Today’s post is by David Dixon, NAEE Trustee and author of Leadership for Sustainability: saving the planet one school at a time (Crown House Publishing, 2022). David is Tynedale’s Bicycle Mayor. As usual with our blogs, the views expressed are not necessarily shared by the Association.

If time travellers from the 19th Century were to arrive in 2024, they would marvel at the technological revolutions of our age. These would include our extensive motorways, slick electric cars, railways without steam power, huge container ships, renewable energy production, labour saving household appliances, Radio, TVs, the World-wide Web and the devices that it serves such as Smart-phones and computers (which also utilise Virtual Reality and AI), impressive infrastructure such as the Channel Tunnel, magnificent sports stadiums and airports. Aeroplane technology alone would be barely comprehensible. They would also scarcely believe our exploration of Space through satellites, long distance voyagers and landings on other worlds giving us more knowledge of the universe than ever before. Our development of healthcare, mapping the genetic genome of ourselves and other living things and the further automation of industrial production would also blow their minds. They might question the wisdom of developing nuclear technology, but let’s park that for these purposes! 

One area they would recognise immediately would be the way we educate many of our young people. They would encounter teachers (albeit not in mortar boards and capes) standing in front of students sitting at rows of desks facing them. Although chalk-boards wouldn’t be in evidence in richer nations, they would soon realise that Interactive White Boards were the equivalent means of communication. They would also have knowing smiles when observing a knowledge-based curriculum being delivered that was designed to marshal kids into subject silos and exam syllabuses ready for the World of Work or some form of Further or Higher Education (in the UK they might wonder what happened to education that taught engineering skills and important trades such as carpentry, plumbing and building). They would hear politicians calling for ‘skilled jobs for the Green Economy’, which they would understand to mean greening up their Victorian Economy by phasing out fossil fuels (although they would see that these fuels were still very much in evidence). Indeed, many schools would fit the model featured in Charles Dickens’ book Hard Times, where a teacher called Mr Gradgrind believed in filling up empty vessels with facts to ensure that children would fit-in and accept the status quo. In the modern context our visitors from the past would learn that this approach was designed to complement the Business As Usual scenario. Thus, they would see individuals becoming desperately seeking paranoid consumers constantly comparing themselves with others through their Smartphones (a modernised version of their lampooned Charles Pooter from the comic novel Diary of a Nobody published in 1892 methinks).

Before zooming back to their own time, they might ponder on why there was still rampant poverty in the world despite all the new technology and enlightened Victorians having begun social reforms, and why people in their future seemed unhappy and unfulfilled. They would also wonder why with all our modern cleverness, Global Heating was ever increasing when most governments seemed to know what they needed to do to reverse it, and why the natural resources of the planet were in terminal decline. Some of them might even know about the Greenhouse Effect from the work of their contemporary Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius who foresaw climate change. This would compound their consternation at our lack of action to address it.

Once back home they might resolve to try and change their future by educating young and old in a different way that would increase overall wisdom and temper tendencies for mindless excess and the pursuit of happiness through buying ever more stuff. They might also urge scientists to come up with fossil fuel alternatives and to create strong legislation designed to protect the natural world. This would also entail curbing the power of their corporations before they totally usurped that of the government. Spreading this practice to the emerging global industrial powers of the USA, Germany, Russia and China would also be a must.

Perhaps we will need to develop some new technology enabling us to visit a parallel universe to witness all this. In the meantime, we can stand back as though we were visitors from another age and see how unfit for purpose our current education system is. From this we can create a new status quo and find ways of fully acquainting learners with their urban and natural environment. This would involve encouraging certain values, concepts and skills to ensure our sustainability for the distant future, allowing all to thrive and not just survive.


David can be contacted at:

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