Age of Awareness
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Age of Awareness

Learning as a Community of Life

Image by CDC via Unsplash

Change and disruption have become the new normal. How can education inspire and prepare people to thrive in a world of increasing complexity and uncertainty? Are we sufficiently exploring, engaging, and facilitating our collective learning capacities for transitioning to new normals — based on regeneration and thrivability?

The ecologies of learning have radically shifted since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and will continue to change through disruptive technologies and our worsening climate crisis. Community learning capacities are going to make the critical difference for developing our personal and collective resiliencies. Now is the time for developing the root systems of a new paradigm in education, focussed on regeneration and thrivability. Education that supports people to develop the competencies, attitudes, and understanding for our planetary and future wellbeing.

Learning as Community is the seventh and final Transformative Learning Perspective that forms part of the r3.0 Educational Transformation Blueprint, which launched 7 September 2021. The explorations of this article are based on chapter 8 of this Blueprint — Learning as Community. To read a brief introduction of the Blueprint, click here.

Learning as Community

Image design by Anneloes Smitsman for the r3.0 BP9 Educational Transformation Blueprint

The Learning as Community perspectives focus on community-based approaches of learning that are life-centered and future inspired. Educational transformation will only succeed when the wellbeing and thrivability of life on our planet becomes the unifying factor.

We’ve explored Learning as Community through the following perspectives, which are further explained below:

  1. Becoming a Global Learning Community.
  2. Bioregional Learning Communities.
  3. Weaving the Mycelia Networks of Future Education.

1. Becoming a Global Learning Community

The word “global” has come to mean many different things — and not all positive. Globalization has caused much harm to our cultural diversity and planet through the propaganda of mono-cultures and unconstrained free-market capitalism. The idea of a “global” learning community may, thus, not sound very appealing.

Our human world is rapidly becoming a digitially connected global learning community. However, growing polarization and social-economic inequalities are a clear sign that what we are learning through this trend is not necessarily helping us become wiser people. We need a different vision about what it means to become ‘global’ people, and in such ways that this does not sever our local roots and harm our cultural and indigenous diversity. A global vision that is based on a common responsibility and collective caring for the wellbeing of our Earth, each other, and non-human life.

To start this exploration, I’d like to offer the following exercise for becoming (more) aware of the challenges and opportunities for collaborative learning. If possible, go through this exercise as a group or team (physically or online). Or else, you can envision yourself in community with others while going through the exercise. Engage your creative skills by making a visual collage, systems map, or doodle to express what emerges for you. You can complete this exercise over several weeks, by continuing to add information. Also bserve, write down, and share with each other what starts to shift in terms of your awareness, perspectives, and responses through this exercise — before, during, and after.

  1. The key issuesCreate a map of what you consider the key issues in your local reality, as well as our larger world. Focus on the issues that require collective learning and collaborative approaches for resolving these.
  2. The opportunities — Add to your map the opportunities these issues provide for collective learning and collaboration in becoming a global learning community.
  3. The challenges — Now add challenges and potential barriers to your map, and indicate how these challenges can transform to become opportunities.
  4. What and how we need to learn — Clarify on your map what you consider the priorities of learning; specifying both the content and process of learning.
  5. What and how we need to change — Consider also the content and process of what needs changing, and the process for how we become the change for what is needed.
  6. What and how we need to act — Consider now what and how we need to act for resolving the key issues and engaging the identified opportunities.
  7. Support and wisdom — Complete your map by adding resources, support systems, wisdom, and allies (both seen and unseen) that can form through our collective learning process as a global community.

2. Bioregional Learning Communities

Bioregion means a territory of life, which can also be translated as an ecology of life. Bioregionalism focuses on shared ecologies as the basis of identity and belonging, and not nation-state boundaries. Bioregionalism is first and foremost a practice of, “intimately exploring, knowing, and caring for the natural and human communities within a region defined by nature, our bioregion (Bioregional Education Association, 2019).”

Bioregional learning is all about place-based learning as an ecology of interbeing in a shared habitat — in terms of history, culture, belonging, identity, and natural patterns and cycles. Bioregional learning communities are forms of global learning communities, yet with the added ecological focus of regeneration of their bioregion. Bioregional learning communities can serve as the root system for what may eventually emerge as a global learning community of interbeing. An interconnected world that develops through the root systems of bioregional collaboration is ecologically focussed, unlike the capitalist models of globalization that sacrifice bioregional wellbeing.

In article 3, Exploring Transformative Learning as Life, we explored how the informational dynamics of life are essentially holonic and holarchic (rather than hierarchical). Holarchic patterns of organization and communication (holons nested in larger holons) in-form how the root systems of plants and trees develop, particulary the mycelium networks. Life is informationally unified, in contrast to the dominant human informational systems that tend to create hierarchy and dualistic polarization. The mechanistic systems of development that are driving our worsening sustainability crisis, are based on growth models of extractive expansion at the expense of ecologically networked relationships.

