Regenerative Education: Beyond Sustainable


Trends in education come and go. There is motivation, hype, and even money to institute certain practices because a “they” believe it is the best way to educate our youth.

Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks

Photo Credit: NASA

Sustainable education is getting the same rap–it is being seen as a trend. “Going green” and “stimulus package” are the current buzz phrases in education circles. What concerns me is that many people don’t understand the depth of sustainable education, and as a result sustainability might go out of fashion like other trends.

This “trend” is too important to let pass by. “Sustainable” is not a way to educate–it is a way to live. In the early 1900’s the industrial revolution began changing the way we lived and educated. This sustainability revolution needs to have the same impact.

I propose at least three different levels of sustainable education. I believe that if we do not work at all three levels, the sustainable education movement will be just another passing fad.

Additive Most sustainable education falls into this category. At this level we add elements to the curriculum that are sustainability focused; for example, adding new math problems to the curriculum that focus on solar energy or carbon footprint calculators or putting solar panels on our schools. This is a wonderful first step and awakens people to the idea of sustainability.

Integrative At this level, sustainability goes beyond just presenting content. Instead, it becomes the integrating lens through which all content is introduced. The student begins to understand a new paradigm of thought. When we reach this level of sustainable education, we have moved beyond the common perception of sustainability as an “environmental” movement.

Photo Credit: Peter

Photo Credit: Peter

Sustainability becomes holistic and addresses multiple dimensions of our world, such as social justice, land and resource use, economic use, education, etc. At this level one begins to realize that problems do not happen in isolation–instead they occur within an interdependent system or web of connections.

The Service-Learning movement is oriented in this direction. For Service-Learning, students volunteer at a local non-profit organization. However, instead of using just an additive approach to sustainable education, teachers incorporate student experiences into the classroom and the curriculum. Students spend time reflecting on their experiences in a way that feeds the classroom dialogues and makes the subject relevant to the student in the present.

Regenerative  As someone I know recently put it,  the level of regenerative education is where the magic happens. This deeply holistic process involves the mind, heart, body, soul, and spirit of the student. Regenerative education is an interdisciplinary approach that demands a new paradigm for  education itself. Students are engaged in value-adding projects that create deep connections between the school and the community. The healthiest ecosystem is one that has the most connections; schools should be no different. The community becomes the classroom. Education is not passive but instead an active process of creation, understanding, and change.

Education at its core is about recognizing and understanding patterns and systems. Regenerative Education is about improving and creating healthier families, students, ecosystems, communities, etc. Education becomes relevant and students and schools play a vital value-adding role in the community.

Implementing regenerative  education is not an overnight project. It requires transforming our education system away from abstract teaching to hands-on and value-adding learning. It begins with students, teachers, and community members understanding and learning about their place – developing place intelligence. Through these interconnections and awareness of the interdependence of economy, education, health, and land and resource use, schools become the centers for sustainable development.

1 Comment

  1. Christina

    11 years ago

    This is a great, accessible description Ashley. Thanks!

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