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The Long Transition:
Educating for optimism and hope in troubled times
David Hicks
3rd Annual Conference of the UK Teacher Education Network for Education for Sustainable Development/
Global Citizenship ~ July 2010
This paper reflects on three global issues that are qualitatively different from any that
modern society has faced before - climate change, peak oil and the limits to growth. By
their very nature these interrelated issues will ensure a future very different from today
such that society may now be entering a long and difficult historical transition. The future,
however, is still largely a missing dimension in the curriculum and educators also often
ignore the powerful range of feelings that learners experience when reflecting on such
issues. In the face of these challenges six sources of hope are explored which together
could contribute to an ‘education for transition’.
The second decade of the twenty-first century and it looks as if there could be trouble
ahead. John Beddington, the UK government’s chief scientific advisor, argues that the
world is heading towards a series of major upheavals which could all come to a head
around 2030. This could result, he warns, in a ‘perfect storm’ of food shortages, water
scarcity and insufficient energy resources leading to public unrest, cross-border conflicts
and mass migration, since all of these issues are operating on a similar timescale
(Guardian, 2009a).
What then should the role of education be in turbulent times? Should it turn a blind eye to
such alarmist talk and focus instead on league tables and school improvement or does it
have a wider role - to alert society to possible changes that lie ahead and to prepare
teachers and young people to face those changes with as much confidence as possible?
As a young teacher I watched a TV documentary in the early 1970s entitled ‘Due to lack of
interest tomorrow has been cancelled’. As far as I was concerned I did not wish this to be
the case. I also attended back then a seminar in London, run by the National Council of
Social Service (now the National Council for Voluntary Organisations), which had the
prescient title of ‘Teaching for a Sustainable Future’. The late 60s/early 70s were a period
of public and educational awakening to environmental issues and what today are more
broadly known as issue of sustainability (Visser, 2009).
All of my future work was presaged in a course I wrote at that time entitled ‘Only One
Earth’ for 3rd year Environmental Studies students at Charlotte Mason College of Education
[now part of the University of Cumbria]. The aims of the course were:
1. To give a global perspective, both in space and time, relating awareness of
environmental problems to changing attitudes and values.
2. By using the key concepts of conflict and change to see environmental problems
as symptoms of disequilibrium rather than causes.
3. To promote informed opinion about the ‘Third World’ and recognition of the
multiple links between rich and poor.
4. To be aware of the interrelatedness of the world system and the need to plan
for alternative futures.
So you will forgive me, and others of my generation, if we have a sense of déjà vu here in
the early twenty-first century. After forty years of teaching about global issues how could
we, who have been ready for so long, still feel somewhat unprepared for what lies ahead?
For the last forty years progressive educators have developed considerable practical
expertise in teaching about issues to do with the environment, injustice, wealth and
poverty, peace and conflict. Over the last twenty years many of these concerns have
coalesced under the headings of education for sustainability and global citizenship (Hicks,
2008a). Much good work has been done in these fields and considerable practical
expertise developed in teaching and learning about such matters.
DEA’s recent surveys provide a valuable snapshot of the state of global learning in schools.
Over three-quarters of pupils think it important to learn about how to make the world a
better place but more believe global learning is important than actually receive it. ‘Those
who have experienced global learning...are keen to understand more about the problems
of the world, as well as being more likely than average to believe that...people like them
can make a difference’ (DEA/Ipsos MORI, 2009a). The companion survey on teachers’
attitudes to global learning found 94% believed schools had a vital part to play in
preparing pupils for a fast changing, globalised world. There was a large gap, however,
between those who felt schools should do this and those who actually believed it
happened (58%). The survey felt this gap could be related to lack of confidence amongst
teachers in developing a global perspective (DEA/Ipsos MORI, 2009b).
The QCA guidance on cross-curriculum dimensions highlights the importance of the global
dimension and sustainable development.
Learning about [the] global dimension and sustainable development can help young
people to understand the needs and rights of present and future generation, and to
consider the best ways to tackle climate change, inequality and poverty. It can also
motivate learners to want to change things for the better – equipping them with
the knowledge, skills and values that are crucial to envisaging and creating a
sustainable future. The global dimension and sustainable development engages
pupils critically with the following three questions:
What are the biggest challenges facing our planet and how might they alter
its future?
How can I enjoy a good quality of life, without transferring problems to
people in other parts of the world?
How can I become an active global citizen and help look after the planet for
future generations? (QCA, 2009)
These glimpses would suggest that fields such as education for sustainability and global
citizenship are well placed to respond to the changes that may lie ahead. Important shifts
in global learning have occurred over the last forty years and a wealth of experience has
been built up in relation to teaching about a wide range of local-global issues, as the
membership of this network testifies.
Troubled times
I believe, however, that we are now faced by a number of issues which together are
qualitatively different from those we have faced before in society and thus by definition in
education. The three that I wish to focus on here are climate change, peak oil and the
limits to growth.
Climate change
Global warming, the cause of wider climate change, is a unique man-made phenomenon
which humanity has not and could not have encountered before. It therefore presents all
societies with a series of unprecedented challenges. These include the breadth of its
impact on people and environment, the length of time over which this will continue, the
actions that consequently need to be taken and the ideological nature of such debates.
Climate change exacerbates the existing divisions between rich and poor countries, those
which have contributed least to global warming and on which it will have greatest impact.
The core scientific evidence is clear, that global warming is occurring and that it is a manmade phenomenon. Far from being solely a scientific issue, it is also a social, economic
and political issue which challenges our fundamental values, beliefs and the nature of our
fears (Hulme, 2009).
One of the key points made by Hulme is that climate change is a ‘wicked problem,’ (i.e.
one which defies rational or optimal solutions) which at best involves ‘clumsy solutions,’
(i.e. involving multiple voices and contradictory responses). One of the developments over
the last few years has been the way in which future scenarios are becoming ever more
problematic. Various studies have reported more rapid changes including the thawing of
Arctic permafrost, ice melt triggering natural disasters, faster rises in sea level, a 4oC
warming by 2055 and that the impact of current global warming will still be felt a
thousand years from now (Archer, 2009).
But what if such prognostications are wrong? As educators we have generally been
brought up on the notion of ‘balanced debate’, i.e. that both sides of an argument should
be fairly represented in the media and in the classroom. This is of course rubbish. Firstly,
because the notion that there are only two sides to an argument (how often have I heard
teachers say this) is often not the case. More often an argument has three or more ‘sides’
to it as anyone who has used role-play in the classroom will know. Secondly, it must be
understood that arguments about social, environmental, political and economic issues are
always underpinned by the differing ideological positions that participants consciously or
unconsciously hold (Apple, 2006; Goodwin, 2007).
