people is made of corn. You can trace back the carbon we have in our bodies which bridge our cells to their original source and this in an average North American is around 70% corn!



porto alegre FSM companies global map.jpg





As a key institution of social reproduction, our education system (including our universities) surely has a role in shaping how we understand and relate to our foodscapes and the kinds of knowledges and technologies it creates in relation to this. (I write more on the conflicting knowledges and technologies shaping our foodscape and those of many other places around the world in my next post).

CHiapas - poster of kinds of maize.jpg


On a theological – or maybe spiritual note – I was really struck by what Cezar Añorve, an architect from Cuernavaca, Mexico, and in his word ‘cacologist’ (an expert on caca), said recollecting one of his last conversations with philosopher and theologian Ivan Illich. Cesar has spent most of his life promoting awareness of our how we might deal with our poo without polluting water (see the posts on this), in this he was influenced by his life-long friend Ivan, whose works entailed a critique of industrial civilization and the possibility of a post-industrial world built on a more local and human scale, emphasizing values of friendship and conviviality. Ivan died in 2002 and in his last conversation with Cesar, he had told him that “The highest offering we can give to God is not our head or our hearts, but our guts”.

Oaxaca-cacaravan-workshop.jpg


I have often thought of this phrase in relation to the large scale damage being done to the ecosystem through the unsustainable agricultural practices and technologies being developed which are negatively distorting life itself in some many directions (see next post on this). I have wondered what it might mean to offer our guts to a higher value or principle, one that seeks to support the continuation of the web of life in its intricate and delicate balance.

I also often think of Ryan’s comment on the Blackfoot relations to non-humans as being one of food – meaning not just consumption but also interest, respect, gratitude and reciprocity acknowledging the role they play in the perpetuation of life. In the foodscape I have been raised in, we were not taught to think enough with our guts, nor extend our gratitude and interest (in practice not just prayer) to the beings that give us life. But this does not mean things cannot change. To change how we think about and relate to these beings and their environment, thinking with our guts, may well be a big step toward such transformations.

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“All Education is Environmental Education…”

“All Education is Environmental Education…”

Posted by on Nov 19, 2013 in all posts, on the road | 0 comments

David Orr author of, Earth in Mind, once wrote ‘all education is environmental education…’

Five words.

Direct statement.

Simply stated. Yet, is it simple?

Hardly.It is stated as a fact, something that is.

But how is this understood as a fact?

How is education approached as environmental education? Or perhaps more significantly, how is it not?

Photo of the Earth - http://www.freefever.com/wallpaper/1920x1080/lovely-earth-hd-from-space-p-anomaly-warzone-17909.html

Photo of the Earth – http://www.freefever.com/wallpaper/1920×1080/lovely-earth-hd-from-space-p-anomaly-warzone-17909.html

Many times along this journey, I have been lost in my thoughts considering these questions – turning them around, stretching my mind (and heart) to answer these in different ways. I am continually amazed by the ingenuity and courage I keep encountering within the places of learning that we are visiting as to how groups of individuals have put their creative and inspiring thoughts into transformative action – to bring these two (‘education’ and ‘environment’) supposedly separate entities, into one intertwined being.

Because I have been thinking about environmental education for such a long time (through my studies but also through teaching and activism work that I have done), the forms of education and learning that we keep encountering on this journey continue to challenge my understanding of not just what ‘environmental education’ is, but equally what ‘education’ is and can be, and, where ‘the environment’ actually is.

My initial idea of what constitutes the ‘environment’, was very much the non-human environment. Before I had ever thought very deeply about it, ‘the environment’ for me could be found in its ‘pure’ form where it was that human beings were not.

 

I was trapped in the dualistic world within which the vast majority of us live and learn. Dualistic in the sense that nature and the environment were just down the road, out of town, separated from the rest of us human folk.

 

What I have come to learn through all of these 20+ years since I left home, is that the root of the multiple problems and crises we all face, are directly related to this perceived separation between ‘me’ the human and ‘the environment’ and ‘nature’. This might be quite a serious jump to make, in fact such a leap that it might seem preposterous and somehow archaic, but I keep ending up facing this conclusion. And, this journey has escorted me to that edge within every place of learning we have visited.

 

I grew up on the edge of a small town in southern Oregon called Klamath Falls. The closest store to my house was 5 miles away. If I walked up the large hill behind the house, I could continue walking for 20 miles or so in undeveloped wilderness.

