Murmuration of Starlings — Photo: Owen Humphreys

Education and Regenerative Cultures (Version 0.0)

Work in progress in support educators & cultural creatives

Little over a month ago I was in Lisbon Portugal, getting ready for a big public talk and launch of the Portuguese edition of Designing Regenerative Cultures at Culturgest on March 13th. The plan was to follow this up with a workshop on ‘Education and Regenerative Cultures’ on March 14th.

On March 11th the world changed. The WHO declared a global pandemic. When I read the news I wrote a spontaneous post entitled ‘Phase Shift: The Pandemic as a Catalyst for Transformation. By now it has become clear to most that the world we are moving towards will not be the one we left before the lockdowns started.

The talk in the beautiful auditorium of Culturgest never happened. Instead, on April 2nd, I gave that presentation on ‘Regenerative Economies for Regenerative Cultures’ as a livestream followed by questions and answers. We reached a total of 16k views on Facebook live and 900 viewers on Youtube in only the two hours while the event was being broadcast and more than 4500 viewers have watched the presentation on Facebook since (see below).

The workshop on ‘Education and Regenerative Cultures’ will now take place online with a small group of pre-registered participants. I have decided to use this blog post as a way to share some ideas on the topic in order to have more time for conversation with the diverse participants on the seminar that is co-hosted by Culturgest and Ashoka Portugal.

Living regeneratively & co-creating diverse regenerative cultures

Living regeneratively is about living in right relationship to the dynamically evolving nested wholeness of life as a planetary process. It is about aiming to participate appropriately in this complexity in humble awareness of the limits of our knowing and with acceptance of uncertainty. Living regeneratively is about finding our own uniqueness and expressing it in service to our communities and life’s ongoing evolutionary journey.

We are called into humility and audacity at the same time. We might not be able to predict and control the future but we are all co-creating it — every moment, every day. So living regeneratively is also about being conscious of how all our thoughts, words and actions have creative agency in what will emerge from the nested complexity we participate in and are expressions of.

By understanding our own individual and collective agency in and as life as a planetary process and our fundamental dependence on the health of ecosystems and planetary health, we come to understand that nurturing the health, resilience and adaptive capacity of our communities and the wider community of life is in all our enlightened self-interest.

As Gerald Midgely, professor for systems science at the University of Hull, pointed out so succinctly “everything is an intervention.” We cannot but change the world, each and every one of us. Education for regenerative cultures is about the life-long process of enabling and building the capacity of everyone to express their unique potential to serve their community and the planet and in the process serve themselves.

Transformative education in a ‘crisis of perception’

“Education … the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”

— Paulo Freire

A series of converging crisis is now creating a necessity — even an urgency — for a fundamental transformation of the human impact on Earth from being predominantly exploitative, destructive and degenerative to being restorative, healing and regenerative.

Climate change, biodiversity loss, and obscene levels of inequality are but symptoms of underlying causes. To address them effectively we have to go upstream. We have to take a closer look at not just ‘what we know’ but ‘how we know’. We have to reexamine the cultural narratives that inform our dominant worldview and trough that our actions.

In his book ‘The Turning Point’ — published over 30 years ago, Fritjof Capra called the route cause of these converging crises ‘a crisis of perception.’ One of Capra’s mentors, Gregory Bateson put it this way: “The major problems in the world are the result of the difference between how nature works and the way people think” and added “there are times when I catch myself believing there is something which is separate from something else.”

In this time of transition we are — as Joanna Macy suggested — called into a dual role of being both hospice workers of a dying system (“the industrial growth society”) and midwifes of something new: diverse regenerative cultures everywhere (“the life-sustaining society”). In this time of transition education has to enable people of all ages to do three things:

i) engage in ‘holding action’ that reduce and/or stop the ongoing damage of the destructive and exploitative system we are moving away from,

ii) to cooperate with others in ‘building new systems’ and work on putting regenerative patterns in place at the community and bioregional scale, and

iii) to enable people to ‘see with new eyes’ by shifting the cultural narratives, organising ideas, and stories we tell about what it means to be human and about our relationship with the wider community of life.

We are in a time between narratives, changing from a narrative and worldview focussed on separation and competitive scarcity to a narrative and worldview that recognizes our ‘interbeing’ with everything else and our potential to co-create collaborative abundance.

The intention to live regeneratively and to co-create regenerative cultures with the people around us is nutured by understanding our fundamental interconnectedness, interdependence and ‘interbeing’ with the processes that maintain health, resilience, and adaptability at the level of individuals and their communities.

Education for regenerative cultures is a never ending process of building and renewing the capacity of people in place to participate in co-evolving mutuality — with each other, with the regional ecosystems — in planetary solidarity — and with response-ability.

