Educating for Thrivability

A human requires less than 100 watts of energy per day to survive; that represents about 2000 calories of food, according to renowned theoretical physicist and president of the prestigious Santa Fe Institute, Geoffrey West. This was only a warm up statement however as he spoke to a group of ninth grade students recently.

…in reality, he said, with electricity, cars and every other part of modern life, people use more than 10,000 watts of energy.
Just sitting here, each one of us in this room is effectively acting as a blue whale… And it’s screwing up the whole system.

Geoffrey’s statements were presented during a Science Cafes for Young Thinkers program and was organized by the Santa Fe Alliance for Science. His talk was titled, “The Complexity, Simplicity, and Unity of Life: From Cells to Cities,” and was reported on in the Santa Fe New Mexican in a story titled Thinking Big, by Natalie Storey (11/13/07).
The idea behind the cafes is to get young people to think about “today’s biggest problems scientifically.” And for good reasons, according to West:

…common themes in biology can be related to the growth of cities. West said our population, economic and technological growth cannot be sustained, and people must find a way to transition back to a simpler existence…
West’s ideas are based on a premise that all life is governed by common principles and that biology is based on laws of scale that make bigger animals more efficient.
As an example, he said, a horse is metabolically more efficient than a human, but a human is more efficient than a dog because the larger the animal the less energy is needed for every pound that it weighs.
…West believes cities are like biological systems in many ways, but society’s constant quest for growth is sending us toward collapse.

In a recent post titled Dreaming of Thrivability I wrote:

We drink our energy the way I once drank whiskey: knowing my thirst might kill me and guzzling it anyway. Not knowing how to stop; not sure I could or that I wanted to, numbing my personal pain with my reiterative and patterned thirsty resilience. All the while walking toward self-destruction.
In this age of climatic destabilization and of global warming and of peak-oil, of failed school systems and of kids failing school, dropping out and voting against the ‘culture of their raising’ at unprecedented rates… some adaptation will be a useful thing. Strategic adaptations might even get Hotels located in areas of drought to adopt low flow shower heads; but adaptation will not save us from ourselves, from the dehumanizing cities of our creation, nor from the forces of Fear and of war mongering and of corporatism that prey upon us. No.
Only a transformation of human consciousness can save us from ourselves.

Subsequent to the above post I was privileged to attend a meeting at the Academy for the Love of Learning. There I encountered an example of this transformational shift of perspective; it is encapsulated in their mission statement:

The mission of the Academy for the Love of Learning is to awaken, enliven, nurture and sustain the natural love of learning in people of all ages. We seek to encourage and cultivate the powers of critical thought, imagination, curiosity, innate sense of purpose, wonder and inspiration, and an ongoing awakening of the heart.

Contrast the spirit of this statement with the mission statement of the New Mexico Public Education Department:

To provide leadership technical assistance and quality assurance to improve student performance and close the achievement gap.

Or that of the U.S. Department of Education:

ED’s mission is to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.

As stated in the Wild Resiliency Assertions (still being updated on the blog), Adaptation works, until it kill you! We will require the cleverness of our minds and the closing of achievement gaps and equal access…for our thrivability.
The more difficult challenge however, and the one foundational to our thrive-ability, is the re-visioning of what it means to be human. This will require the restoration of the natural love of learning in adults…that opening of the heart…that is innately present in children.
Our thrive-abilty and our children’s future is hinged upon our ability to remember and to reclaim the forbidden knowledge that is our birthright. It is that transformation thing again:

Except ye become as little children…

Additional Resource Link: The Thrivability Institute

1 Comment

  1. Marc Choyt

    11/24/2007 at 7:42 pm

    Maybe also, add to the above, an understanding that the Cartesian view of ourselves as a single “heroic” entity creates a level of fragmentation in our “educational” system that is at best limiting and at worst, destructive.

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