Saturday, April 26, 2008

Education for Well-Being

Wandering around in the education twitter/blogosphere led me to Education for Well-Being, which is Bill Farren's blog. He's an educator in the Dominican Republic and has put together this video:

that I would like to make a part of any workshop or talk on 21st century learning I do. Farren's site deserves better than a brief summary here, so please visit his site and get it straight from him. I'll just bring up a few points that really struck me. Education for Well-Being. Farren pushes educators to re-think their view of 21st century literacy. We should embrace web 2.0's collaborative nature to improve the lives of all our planet's residents. If we place our student's well-being at the center of our educational endeavors, then our classrooms is necessarily be centered around their needs (note: this may not always align with what they believe to be their needs!) What Farren most emphatically believes students do not need is to be prepared to provide low-cost labor in a global economy!

The economy needs to support people, not the other way around. Therefore, education needs to support economic well-being. We need our planet to support us, therefore education needs to support planetary well-being. In the 21st century, we have got to use collaboration to find ways to end the cycle of economy vs. planet that has us trapped. In the same vein, we have to stop labeling and categorizing our knowledge. Reality does not fit neatly into disciplines. Is it really possible to own knowledge?

Farren's writings helped my brain put together some other thoughts that have been bouncing around in my head that were seemingly disconnected before I got to Education for Well-Being. I read Tracy Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains about Dr. Paul Farmer's work in Haiti and around the world fighting to provide healthcare for the poorest citizens of impoverished nations. It's a book that can make the reader feel guilty for having enough to eat, but that isn't Farmer's desire or point. Instead, he's trying to change our hearts and minds to realize that every sick child deserves the dignity of the best health care possible. I wonder if Farren and Farmer have ever met? I'd love to listen to that conversation.

The needs of children is also the major theme of Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. Farren references Louv's "nature deficit disorder" on his site, and uses the term "biophobia" too. It may sound strange, but I believe that technology can really save us here. Innovation, collaboration, and connections built across the barriers of the world through "21st century literacy" can lead to a new relationship with and respect for the physical world around us. For example, the best resources for finding out about permaculture gardening are online wikis or forums. These "long tails" help what might start as a fringe group grow into the mainstream more quickly than ever before. Geocaching is environmentally sustainable, has a tech component, connects people who otherwise would never meet, and gets an ever-growing number of American and European families outdoors together.

My next book will be Farewell My Subaru, by Doug Fine. I don't know a lot about him except that he writes about trying to be carbon neutral without giving up the essentials of American life, which for him includes items such as wireless internet, Netflix, and thumping sub-woofers. While I personally know how to live a happy life without the last two, I get his point, and I can't wait to get the book.


Diane Hammond said...

Hi Sarah! I saw your post in my Classroom 2.0 feed and found my way here. What a powerful video!

You make a good point that we should put "our students' well-being at the center of our educational endeavours". I've actually been thinking about this lately and am starting to realize that in our good intentions to bring about positive change by raising awareness of environmental issues, we are doing harm to the well-being of our students.

Let me explain. I am not in the classroom at the moment but facilitate online collaborative projects for K-12 students, connecting students with scientists, researchers and engineers working in the field. In that role I'm privileged to hear the voices of a lot of students from around the world and what I'm hearing lately is despair and hopelessness. It concerns me!

We are raising awareness of our unsustainable economic practices and the harmful effects they are having on our planet. The kids get it! With the powerful tools we're giving them to publish and make their voices heard, they are talking about it. In those voices though, I hear helplessness. The government should... Companies should stop... Why don't people... I also hear hopelessness with children stating our planet will be dead in 25/50 years.

The piece of the puzzle we need to emphasize much more with our students is the next steps/actions/where do we go from here bit. I'm in total agreement with your sentiments that the solutions will be found in technological advancement.

I think we need to work at painting a more positive picture of the future. We need to celebrate the grassroots movements from which systemic change will originate. (For instance look at the success of the Earth Hour movement in Canada. Word of mouth spread throughout the collective networks of almost 10 million people; half our population turned out the lights!). We can give children hope by showing them that individual actions on a mass scale can help change our planet for the better.

We need to help lift the cloud of what difference does it make if we're all going to be dead anyway, that many students are living under. We need to help students realize that:
-they are the ones who will make the scientific advances that will bring about positive change;
-there is a point in learning Science and Technology, in learning how to collaborate, in learning how to solve problems and think creatively.

Students can't have a sense of well-being without hope.

Phew! I know it's Sunday, but I really didn't mean this to sound like a sermon! It's been brewing inside me for a while and just came out. Thanks for such a thought-provoking post!

Sarah Hanawald said...

Hi Diane,

Thanks for coming by. You raise an extremely important point that I have thought about, but not nearly enough or as deeply as you have. Thank you. Despair is crippling, and too often the action we want our students to get involved in means fund raising which can do little for their emotional well-being. Clean up days are wonderful, but kids need to feel they are doing more. Just what though, is the question.

Your work sounds really interesting. Do you have any ideas about how to combat the hopelessness many students feel? I need to learn more in this area.

Thanks again for coming by!

Diane Hammond said...

Sarah, I think you already hit the nail on the head. You said: "Clean up days are wonderful, but kids need to feel they are doing more." I think the key is to always accompany our "awareness lessons" with some kind of positive action.

As an example, in our International Space Station Project,, teachers discussed many current issues with students - food production, sustainable resource use, ecosystem dynamics etc. Those discussions included current conditions on Earth, but also pointed to future technological advancements, in particular the work that is being done by the international Science community to send a manned mission to Mars. Students then engaged in actions - experiments to filter water and grow plants in a free-fall simulator etc. I hope that students left the project with an awareness of the problems facing us on Earth, but also with hope that we will be able to work together to find solutions.