Health and wholeness are not a static states but evolutionary processes in which we participate. So a bounce-back to maintain structures that no longer serve is not a healthy response to the crises we are now facing. If we understand health as a dynamic process of co-evolving mutuality that links cellular health to organ health to individuals, families, communities, cities, bioregions, ecosystems and to planetary health, we come to see that systemic health and wellbeing might be a much more appropriate indicator of success than inadequate economic indicators like GDP.

It is from this perspective I suggested in my book that a “regenerative human culture is healthy, resilient and adaptable; it cares for the planet and it cares for life in the awareness that this is the most effective way to create a thriving future for all of humanity.” The first half of this sentence has since been taken up as one of the principles of the global civic response to climate change and cascading ecosystems collapse, as principle number 3 of the Extinction Rebellion.

It is important to highlight that such regenerative cultures will be different depending on the places and bioregions they emerge from. Just as life’s biodiversity adds to its capacity for creative evolution, so does our cultural diversity constitute a wealth of experience and perspectives. The point is not that we all need to agree on everything or see the world in the same way, rather it is that in our diversity we all aim to participate in ways that support the health, well-being and evolutionary potential of all of humanity and all of life.

There is no one-size-fits-all receipt for creating regenerative cultures. Sorry to disappoint.

In general we should be wary of people who are offering sliver bullet solutions and quick answers as we are faced with multiple converging crises of so called ‘wicked problems’. Regenerative practice does not start from problems it starts from potential. The potential of people and place to manifest their unique essence in ways that add value, meaning and health to a greater whole.

Cultures are not designed, they emerge through the participation of all of us. The insight that questions rather than answers and solutions are a more reliable compass as we navigate our way into an uncertain future was an important step in understanding how it might be possible to nurture the emergence of diverse regenerative cultures everywhere without prescribing a pre-supposing cookie-cutter set of solutions.

I believe the process of ‘living the questions together’ lies at the heart of how we can co-create regenerative cultures. I also believe that life-long learning and education play a critical role in the now necessary redesign of the human impact on Earth and on each other.

Education is the process by which we enable ourselves and each other to offer our unique contributions in service to life’s evolutionary journey. It should enable us to do what life does first and foremost “creating conditions conducive to life” (Janine Benyus).

Letting go of patterns that no longer serve in order to manifest the latent potential of what wants to come into being is part of life’s regenerative patterning. Truly transformative education supports us on a life long path of learning — a pilgrimage and an apprenticeship — of how to participate appropriately in the wider community of life.

On the importance of life-long learning

In many ways the role of education and life-long learning is critical to human survival. There is wisdom in the old saying “you live and you learn, otherwise you don’t live very long” and the insight applies to individuals, communities, cultures, entire civilisations and our human family.

The division of life into one third education, one third work, and one third retirement is a pattern that emerged in some privildegded — or shall we say colonialising and extractive rather than “developed” countries — for a relatively short time. This period coincided with the rapid acceleration of our destructive impact on the planet.

To adequately enable people with the capacity to respond to the uncertainties and complexities of our world we need to redesign our educational ecosystems in ways that enable life-long-learning. Furthermore we need to not only nurture the ability to excel in a specialty but also nurture capacity for joined-up systemic thinking that can build up multi-facetted understanding of the world.

“We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely.”

E. O. Wilson

We all know from our personal experience of our own path of learning and making important decisions throughout our life that there are more than one way of knowing. Carl Gustav Jung spoke of four ways of knowing. In addition to (analytical) knowing which our education system prioritises, we are capable of developing our capacity to listen to and draw insight from feeling, sensing and intuiting.

Jung’s 4 Ways of Knowing (Graphic Source: Simon Robinson)

Indigenous cultures from around the world have created similar maps of human experience that value analytical thought but in the context of other — complementary — ways of gaining insight into how to participate appropriately in the community of life.

The ‘wisdom wheel’ of the four directions and four elements maps closely with the four ways of knowing that have to inform wise action. This wheel is found among all of North America’s indigenous peoples. Diverse regenerative cultures of the past we have been arrogant enough to call “primitive” have demonstrated over millennia how to live in intimate reciprocity with the bioregion they inhabited.

One must always be aware of the interrelationship between all beings to ensure Mino-Bimaadiziwin, the healthy way of life. This includes balancing one’s relationships with the surrounding environment, surrounding beings, and the inner physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs of the human condition.

Ojibwe perspective on life as education

Learning to think not just in systems but in patterns

The old English nursery rhyme “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the King’s horses and all the King’s men couldn’t put Humpty back together again” speaks to me about the way we have fractured knowledge into disciplines and are trying to understand our participation in dynamic evolving (real) wholeness through reductionist analysis and statistical probabilities of static and additive (counterfeit) wholeness.