Photo from - http://gr8ful.blogspot.com/2010_07_01_archive.html Taken from the center of Klamath Falls, Oregon, showing Mount Shasta in the background (Mt. Shasta is 60 miles to the south).

Photo from – http://gr8ful.blogspot.com/2010_07_01_archive.html
Taken from the center of Klamath Falls, Oregon, showing Mount Shasta in the background (Mt. Shasta is 60 miles to the south).

To the east was the vast Cascade Mountain range that runs all the way from southern British Columbia down to Northern California. Growing up just west of this majestic mountain range, I could see the high and snowy peaks of Mt. Shasta and Mt. McLoughlin from town and I was just 45 minutes south of the richest blue imaginable, emanating from Crater Lake, the 7th deepest lake in the world.

Photo taken at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, by Udi summer 2011

Photo taken at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, by Udi summer 2011

This was nature, the environment at its best. It was an environment for me to visit, learn from, engage with and be inspired by. To many of the people living in Klamath Falls, these natural places (excluding Crater Lake as that is a preserved National Park) were seen as an environment to manage – to cut down, dam up, extract from – through which to earn profit. In fact, the profit motive for natural resources, particularly timber that surrounds this town goes beyond individual and family accumulation – fuelling the very public and government services of the region.

Photo of felled timber in Klamath Falls - taken for an article in the New York Times in 2007 - http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/05/us/05timber.html?_r=0

Photo of felled timber in Klamath Falls – taken for an article in the New York Times in 2007 – http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/05/us/05timber.html?_r=0

Revenue from timber receipts have historically funded up to a third of the county’s educational budget. During one of the years that I was in high school, when timber felling and harvesting became increasingly restricted due to environmentally-related policy constrictions, programs were cut, including the bus service through which the majority of students were transported to the school. The rural nature of the location of my high school then came into full fruition — several students rode their horses to school!

 

In spite of the various economic and recreational ties to the environmental and natural abundance surrounding this area – this nature, this environment, was not quite part of me, or else I did not (and perhaps could not) see or experience it as such.

 

Then I decided to study Environmental Studies during my under-graduate years – on the other side of the United States. So economically sensitive is Klamath Falls to ‘conservation of the natural environment’ that I often avoided to fully explain to friends and others what I was studying when I would return home. I discussed all that I was learning in history, philosophy, sociology, science…. avoiding the centrality of ‘environment’ within these various disciplinary perspectives.

Photo from website - http://photos3.meetupstatic.com/photos/event/b/5/4/c/event_193786412.jpeg

Photo from website – http://photos3.meetupstatic.com/photos/event/b/5/4/c/event_193786412.jpeg

The wonderful thing for me at that time, was that I was learning through all of these perspectives – although they were centred on ways of understanding, managing, stewarding and valuing ‘the environment’.  Though largely intellectualized, it was my initial entry into multiple worlds. I began to perceive the area I grew up differently – I was more critical, more nuanced – and felt a deeper intrinsic value for these beautiful and awe-inspiring places. I was thrilled at the various thought-provoking doors that kept opening.

 

I was (finally) in an educative learning space that enabled me to consider the environment. Yet, I was still perceiving through a separated lens – a lens that separated me from this land, particularly in that I was learning about all of this from such a geographical distance. It was, however, the first time thoughts about how to teach and learn about the environment crossed my threshold of consciousness.

 

I was not studying ‘environmental education’ but I was in an educative space learning about the environment – about the varied interests and coinciding philosophies underpinning these interests. From there, my path was put on a slight hold for a couple of years as I dallied in the corporate world as a paralegal and then as a waitress in New York City looking for work. I ended up having a primary school teaching position (located in the Bronx) fall into my lap and from that point, it seems, there was no turning back. I have been either working in or studying some aspect of education and learning ever since.