The story behind climate change scepticism and denial has been thoroughly explored by
Monbiot (2006) who investigated various assertions found in the press in order to track
down their points of origin. These included various websites and lobbying groups, set up
to look like grassroots citizens organisations or academic bodies, which had been funded
by ExxonMobil. What such groups tend to do, he found, is find a contradictory study on
one particular aspect of climate change and then promote this to cast wider doubt on
global warming.
More recently the Independent on Sunday (2010) noted that:
Free-market, anti-climate change think-tanks such as the Atlas Economic Research
Foundation in the US and the International Policy Network in the UK have received
grants totalling hundreds of thousands of pounds from the multinational energy
company ExxonMobil ... Atlas has supported more than 30 other foreign think-tanks
that espouse climate change scepticism.
What should be noted is that much of the opposition to the notion of climate change
comes from and is funded by major fossil fuel companies and organisations that espouse a
free market political ideology. This, of course, rejects environmental legislation and indeed
any attempt to ‘interfere’ with the pursuit of financial gain. The Guardian (2010a) reported
that ‘Utah, which is officially the most Republican state in America and a big oil and coal
producer, has adopted a motion condemning ‘climate alarmists’ and disputing any
scientific basis for global warming.’
The two principal tasks that need to be undertaken in response to climate change are
adaptation and mitigation. Adaptation requires variously that people learn to live with
changing seasons, higher sea levels, greater droughts, more floods and exceptional
weather conditions. Such changes, whilst their impact will vary geographically, also means
changes will be needed in relation to consumption, waste, farming, food, diet, biodiversity,
land-use, buildings, travel, energy and water use. However, for the world’s poorest - those
least responsible for climate change - there is little if any room for ‘adaptation’ a term
which, Desmond Tutu (2010) argues, is fast becoming a euphemism for social injustice.
Vandana Shiva (2008: 16) thus talks of eco-imperialism, which derives from:
a mechanistic paradigm, based on industrial technologies and economies that
assume limitless growth. It is the poor and other species who, in a world of limited
resources, lose their share of the earth’s resources through overexploitation of the
rich and powerful...Eco-imperialism is intolerant of the freedom and sovereignty of
the other, be it other communities, other countries, or other species.
Mitigation is thus primarily the responsibility of the richer countries that have contributed
most to global warming. It requires that every element of human behaviour that
contributes to global warming be reassessed and redirected towards creation of a zero
carbon society and socially just society.
Whether a lot or a little is done, individually and collectively, to adapt to and mitigate
climate change our futures will be very different from today since every aspect of life will
need to change. What role should education play in relation to the widespread and long
lasting challenges that society must face as a result of climate change?
Peak oil
The issue of peak oil, less well known than that of climate change but inextricably related
to it, is now beginning to appear on the global agenda. In 2007 scientists critiqued BP for
appearing to suggest that proven oil reserves would allow current rates of oil consumption
to continue for another forty years (Independent, 2007). Two years later the UK Energy
Research Council pointed out that ‘worldwide production of oil from conventional sources
could peak and go into terminal decline before 2020, and that government was not facing
up to the risk’ (Guardian, 2009b). Voices from within the energy industry are also voicing
their concerns.
The world is much closer to running out of oil than official estimates admit,
according to a whistleblower at the International Energy Agency who claims it has
been deliberately underplaying a looming shortage for fear of triggering panic
buying. The senior official claims the US has played an influential role in
encouraging the watchdog to underplay the rate of decline from existing oilfields
while overplaying the chances of finding new reserves (Guardian, 2009c).
The notion of peak oil is best illustrated by the graph below (Figure 1) which shows world
oil discovery and production. Oil discovery peaked in the late-1960s and has continued to
decline since then. Oil production has grown steadily since the 1920s but cannot continue
indefinitely given that the major oil fields have all been discovered. Whilst it may be
possible to drill in even deeper waters or to extract oil from tar sands the costs may be
prohibitive and the environmental damage severe as the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has
shown. At the same time the demand for oil continues to grow. The term peak oil refers
to the intersection of these vital trends. Depending on who one listens to, oil production
has probably peaked, will do so in this decade or, alternatively, not for some time to come
(Strahan, 2008).
Why does this matter? Quite simply it is because oil is central to every aspect of human
life, from transport (road, rail, sea and air) and the production of electricity (for power,
heat, light and cooling) to the use of its by-products in agriculture and medicine (fertiliser,
herbicides, drugs and medicines).
We have allowed oil to become vital to virtually everything that we do. Ninety
percent of all transportation, whether by land, air or sea, is fuelled by oil. Ninetyfive percent of all goods in shops involve the use of oil. Ninety-five percent of all
our food products require oil use. Just to farm a single cow and deliver it to market
requires six barrels of oil, enough to drive a car from New York to Los Angeles. The
world consumes more than 80 million barrels of oil a day, 29 billion barrels a year,
at the time of writing. This figure is rising fast, as it has done for decades. The
almost universal expectation is that it will keep doing so for years to come … Our
society is in a state of collective denial that has no precedent in history, in terms of
its scale and implications (Leggett, 2006: 21-22).
What we are faced with is the end of ‘easy’ oil. Whilst new oil finds are occurring they
cannot make up for the speed at which existing fields are depleting. Whilst nonconventional oils, such as the Canadian tar sands, could help meet global demand the
amount of energy, water, money and environmental damage needed to extract them
could also make such extraction prohibitive. Whichever way one looks at the issue energy
prices are likely to rise as demand for oil outstrips supply. Radical social and political
changes may be needed to meet the challenges of a post-oil world.
Figure 1 – The dilemma of peak oil
In the same way that the issue of climate change has been met by skepticism and denial
so has the notion of peak oil. The difference, however, is that whilst the scientific
community is agreed on the existence of man-made climate change energy experts are as
yet divided over the issue of peak oil. There are many reasons why people might prefer to
ignore the possibility/likelihood of peak oil. First, is that it would demand such a
widespread change to rich-world lifestyles that is barely comprehensible after a century of
cheap oil. Second, is that even if one contemplates its possibility it is easier to deny its
likelihood than face up to its consequences. Thirdly, is the belief that developments in
technology can resolve all known human problems. Fourthly, that too many vested
interests are at stake from the oil industry itself to energy suppliers and the global agrobusiness corporations. Fifthly, is that it threatens the dominant ideology of free-market
economics which claims the freedom to act as it will in the pursuit of profits.
Like all fossil fuels the burning of oil in its different forms makes a major contribution to
global warming. A decline in the use of fossil fuels is thus vital if carbon emissions are to
be reduced. However, coal is still likely to be the fuel of choice in countries such as China
and India although generally reserves may be less than previously estimated. Whilst the
nuclear option is hailed as a zero carbon energy source ways of storing its highly
dangerous waste far into the future have yet to be resolved. The emphasis now has to be
on renewables, including solar photovoltaic cells, solar thermal technology, wind power,
tidal and wave power, micro-hydropower, biomass and combined heat and power plants.