Bioregional learning communities aim to foster a sense of belonging that is life-centered and ecologically driven. Such communities can serve as incubation hubs and evolutionary womb spaces for becoming evolutionary learning ecosystems based on vital ecological principles of life. When the emphasis of global learning becomes centered around life, technology can serve a more regenerative role — namely, by facilitating exchanges between educational initiatives and enabling greater co-learning opportunities.

The original idea for bioregional learning centers dates back at least four decades. In 1980, Limits to Growth Lead Author Dana Meadows explained in her paper, History of Ideas Underlying the Balaton Group, how a group of systems scientists noted that: “Each agroeconomic region is so unique that the concept of transfer of technology is irrelevant. What’s relevant is the transfer of the capacity to develop technology and institutions that are consistent with the cultural endowment and the resource endowment of each region,” (Meadows 1982). The following section from Meadow’s 1982 paper illustrates this further:

“I also had twelve years’ experience of organic farming in a cold and rock-bound, but ultimately bountiful bioregion, with all the appropriate frustrations and joys that come from interconnection with the cycles of the earth. And lastly I had knowledge that pointed to the limitations as well as the value of my scientific, systems-analysis tools. Out of that combination came a vision of a number of centers where information and models about resources and the environment are housed. There would need to be many of these centers, all over the world, each one responsible for a discrete bioregion. They would contain people with excellent minds and tools, but they would not be walled off, as scientific centers so often are, either from the lives of ordinary people or from the realities of political processes. The people in these centers would be at home with farmers, miners, planners, and heads of state and they would be able both to listen to and talk to all of them. The job of these centers is basically to enhance that capacity… to solve problems in ways that are consistent with the culture and the environment. The centers collect, make sense of, and disseminate information about the resources of their bioregions, and about the welfare of the people and of the ecosystems. They are partly data repositories, partly publishing and broadcasting and teaching centers, partly experiment stations and extension agents. They know about the latest technologies, and the traditional ones, and about which ones work best under what conditions. They are able, insofar as the state of knowledge permits, to see things whole, to look at long-term consequences, and to tell the truth. They are also able to perceive and admit freely where the boundaries of the state of knowledge are and what is not known. Above all, the job of these centers is to hold clear and true the context, the values, the ways of thinking, through which all development plans and resource management schemes proceed.”~ Dana Meadows, (1982, p.2).

This vision by Meadows has recently been revitalized by Joe Brewer of the Center for Applied Cultural Evolution, who is actively creating just such a bioregional learning center in Barichara (Colombia), in collaboration with the Earth Regenerators Network. The Capital Institute is also incubating a network of bioregional collaboratives under the Regenerative Communities Network, with regenerative education as one of its eight “key dimensions.” Several of their bioregional collaboratives explicitly identify as bioregional learning centers, such as in Sinal do Vale, Brazil and South Devon, UK. r3.0 is co-hosting the bioregional collaborative in the Connecticut River Valley (CRV) in the northeast United States, where Senior Director Bill Baue is serving as Co-Convener.

3. Weaving the Mycelia Networks of Future Education

Building on article 6 — Learning as a Pattern that Connects, let’s explore how we can apply the patterns of mycelia networks for developing the collaborative root systems of future education. A mycelium (plural mycelia) is the vegetative body for fungi, which grow as branched tubular filaments (hyphae) that nestle around the root systems of trees.

Mycelia form a “mycorrhizal network” that connects the individual plants and trees to transfer water, nitrogen, carbon, and other minerals. Furthermore, mycelia also enable trees to communicate with each other through their underground connections (Holewinski, 2021). Life on earth has been able to evolve thanks to these amazing intelligent organisms called fungi and their mycelia. It can be said that we all descend from mycelia, as is explained beautifully in the documentary “Fantastic Fungi” by Louie Schwartzberg.

Mycelia play a crucial role in the health and evolution of the whole ecosystem, including the unlocking of essential nutrients in the soil for other species. The mycelia also act as natural carbon storage facilities, nature’s own climate-smart technology! Furthermore, mycelia create systems and nutrients for mutual support, making it possible for the healthier plants to distribute nutrients to weaker plants and trees.

Learning as Community is a mycelium form of learning that connects, distributes, and exchanges vital information and resources to and between learners, educators, learning organizations, learning ecosystems, and the myriad of players in our shared landscapes of learning. This mycelium type of learning goes further than merely collaborative learning, namely by creating a unified field, or web, of information and resources. Within this field, collective learning, collaborative actions, and systemic consciousness naturally emerge in support of the wellbeing of the whole. Mycelia are the physical expression of the evolutionary pattern of learning that is intrinisic to life and living systems.

