Education as if People and Planet Matter
An open letter to anyone who cares about the future of humanity and a call to action for Quakers who’s infrastructure and ethics are needed more now than ever before.
It is 2021. Last week, whilst looking across a neat row of daffodils somewhere pleasant in the Cotswolds, I noticed a new beginning was unfurling for people at home in the UK.
The picture-postcard freeze-frame was punctuated by my son’s serious sounding declaration,
“I want to plant a thousand trees”
A rare snatched moment of silence came before he said,
“I need your help” with an unusual resonance in his tone.
I had no idea that his statement would emboss itself so permanently in my mind, “I want to plant 1000 trees mum, I need your help”. The statement stayed planted in my mind in a sleepy hushed rotation.
Our small family unit of three discussed the logistics of his intention on the drive to school. His declaration stood firm among the chitter chatter of the morning routine, “I want to plant a thousand trees and I need your help” he repeated.
This very longhaired, ten year old boy makes his own decisions, and incidentally attends a fee paying Quaker school. This school purports to instil in children, “a thirst for lifelong learning and an active concern for their immediate environment and wider community.”Quakers, known to one another as ‘friends’, have long since laid roots to support non-violent direct-action, campaigning in response to environmental responsibility.
In February 1970, Greenpeace founder Dorothy Stowe, a Quaker, took her first direct action when trying to stop US Nuclear bomb testing. Her efforts included sending a sailing boat, “Greenpeace” up to the Alaskan test site in The North Pacific Ocean to confront the bomb. This was to be the first campaign of ‘Greenpeace’.
It has been over ten years since she passed and I can’t help wondering if Dorothy Stowe were alive today how she would feel about the evolution of her efforts and the continuing work of Greenpeace.
Friends’ historic commitment to education and environmental responsibility is infallible, with Quakers being instrumental in the discovery and development of our understanding of areas such as Meteorology and Botany.
Quaker principles are altogether unique, with education, responsibility and activism forming the cornerstone of their historic endeavours. It makes sense therefore, to look to them when thinking about ‘Education as if People and Planet matter’.
I now invite you back in time. It is March 2011, a beautiful springtime heralding a new year in nature’s calendar. Snowdrops are out, crocus’ are piercing the slightly frosty ground. Cradling my precious newborn in my arms, I visit colleagues at the BBC newsroom where I worked three months ago, before becoming a mum.
The clicking of keyboards, the action, the tech, the apparent industry, the importance, and the rush making me review my place, my relevance, my offering for planet earth in yet another life altering freeze-frame.
I returned home with my baby, fearful of the future for all those I knew I would leave behind. The sallow faces, the regurgitated ‘news’, the false importance, the microcosm that prevents the future even being considered was impossible to ignore.
As I reviewed my place in this world, my overwhelming urge was to make the world a better place. My sole/soul motivation was so broad, and so clichéd that gladly over time, my subconscious set about dancing through routes to destination; ‘make-a-difference’.
Holding a new life in your arms is like holding a crystal ball into the future: the potential, the possibility, the expanse of embryonic change this life encompassed created an almost palpable experience that lit a fire within me.
It starts now.
This child’s learning is all that really matters. Politics: old people talking about yesterday’s issues, hoping their day of microscopic importance might do some good, and that it might, but not for long. The short-lived work of politicians is all but entirely irrelevant for planet earth’s future.
The future of humanity is not affected by what colour rosette you choose, after all — at best — the main aim is to get re-elected. Damage limitation is what people are voting for. There is no bigger picture in politics; the structure and processes counter long term planning.
While civil servants bang their head against metaphorical walls, our planet swells and spews and poisons itself in what could be interpreted as an act of natural self-harm.
The only thing that matters is the next generation, and you may as well grasp that as soon as they’re born, because blink and even their time is over.
With this in mind I set about learning everything I could about education, which is surely the most crucial foundation for any agenda that truly values humanity or planet earth.