A growing number of critics, several of whom once worked in the oil industry, are now
arguing for a rapid move to the use of such renewables (Leggett, 2006, Campbell, 2010)
and indeed to a zero carbon society (Centre for Alternative Technology, 2010).
A report on peak oil and international development (All Party Parliamentary Group on Peak
Oil, 2008) points out that rising fuel prices will impact the most vulnerable in developing
countries, reverse progress made over Millennium Development Goals, and deepen the
world food crisis as long as agriculture remains reliant on fossil fuels. Oil shortages,
rationing and electricity blackouts are already occurring in such countries. From a
Southern perspective Shiva (2008) argues that the three key problems are climate change,
peak oil and food insecurity, all of which arise out of a disastrous form of free-market
economic globalization that refuses to acknowledge the planet’s ecological limits.
However the energy future works out it will affect every aspect of life from heating,
cooling, lighting and transport to materials, chemicals and building regulations. There will
be energy shortages and we will certainly have to learn to live on less energy. What role
should education play in relation to the challenges that society faces as a result of peak oil
and the need to move to a zero-carbon society?
Limits to growth
The third issue is the ‘limits to growth’ debate which began in the early 1970s. Climate
change and peak oil are, of course, specific examples of this wider concern. The Limits to
Growth (Meadows et al. 1972) hit the world’s headlines as the first computer simulation to
explore the possible future impacts of five trends: accelerating industrialization, rising
population growth, widespread malnutrition, depletion of non-renewable resources and
environmental damage. Whilst some predictions were later found to be inaccurate the
broad thrust of the book, with its emphasis on how these trends might interact, was
revolutionary in challenging the modern obsession with growth.
Much of the criticism made at the time came from those who believed technology and/or
resource economics would always overcome any possible ecological limits to growth. The
book was a wake-up call since however each trend was changed the resulting scenarios
saw unchecked growth as leading to overshoot and collapse in the twenty-first century.
Later updated work by the authors, using more powerful computer modeling, further
confirmed the need for society to move rapidly towards a more sustainable path
(Meadows et al. 2005).
Part of the problem lies in the conflicting views of economists and ecologists. Economists
tend to believe that there are no limits to growth whilst ecologists recognise the finiteness
of the Earth’s natural systems, both in how much can be taken from them and how much
waste they can absorb. Gardner and Prugh, in State of the World 2008, point out that:
The world is very different, physically and philosophically, from the one that Adam
Smith, David Ricardo, and other early economists knew – different in ways that
make key features of conventional economics dysfunctional for the twenty-first
century … In Smith and Ricardo’s time nature was perceived as a huge and
seemingly inexhaustible resource: global population was roughly 1 billion – one
seventh the size of today’s – and extractive and production technologies were far
less powerful and invasive (Gardner and Prugh, 2008:4).
Nevertheless most economists would still argue that what will save the world is continued
economic growth. Yet world fisheries are on the verge of collapse, oil production may
have already peaked and climate change continues to bring new hazards. The assumption
that economic activity is somehow independent from nature no longer holds true.
Ecologists and others have long argued that: i) technological solutions on their own will
not bring about a sustainable society; ii) that exponential growth can lead to sudden
catastrophes, both economic and environmental; iii) that problems cannot be dealt with in
isolation but only when seen as part of an organic whole. Taking the biosphere as their
model the UN biodiversity report insists that there are clear limits to growth and that we
urgently need to learn to live within these limits (Guardian, 2010b).
The current global economic recession bears witness to the effects of unbridled growth
and greed in a financial world driven by free-market capitalism. Gray (2009: xiv) writes:
The type of globalisation that has been in place over the last twenty years is
undergoing an irreversible collapse. The global free-market was stable only on the
assumption that it could be self-regulating; but when economies are so closely
interwoven the entire system becomes dangerously fragile...An integrated system is
prone to break down when any of its parts ceases to function, and this what began
to happen when the American sub-prime mortgage crisis struck America in 2007.
He continues:
Global laissez-faire rested on the belief that the market is in some sense
fundamentally rational. The assumption was that players in the market could use a
version of scientific method in making their bets, so that any disequilibrium in the
system would be self-correcting. But this was taking a narrow conception of
rationality to an unreasonable extreme (Gray, 2009: xv).
Gray (2009), Harvey (2005) and Judt (2010) document in detail the ways in which such
neoliberal practices, whilst historically designed to supposedly improve human well-being,
at the same time cause ‘creative destruction’ - in division of labour, social relations,
welfare provision, technological development and attachment to the land. Other recent
critiques of the need for constant growth have focused on rampant consumerism (Lawson,
2009), the destruction of habitat and community (McKibben, 2007) and the need for
sustainable economies (Worldwatch Institute, 2008). Particularly inspiring for their
exploration of new ways of looking at economics are Boyle and Simms The New
Economics (2009) and Jackson’s Prosperity Without Growth (2009).
Whether we choose to live within the planet’s ecological limits or not every aspect of life
will change. What role should education play in relation to the challenges that society
faces arising from the need to adhere to planetary limits to growth?
The psychology of denial
Avoiding the future
Given the seriousness of global issues such as these one would have expected teachers
and teacher trainers to take a particular interest in the sort of futures that their charges
might have to live in (probable futures) or would like to live in (preferable futures), yet
until recently this has not been the case. Nearly forty years ago Toffler (1974), in his
excellent book Learning for Tomorrow, wrote:
All education springs from images of the future and all education creates images of
the future. Thus all education, whether so intended or not, is a preparation for the
future. Unless we understand the future for which we are preparing, we may do
tragic damage to those we teach. Unless we understand the powerful psychological
role played by images of the future in motivating – or de-motivating – the learner,
we cannot effectively overhaul our schools, colleges or universities, no matter what
innovations we introduce (Toffler, 1974).
The only initiatives to respond to this challenge in the UK were the Centre for Global
Education (Pike and Selby, 1988) and the World Studies 8-13 Project (Fisher and Hicks,
1985). The absence of any references to the future in educational documents was noted
by Gough (1988) who wrote ‘Even a cursory analysis of educational discourse reveals its
temporal asymmetry. That is, by comparison to the future, the temporal categories of past
and present receive more frequent and more explicit attention.’ He argued, however, that
all educational writers, implicitly convey some notion of the future even if these are
difficult to discern. They tend, he found, to be tacit inferences, token invocations or takenfor-granted assumptions.
