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In the latest installment of State of the World, a diverse group of education experts share innovative approaches to teaching and learning in a new era. Topics include systems thinking for kids; the importance of play in early education; social emotional learning; comprehensive sexuality education; indigenous knowledge; sustainable business; medical training to treat the whole person; teaching law in the Anthropocene; and more.





Chapter 1. EarthEd: Rethinking Education on a Changing Planet

What is education for? Education—the process of facilitating learning—has been an integral part of human societies since before we were even human. After all, humans are not the only species that transmits knowledge from one individual to another. Chimpanzees and dolphins, for example, both teach their young specialized foraging and hunting techniques that are known only to their communities and pods. Learning has been documented in numerous species, even in plants and bacteria. Because learning is a natural part of being alive—and increases the odds of staying alive—at its very root, the role of education may be to facilitate survival, both for the individual that is learning and for the social group (and species) of which it is a part.
Erik Assadourian

Earth Education Fundamentals


Chapter 2. Outdoor School for All: Reconnecting Children to Nature

One of the salient problems facing us today is children’s alienation from the natural world. They are too creeped out to touch earthworms, they don’t know where their food comes from, and they are afraid to walk in the forest alone. Or, if they are walking in the forest, they can’t see the forest for their iPhones. We, and our children, are easily seduced by the panoply of digital treats. It is so much easier to be a couch potato than to plant potatoes. The result is that twenty-first-century children spend eight hours a day interacting with digital media, and only thirty minutes a day outside.
David Sobel

Chapter 3. Ecoliteracy and Schooling for Sustainability

It was 1992. Laurette Rogers, a fourth-grade teacher in San Anselmo, California, had shown her students a film about rainforest destruction. Distressed, they asked what they could do about it. “I just couldn’t give a pat answer about writing letters and making donations,” Rogers recalls. Instead, she took the advice of a trainer for a former Adopt-a-Species program: “Pick any species. Find out all about it, and you’ll fall in love with it.”
Michael K. Stone

Chapter 4. Education for the Eighth Fire: Indigeneity and Native Ways of Learning

How do educators prepare the next generation of adults and leaders in an era of radical climate disruption, ecological tipping points, economic volatility, and social and political inequity? In other words, should there be a new type of education for a dystopian future? Although the world has never been a stable, serene place, the changes to the Earth globally and the social disruptions happening in this second decade of the twenty-first century are unprecedented and alarming. The present epoch has been called the Anthropocene, a time of human domination of the Earth. This new epoch requires educators to completely rethink the purpose and goals of education, especially in terms of preparing young people for a viable and hopeful future.
Melissa K. Nelson

Chapter 5. Pathway to Stewardship: A Framework for Children and Youth

As an environmental educator, it is difficult not to get discouraged. The news about the state of the environment is ever more sobering. Climate change, habitat destruction, species depletion, rising sea levels, pollution, and the list goes on. Teaching about these formidable challenges can seem daunting, overwhelming, and, at times, simply hopeless. And despite our best efforts, things just seem to be getting worse.
Jacob Rodenburg, Nicole Bell

Chapter 6. Growing a New School Food Culture

Around the world, the commitment to a fair, healthy, and sustainable food model within the sphere of formal education represents a cultural transformation, not just for students but for the broader educational community and for society as a whole. Getting there is not easy, however. Truly transforming the relationship that schools have with food—and ensuring that food is a vector for lasting societal change—is a multidirectional process of teaching and learning that involves a broad range of stakeholders. This includes students and teachers, cooks and cafeteria monitors, food suppliers and intermediaries, families and neighborhoods, as well as numerous other actors from the communities in which schools are located.
Luis González Reyes

Chapter 7. The Centrality of Character Education for Creating and Sustaining a Just World

When Tim Crutchley and Kristen Pelster were hired as the new principal and assistant principal (respectively) at Ridgewood Middle School in Arnold, Missouri, the school was in a shambles. Serving a mostly poor rural and suburban population, the building was covered in graffiti, the grounds were rotting and rusting, student behavior was unacceptable (it was the only school in the district with a police presence), and academic achievement was abysmal (only one in four students met state standards for communication arts, and less than 7 percent met standards for math). The students knew that the school did not care about them and behaved accordingly.
Marvin W. Berkowitz

Chapter 8. Social and Emotional Learning for a Challenging Century

What does it take to ensure that students are present to learn? What does it take for them to care enough about the world and each other to commit to collective efforts to address one of the major challenges of our time: climate change? It is no longer enough to simply teach reading, writing, and arithmetic in a one-size-fits-all approach that is useful for finding jobs in industrial societies. In addition to these cognitive skills, our children must learn the necessary social and emotional skills to thrive in an information-rich and climate-shifting society where knowledge, innovation, collaboration, and adaptation are key. Considering the looming threat of climate change, there is no time to waste.
Pamela Barker, Amy McConnell Franklin