The limitation of many existing collaborative initiatives is the focus on collaborative benefits by the one who initiates collaboration. However, mycelium forms of collaboration demonstrate a living network of interspecies communication, exchange, and value-creation that is not directed by the goals of one or a few species.

Instead, mycelium forms of co-learning and collaboration are enabled by information sharing and resource exchanges based on the ecosystemic capabilities of common spaces that are interwoven between the various systems and subsystems that form part of the larger ecosystem. One could say that the mycelia networks of fungi act as a living worldwide internet or web, yet in this case the data are not controlled or manipulated by software designers and data mining companies.

Many indigenous communities have applied this mycelium approach of collaborative learning for thousands of years. The imposition of western models of education on indigenous communities has caused much harm in those communities, in addition to the violence inflicted upon many indigenous children who were forced into residential schools. Education for regeneration and thrivability requires inclusiveness of indigenous community-based learning approaches — as welll as the inclusion of indigenous peoples themselves.

Applying a “commoning” approach to learning and collaboration aligns well with a bioregional learning approach. Michel Bauwens, founder and president of the P2P Foundation, has pioneered peer-to-peer strategies and initiatives for many decades. He considers “the commons’’ as an emerging new paradigm and defines “commons” accordingly: “A commons is: 1) shared resources (i.e. there is something objective about it); 2) maintained or co-produced by a community or group of stakeholders (hence: a subjective activity and choice, ‘there is no commons without commoning’) and; 3) it is managed according to the rules and values of that community (‘autonormativity’), which makes it also an alternative governance and property regime, (Bauwens, 2020).”

Education as commoning, and future education as a commons, brings us closer to the kinds of collaborative attitudes that are based on the mycelium approach. Yannis Pechtelidis and Alexandros Kioupkiolis describe commoning as a process of, “making the organization of education a common affair in which children, teachers, and parents co-participate, will be considered at two different but interconnected levels: the mode of governance and the educational practice, (2020, p.2).”

Including Indigenous Communities

We are not, and can never be, lone individuals. We are the sum total of our actions as a species, and this is why we can leave nobody out. We, as a species, holding one part of the Hoop of Life, are responsible for upholding that part. If we do not, the Hoop begins to fail. The Hoop of Life does not understand “us and them,” the Hoop of Life only understands “We”.” ~ Pat McCabe, Navajo Elder (in Anita Sanchez, 2017, p.165)

Mainstream education is still dominated by colonial narratives and worldviews. Indigenous pedagogies have much to offer for developing our ecological literacies and life-centered consciousness. In order to avoid cultural appropriation, and repeat the painful patterns of the past, it is essential that indigenous people themselves are included in the development and facilitation of curriculum about and for indigenous cultures, practices, and knowledge. See also UNESCO for Resources on Education for indigenous people.

Learning as Community has always formed part of indigenous pedagogy, where community serves as the foundation for an emerging sense of self and self-authorship (Jacobs, 2016). Yankunytjatjara elder Bob Randall (also known as uncle Bob), served as a custodian of the Uluru cultural heritage in Aboriginal Australia. He taught learning as community through their teaching of Kanyini, which is about the relationship between responsibility and unconditional love, “An enormous caring with no limit.”

Bob Randall taught that Kanyini comes from a deep sense of connectedness and relatedness with the whole family of life. Kanyini, as he explained, is based on four principles (Randall, 2007):

  1. Ngura — A sense of belonging to the land that grows us up. To feel at home in nature.
  2. Walytja — To connect with life as family. Our kinship relation with all the members of life, i.e. the trees, the animals, the rocks, the plants, all are family.
  3. Kurunpa — Love, Spirit, and Soul. Our spirituality and experience of soulfulness.
  4. Tjukurrpa — Creation period, or also called the Dreamtime, and the right way to live. How we align our intentions, behaviors, and actions with the universal principles and laws, and relate with this as the wisdom of life.

These four Kanyini principles can serve as a foundation for exploring Learning as Community. Starting with Ngura, land is seen as alive with spirit, stories, meaning, and family. Land is the ground and foundation from where our kinship with nature and sense of family with all living things emerges. Ngura teaches us that nature is not a resource; it is a community to which we belong. Without a sense of Ngura, a sense of belonging to nature, we more easily feel alone, lost, and disconnected from each other and life. Ngura is essential for Learning as Community rooted in the ecology of life.

