Educating For the Earth

April 24, 1996

By Michael Jessen

Aldo Leopold published A Sand County Almanac in 1948. In his foreword he wrote: "We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect."

Our modern education curriculum is structured to produce graduates who can compete and be successful.

As David Orr writes in Earth In Mind, "The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as our culture has defined it."

Our education system -- which is lifelong -- needs to emphasize values instead of theories, human beings rather than concepts, consciousness rather than abstraction, questions instead of answers, and conscience rather than ideology and efficiency.

In Aldo Leopold's words, does the graduate know that "he is only a cog in an ecological mechanism? That if he will work with that mechanism his mental wealth and his material wealth can expand indefinitely? But that if he refuses to work with it, it will ultimately grind him to dust?"

And Leopold asked, "If education does not teach us these things, then what is education for?"

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