This is part of a series called Exploring Literacy. Check out the first installment here.
I really enjoy being an environmental journalist because so many of the ideas and attitudes that I encounter in the green movement are closely aligned with an open source mentality, and I would definitely argue that sustainability is part of being an open sourcer. This seems especially relevant when I think of hackerspaces, and how many of the projects that hackers create in those atmospheres are about reusing existing resources, or finding more efficient ways to do things.
Recently I heard a term I liked–”ecoliteracy.” It’s short for ecological literacy. Wikipedia has a nice article about it, and defines it as:
“Ecological literacy (also referred to as ecoliteracy) is the ability to understand the natural systems that make life on earth possible. To be ecoliterate means understanding the principles of organization of ecological communities (i.e. ecosystems) and using those principles for creating sustainable human communities. The term was coined by American educator David W. Orr and physicist Fritjof Capra in the 1990s thereby a new value entered education; the “well-being of the earth.” An ecologically literate society would be a sustainable society which did not destroy thenatural environment on which they depend. Ecological literacy is a powerful concept as it creates a foundation for an integrated approach to environmental problems. Advocates champion eco-literacy as a new educational paradigm emerging around the poles of holism, systems thinking, sustainability, and complexity.”
But what does this look like for the average person? How can teachers instill these ideas in their students, and how can we ensure that the general public is thinking about these ideas too?
I’ve been covering the ongoing struggles that a local agriculture business has been facing here in Reno. It’s been interesting to witness the community response to this. Basically, there is a plot of land located at the University of Nevada, Reno that is used for agriculture purposes, and the university wants to sell it to help pay of some of its debt by monetizing it. In order to rally the community to help save this land, the community has to understand why it’s important to fight for local agriculture. So how do they learn that? Is it enough to post links on Facebook? Or do they need to know what outsourced food will do to their bodies and to the local economy? What about learning to garden and supply food for one’s family? Will documentaries, books, speeches and lectures help?
Each person in a community learns differently, and these kinds of political struggles are a good opportunity for resistance leaders to tap into multiple literacies. The idea of multiple literacies is generally supported across the board by literacy and education scholars. It’s hard to argue against it–essentially, it’s the idea that people learn differently, and that people learn with all senses. For instance, if you want a child to learn about flowers, have them plant a seed–feel the soil, the seeds, bury it in the earth with their hands. Smell the growth–the scent of the petals and the pollen. Observe the growth–the germination and the blossoming. Give them a book to read about the scientific names of the parts of plants, and pair that with a film about the photosynthesis process. Etc. etc.
A mix of these strategies have been used, whether the community is aware of it or not. A local organization held a screening of the documentary “Farmageddon.” Articles have been published about the issue in every local publication, as well as on independent blogs. Speeches have been made in public venues. Organizations have gathered to host classes about gardening. The online petition on Change.org has reached over 10,000 signatures and national attention. Something, it seems, is working–because a large portion of the community is invested in the cause.
I like this quote by Fritjof Capra that is included in the Wikipedia article: “In the coming decades, the survival of humanity will depend on our ecological literacy – our ability to understand the basic principles of ecology and to live accordingly. This means that ecoliteracy must become a critical skill for politicians, business leaders, and professionals in all spheres, and should be the most important part of education at all levels – from primary and secondary schools to colleges, universities, and the continuing education and training of professionals.”
I’ve read some of Capra’s work that I’ll go into depth about at another time but I like his interpretation of literacy as a community endeavor. Positive change happens when the public is literate–when they understand the implications of ideas that aren’t working but are armed with solutions, supported by research and evidence.