It’s Time to Become a Vegetarian and Other Realities | Will Richardson | 3 Min Read

In usually frosty Siberia, the temperature hit 118° last week.

In British Columbia and across the northwest U.S., the “heat dome” broke records by orders of magnitude.

If we haven’t figured it out yet, the prelude is over. The truly existential challenge that confronts us is now the main attraction.

The climate is changing. And so must we. 

That refrain isn’t new. And as someone who started an environmental club at my high school back in the mid-1980s, none of this comes as a surprise. But it’s feeling like for the world, and for we educators, we are at a profound moment of decision. 

I’ll say it again: “Normal” is what got us to this point in the first place. We cannot go “back” there when the pandemic abates in whatever part of the world we’re in. 

In education, that means now is the time to:

  • Deeply interrogate the relevance of the curriculum we attempt to “deliver” to our students
  • Upend the systems and practices that strip students of choice and agency
  • Start with centering the mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical wellness of our school community
  • Become models of how to live sustainably in the world
  • Move away from a human-centered lens to an Earth-centered lens

That last bullet captures the growing crescendo of voices that are calling for a wholesale shift in the way we enter into and interact with every aspect of our lives. In discussing our response to the imminent challenges that face us, Valerie Hannon and Amelia Peterson, in their important book Thrive, write: 

It is morally indefensible to continue with a process of mass schooling that is indifferent to and ignorant of, the scope of these disruptions, and which promotes a value system (competition, growth, efficiency, homogeneity) that steers us towards the darker of the potential paths ahead (36).

Valerie Hannon and Amelia Peterson, Thrive

Similarly, Otto Scharmer of MIT and the author of Theory U: Leading From the Future as it Emerges, writes that we need to embrace a shift “from an ego-system awareness that cares about the well-being of oneself to an eco-system awareness that cares about the well-being of all, including oneself (2).”

And if you haven’t watched David Attenborough’s A Life on Our Planet yet, you absolutely must. (Email me if you need my Netflix login.) It paints in vivid relief the danger zone moment we’re in, and it maps an optimistic path forward to regaining our balance with nature and our larger world. It’s the most moving 90 minutes I’ve spent in quite some time. 

But as you might guess, that optimism is rooted in our ability to change ourselves and to privilege the good of the collective over the good of the individual. And that is where it gets tough for schools, right? We have become vehicles of the “private good,” a pathway for greater individual success in higher education and career as expressly desired by parents and policymakers alike. Increasingly, as Hannon and Peterson suggest, the narrative of education is bereft of outcomes that serve the larger world, other than an occasional rhetorical twist here and there. 

So, the changes we’re being asked to consider are significant. They represent the creation of a radically new normal. And they require us to unpack our own contributions to our current difficulties as individuals and as institutions as well. It’s scary to ask how our own actions may have added fuel to the very real fire we find ourselves in. But if we don’t…

But it’s not just about acknowledgment. It’s about action. And I think the easiest way within our power that can teach kids how to cope into the future is to become models for them on how to put the collective in front of the individual. We may love our steak, but it’s time to become a vegetarian. We may hate exercise, but we have to get our physical bodies in order if we are to deal effectively with the mental and emotional stresses we’re increasingly going to be battling. And as much as we may love travel, we might focus on the wonders of our more local worlds which we visit in our EVs as they become more and more ubiquitous.

Oh, and yeah, build the entire school experience around the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

None of this will be easy, for sure. But it will be a hell of a lot easier than watching the continual demise of our planet and our children as we adults grow older.

It’s our choice.

Will Richardson

A former public school educator of 22 years, Will Richardson has spent the past 15 years developing an international reputation as a leading thinker and writer about the intersection of social online learning networks, education, and systemic change. Most recently, Will is a co-founder of The Big Questions Institute which was created to help educators use “fearless inquiry” to make sense of this complex moment and an uncertain future. In 2017, Will was named one of 100 global “Changemakers in Education” by the Finnish site HundrED, and was named one of the Top 5 “Edupreneurs to Follow” by Forbes. He has given keynote speeches, lead breakout sessions, and provided coaching services in over 30 countries on 6 continents. He has also authored six books, and given TEDx Talks in New York, Melbourne, and Vancouver.

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