Changing the Climate is the most recent in the education series of Grove Booklets – short summaries of aspects of Christian life and ministry. I was fortunate to discover this one when I met the author at the recent Reconciling a Wounded Planet conference in Coventry, as I don’t normally follow the education ones, and this one has plenty to offer the general reader too.
Brown’s main thesis is that the way we have educated children in recent decades has failed to adequately equip us to find creative ways to address our crises of environment and sustainability; in fact it has tended to make them worse. Education is increasingly about success in “fulfilling short term tasks set by outside agents”; it puts knowledge in subject silos with little cross-disciplinary thought (at least at secondary school and beyond) and divorces it from ethics and the consequences of actions; and continues to teach the myth that knowledge is everything, that in theory at least we can manage the earth and essentially become gods.
Education has always been a balance between, on the one hand helping induct young people into what society considers normal, and on the other hand helping them develop the skills to critically evaluate the status quo and reinvent it for the future. Our current system, while advocating the latter, fails in either showing pupils the big picture of what today’s world is like, or having the wide-ranging vision to do something about it. Many young people – as always – have the passion and interest to do something, for instance, about the environment, but feel worn down by what they’re taught in school.
A particular problem is economics, taught as though it is “an empirical science with no need to factor in questions of values and obligations”, and that (since the fall of communism) it is inevitable – even both of these are known not to be true by academics. The ideology of this sort of economics has led to our current consumer society, where even Christians dislocate creator from creation and we lose any sense of right relationship with either. Our education system could help us challenge it, but instead it is aligned with it: education is primarily about success, which is about money, and with that money we can consume more.
Or, as Brown writes: “The planet does not need more ‘successful’ people; it desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every shape and form. It needs people with the moral courage to fight to make the world habitable and humane.” Our Christian faith, correctly applied, can help shape such people. In particular, the prophetic texts help us to step outside the box, see our world in a more objective manner and inspire us to change it. They help us to share the despair of a broken world, acknowledges the difficulty of change, but see hope and bring hope for the future.
There is much rich material here to reflect on, and Brown has drawn together many strands (and cites many books). My one regret is that while there is a convincing case made for the failures of the current system, little is said as to how we can practically move on. What is a secondary school teacher to do when constrained by the strictures of a GCSE syllabus that leaves virtually no room to teach anything else? What can those of us not in education do to address the problems?