The second principle, Walytja, emphasizes how our sense of community grows by realizing our kinship with life as family. The trees, four-leggeds, winged ones, rocks, all become relatives with the human two-leggeds. Through our sense of unity with life as family people also become more receptive to the spiritual nourishment that is referred to as the third principle, Kurunpa, which also means love, psyche, spirit, and soul. Without Kurunpa our view of the world will become predominantly materialistic. Kurunpa introduces us to the spiritual and ecological values of Learning as Community

The fourth principle, Tjukurrpa, enters us into the living cosmology of our universe and teaches us the sacred principles and universal laws that are also referred to as the Dreaming or Dreamtime. Tjukurrpa reveals the evolutionary principles and cosmological foundations for Learning as Community, and helps us become aware of the invisible world behind physical appearances.

Indigenous perspectives and teachings are living transmissions of the ancient wisdoms of our ancestors, which continually renew by our enactment and engagement of this in the present, and for future times. We are all indigenous to this Earth; we are all born of Mother Earth.

Including Youth in Educational Transformation

The prophecy of the seventh generation says that when the seventh generation of young people come, the great winter will end, for these young people with old spirits will lead and make change⸺a reuniting with each other and with Mother Earth will happen.” ~ Anita Sanchez (2017, p.203).

WorldSkills and the OECD carried out a survey in 2019 with 15,000 youth aged 18–24 years old, from 19 “G20” countries. These survey outcomes were published in the “Youth Voice for the Future of Work” report, which revealed how: “Young people in most countries are not positive about whether school has helped prepare them for adult working life, but only slightly, with a wide range of opinions.” The report further indicates how 44% of young people worry that there won’t be much demand for their skills and knowledge in the future. Many young people do not feel confident that their education prepares them for their future. To gain, or restore, the confidence of youth in their education it is essential that youth itself is included as a key driver for educational transformation.

The “School Strike for Climate” movement was started by Greta Thunberg in 2018 when she was only 15 years old. She started this movement by skipping school to protest outside the Swedish parliament, calling on world leaders to wake up and take action for our planet and our future. Since then the School Strike for Climate actions have grown into a worldwide movement, also known as Fridays for Future (FFF), Youth for Climate, Climate Strike, and Youth Strike for Climate, mobilizing youth to skip classes as a way to demand action from political leaders to deal with our climate crisis.

The 2021 UNESCO Berlin Declaration on Education for Sustainable Development indicates that: “Transformative learning for people and the planet is a necessity for our survival and that of future generations. The time to learn and act for our planet is now.” This also requires direct engagement of youth, as articulared in article ‘f’ of the Berlin Declaration:

Empower young people as change agents for sustainable development, by creating opportunities for learning and civic engagement, and providing them with the competencies and tools to participate in ESD as co-creators of individual and societal transformation.” ~ 2021 UNESCO Berlin Declaration

We all form part of the mycelia networks of future education, we each are future ancestors. Education involves all of us and is not just about formal programs or institutions. Education starts by learning together as a community, a family of life, and as citizens of the Earth.

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Source: Extracts from chapter 8 of the r3.0 Educational Transformation Blueprint.

Other articles in this series

References

Brewer, J. (2019) Guiding the Emergence of Humanity’s Future: Reflections on the Pedagogy of Bioregional Regeneration. 22 May 2019. https://www.slideshare.net/joebrewer31/guiding-the-emergence-of-humanitys-future

Brewer, J. (2021) The Design Pathway for Regenerating Earth. White River Junction: Earth Regenerators Press / Chelsea Green Publishing.

Jacobs, D.T. (Four Arrows). (2016). Point of Departure — Returning to Our More Authentic Worldview for Education and Survival. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, Inc

Meadows, D. (1982). History of the Ideas Underlying The Balaton Group. Unpublished essay.

Pechtelidis, Y. & Kioupkiolis, A. (2020). Education as Commons, Children as Commoners: The Case Study of the Little Tree Community. Democracy & Education, 28 (1). Accessed 17 July 2021 via https://democracyeducationjournal.org/home/vol28/iss1/5/

Randall, B. (2015). Unconditional Love with Responsibility. Retrieved July 21, 2018, from https://bit.ly/2LvZOZD

Randall, B. (2007). Kanyini. Resurgence and Ecologist. 2007: 243. Retrieved from http://www.resurgence.org/magazine/article132-kanyini.html

Sanchez, A. (2017). The Four Sacred Gifts: Indigenous Wisdom for Modern Times. New York: Atria/Enliven Books. Kindle Edition.

Smitsman, A., Baue, B., and Thurm, R. (2021). Blueprint 9. Educational Transformation –7 Transformative Learning Perspectives for Regeneration and Thrivability. r3.0.

UNESCO. (2021). The Berlin Declaration on Education for Sustainable Development. UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development.

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Anneloes Smitsman, PhD

Anneloes Smitsman, PhD

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Futurist, systems scientist, award-winning author, coach, CEO & founder EARTHwise Centre