Photo of the Bronx and Manhattan, taken from New York City (shot from above the Bronx) published on flickr - http://www.flickr.com/photos/dandc/2836519688/

Photo of the Bronx and Manhattan, taken from New York City (shot from above the Bronx) published on flickr – http://www.flickr.com/photos/dandc/2836519688/

Teaching year 6 is great because you teach all subjects to the same children. For 2 years I had the responsibility of teaching 25+ 11-12 year olds math, social studies, reading, science, spelling, health and religion. The best part was that I could combine these into inter-disciplinary projects. I did this very often. It made learning and teaching much more fun – for the students and for me. I also incorporated quite a lot of environmental ‘knowledge’ and ‘experiences’ into it. I felt there was a need to bring these students out of the intense (and often hostile) urban environment they were living in, to learn about different plants, biomes around the globe, environmental issues such as deforestation and water pollution – and to experience being outdoors in beautiful open places. In addition, I became acutely aware of the perversity of environmental and social injustices experienced in the day to day life of my students living in an area of the South Bronx where enormous quantities of waste is held and incinerated (more than 80% of my students each year had asthma which is directly linked to incineration smoke).

 

Simultaneously, during the second year of teaching, I enrolled into a Masters program at New York University called ‘Environmental Conservation Education’. During those years of study, I took several Environmental Philosophy courses which opened my mind to new world views of the ways in which we as humans relate to the environment, what in fact the ‘environment’ is and how our perceptions of it can have profound effects on how we treat the world around us, including each other. I also took courses in Environmental Health, Environmental Justice, Botany and Environmental Journalism.

 

Although I had explored some of this in my undergraduate years, this took it a step further, opening up yet more pathways to engaging with the complexity of inter-disciplinary and systemic issues – particularly how they related to education and communication.

images-2

 

I then worked as an environmental educator for an environmental non-profit organization in NYC, working with secondary schools across the city, teaching in various science and social studies-related classes and designing semester-long projects with different students and teachers. These projects brought everyone outside, engaging with not only the non-human environment of NYC, but also learning about the treatment of sewage (I think I visited all of the sewage treatment plants in NYC), the transfer of the city’s water, the health of the river and creek systems. We became more politically active – doing tabling events, holding seminars, inviting local politicians and media sources – and speaking with local businesses.

 

During all of this time, my engagement with the world, human and non-human expanded. I began to see myself more and more embedded within the environment in which I was living my day-to-day life. Yet, I still struggled to merge these worlds together in my work. It was not learning that I had experienced through my university studies – rather it was learning I was developing independently through a non-profit framework.  And, it was still somehow a ‘special’ and ‘extra-curricular’ activity to get students and teachers outside of the school building to learn first-hand about various aspects of the world outside and about how their basic needs were met (i.e. sewage, waste, water and food) and how this connected to where they lived.

 

What I discovered with those students, was the all of us felt more alive, more connected during the hours that we explored and learned outside the walls of the classroom. We were all somehow more ‘home’ during that time.

 

Over the next 13 years, as I entrenched myself further and further into the academic/university world in the UK (after leaving NYC), I felt an increasing alienation from any sense of ‘home’. This was not just because I was living even further away from southern Oregon by staying in England. It was because I felt myself becoming more and more of a slave to the expectations of what it meant to stay working in academia. Which, is essentially to be disconnected and disengaged – from the local surroundings, from the passions that drove me to work in academia in the first place, from the people I was working and learning with – basically, from myself.

Photo taken by Udi in Rio de Janeiro at one of the public universities (January 2013).

Photo taken by Udi in Rio de Janeiro at one of the public universities (January 2013).

The vast majority of universities have been imposed onto the land on which they exist ( in other words, they did not arise from that particular local context). They are environmentally-orientated in that they exist on the land. Yet, for the most part, the learning is completely dis-engaged and detached from the environment, from that local context. Learning is about making your brain bigger – as well as your hands (to type) and your bum (to sit for longer periods of time). It is not about enhancing your heart (emotions) and the rest of your body for learning – moving, making and creating.

 

The purpose of the university these days is fundamentally about contributing to the global knowledge economy – that which is measurable and therefore profitable. This core purpose is now universal. The connection is about economic growth, disconnecting us for what makes us most human.  The concept of ‘localization’ is just a mere concept that might be encountered, but beyond that, there is no practice of localized learning and action as such.

 

I yearned for connection – to my deepest self that makes me a human being, to learn and grow from that perspective, rather than contribute to the growth of the knowledge economy. So, I finally made the move. I found the courage to step out, to exit and move forward, to learn to let go of that alienation which had rooted itself into my soul and to go down the path of re-connection and unlearning on this Enlivened Learning journey.

