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Education to change the world

By Stuart Hill - posted Friday, 9 March 2012

Five Preliminary 'Provocations' for Reflection

Anything that anyone has ever learned – and much, much more – can be learned by everyone

Most of what is remains unknown; whereas cleverness is concerned with the miniscule known, one requires wisdom, experience and intuition to engage with the unknown – sadly current curricula, and the naive concept of 'evidence-based decision making', tend to neglect the unknown, and the need to develop wisdom, with predictable catastrophic consequences, some of which – like species extinction – are irreversible, and others – such as loss of cultural capital – are extremely difficult to rebuild


Throughout our history our species has evolved psychosocially; in most of the world this has reached a 'socialising' culture, in which one generation designs and imposes the learning agenda on the next generation; the next step in our evolution is towards an 'enabling' culture, in which learners are enabled to clarify and achieve their unique (personal) and shared (social) learning agendas, i.e., because we are a social species, rather than being socialised we need to be enabled to realise our social potential – and, paradoxically, this is undermined by all socialising agendas, which learners respond to through diverse expressions of compliance, resistance, rebellion and withdrawal

(these ideas are partly based on the challenging writings of Lloyd deMause 2002. The Emotional Life of Nations. Other Press, New York; see also:

Because of the above, strategies for motivating learning need to be recognised as part of this inappropriate 'socialising' approach to education – as our species is naturally passionate about learning (as learning organisms with personally relevant content, time and place specificities), this needs to be recognised and effectively enabled

Money is just one of many tools that can be used in the service of achieving our 'higher' goals – such as enabling equitable and ongoing (resilient and sustainable) personal, social and ecological (and 'spiritual'?) wellbeing – all institutional structures and processes, including those relating to money, urgently need to be collaboratively redesigned and managed (particularly regionally and locally – rather than just centrally) to reflect this understanding (the over-focus on fiscal solutions to our educational challenges in 'The Gonski Report' 'Review of Funding for Schooling' 2011 - is indicative of the failure to appreciate the broader roots of our problems)


Because of the limited understanding of the above (and many related) 'truths', our species faces major personal, social and ecological challenges. It is important to ask: in what ways can education help us get out of the many messes we are in? Most current education will not significantly help us. In fact, it will result in a perpetuation of the mess, and most likely add to it. So how can we learn our way forwards, and how might educators, at every level, from kindergarten to universities, be most helpful? Well, this will require a number of important things to happen. The first will be to dare to stop defending and perpetuating the status quo, which is what most educators do today; although usually without realising that they are doing this. To change this we need to examine our educational systems critically; and to do this we will need 'testing questions' related to the sort of lives it makes sense to hope to be able to live, and to the institutional structures and processes designed to support them.


Such institutions would need to be able to effectively enable and nurture wellbeing and health (at every level), equity and social justice, peace and non-violence, love and compassion, sharing and collaboration, and ecological sustainability and healthy, species-rich ecosystems. These need to be the measures of our success, rather than growing productivity, consumption, profit and power.

At the personal level, 'testing questions' need to recognise individuals that are empowered, aware, with clear values and visions, in loving relationships, with a sense of purpose and meaning, and having competencies that enable them to make wise decisions and take effective, responsible actions that are life affirming (a comprehensive list of personal, social and ecological testing questions may be found in most of my presentations at

Keeping all of this in mind, we should be in a position to ask the following two critical questions: 'what in the current educational system is enabling any of this to happen?' and 'what is preventing this from happening?' So, to improve things we would need to act in ways that nurture the former and phase out the latter.

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For further writing about these ideas see:Hill SB 2001. Transformative outdoor education for healthy communities within sustainable environments. Pp. 7-19 in 12th National Outdoor Education Conference: Education Outdoors – Our Sense of Place - Conference Proceedings. Victorian Outdoor Education Association, Carlton, VIC; Hill SB, Wilson S, Watson K 2004. Learning ecology: a new approach to learning and transforming ecological consciousness: experiences from social ecology in Australia. Pp. 47-64 in O'Sullivan EV, Taylor M (eds), Learning Toward An Ecological Consciousness: Selected Transformative Practices. Palgrave Macmillan, New York; and Sattmann-Frese W, Hill SB 2008. Learning for Sustainability: Psychology of Ecological Transformation. Lulu, Morrisville, NC [].

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About the Author

Professor Stuart B. Hill is Foundation Chair of Social Ecology at the University of Western Sydney.

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