‘Tacit futures’ are those which are implied but never clearly stated, for example passing
reference to preparation for adult life. Tacit futures are virtually invisible to the untrained
eye, says Gough. ‘Token futures’ are a bit more visible but tend to be rhetorical references
only, for example conferences in the 90s entitled ‘Education for the twenty-first century’
and ‘2020 vision’. ‘Taken for granted’ futures are the most visible but propose only one
particular view of the future as if no other alternatives existed. The most common is that
continued economic growth is the answer to all possible future problems.
Whilst there are excellent materials available from the academic field of futures studies
(Bell, 1997; Slaughter, 2005; Inayatullah, 2010) there seems to be little knowledge or use
of such sources in teacher education. Similarly, work setting out how to develop a futures
perspective in the classroom also seems generally little known or used (Page, 2000; Hicks,
2006, 2008b). In the UK it is geographers who have been the first to include a futures
perspective in their work (Hicks, 2007). How can this general lack of interest in the future
and futures methodologies be explained given the long-standing interest that exists in
teaching about global issues?
Bateman’s (2010) research in Australia may offer a useful insight. In working with a group
of primary school teachers she found their images of the future to be stereotyped and
uncritical and that they were very uncertain about what a futures perspective was or how
it might be introduced into the classroom. Even after focused and supportive CPD with the
researcher (herself a trained primary teacher) they were still worried. However, on
introducing the work they had prepared they found pupils to be knowledgeable, excited
and eager to plunge into issues that really mattered to them, i.e. how the future might be,
how they wanted it to be and how, with others, they could work towards the changes they
One of the strongest future orientated statements in the UK so far comes from a
thinkpiece commissioned by the National College for Leadership of Schools and Children’s
Services called Every Child’s Future: Leading the way (Porritt et al. 2009).
Should schools be in the business of reflecting back to young people the
contemporary paradigm of progress – in terms of values, material aspirations,
consumerist behaviours – that has dominated people’s lives since the middle of the
last century? Or should they be actively preparing them for the very different world
that awaits them and will be asking very different things of them?
…The answer must be that we aspire to a time when all schools are microcosms
of the world as it will need to be in 2025, that is:
living exemplars of sustainable practice
achieving self-sufficiency in energy, generating zero waste and zero emissions
growing and cooking as much fresh food as possible
bringing the natural world back into the school and its grounds
promoting diversity, equality and social cohesion in the school environment
learning how to create an inclusive local and global community
learning and teaching, through the entire curriculum, that reflects this and
prepares pupils for the challenges of the future
The future may be arriving in UK curriculum documentation and some school classrooms
but, it could be said, only because the future itself is beginning to look threatening.
Unconscious fear of the future may well be one of the reasons why this is a missing
dimension in education. Whilst the education for sustainability literature is not directly
informed by futures education or futures studies it does grasp the seriousness of current
unsustainable practices and their likely impact on the future. However, what is the point of
teaching about the need for a more sustainable future unless this is underpinned by the
wider long-standing expertise that futurists and futures educators have to offer?
Avoiding the affect
One of the dilemmas we collectively face is that the future increasingly feels a troubled
place and we have no choice but to go there. Thinking about this and the local-global
issues that confront us can be worrying, frightening, puzzling, annoying, challenging,
exciting and even downright dangerous. We are, whether we choose to be conscious of it
or not, confronted by a range of emotions that we may actually not wish to know about,
let alone feel. The future is currently a worrying place, somewhere that we would possibly
rather not go.
The Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment valorised the intellect as the arbiter of all
things. The affect became seen as the territory of women or of the Romantics. The query
I heard once as to whether a workshop would be ‘touchy feely’ or not highlights a 200year distinction between head and heart, intellect and emotions. Unless we deeply feel we
cannot truly live. We cannot be truly present to life, our partners, our children, our
students or our world. Yet when I suggested to a colleague that learning about global
issues involved the affect as much as the intellect he replied ‘I don’t expect to have to be
a therapist in my work.’ But the world of therapy is where we need to begin if we are to
understand our hopes and fears for the future and how we deal with them.
Did you grow up in a family where you were encouraged to express both positive and
negative emotions as appropriate or did you learn, as I did by default, that emotions are
not something we talk about? If you have learnt that emotions are to be suppressed you
cannot be present to the emotional life of your students and are thus only half present to
them. Freud and others noted that the experiences we have as babies and in childhood
stay with us throughout the rest of our lives. Did you learn that other people are to be
trusted or to be feared? Did you learn that the world is a fearful place or a place where
you can feel secure? Did your childhood experiences encourage optimism or pessimism in
relation to the human experience?
Heron (1999) argues that our initial years always leave us with archaic and existential
anxiety. Thus our experience of birth, of parenting, of our siblings, lays down deep
subconscious responses to life, whether we expect encounters with other people to be
safe or unsafe, whether we expect love to be conditional or unconditional. Heron
suggests, however, that there two more categories of anxiety aroused by threatening
issue that are more wide ranging. The first is cultural and planetary anxiety.
The sorts of concerns which give rise to this are: Is the society in which I live
making the most of its human and physical resources? Is it a just society?...What
can I do about human rights abuses in so many parts of the world?...Can we cross
the division between rich and poor nations? Are we taking care of our planet?
(Heron, 1999:67).
The second is transcendental anxiety.
The sorts of concerns which give rise to this are: Is there a God? What is my
relationship with such a reality? What is my destiny? How have I come into
being?...What is the ground of my identity? Who am I? What happens to me after
Heron goes on to point out that the issues which give rise to archaic and existential
anxiety are subordinate to wider concerns, which give rise to cultural/planetary and
transcendental anxiety. He concludes:
Looked at as positive stimuli, cultural/planetary anxiety and transcendental anxiety
offer two very fundamental and complementary challenges. The challenge of
shaping a new kind of society, both locally and globally, which cares for the
planetary environment and manifests social justice. The challenge of living awarely
within the conscious experiential field of a multi-dimensional universe. Both these
challenges provide an exhilarating context for the further development and
application of experiential learning (Heron, 1999: 68).
I have used Heron here to demonstrate the depth of the affect, whether acknowledged or
not, and the way in which our deepest anxieties embrace both the personal and the
planetary. Where do we make space for this in our personal and professional lives?
But what happens when some of the things we are confronted with produce levels of
anxiety that we cannot bear? In our personal lives denial is one of the ways in which we
deal with things that we find painful - ‘He’s not an alcoholic, he just likes a drink’; ‘He’s a
good man, he doesn’t hit me very hard’ – but this creates blind spots and zones of selfdeception. Denial also occurs at institutional, national and global scales. Denial saves us
from having to face up to a difficult problem, having any sense of responsibility, having to
think about the consequences of actions (or inactions).
Cohen (2001), in States of Denial, explores the human responses to knowing about
atrocities and suffering.
