In this piece I share my response to the speech of President Michael D Higgins at the recent Summit of Consciences for Climate in Paris and suggest that climate justice and social inequality will continue to grow unless we reassess the purpose of education, which to me has contributed to a crisis of the imagination.
At the recent Summit of Consciences for Climate in Paris President Michael D Higgins critiqued the current western model of economic development as being a major contributor to climate change and blamed it for the continuous growth of inequality in society. He said that we are “sleepwalking into the acceptance of the inevitability of a single model of economic theory [and this has resulted in a society characterised by] Individualism manifesting itself as insatiable consumption and accompanied by unconscionable levels of inequality”. This is a damming charge but one I support.
I became an adult educator with a grand notion that education had a significant contribution to make in creating a better world and especially in addressing issues of greatest human concern such as climate change and social inequality. In my 30 years of practice, my belief has never wavered. I am frustrated that the education system has failed so well in tackling these issues up to now. It is no surprise therefore that I believe that education needs to change drastically immediately if these challenges are to be addressed. What kind of education is needed and what can youth arts contribute to this agenda?
The model of education dominating western society is informed by an ideology of materialism based on continuous economic development and growth. Consumption drives the economy, yet globalised markets are open to flux and change, boom and bust making employment unstable and ever shifting. This economic model requires a workforce that can change, learn new skills and migrate to new locations as market forces demand. A large proportion of educational funding is targeted at deficits in skills supply– technical skills, analytic skills, soft skills- thus education is an integral and vital part of the ‘single economic model’ critiqued by President Higgins. If an alternative model is to be found, education will need to focus on creating new concepts rather than maintaining old ones and it will have to look outside itself to find ways of doing education differently if we are to bring about the changes he advocates.
Tobin Hart’s book The Integrative Mind speaks of the importance of valuing diversity of thought if we are to seek new perspectives and states that:
Diversity is the motor behind evolution, creation, and adaptation. It is difference, mutation, uniqueness that provides the pool out of which we crawl forward into new creative possibilities both as individuals and as a species (2014: P102).
Youth Arts have a great deal to contribute as it offers a site were different, non-standard thought is welcomed and recognised. It facilitates imagination work through visual art and performance making. It provides space and time for creativity to take flight – a feature lacking in schools and colleges where time is bound up in timetables, curricula and learning outcomes. Creating new concepts that will work to undermine consumerism and materialist ideology requires imagination and lateral thinking. Time is short and the challenge is great. I leave you with a question – what do you think is needed to help us to ‘crawl forward into new and creative possibilities’ to form alternative economic models that will protect the planet and promote equality?