Chapter 9. Prioritizing Play

In an August 2016 article in The Atlantic, contributing writer Tim Walker describes his family’s experience visiting one of the few remaining “adventure playgrounds” in New York City, located on a small urban lot on Governor’s Island. “It looks like a dumpster playground … like some slum,” his wife observed about the site, which had opened a few months earlier and is modeled after a junkyard. Walker goes on to describe “an area that looked like—to my eyes, at least—an Occupy Wall Street campground, with shoddy constructions of plywood, wooden pallets, and blue tarp … littered with car tires, plastic crates, orange cones, and a sea of unidentifiable debris.”
David Whitebread

Chapter 10. Looking the Monster in the Eye: Drawing Comics for Sustainability

Esbjörn Jorsäter, a Swedish comics teacher, invited the children and grandchildren of refugees and other immigrants in Sweden to tell the life story of a parent or grandparent. The narrative was to be in the form of a “heroic journey,” a classic story form where the protagonist awakens to a challenge, confronts a monster, and returns to acclamation (as depicted in popular films such as Star Wars or Harry Potter). The social impact of the project was dramatic: from viewing their parents as something of an embarrassment—all too common a perspective among the children of immigrants—many students came to see them as heroes.
Marilyn Mehlmann, Esbjörn Jorsäter, Alexander Mehlmann, Olena Pometun

Chapter 11. Deeper Learning and the Future of Education

When eighth-grade students at King Middle School in Portland, Maine, began a curricular unit on electricity, they were given two guiding questions: “How do we capture and use nature’s energy?” and “How can you change your energy consumption to improve the world?” Teachers used these questions to integrate their course offerings and to provide a context for every assignment, classroom activity, field work experience, and project that the students did. The students quickly discovered that to understand how best to capture and use nature’s energy, they first had to master the concepts of energy and energy transfer presented in science class. They then applied what they were learning through an assignment to conduct an energy audit on their own homes, and they learned in math class how to measure energy consumption as well as how to calculate their own carbon footprints.
Dennis McGrath, Monica M. Martinez

Chapter 12. All Systems Go! Developing a Generation of “Systems-Smart” Kids

Try this: Find a young person between the ages of four and twenty-four. Show them a picture of a cow and ask, “If you cut a cow in half, do you get two cows?” Even the four-year-old will shout, “No way!” Children understand that a cow has certain parts—hearts, lungs, legs, brain, and more—that belong together and have to be arranged in a certain way for the cow to live. You cannot have the tail in the front and the nose in the back.
Linda Booth Sweeney

Chapter 13. Reining in the Commercialization of Childhood

In 2012, The Lorax, an animated big-budget version of Dr. Seuss’s classic cautionary tale about overconsumption and greed, arrived in theaters. Accompanying its release was a slew of brand-licensed cross-promotions targeted directly to kids. Children were encouraged to visit stores like Pottery Barn Kids, Target, and Whole Foods for Lorax-themed promotions, to eat Truffula Chip Pancakes at the breakfast chain IHOP, to pack their lunches with Lorax YoKids Yogurt, and to urge their parents to buy Hewlett-Packard printers.
Josh Golin, Melissa Campbell

Chapter 14. Home Economics Education: Preparation for a Sustainable and Healthy Future

As complex societal and ecological challenges increasingly jeopardize the future of the planet, it is critical that humans, and especially younger generations, develop new ways of being in the world. All global citizens urgently require new modes of thinking and doing. As we settle into the realities of the Anthropocene—an epoch in which human beings are changing the Earth in profound and potentially irreversible ways—fundamental transformations in learning are required to enable all citizens to adapt. People everywhere will need to develop applicable life skills, appropriate competencies in specific domains, and improved critical and reflective capabilities.
Helen Maguire, Amanda McCloat

Chapter 15. Our Bodies, Our Future: Expanding Comprehensive Sexuality Education

It is morning at the St. Jan de Groper elementary school, in the Dutch city of Utrecht. Students in all grades are participating in “Spring Fever” week, dedicated to a focused education on sexuality. Lesson plans differ by grade. Eleven-year-olds address sexual orientation and contraception. Eight-year-olds talk about self-image and gender stereotypes. Kindergarteners, some as young as four years old, discuss crushes. Small giggling children raise their hands and talk about how it feels when they hug someone they like. Some talk about embracing their parents or a sibling, while a few mention other students in the class. One boy says a good hug is like “feeling butterflies in my stomach.”
Mona Kaidbey, Robert Engelman

Higher Education Reimagined


Chapter 16. Suddenly More Than Academic: Higher Education for a Post-Growth World

Over the past twenty years, higher education has undergone an environmental revolution. Campus sustainability offices that track resource use and promote eco-efficiency are becoming the norm. The number of academic programs in sustainability science and environmental studies has increased, as have student enrollments and passion. New academic journals have flourished, and with them venues for publication by young academics aspiring to become tenured professors in the field. It is true that many colleges and universities worldwide have not fully embraced this momentum: they have yet to incorporate tenets of sustainability into their hiring, curriculum, infrastructure planning, or investment strategies. But these institutions are viewed increasingly as outliers that poorly serve their students and the social good. Anthony Cortese, an early advocate of environmental stewardship within higher education, gets it right when he recently observed that “higher education’s rapidly expanding response to this [environmental] challenge over the last two decades is a beacon of hope in a sea of turbulence.”
Michael Maniates