From Dr Montessori’s method to Democratic Communities in Japan, there was not much pedagogy that went un-researched in my mission to discover how best I could benefit humanity and planet earth.
If politics was top down, then education was bottom up. I wanted my child’s baseline experience of existence on planet earth to be as natural as was possible. This took presence, perseverance, care and commitment. Nothing artificial touched my baby skin for his first year. Organic clothing worn, organic food eaten, conscious avoidance of artificial environments (supermarkets), and much research into how other cultures raised their future generations ensued.
This research led me to consider how damaging my baby’s biological functions are to planet earth. How do other countries cope with nappies?
I learnt that in China and Africa (certainly historically and possibly still now) the most popular way of managing excretions was to ‘tune-in’ to your baby’s cues. This system, named by Americans as “elimination communication” saved me sending approximately 6,000 nappies to a landfill site where they would take at least 500 years to decompose.
My quest to make a difference from the bottom up meant I found other parents seeking alternatives for both their planet and child; our future generation.
From Home-educators, continuum concept theorists, Steiner and Reggio Emilia advocates, to Humanists, I absorbed a variety of views and theories that shaped my young son’s early life.
But one question remained unanswered, how could I Individually support profound and lasting change for the future of humanity both socially and environmentally.
Education, and the future of our planet mattered to me so much that I turned my back on the career in radio broadcasting that I loved so much. Working for the BBC felt fraudulent once I had grasped the restrictions the micro nature of the BBC embodied. The recycling of words was not the important propagation of news that I had once thought.
With research walking me down the aforementioned avenues, I concluded they are all beautiful and flawed in different ways, as are we all.
My sons Montessori education, like many others, stopped abruptly when he was five. Educationally displaced, we enmeshed with the local home education community. Alongside, we made use of a democratic community in Bristol (The Garden) that on three days offered an alternative to school: no rules but two meetings a day, and a strict Non-Violent communication approach to dispute resolution, teachers as facilitators. Watching the harmony and witnessing the deep respect between children, adults, peers and environment was a gift.
A window into a future that has real potential to rebuild the destruction our current archaic approach to education and environment has afforded us.
And so, my children go to their school again tomorrow, which purports in blurb and name only to be progressive, socially responsible and ‘Quaker’.
I try and turn a blind eye to the emails suggesting we “just buy a new one off amazon” when my child cannot find his recorder. I try and ignore the polyester uniform he ‘has’ to wear, or the non-investigative approach to behaviour management that fosters a sense of blame and guilt.
Try as we may to turn a blind eye, we cannot escape the reality that big thinkers of our time are highlighting; that our education system is the only starting point for the protection of planet earth and human evolution. Obvious reform was needed YESTERDAY.
In 1772, Quaker John Woolman challenged Quakers to remember responsibility to future generations:
The produce of the earth is a gift from our gracious creator to the inhabitants, and to impoverish the earth now to support outward greatness appears to be an injury to the succeeding age.
Our duty to the future is fast expiring, with the planets imminent threat of breakdown a very real reality for anyone who has experienced flooding, rising sea levels, child mental health crises, famine, and violent state incursion into simple human existence.
The only way we address these systemic threats to humanity and the planet is by worldwide educational reform NOW.
Compassion not competition, connection not correction, equality not authority, removal of out-dated gender stereotypes, value on creativity and individuality, seed not greed, nature and nurture, calm composure not chaos, presence not presents, will not will-not, ethics not ignorance, families not capitalism, knowledge sharing, elders, and intentional tech retreat.
It is time for the stoic nature of Quakers to resurface and for the activists and macro-scale problem-solvers to come forth, identify themselves and unite to address the out of control consumerism which is needlessly exploiting both people and planet.
Racial inequality and escalating social injustice can be addressed in one generation if only we act NOW!
We can prevent ecological collapse and social suicide. All it takes is Education reform, value re-assessment and a drive to make kind and caring cool again.
An open letter written By Xenia Huntley © 2022