Brock Profs call for renewed connection with nature in new book chapter

What does the future of education look like, and how does it need to be adapted and re-evaluated to create a more sustainable future? Two Brock University professors contributed to this debate in their chapter selected for publication in a recent e-book from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Liette Vasseur, Professor of Biological Sciences and UNESCO Chair in Community Sustainability: From Local to Global, and Christine Daigle, Professor of Philosophy and Director of Brock’s Posthumanism Research Institute, were chosen to present their work in the e-book titled Humanistic futures of learning: Perspectives from UNESCO Chairs and UNITWIN Networks.

UNESCO initiated the call for chapters last summer with the goal of bringing together diverse perspectives of how education can provide a foundation for building peace and driving sustainable development. The book will later serve as the basis for a global report, developed by the International Commission on the Futures of Education and will guide future policy debate, research and action.

Vasseur and Daigle’s chapter, “Strengthening our connection to nature to build citizens of the Earth,” was selected from numerous contributions from around the world. In the chapter, they highlight the dangers of rampant consumerism and explain why the existing disconnect between humans and the realities of a depleting planet will prevent current and future generations from creating a sustainable future.

“If we don’t begin to realize now the important connection we have with nature, we will continue doing what we are doing, which is destroying this planet,” says Vasseur.

She says that by relying on technology as a learning tool instead of spending time physically immersed in nature, it is difficult to fully grasp the critical functions that biodiversity and the natural environment play in everyday life. Without fully understanding this interconnectivity, it is impossible to then understand that overall well-being is directly impacted by ecosystem degradation.

Bridging that gap requires a shift away from the unsustainable model of viewing the natural world as merely a vessel for consumerism and economic growth.

“We assume that economic growth can be infinite, but our planet is finite — we only have one,” says Vasseur. “We can’t continue to exploit what’s non-renewable or there will be nothing left for future generations.”

Vasseur and Daigle propose that a new educational approach focusing on nature, our place in it, and a mindfulness of the relationships between all living things, must be developed.

“A critical posthumanist perspective, such as the one I embrace, sees all beings as fundamentally entangled,” says Daigle. “We must understand this and work toward fostering relations with the other beings with whom we live, so that the web of beings may thrive—including, potentially, ourselves.”

She says achieving that will require a major overhaul of the entire education system from pre-school to lifelong learning.

“We seem to be going in circles in our environmental policy decision-making — we devise solutions that cause other problems that we then must address — but the reason we fail is that we are devising those solutions based on the same old problematic worldview and set of values,” says Daigle. “If we transform this radically, a goal we propose in the chapter, we will start devising different and better solutions.”

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