Chapter 17. Bringing the Classroom Back to Life

As part of their first-year curriculum, students at Swaraj University in western India head off on a ten-day “cycle yatra,” a low-technology bicycle journey through nearby villages that provides them with an immersion opportunity to see and experience the world differently. The invitation to the students is to “leave behind your money, credit cards, cell phone, iPod, snack food, and all things plastic” and to “secure your food and shelter with the gifts of your labor, your creativity, and your capacity to build relationships with strangers. You will practice surrender.”
Jonathan Dawson, Hugo Oliveira

Chapter 18. Preparing Vocational Training for the Eco-Technical Transition

Over the coming decades, in the face of climate change, resource depletion, and economic contraction, the kinds of things that people will need to know and the standard approaches to accessing that knowledge will change. As people seek new and innovative ways of building sustainability and resilience into their lives and within their communities, they will encounter a widening variety of educational choices.
Nancy Lee Wood

Chapter 19. Sustainability Education in Prisons: Transforming Lives, Transforming the World

Fifty kilometers northeast of Seattle, Washington, staff and inmates at the Monroe Correctional Complex made plans for a “worm farm,” a composting program that would provide education and training while mitigating the institution’s $65,000 annual expense for food waste disposal. This simple idea ballooned in ambition and scale due to the energy and charisma of an inmate in the program. He engaged with leading experts in vermiculture (breeding worms) and vermicomposting, asked for investment in scientific resources and equipment, and fostered a program culture of education and outreach.
Joslyn Rose Trivett, Raquel Pinderhughes, Kelli Bush, Liliana Caughman, Carri J. LeRoy

Chapter 20. Bringing the Earth Back into Economics

In 2014, the International Student Initiative for Pluralism in Economics, consisting of more than sixty-five associations of economics students from over thirty different countries, issued an open letter, with these opening lines: “It is not only the world economy that is in crisis. The teaching of economics is in crisis too, and this crisis has consequences far beyond the university walls. What is taught shapes the minds of the next generation of policymakers, and therefore shapes the societies we live in.… [I]t is time to reconsider the way economics is taught. We are dissatisfied with the dramatic narrowing of the curriculum that has taken place over the last couple of decades.”
Joshua Farley

Chapter 21. New Times, New Tools: Agricultural Education for the Twenty-First Century

On a vacant lot in southeast Washington, D.C., just across the street from the Capitol Heights metro station, you can find the city’s newest and largest urban farm. The 1.2 hectare East Capitol Urban Farm hosts research plots, a farmer’s market, a mobile kitchen, a community garden, walking trails, and a playground, and soon it will produce fresh fish and vegetables in a high-tunnel aquaponics system. The farm is the first in a network of urban food hubs planned through a broad coalition of partnerships led by the University of the District of Columbia’s College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability and Environmental Sciences (CAUSES).
Laura Lengnick

Chapter 22. Educating Engineers for the Anthropocene

John Smeaton was the first to declare himself a civil engineer, wanting to differentiate his work as non-military. Smeaton is best known for the lighthouse that he designed on the Eddystone Rocks, nineteen kilometers southwest of Plymouth Sound in the United Kingdom. The lighthouse, which started operation on October 16, 1759, was the third structure on the treacherous gneissic rocks (the first two were lost to waves and fire). Modeled after an oak tree and built from dovetailed blocks of granite, it marked a major step forward in building design and the use of concrete. Smeaton’s Lighthouse ushered in an era of safer shipping and coincided with the start of the Industrial Revolution.
Daniel Hoornweg, Nadine Ibrahim, Chibulu Luo

Chapter 23. The Evolving Focus of Business Sustainability Education

In the mid-1990s, corporate social responsibility and environmental management emerged as small and somewhat peripheral considerations within business school education. In the ensuing two decades, they have grown to become a mainstream element of the curriculum under the broader subject heading of sustainable development or business sustainability. This is a good thing. And yet, for all the advances in curriculum and course content, a major shift in the focus of this teaching practice is beginning to emerge.
Andrew J. Hoffman

Chapter 24. Teaching Doctors to Care for Patient and Planet

In April 2016, the U.S. government released a three hundred and sixteen-page report titled The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States. The assessment, mandated by the President’s Climate Action Plan, aims to provide a comprehensive and qualitative overview of “observed and projected climate change-related health impacts” and warns of serious and sustained risks from elevated temperatures, extreme weather events, degraded water and air quality, and infectious disease. During the report’s official unveiling, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy warned that climate change poses “a serious, immediate, and global threat to human health.” He went on to add, “As far as history is concerned, this is a new kind of threat we are facing.”
Jessica Pierce



Chapter 25. The Future of Education: A Glimpse from 2030

It’s 2030. The world’s population has now grown to 8.5 billion people. Global temperatures are now an average of 1.2 degrees Celsius higher than in 1880. Seas have already risen forty centimeters since 2016, suggesting that the models of that year that projected a rise of two meters by 2100 were likely significant underestimates. The Arctic Ocean is now consistently ice-free every summer. And several countries have lost a primary source of fresh water and freshwater storage as glaciers grow smaller and smaller each year.
Erik Assadourian


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