Friday, January 20, 2012

Book Review: The Handbook of Sustainability Literacy: skills for a changing world.

Edited by Arran Stibbe. Green Books, Ltd., UK, 2009.

The goal of the 'sustainability literacy' movement is to fashion a citizenry that not only understands and can discuss environmental sustainability, but one that can critically interpret actions associated with the environment (an just about every action is); recognize its causes and effects, opportunities and risk; and take thoughtful action. 

To get there, we have a lot or prep work to do. So this book is for the sustainability thinkers.

It’s for the worriers who don’t want to be worriers anymore, but who want to facilitate broadly-distributed change in the face of an environmental crisis.

And it’s for the explainers trying to find the best way to impart complex sustainability information.

There are two parts to The Handbook of Sustainability Literacy, the first has 28 essays describing skills for a changing world; this section has some tough essays to parse, but it offers valuable thinking about the necessary skills of a sustainable citizenry need, and the complexities, barriers, opportunities and demands of developing sustainability literacy.

Skills topics include:

• Melinda Watson’s “Materials Awareness: the ability to expose the hidden impact of materials on sustainability”

• Ling Feng’s “Effortless Action: the ability to fulfill human needs effortlessly through working with nature” (about awareness of ecosystem services)

• Bland Tomkinson’s “Coping with Complexity – the ability to manage complex sustainability problems”

• Glenn Strachan’s Systems Thinking: the ability to recognizes and analyze the interconnections within and between systems

• Sue Wayman’s “Futures Thinking: the ability to envision scenarios of a more desirable future”

The book’s second part has only four essays. They address how the educational system must change to facilitate teaching these skills, and are critical reading for non-formal educators in zoos, gardens, aquariums museums and historic sites.

For example, I’ve just heard AAM’s Ford Bell preaching a theme akin to A Learning Society – “If learning is a social phenomenon, education cannot be limited to schools, colleges and universities.”
You’ve heard me press themes very similar to these three essays:

• Citizen Engagement – “Complexity is at the very core of sustainability” and our traditional either/or approach to problem solving is frustrated every time by sustainability decisions

• Re-educating the Person – “Current schooling uses teaching and learning methodologies which are based on a left brain…system” which teaches few skills for creating new solutions and accepting multiple answers

• Institutional Transformation – We must move beyond educating about sustainability, and educating for sustainability (we teach and model), to become “permeable, experiential learning communities”. Museums can offer experiential learning, in collaborative and private ways, so engaging that learners change their values and practices, and help others to do so, too.

Teaching sustainability is not as easy as you might think; we have a lot of learning to do alongside our visitors.

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