 

As time has passed, moving around as much as we have (we have not unpacked in months), I feel in many ways ‘back home’ regardless of where we are visiting. Perhaps this ‘back home’ sense is because our intention is to connect – within ourselves to where we are – and also because we are simultaneously learning about how others are so creatively connecting themselves through the learning they are doing as part of these higher education initiatives. All of these places of learning that we are visiting, are emerging from the context they are in. They are organic, deeply rooted and connected intimately to the cultural, ecological and historical past and present within which they are a part.

Symbol for Enlivened Learning designed by Udi, 2012.

Symbol for Enlivened Learning designed by Udi, 2012.

It is relatively easy to see each of these places as environmental education, environmental learning – or even better, learning that is embedded in the environment. And this is evident in a myriad of ways. Learning is essentially about connecting to who we are as human beings – separately yes (in terms of connecting with your ‘inner’ self), but most importantly, how we are connected to each other and to all aspects of the world around us. The environment comprises everything – it is not just ‘extra-curricular’.

 

For example, in Alberta, Canada with the Blackfoot, we learned about the simplicity and profound impact of committing time to a specific place, to learn the land or through a better explanation that Ryan and Adrienne described, to ‘let the land learn you’.

 

In Terrace, British Columbia, with the First Nations carvers at the Freda Diesing Northwest Coast Art School, we learned about the stories, symbols that have been documented through carving as forms of literacy that are intimately inspired by, and connected to non-human beings and relationships existing all around. As outsiders, we might refer to this as ‘art’ whilst for thousands of years, carving was, in fact, localized forms of literacy.

Totems in Kitselas canyon, British Columbia, taken by Udi when we visited the Freda Diesing Northwest School of Art, October 2012.

Totems in Kitselas canyon, British Columbia, taken by Udi when we visited the Freda Diesing Northwest School of Art, October 2012.

At Unitierra, in Oaxaca, Mexico, we learned about the fluidity of learning needs and desires coming together through groups of individuals working as a community — committed to collective autonomy centred on food, water, shelter, waste, communication and festival.

 

With PRATEC in Peru, we learned about Quechua indigenous forms of agricultural practice that are inseparable from their spiritual cosmology which animates relationships with all non-human beings.

 

In Brazil, with ESPOCC, the School of Critical Media, we learned about how people living in favelas, or shantytowns, are taking control of their own image and identity – by becoming more deeply acquainted with their local cultural, social and ecological surroundings and portraying these to the local and outside worlds through various forms of media – of their choice and through their authority (rather than it coming from the outside).

 

Also in Brazil, we visited the Landless Movement University that brings together individuals and communities living within Landless Movement camps (that were settled to occupy and use unoccupied land) or belonging to kindred social movements or organizations engaging with issues of social and ecological justice.

 

All of these places of learning we have visited so far – and the myriad of places we are visiting post-Brazil all offer an incredible richness of opportunities to learn about different forms of education and learning. Education is inseparable from context – completely embedded within all aspects of ‘the environment’. It is not just learning about the environment or for the environment. They are one and the same. There is no separation.  Whatever is needed and decided to be learned about is directly connected to the world around that particular learning space.

Sunset just outside of For MacLeod, Alberta, Canada, taken by Udi September 2012.

Sunset just outside of Fort MacLeod, Alberta, Canada, taken by Udi September 2012.

To me, these inspiring places of learning mirror the true purpose of education – to be fully realized through and within all that we are a part of – ‘the environment’.

 

The full quote by David Orr reads: “all education is environmental education. By what is included or excluded we teach students that they are part of or apart from the natural world. To teach economics, for example, without reference to the laws of thermodynamics or those of ecology is to teach a fundamentally important ecological lesson: that phyics and ecology have nothing to do with the economy. That just happens to be dead wrong.”

 

For the most part, conventional schooling at all levels, helps us learn how to be further apart from the natural world. To me, this deprives us of the capacity and potential to live as more fully responsible, ethical, passionate, disciplined, generous and loving human beings.

 

If we are to become more fully human as the Blackfoot are trying to teach at Red Crow Community College – we must learn to adapt ourselves to our environments as indigenous people have done for thousands of years – to learn through reciprocity – rather than the other way around – through this sense of detachment.

 

Significantly, after so many years of schooling and education, I realize now, that I’ve only just begun to really learn…

Bow Lake, Alberta, Canada (inside Banff National Park), taken by Kelly, October 2012.

Bow Lake, Alberta, Canada (inside Banff National Park), taken by Kelly, October 2012.

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