I recently attended a professional workshop regarding diversity, inclusion and equity in relation to teacher preparation. This was a very thoughtful, well-designed professional development that got me to reflecting on my personal values regarding these issues and social justice in general. I want to discuss equity, diversity and inclusion from an environmental stance, including the Earth Charter. Environmental justice is the heart of social justice.
From an educational perspective, equity means that every child gets what they need in our schools—every child, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, who their parents are, what their temperament is, or what they show up knowing or not knowing. Every child should get what they need to flourish. (From the Earth Charter: Recognize the ignored, protect the vulnerable, serve those who suffer, and enable them to develop their capacities and to pursue their aspirations.) I love this definition. So, if equity is about making sure everyone gets what they need, I don’t think I need to argue that that begins with clean air, clean water, healthy soils for healthy food and green spaces for re-creation and rejuvenation. (From the Earth Charter: Guarantee the right to potable water, clean air, food security, uncontaminated soil, shelter, and safe sanitation) Equitable communities would be sure that essential resources are not only accessible to all, but also sustained for future generations (From the Earth Charter: Recognize that the freedom of action of each generation is qualified by the needs of future generations.) An investment in future equity gives life meaning and is a loving response to the nihilistic consumption offered by corporate predatory capitalism (From the Earth Charter: Require multinational corporations and international financial organizations to act transparently in the public good, and hold them accountable for the consequences of their activities.)
In keeping consistent with the core idea that ecological ethics includes all life, equity would include being sure that wildlife and ecosystems get what they need too (From the Earth Charter: Recognize that all beings are interdependent and every form of life has value regardless of its worth to human beings.) From an educational perspective, inclusion recognizes the value of all participants, building safe spaces for all. From an ecological ethics perspective, inclusion recognizes the value of all life, including non-human life.
I tend to believe that experience is the best teacher and nature provides us with the most precise and efficient models in terms of purpose and function. For example, diversity is essential for resilient, sustainable ecosystems. In a social, school setting diversity is about identity, but woven within classroom and school ecosystems are complex connections and relationships within and without. Think of how a food web is represented or the non-linear cyclic ways of nature that would be represented by a circle or spiral. Even Venn diagrams seek commonalities. I think these organic models should be our metaphors for education rather than hierarchal, mechanistic or industrial metaphors (Shout out to my colleague, James who brought this up during a rumble at the conference.). Organic models are much more reflective of the dynamic fluidity of interactions of diversity and the complexity of classroom and social contexts.
My bottom line from the conference: I really think we need to evaluate, reimagine and integrate priorities for education and for a sustainable future constantly. I critically reflected that I have become a bit static in my ideas regarding my approaches to the issues of diversity, inclusion and equity. If nature provides models for processes, nature is dynamic, constantly in flux, constantly trying out new designs. I do promote constant refinement and development of adaptive expertise, but I need to be sure I am walking my talk and challenging the same in my students.
Like everything else on the planet, education and sustainability are related. You know, the mission statements of most schools will usually include some version of this statement: produce productive citizens. Who does that serve? What if we went totally off the rails and changed those mission statements to: develop sustainable well-being in our bodies and communities. I’m sure some word-crafting would improve that statement, but it’s a place to start.