Denial is understood as an unconscious defence mechanism for coping with guilt,
anxiety and other disturbing emotions aroused by reality. The psyche blocks off
information that is literally unthinkable or unbearable. The unconscious sets up a
barrier which prevents the thought from reaching conscious knowledge.
Information and memories slip into an inaccessible region of the mind (Cohen,
2001: 5).
Lifton and Mitchell (1995) studied the way in which the bombing of Hiroshima in 1945 was
dealt with individually and collectively over the next fifty years in America. The scale of the
destruction and the fear of nuclear war as a result of the superpower arms race led to
‘psychic numbing’ on a national (and global) scale in the face of such possible apocalypse.
The notion that human life might not continue, the authors comment, leads to a sense of
doom and futurelessness. ‘Our own interviews suggest a merging of nuclear fear with
other apocalyptic threats, such as environmental destruction and global warming.’
Norgaard (2006) thus found in her research with a rural Norwegian community that
people avoided thinking about climate change in part because it led to feelings of
helplessness, guilt and fears of ontological insecurity. The emotional management
techniques that people used to avoid discussion of climate change were particularly
pronounced amongst educators, men and public figures. Individual denial was thus also
socially constructed so that it became ‘impossible’ for people to engage in any discussion
or social activism in relation to global warming.
Nicholsen (2002), in The Love of Nature and the End of the World, argues that:
The current situation calls for what Wilfred Bion calls binocular vision: we must pay
attention both to the possibility of catastrophe and to the alternatives. If we do not
face the genuine possibility of further catastrophe, we cannot envision a response.
That is why Lifton and Mitchell caution us to imagine the end of the world
(Nicholsen, 2002:153).
One of the things that enables us to face adversity, she argues, is the continuity of life
through time. That there might be no future for our children and grandchildren to inhabit
fills us with anxiety. But it is ‘our concern for those who come after (that) impels us to find
a realistic hope for the future’.
It is only when we can reflect critically and creatively on the future (drawing on the
experience and expertise developed in futures studies) that we can help students and
teachers to fully understand the importance of global citizenship and education for
sustainability. It is only when we acknowledge the anxiety that issues such as climate
change and peak oil engender within us (and that this too must be part of emotional
literacy) that we can actually begin to move forward. Only then can we be truly present to
optimism and hope. As long as we avoid the future and the affect we contribute to a
psychology of denial.
The long transition
Each of the global issues discussed above will have a significant and major impact on the
future. Each is subject to controversy and debate yet this is the decade in which
appropriate action for change needs to be taken at individual, local, national and global
levels. This is the beginning of a long transition that may last for centuries. We can be
certain about this because the effects of climate change on both humans and the
biosphere will last for centuries. We can be sure of this because we have left the century
in which energy from fossil fuels was easily available on a vast scale. We can be sure of
this because whether we accept or deny the ecological limits to growth the consequences
will be extremely long lasting.
A growing number of writers have begun to address the issue of what transition on such a
scale might look like and what it might involve. Diamond (2006) has reviewed the collapse
of past societies and identified five factors that lead to collapse or success. These are: i)
the human impact on the environment; ii) climate change, both natural and man-induced;
iii) enemies, i.e. the presence of hostile neighbours; iv) friends, i.e. the presence of
supportive neighbours; and v) the effectiveness of societies’ institutional responses to
threats. Whilst modern society is very different from the past Diamond notes that some of
the differences make today’s society even more prone to collapse.
Heinberg (2005), in The Party’s Over, argues that the world is about to change
dramatically as the result of the depletion of ‘easy’ oil. He explores how it was the
availability of abundant cheap oil in the twentieth century that encouraged economic and
industrial growth on a scale never seen before in history. The decline of conventional oil
reserves and the problems associated with non-conventional production, despite the
availability of coal, will mean that we have to live in a much leaner energy future. Since
climate change demands a zero carbon future the transition will be one of energy descent
and probably a rough ride.
Holmgren (2009) in Future Scenarios looks at the combined effects of peak oil and climate
change and suggests four possible ‘energy descent’ scenarios depending on whether
climate change is mild or severe and oil decline fast or slow. The four scenarios are:
Brown tech (slow oil decline, fast climate change), Green tech (slow oil decline, slow
climate change), Earth steward (fast oil decline, slow climate change) and Lifeboats (fast
oil decline, fast climate change). Such scenarios are not predictions about the future but
rather attempts to analyse different possible consequences of climate change and peak oil.
All four, whilst varying in their impact globally, would result in major social, environmental
and economic changes. A technocentric view, however, would see Holmgren’s analysis as
unduly pessimistic and underestimating the human capacity for ingenuity and
technological innovation.
As an admirer of David Orr’s work I was interested to see what he might say about these
matters in his latest book Down to the Wire: Confronting climate collapse (2009). I was
shocked to find that rather than talking about a ‘long transition’ he speaks of the ‘long
emergency’. At root he sees humanity as a species still in its adolescence and therefore
lacking the experience and wisdom needed for survival. For two centuries, he argues, we
have been on a collision course with the limits of the earth and that there is no historical
precedent for what we now have to face. The challenges ahead, he suggests, will be more
difficult than we have been led to believe and will lead to severe social, economic and
political trauma. It will take stamina and vision for humanity to survive this descent, the
ultimate test
I have a sense of déjà vu, I do not want the future to be cancelled even though this time I
will see less of it. It is my sons and my grandchildren who will have to find their way in
any such transition. What is the role of education in helping communities reflect on the
changes that such a transition might bring? What is its role in preparing young people for
a future that will indeed be very different from today? What knowledge, skills and values
will they need in such a future in order to live purposeful and fulfilling lives?
Optimism and hope
In this final section I look at six sources of optimism and hope that can be drawn on in
these troubled times. However one may view the future each is a valuable resource for
tutors and students alike. They are not in any particular order, although they are all clearly
interrelated. There are of course many others. In setting out the importance of each I also
take this to embrace its significance for education. In so doing I highlight some of the
elements of an ‘education for transition’. I am taking for granted that our starting point is
the good practice that we already know of in relation to global citizenship and education
for sustainability.
1. Foundations of hope
My interest in this area began some years ago when I wondered how educators who had
to teach about painful global issues on a daily basis managed to stay cheerful. In part the
answer was a compartmentalisation between the intellect and affect. However, whilst
wary about discussing what they felt about such issues they were willing to explore what
the sources of hope were that kept them going. The process used for this was a
residential weekend in which participants kept a journal both prior to and during the
event. At various points they shared and discussed their reflections on hope. This process
allowed a deeper level of insight to be tapped and shared than might otherwise have been
the case (Hicks, 2006).
