Educating teachers as if sustainability matters
By Alexander K. Lautensach
The mission of teacher education has always been to empower teachers. The goals of that empowerment varied through history with political and economic agenda. Amid a pandemic, individuals, communities and cultures are learning to change their ways of living. They are also grappling with the climate crisis and the impacts that it will have on humanity and the biosphere. The pandemic and the climate crisis are manifestations of a deeper predicament that arises from humanity overshooting the planet’s capacity as populations, and their consumption grows, as their pollution increases, as resources are depleted and misallocated to militarization and harmful development, and as socioeconomic inequities become ever wider. Nonhuman nature seemed to be on the retreat everywhere until a tiny virus taught us otherwise.
We have no hope of sustaining the status quo. The pandemic, the climate crisis, the accelerating extinction of species and ecosystems, along with the associated negative impacts on human security, show us that the values and beliefs that led us here need to be relinquished. The best that humanity can hope for is a compromise between ecological adjustments that nature imposes on us and an organized transition to a secure and sustainable future that we might yet be able to achieve. This compromise will almost certainly involve some collapse and reductions in our numbers to lessen our impacts on the biosphere. Only if teachers are adequately empowered can education be sufficiently repurposed towards resiliency and adaptation.
Unfortunately, in the past, neither public education nor teacher education has lived up to those obligations. Highly educated individuals in influential positions of government and industry continue to pursue policies that support the status quo, despite repeated warnings from the scientific community. The dominant ideology of growth has caused confusion and led to a widespread failure within education to equip learners for the impending challenges.
In my book, Survival How? I present a blueprint for the future of education to support and empower learners towards a sustainable future. Teachers must learn to analyze their curriculum critically. What features of the curriculum provide valuable benefits and should be emphasized? What parts cause more harm than good and should be subverted? How can learners be empowered to cope with future challenges despite all the counterproductive learning that has already taken place? The agenda for this transformative education is incorporated into six overarching aims.
Much of this educational course change will take place in the context of cultural diversity. While teacher education is directed primarily at the individual candidate, much of the desired learning must occur collectively inside and outside higher learning institutions. Entire cultures will need to learn from mistakes, muster the initiative to change accordingly, and collectively learn from other cultures.
Survival How? presents a detailed arrangement of learning outcomes for the transition of curriculum, applicable to teacher education and public schooling. It discusses educational priorities for the multicultural context, specifically uncovering new ground for intercultural communication (and its limits), reversing global modernization, negotiating the ethical minefield, and developing a cultural safety curriculum. Teachers will need to develop multicultural skills and non-violent ideals. At the very least, teachers need to feel empowered to implement a curriculum that does not do further harm.