“A System is a set of elements or parts that is coherently organized and interconnected in a pattern or structure that produces a characteristic set of behaviours, often classified as its ‘function’ or ‘purpose’.”

— Donella Meadows

Education for regenerative cultures has a lot to do with giving people dynamic organizing ideas and new narratives that help us make sense of our participation in dynmaic wholeness. We need to learn to dance with systems rather than to analyse them to death with our reductionist frames and limited awareness of how the boundaries we set to make scientific analysis possible are enabiling constraints that create their own blind spots. The question: “What is the system in question?” is an important one.

Recording of a webinar I offered to members of the International Society for Systems Science

One delightful way to introduce systems thinking, eco-literacy, environmental and social ethics, and a whole systems understanding of how “life creates conducive to life” to young children is the collection of fables written by Gunter Pauli, the founder of ‘Zero Emissions Research and Initiatives’ (ZERI) and author of ‘The Blue Economy’.

Another extremely useful resource for facilitators and educators is the delightful ‘Systems Thinking Playbook’ by Linda Booth Sweeney, who has been instrumental in helping thousands of children and adults to develop their systems literacy. Linda is also the author of a number of childrens books and her website is a treasure trove of inspiration for educators.

Other resources of interest here are The Academy of Systems Change and the excellent set of materials created by WWF Scotland about ten years ago to help secondary school teachers included systems thinking into their lesson plans — published under the title ‘Linking Thinking’ (download pdf here).

Even in the world of systems thinking there can be a tendency to think of systems and structures in limiting ways that can trap us into a detached rather than a participatory and a static rather than a dynamic way of making sense of our participation and co-creation of the systems we are nested in. Earlier this year I had a deeply insightful conversation with Joel Glanzberg about this. The systems and structures around us are basically like tracks left by the underlying patterns and processes. To work regeneratively is to work on enabling patterns and processes that give rise to and help systems and structures evolve over time.

A need for multiple forms of literacy

To effectively redesign the human presence and impact on Earth within the life-time of the generations alive today will require a re-envisioning of education not as something that prepares you for a life that you then have to go an live, but as an activity that is central to living in right relationships throughout our whole life.

We all become each others teachers and apprentices in the process of co-creating diverse regenerative cultures that are expressions of the bio-cultural uniqueness of the places they inhabit as a responsible key-stone specie contributing to shared abundance and whole systems health.

This means we have to try to put Humpty Dumpty back together again through integrating insights from diverse disciplines and diverse ways of knowing. While the universities are still struggling to work in a truly interdisciplinary way, to overcome the ivory-tower syndrome of academia we need to involve all societal stakeholders in a trans-disciplinary process that avoids that science and A.I. drawing from cold ‘big data’ only become the only culturally valid sources of insight.

Information has to be applied to become knowledge and the complexity of trans-contextual data — or ‘warm data’ as Nora Bateson has so aptly called it — is experiential data that has build up through integrating multiple ways of knowing and applying information in the complexity of our daily lives.

Graphic: Nora Bateson, Marc Gordon and Scott Williams (Source)

To inform our actions and to creatively chart our course through the turbulent decades ahead — of worsening climate chaos, supply lines collapses, economic systems redesign, and cultural transformations everywhere — to proactively redesign our systems of production and consumption, our bioregional economies and systems of governance — we need a multi-literate and engaged citizenry.

One little example of a cultural acupuncture and public education project I can offer to illustrate a way of creating such engagement is the Paseo Cósmicio Del Molinar. A project I initiated in my own neighbourhood with an excellent team of collaborators around the island of Mallorca.

The project has not (yet) been implemented, for lack of funding and permits, but never the less illustrates how to weave insights from physics, astronomy, chemistry, geology, geography, biology, ecology and evolutionary theory into an educational public exhibition that brings the story of the universe into an embodied experience by inviting people to walk through a timeline of 14 billion years over 1400 meters. The deeper intention here is a re-enchantment of the universe through scientific insights that are brought into a lived experience of our connection with this evolutionary story and our agency and responsibility in its continuation.

What follows are just a few initial resources inviting you to explore aspects of four types of literacy (and surely there are more) which we need to foster in the process of building individual and collective capacity for the co-creation of diverse regenerative cultures everywhere that are supported by global knowledge exchange, solidarity and cooperation.

Ecoliteracy

Ecological literacy (also referred to as ecoliteracy) is the ability to understand the natural systems that make life on earth possible. To be ecoliterate means understanding the principles of organization of ecological communities (i.e. ecosystems) and using those principles for creating sustainable human communities. The term was coined by American educator David W. Orr and physicist Fritjof Capra in the 1990s[1][2]- thereby a new value entered education; the “well-being of the earth”.