It is important to say that I am not talking about hope here in the shallow sense of hoping
that something will happen but rather as something much deeper which supports us when
the going gets rough and which helps us through the most difficult times in life. The
sources identified by participants were as follows.
Table 1 - Sources of hope
The natural world ~ a source of beauty, wonder and inspiration which ever renews
itself and ever refreshes the heart and mind.
Other people's lives ~ the way in which both ordinary and extraordinary people
manage difficult life situations with dignity.
Collective struggles ~ groups in the past and the present which have fought to
achieve the equality and justice that is rightfully theirs.
Visionaries ~ those who offer visions of an earth transformed and who work to help
bring this about in different ways.
Faith and belief ~ which may be spiritual or political and which offers a framework
of meaning in both good times and bad.
A sense of self ~ being aware of one's self-worth and secure in one's own identity
which leads to a sense of connectedness and belonging.
Human creativity ~ the constant awe-inspiring upwelling of music, poetry, and the
arts, an essential element of the human condition.
Mentors and colleagues ~ at work and at home who offer inspiration by their deeds
and encouragement with their words.
Relationships ~ the being loved by partners, friends and family that nourishes and
sustains us in our lives.
Humour ~ seeing the funny side of things, being able to laugh in adversity, having
fun, celebrating together.
Participants were also asked to bring to the weekend an item that was in some way a
symbol of hope for them. In small groups each person spoke about what they had
brought. This included photos of family and friends, a piece of music, a picture, natural
objects, a book, artefacts and gifts. At the end one participant commented that the
weekend itself had been a source of hope. It was an event which engaged head and
heart, the personal and professional, past and future. It was also of practical daily value.
Orr (2009) makes an important distinction between hope and optimism arguing that the
latter can sometime mislead.
Realistic hope...requires us to check our optimism at the door and enter the future
without illusions. It requires a level of honesty, self-awareness, and sobriety that is
difficult to summon and maintain. I know a great many smart people and many
very good people, but I know far fewer people who can handle hard truth
gracefully without despairing...Authentic hope, in other words, is made of sterner
stuff than optimism. It must be rooted in the truth as best we can see it, knowing
that our vision is always partial. Hope requires the courage to reach farther, dig
deeper, confront our limits and those of nature, and work harder (Orr, 2009: 18485).
Orr (page 181) quotes Niebuhr on hope.
Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in a lifetime; therefore we must be
saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in
any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we
do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we are saved by love.
Discussion on the need for hope in troubled times is important, identifying and sharing
one’s own sources of hope in a safe context is even more valuable and rewarding.
2. Success stories
The first course I ever ran for student teachers was on environmental issues. I knew that
too much emphasis on problems could put students off and that they also needed to
explore examples of positive action for change. The course was therefore divided into two
parts: first the problems and then the solutions. The feedback at the end of the course,
however, revealed that despite the success stories the initial problems had made them
despair. Should one begin, perhaps, with positive stories that will engage and only latterly
look at the problems which they are helping to resolve?
Bardwell (1991) looks at the dilemma of presenting students with too many environmental
problems and explores the importance of sharing success stories with them. She argues
that such examples provide both the imagery and the inspiration for people to become
more involved. She stresses the implicit attractiveness of a ‘good story’, since stories have
a beginning, a middle and an end that promises some kind of resolution or closure. She
also stresses the importance of imagery of what it means to succeed.
Success stories offer imagery at two levels. First, they provide examples with which
people can begin to build models of alternative approaches and the contexts in
which they work ... second, a good success story includes imagery that engages
one cognitively. The story need not spell out a success; often a description of a
process or someone’s efforts to move the system to make the difference can serve
as useful positive imagery.
She points out that the stories need to be more than one-liners and that a number of
success stories may be needed before students can begin to create their own alternative
models of what is needed. The examples in Table 2 are only in the form of short
paragraphs but they indicate the sorts of stories that we need to collect and have available
in more detail. They can be local or global and can illustrate successful action in relation to
any aspect of citizenship or sustainability. The more they relate to aspects of students’
lived experience the more the story will hold their attention.
Table 2 – Sustainability success stories
Fisheries success – North Atlantic
In 2000, north Atlantic albacore tuna stocks were only half of what could be considered
sustainable. Then the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas
took the advice of its scientific advisers and radically cut quotas in the region. Stocks have
since recovered to within 20 per cent of sustainable levels.
Energy sharing – Samso, Denmark
The small Danish island of Samso has become the model for community energy
generation. Almost every household owns shares in the local wind farm, and the 4300
residents produce their own heat by burning locally grown straw in community heating
plants. They also run their vehicles on rapeseed oil. The island’s 21 wind turbines generate
more electricity than the residents need, allowing them to sell the excess to the mainland.
The good life – Todmorden, West Yorkshire, UK
The community in this small town has embarked on a mission to transform every bit of
green space into a communal larder. Its schools and public parks are bursting with
vegetable plots, there’s a 200-tree orchard in the town centre and crops are even
sprouting in the town’s cemetery. Residents can harvest this public produce for free.
Todmorden hopes to be fully self-sufficient in fruit, vegetables and eggs by 2018.
Sun, not coal – Rizhao, China
In Rizhao, 99 per cent of all households use solar power to heat their water – the result of
a decade of government subsidies for solar research and development, financial
incentives, education programmes and building regulations. The Worldwatch Institute, a
research organisation based in Washington DC, calculates that it saves families 3 to 6 per
cent of their income compared with electrical heating. Air quality in the region has also
Rainwater harvesting – Rural India
Water tables across India are falling fast, threatening crops. Some rural areas have
bucked the trend by re-embracing the art of rainwater harvesting. Residents of the village
of Limbadia in western Gujarat have built small dams on local rivers, allowing monsoon
run-off to seep into underground reservoirs. The village’s wells now leak at the surface
and long-dried steams have reappeared.
Bottled-water ban – Bundanoon, New South Wales, Australia
In July, the residents of Bundanoon voted to ban the sale of bottled water. The vote came
after a company announced plans to tap the local aquifer, bottle the water in Sydney and
sell it back to the town. Locals can now pay to refill their bottles with chilled, filtered tap
water, or fill up for free at public water fountains – saving 200 millilitres of oil for every
litre of bottled water not produced.
Source: New Scientist (2009)
3. Envisioning the future
We are all used to thinking about the future in different ways but the present times
demand that we learn to do this more effectively and professionally. Dator, director of the
Hawaii Research Centre for Futures Studies, highlights the importance of envisioning.
Futures studies tries to help people in becoming more active in envisioning a
preferred future. To teach them to find the way they would want the future to be,
and to act in their personal lives, business, or governments in order to achieve a
better future. So, part of the activity we do in futures studies is helping people in
envisioning a more plausible future than they might otherwise. And we do it by
giving them a greater range of images, by helping them to choose the way they
want the future to be so they can move in the right direction (Dator, 2006).
