That the world we now live in is unsustainable goes without saying. Our skyrocketing population puts enormous pressure on the productive and absorptive capacities of the land, outstripping the natural carrying capacity of the planet by some twenty percent. As ever more fisheries collapse, forests shrink, rangelands deteriorate, soils erode, species vanish, temperatures rise, rivers run dry, water tables fall, ozone depletion expands and polar ice caps melt across the globe, the single most important question humanity has faced resonates ever louder: How can we live sustainably?
In this amazing book, Orr argues that the ecological crisis is not technological problem that we can fix with some new-fangled gadgetry or updated economic models. Rather, as he says, the "disordering of ecological systems and the great biogeochemical cycles of the earth reflects a prior disorder in the thought, perception, imagination, intellectual priorities, and loyalties inherent in the industrial mind." In other words, ecological crisis is a crisis of education. And yet, "we continue to educate the young for the most part as if there were no planetary emergency."
The effects of our educational system are not only bad for the planet, according to Orr, but bad for us as well. Contemporary "education...alienates us from life in the name of human domination, fragments instead of unifies, overemphasizes success and careers, separates feeling from intellect and the practical from the theoretical, and unleashes on the world minds ignorant of their ignorance." In effect, we educate a society to get straight As and fail Life.
Rather than educating for upward mobility, globally competitive economic success or increased technological cleverness, Orr recommends that we need educate for "ecological design intelligence" in an effort to foster "healthy, durable, resilient, just, and prosperous communities." "The world does not need more rootless symbolic analysts," says Orr. "It needs instead hundreds of thousands of young people equipped with the vision, moral stamina, and intellectual depth necessary to rebuild neighborhoods, towns, and communities around the planet. The kind of education presently available will not help them much. They will need to be students of their places and competent to become, in Wes Jackson's words, "native to their places.'"
What would a sane, place-centered economy look like?
"A sane civilization," he says, "would have more parks and fewer shopping malls; more small farms and fewer agribusinesses; more prosperous small towns and smaller cities; more solar collectors and fewer strip mines; more bicycle trials and fewer freeways; more trains and fewer cars; more celebration and less hurry; more property owners and fewer millionaires and billionaires; more readers and fewer television watchers; more shopkeepers and fewer multinational corporations; more teachers and fewer lawyers; more wilderness and fewer landfills; more wild animals and fewer pets." A sane civilaiton would not advocate unending economic growth at the expense of all planetary life. "Utopia?" he asks. "No! In our present circumstances it is the only realistic course imaginable. We have tried utopia and can no longer afford it."
Rather than offering utopian idealism, Orr sticks closely to the stark environmental consequence of our industrial society, the failures of our philosophical heritage, and the ecological crisis our educational system spawns, offering practical advice for change at every stage of the argument. From educating out-of-doors to redesigning schools to rehabilitating local habitats, Orr's educational vision is radical and necessary. Without implementing his pedagogical advice, one cannot expect things to get better.
Without a doubt THE BEST work on education I have ever read, yet one need not have any interest in education to appreciate the import of Orr's thesis. This book is critical for the health of our bodies, minds, and the greater economic and ecological systems those bodies and minds operate within. Should definately not be overlooked.