Wikipedia

Social Literacy

Economic Literacy

Worldview, or Ontological and Epistemological Literacy

… …

Source: UNECO, United Nations

Gaia Education’s Mandala for Whole Systems Design

Cooperative action-learning as a pedagogy of humility in the face of uncertainty

… living the questions …

The power of a design based approach: where theory and practice meet

Not just learning “from” Nature, but learning as Nature

… WWF Scotland … The Natural Change Project

… Kurt Hahn … Outward Bound …

The video below was created as feedback on a 12 day experience of transformative education I had the privilege to co-create with some of the most skillful educators I ever had the pleasure to work with. In August 2009, a group of 30 young Europeans gathered together in Scotland, at Findhorn ecovillage, for twelve-days. They explored different tools and techniques for building inner-resilience for the journey towards creative and sustainable cultures. The programme combined many of the deep weaving connections this article explores. There is hope! There is another way! We need programs like this for young adults everywhere!

… evolutionary … developmental approach …

Some Inspiration from Around the World

… agrofrostry … circula economy

Global Education Futures Report on ‘Educational Ecosystems for Societal Transformation’ …

Ashoka change makers … pavel … Global Change Makers (weavers)

… never finished the draft of the fourth part in this series …

Bringing Education Home — the Pedagogy of Reinhabitation

Bringing the ‘Global Goals’ home: The SDG Flashcards

Bioregional Learning Centres: Learning to live in place glocally!

… bioregional learning … egs UK and RCN … Ecolise (show images … European Day of Sustainable Communities)…

… bioregional Quiz!

A Bioregional Quiz

Can you answer the following questions about the area you live in? Each right answer adds one point to your final score. The quiz is self-assessed. If you need to cheat, take it as an indication of how well you know your own environment.

Trace the water you drink from precipitation to tap.

How many days till the moon is full? (give or take two days)

What soil series are you standing on?

What was the total rainfall in your area during June and July of last year?

When was the last time a fire burned your area?

What were the primary subsistence techniques of the culture that lived in your area before?

Name five native edible plants in your region and their season(s) of availability?

From what directions do winter storms generally come from in your area?

Where does your garbage go?

How long is the growing season where you live?

On what day of the year are the shadows the shortest where you live?

When do the deer rut in your region, and when are the young born?

Name five grasses in your area. Are any of them native?

Name five resident and five migratory birds in your area.

What is the land use history where you live?

What primary ecological event/process influenced the land form where you live?

What species have become extinct in your area?

What are the major plant associations in your region?

From where you are reading this, point north.

What spring flower is consistently among the first to bloom where you live?

Scoring:

0 –3 You have your head in the sand.
4 –7 It’s hard to be two places at once when you’re not anywhere at all.
8–12 A fairly firm grasp of the obvious.
13–16 You are paying attention.
17–19 You know where you’re at.
20 You not only know where you’re at, you know where it’s at.

(based on Where you at? — A Bioregional Quiz, Leonard Charles et al.

Living into the questions together!

These are the 5 questions I invited the participants of the course on ‘Education and Regenerative Cultures’ to reflect upon first individually and in small groups of 3 to 5 people after they had some time browsing through the ideas, frameworks and resources provided in this document:

How much of my work as an educator relates directly or indirectly to building the capacity of people in place to co-create diverse regenerative cultures?

Which aspects of the material presented here could I adapt or use to introduce the need for regenerative cultures to my students/learners?

How could my work as an educator help people gain a deeper understanding of their bioregion and build capacity for regional regeneration?

How can I support life-long learning in my community and bioregion that fosters local participation in global awareness and solidarity?

Who do I need to cooperated with regionally, nationally and internationally to nurture a dynamic network of educators for a regenerative future?

If you like the post, please clap AND remember that you can clap up to 50 times if you like it a lot ;-)!

Daniel Christian Wahl — Catalyzing transformative innovation in the face of converging crises, advising on regenerative whole systems design, regenerative leadership, and education for regenerative development and bioregional regeneration.

Author of the internationally acclaimed book Designing Regenerative Cultures

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Daniel Christian Wahl

Written by

Catalysing transformative innovation, cultural co-creation, whole systems design, and bioregional regeneration. Author of Designing Regenerative Cultures

Age of Awareness

Stories providing creative, innovative, and sustainable changes to the ways we learn

Daniel Christian Wahl

Written by

Catalysing transformative innovation, cultural co-creation, whole systems design, and bioregional regeneration. Author of Designing Regenerative Cultures

Age of Awareness

Stories providing creative, innovative, and sustainable changes to the ways we learn

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