How can we ever attain a goal that we cannot imagine? How can we ever attain a more
sustainable future unless we have practised the skills of envisioning alternative futures?
This is the first step in being able to identify where we want to get to but it is not the only
step. As Meadows writes:
Visioning means imagining, at first generally and then with increasing specificity,
what you really want. That is, what you really want, not what someone has taught
you to want, and not what you have been willing to settle for. Visioning means
taking off the constraints of ‘feasibility’, of disbelief and past disappointments, and
letting your mind dwell upon its most noble, uplifting, treasured dreams … We
should say immediately, for the sake of sceptics, that we do not believe vision
makes anything happen. Vision without action is useless. But action without vision
is directionless and feeble. Vision is absolutely necessary to guide and motivate.
More than that, vision, when widely shared and firmly kept in sight, does bring into
being new systems (Meadows, Randers and Meadows, 2005: 272).
The process of envisioning can be carried out in various ways and requires a process
which engages the affect and imagination as much as the intellect. It cannot be
adequately done over a cup of coffee but requires a quiet space in which the imagination
can be focused. Envisioning workshops might be used by a community group to consider
how they want their neighbourhood to change or children looking at how the school
playground might be redeveloped. Envisioning is about identifying preferable futures, the
ones we would most hope for as a result of our most deeply held values and our notion of
‘the good life’.
Workshops begin with an assessment of the present situation, the problems and dilemmas
that need transforming. Participants are asked to identify a key aspect of their preferred
future before engaging in the envisioning process. This is essentially a ‘journey’ in the
imagination to one’s preferable future, best done with eyes closed and guiding prompts
from the facilitator. Participants are asked to let images arise in response to questions
such as ‘What do you see around you in your preferred future? What has changed? What
are people doing that is different?’ Most people are surprised at how images arise in the
mind’s eye although some report rather that they sense ideas. Detailed accounts of such
envisioning can be found in Lessons for the Future (Hicks, 2006).
At the time these envisioning workshops were run I was not focusing on sustainability but
participants preferred futures more generally. In both cases the envisioning process was
part of a residential weekend (which remarkably deepens the process) and the time
horizon suggested was twenty-five years into the future. In doing this I drew on the work
of various researchers who had developed ways of envisioning futures (Hicks, 2010a). The
first group were undergraduates studying Education and PGCE students, the second were
educators with an interest in social and global issues. Working individually and then in
small groups participants fleshed out the key features of their preferred future for society.
Below is a summary of what arose for them.
Table 3 – Key features of students’ preferred futures
Green – clean air and water, trees, wildlife, flowers
Convivial - co-operative, relaxed, happy, caring, laughter
Transport - no cars, no pollution, public transport, bikes
Peaceful - absence of violent conflict, security, global harmony
Equity - no poverty, fair shares for all, no hunger
Justice - equal rights of people and planet, no discrimination
Community - local, small, friendly, simpler, sense of community
Education - for all, on-going for life, holistic, community
Energy - lower consumption, renewable and clean sources
Work - for all, satisfying, shared, shorter hours
Healthy - better health care, alternative, longer life
Food - organic farming, locally grown, balanced diet
Table 4 – Key features of social educators’ preferred futures
Calmer pace of life - less stress - smiling, energetic people - time to talk - more joy
but also sadness - richer quality of relationships - no rush, people relaxing – lots of
laughter - comfortable and colourful clothes
Locally produced goods - more jobs based at home - doors open, no burglar alarms
- recycling schemes - groups open and welcoming to others - bartering and skills
exchange - ease between the generations - digitally interactive notice boards for
voting on local issues - unhurried and more reflective people - music and street
theatre - deschooling
Human scale - clean and healthy - trees, gardens, fountains - energy efficient
buildings - renewable energy - no supermarkets - small shops and market stalls vibrant cultural centre – multicultural - people and children in spacious streets sculptures, frescoes and public spaces - absence of mechanical noise - bustle of
activity - no beggars or homeless - no cars - bike routes, trams and trains - organic
gardening - easy access to countryside
A green manifesto – sunshine – birdsong, clean air, calm and beautiful countryside
- forests, valleys, hills and lakes - flowers and animals - brightness and light closer relationship with and greater respect for nature
What struck me in both cases was that rather than being ‘merely’ the imagination, as one
critic argued, the process tapped into the deepest aspects of what it means to be human
– the need for safety, community, good relations, justice, a good environment. What
these findings also significantly showed was that, without being asked or prompted,
participants’ preferred futures were also more sustainable futures (Hicks, 2010b).
Identifying the vision, as Meadows argues, uplifts, focuses and empowers the group for
the next vital stage of committed planning and action.
4. The Transition movement
One of the most interesting responses to climate change and peak oil is the Transition
Town network (2010). This is a grass roots movement which has arisen over the last few
years in a growing number of communities in the UK and around the world. It begins
when a small number of people decide that they want to do something about climate
change and peak oil in their own community. The process is then to draw together as
many people and other local groups as possible with a similar concern in order to
collectively ask the question ‘For all those aspects of life that this community needs in
order to sustain itself, how do we significantly increase resilience (to mitigate the effects
of peak oil) and drastically reduce carbon emissions (to mitigate the effects of climate
The Transition Handbook (Hopkins, 2008) gives detailed examples of the process by which
this wider engagement may come about (see Table 5 below). This leads to a significant
number of people from, for example, business, education, churches, media and citizen
organizations coming together to identify the nature of the shift the community needs to
make in order to become a zero carbon community. From this a number of working
groups arise, for example to do with energy, food and transport. Ultimately the task is to
draw up an Energy Descent Plan for the community and a timeline for its implementation
(Chamberlin, 2009). Transition groups come in all shapes and sizes from villages and
towns to city zones and regions.
A wealth of information is available from both Transition Towns (2010) and the Transition
Network (2010) on initiatives in the UK and elsewhere. These sources provide a vibrant
picture of the sorts of action for change that individuals can be involved with in their own
communities and across the country. Schools could both learn from and contribute to
these examples of sustainability in action (Hicks, 2009).
5. A new story
The ultimate conceit of being human I believe is that we think we know what it’s all about.
By this I mean we act as if we fully understand why we are here and what our purpose, if
any, might be. But there are no guidebooks except those which we write ourselves. These
may be sacred books, political ideologies or philosophical treatises about the meaning of
life. There is no external, objective answer to the meaning of life and all that. So we make
up stories to tell to each other, stories which vary over space and time, but which confirm
our own definitions of reality.
