This is the latest in a number of reactions to the recently published NAEE Manifesto. It’s from Dr David Dixon, author of Leadership for Sustainability (saving the planet one school at a time). As ever with our blogs, what is set out here is not necessarily the view of the Association.

Two things strike me above many others about the Young People’s Learning and the Environment: a Manifesto. Firstly, it puts learning at the centre of all the expectations it has for leaders, teachers and young people. This emphasises that learning is a collaborative process and not merely a linear flow of knowledge from adults to individual young recipients and that these adults also need to be learners themselves. It reminded me of an initiative from the University of Lincoln which aimed to create ‘Students As Producers’ i.e. young people would experience cross-curricular elements to various themes and then be encouraged through collaborative projects to ‘make new learning’. Teachers were seen as facilitators and mentors, rather than Gradgrind figures filling up empty vessels. Of course, there’s nothing new here – observe any highly effective Early Years class and you’ll see collaborative and creative learning in spades. Unfortunately, what happens in Early Years often stays in Early Years.  

Secondly and a related point to the first, is that you could take the word ‘Environment’ out of the title and it would still make perfect sense. This is indeed a ‘Manifesto for Learning’. Developing sustainability in all its guises has to be an integral part of this to make it fit for purpose if we are to develop an adaptable and resilient culture which is truly sustainable for the distant future and which makes everybody’s life worth living. 

If aliens were to examine our current education system and accompanying approaches to learning, they would marvel at how fit for purpose it was in the pursuit of species extinction, especially that of humans. They would conclude that the dominant homo-sapiens were deliberately and efficiently wrecking the ecosystem in some sort of lemming-like way to enable the planet to develop new dominant species in the future. The aliens would deem this as the natural Gaian way of things. They would admire humans for their self-sacrifice for the planet’s sake and make a note in their diaries to come back in a few thousand years to see how the project was progressing and which species now ruled the roost.

Joking apart, the manifesto should be on the agenda of all educational institutions as it is not only clear, sensible and pragmatic, but also a welcome ray of light in these doom-laden times. It shows that environmental education can deliver joyous, inclusive and meaningful learning by wrenching us away from Business As Usual thinking and the accompanying misery this invariably creates. Let’s get it out there! 


David can be contacted at:

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