Sunday, February 10, 2013

Book Review: Ecoliterate

Ecoliterate: How Educators are Cultivating Emotional, Social and Ecological Intelligence Goleman, Daniel, Lisa Bennett and Zenobia Barlow with professional development sections by Carolie Sly.  (Jossey-Bass, 2012.) 

The museum field is actively exploring how to be better at communicating environmental messages. It’s good, new, hard work and I’m very excited about it. This is the third book in my journey through the related literature.

I was struck by this early sentence as an apt description of why we’re in this state of environmental misunderstanding: The complexity of the web of connections that characterize our global society has created a vast collective blind spot about the effects of human behavior on natural systems.

I am continuously concerned that I don’t know what I don’t know, that is, I don’t realize what I’m not understanding or discovering. I am sure this is what has led me to systems thinking and environmental impact. I want to know what to expect and what I’ve missed. To understand the system at least helps me in that. It’s the key to improving understanding our environmental impact.
I was greatly helped in my conundrum by the discussion about the intelligences it focuses on: emotional, social and ecological. Their words are far better than mine, so I quote many here: Social and emotional learning was embraced by many schools on the promise that helping children develop the capacities for self awareness, self management, social awareness, and relationship management would increase their likelihood of success in school and life. Now, extensive research shows, that these do lead to important student gains and reduced risks for failure....Research studies examining the influence of an environment-based context have revealed similar encouraging findings...the Center for Ecoliteracy ...has found that socially and emotionally engaged ecoliteracy advances both teacher and student involvement and achievement through hands-on, experiential, contextualized learning in the natural world and the community.
There is a valuable summary of what the Center for Ecoliteracy has identified as "The Five Practices of Emotionally and Socially Engaged Ecoliteracy":
  • Developing Empathy for All Forms of Life
  • Emracing Sustainability as a Community Practice
  • Making the Invisible Visible
  • Anticipating Uninntended Consequences
  • Understanding How Nature Sustains Life
All of that helps me with my own worries about not knowing what I don't know, and it surely is a recipe for helping individuals, institutions and communities "strengthen and extend their capacity to live sustainably".

The essays in this book are memorable examples of someone not knowing and someone else discovering; they are encouragement that none of us needs to know it all, but that reduce our negative impact on the planet and on each other we must be willing to seek and to adapt and improve -- and that wonderfully astonishing things happen as a result. Even good things you didn't know would happen. 

This approach goes against our training of learn, then do, and move on. This approach is more similar to learn, test, learn more, keep testing, and change course as we constantly improve in new directions. That means you’re never done, you’re never “there”. That of course is why this green stuff is called a journey. 

Ecoliterate's stories highlight people who worked for incremental change and achieved much larger goals; individuals who stood up against companies and governments for change; a woman who simply told nature’s story wherever she could, and created significant change. The stories are about native shrimp, school children, coal and big oil, local farms, and classroom curriculum. And they all relate to so many other challenges we face.
This book is very valuable to those who:
  • can benefit from reassurance that they have to know it all, that they have to get green right, or that there is a right way to go about this,
  • those who have been working at environmental sustainability awhile and are in need of next-level ideas for community engagement,
  • and those who have been pursuing changes and could use encouragement to push on.
What you will learn, if you’re an educator, outreach coordinator, institutional leader, and/or individual practitioner, is that the personal and systems relationships really, really matter. Send your attention and energy to understanding those, and then use your educator or manager training to transfer that knowledge to the opportunities in your museum, zoo, garden, park or nature center. You will have discovered what you know and what you don’t know, and will have the relationships to discover how to make change work for you and the planet.

Reading List

This is the third book in my reading journey, after The Handbook of Sustainability Literacy, and Ecological Literacy: – please join me by sharing books for me to review; reading along with me and commenting. 

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