‘We need stories’, says Robin Richardson, ‘myths and folktales as well as true accounts, to
help us hold the beginnings, middles and ends of our lives together. Without them we
shall not have hope: yes, to lose stories is to lose hope, but conversely to construct and
cherish stories is to maintain hope’ (Richardson, 1996: 101).
Theologian Thomas Berry, in his discussion of our relationship to the planet, argues that,
It’s all a question of story. We are in trouble just now because we do not have a
good story. We are in between stories. The old story, the account of how the world
came to be and how we fit into it, is no longer effective. Yet we have not learned
the new story (Berry, 1990).
The dominant story that arose between the 17th and 19th centuries in the western world
had its origins in the Enlightenment and the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions. These
events, which changed the world forever, valorised critical rationalism, the intellect over
the affect, the notion that reason and science could solve all known human problems and
that this would lead to constant and undreamt of progress. The gains may have been
Table 5 - The Principles and Purposes of Transition
Source: Hopkins and Lipman (2009)
many but very inequitably distributed. From the 1960s onwards that story has been
increasingly challenged by many critics including, for example, the anti-globalisation
movement but, at the same time, also strengthened by free market global capitalism and
neoliberal ideology (Judt, 2010). Our present planetary dilemmas – those relating to global
inequality, ecological damage, climate change and peak oil - derive specifically from this
story of inevitable progress because at heart it is unsustainable. This is the story which is
leading us towards a long emergency.
Learning the new story of how to live more sustainably will take several generations to
learn. It is essentially a story that valorises the interconnections both between people and
people and people and planet in a way that honours others, including all species, the
biosphere and the welfare of future generations. Whereas the dominant western model
was about understanding things through taking them apart (which led to vital scientific
and human insights) at the same time it led to fragmentation and separation. As a result
we find ourselves living in a society characterised by extreme individualism and
disassociation. The new emerging story of the need to live sustainably focuses on the
interconnections between the parts and on systemic thinking. It is essentially ecological
and holistic, about bringing things together and the synergy that results from this. The old
story, it could be said, is about dis-membering whilst the new story is about remembering. The journey therefore is essentially one from fragmentation to wholeness.
This is of course deeply disturbing, what has previously been unacknowledged must now
be brought out into the light. The ability to put things back together - whether head and
heart, humans and nature or inner and outer – must be practiced and modelled by each of
us as well as by education and society more widely. In Daring to be a Teacher Robin
Richardson (1991) thus talks about two long-standing traditions in education, one focusing
on the ‘person’ and the wholeness of the individual, the other on the ‘political’ and the
wholeness of society. Neither, he argues, is complete without the other. Education must
thus be about changing both self and society.
Many groups, networks and organisations are working in different ways to achieve such a
cultural shift in paradigm/story. Whilst there is no guarantee that this will necessarily
occur, the vision of an Earth restored calls deeply to the human spirit and all those who
are crying out for change. Sterling’s (2001) call for a new form of education, ‘sustainable
education’, is about much more than pedagogy it is about the ‘relational thinking’ that
must lie at the heart of the new story - the ecological story which needs to infuse our
classrooms and universities and our inner and outer practice (Sterling, 2009).
6. Education for transition
The urgent task now is to consider what contribution global citizenship and education for
sustainability can make to an education for transition. Whilst this is not a job for the faint
hearted I believe it is the greatest and most exciting challenge that educators could be
called to embark on. One example of such holistic learning comes from research by
Rogers (1998), cited in Hicks (2006). In monitoring the responses of students to a course
on global futures she identified five dimensions of learning that are pertinent to this
discussion and these times. They are as follows.
Cognitive dimension
The first stage involves learning new facts, ideas and concepts about the global situation
and its likely future consequences. Some students when faced with thinking about the
future feel it is ‘out-of-touch’ or ‘airy fairy’. Being forced to step outside their usual spatial
and temporal orientations can sometimes lead to resistance. Students can feel cognitively
overwhelmed, confused and pessimistic about contemporary global issues.
Affective dimension
The second stage is about emotional responses. This occurs when knowing shifts from
being intellectual and detached to something personal and connected. Students can
experience a range of emotions, e.g. elation/depression, hopefulness/hopelessness,
sadness/happiness. Grieving is a common response to learning about global threats to
human survival. These responses need to be accepted as part of a shared and collective
Figure 2 – Learning about global futures: a conceptual model
Existential dimension
Learning about global issues and possible futures can also lead to deep soul-searching.
For some this involves a questioning of values, life-purposes, faith and ways of living.
Students want to ‘find an answer’, or to ‘do something’, but often without any immediate
answers. They may be faced with a reconstruction of their own sense of self, something
which often occurs when embarking on a quest for deeper meaning and purpose in life.
Empowerment dimension
If this upheaval can be satisfactorily resolved students begin to feel a sense of empowerment which arises out of a clearer sense of personal responsibility and resolution of the
question ‘Can I really make a difference?’ Students need to be able to envision positive
scenarios for the future and to learn about success stories in which individual and groups
have clearly made a difference. This requires hope, humour and cautious optimism.
Action dimension
If the questions raised by the above dimensions of learning can be satisfactorily resolved
in some appropriate way then informed personal, social and political choices and action
can occur. Some students report that learning about global futures eventually lead to a
significant re-orientation of their lives, both personally and/or professionally. Such major
choices should be acknowledged and supported as an outcome of the learning process.
Looking forward
Rogers’ model of global learning begins to highlight some of the crucial elements of an
‘education for transition’. Blincoe (2009: 206), more broadly, flags up some of the critical
tasks of such an education.
We could start by rethinking our educational platform to include intuition,
imagining, wisdom, spirituality and holism, as well as basic knowledge of the
interdependence and interconnectedness of all things. We could teach the next
generation of learners skills on how to relate to other people, how to be part of a
community, how to go beyond winning or being first. We could help them gain the
attributes of being true, authentic and content with who they are, at any time and
in any place.
The six examples of sources of optimism and hope outlined above are also vital
ingredients of any ‘education for transition’. The challenging and exciting task ahead for
teacher educators is to review existing practice in the light of the dilemmas and
opportunities highlighted here. In these times nothing less than a pedagogy of hope will
suffice. As Freire argues:
I do not understand human existence, and the struggle needed to improve it, apart
from hope and dream. Hope is an ontological need. Hopelessness is but hope that
has lost its bearings, and become a distortion of that ontological need … Hence the
need for a kind of education in hope.
One of the tasks of the progressive educator…is to unveil opportunities for hope, no
matter what the obstacles might be (Freire, 1994: 2/3).
This needs to be the commitment for progressive and radical educators in the years that
lie ahead.
David Hicks is responsible for the initiative ‘Teaching for a Better World’ and is Visiting Professor, School of
Education, Bath Spa University. He can be contacted via
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