We have been writing content framed around the New Zealand Curriculum this summer break. The process of working so intensively with the NZC document has alerted me to the things we privilege/ legitimise through inclusion in a national curriculum, and the things we omit and thus undermine.
For example in the NZC vision statement the second out of five bullet points (and yes I am alert to the irony of bullet pointing a vision) is for young people:
- who will seize the opportunities offered by new knowledge and technologies to secure a sustainable social, cultural, economic, and environmental future for our country;
“Sustainability” is currently a Jamie Oliver drizzle word. Be it in the context of a “Nan’s Lemon Drizzle cake” drizzle or a “drizzle over a little balsamic vinegar and season lightly with salt and pepper” drizzle, the result of drizzling “sustainability” or “sustainable outcomes” over all language symbols and text in any document you are working on in education is currently a “good thing” and guaranteed, much like Jamie Oliver’s creative drizzles in the kitchen, to find favour with your patrons. It is so popular at the moment that I am waiting for the release of a drizzle index.
Because of the drizzle thing, I was not surprised that he NZC vision statement suggests that it is important to secure a social, cultural, economic and environmentally sustainable future for New Zealand.
But what did catch my eye was the way in which the NZC vision statement suggests these sustainability outcomes will occur.
It seems that the NZC believes that sustainability will be “secured” through “seizing” opportunities offered by “new knowledge and technologies”.
I don’t know what seize or “secured” means to you ... but my guess is that what is being alluded to by “seize” is different from to clasp gently, to linger over, or to to nudge up against, and that “secure” is something different from sharing, or distributing.
The vision statement suggests that not only will sustainability be resolved through a technological solution but also that this technological solution will need to be pursued, pinned and consumed through competitive activity.
It makes me want to ask ... who will be doing the seizing? And who will be advantaged by the seizing?
It is noteworthy that there is no expectation in this bullet point that changes in human values – the what it is to live, love and be kind, will play a role. And this seems strange given the emphasis on the key competencies later in the document.
Sustainability is all about discovering what is important and then discovering how we can protect what we have identified now and in the future – it is about balancing human needs with other needs, preservation, guardianship, and kaitiakitanga.
But it seems that preservation bit is not as easily understood as it might first appear. Is preservation all about seizing? Is preservation all about finding a technological solution?
Thinking that technology will rescue us, and that what will rescue us can be seized and secured, suggests that the collective writers of the NZC believe we do not have to take collective individual responsibility for preserving the social, cultural, economic and environmental resources in New Zealand in the 21st Century.
And that is kind of frightening because the problem with thinking that “technology will rescue us” in these situations was well explained and found wanting over forty years ago in 1968 by Hardin (refer Tragedy of the commons - The article is well worth a read and I note not without its own critics).
Hardin’s argument was that sustainable outcomes cannot be resolved by technological solutions, if individuals are advantaged by pursuing their own interests then we will need “a change in human values or ideas and morality” not a technological solution to change things.
Picture a pasture open to all. It is to be expected that each herdsman will try to keep as many cattle as possible on the commons. Such an arrangement may work reasonably satisfactorily for centuries because tribal wars, poaching, and disease keep the numbers of both man and beast well below the carrying capacity of the land. Finally, however, comes the day of reckoning, that is, the day when the long-desired goal of social stability becomes a reality. At this point, the inherent logic of the commons remorselessly generates tragedy.
As a rational being, each herdsman seeks to maximize his gain. Explicitly or implicitly, more or less consciously, he asks, "What is the utility to me of adding one more animal to my herd?" This utility has one negative and one positive component.
1) The positive component is a function of the increment of one animal. Since the herdsman receives all the proceeds from the sale of the additional animal, the positive utility is nearly +1.
2) The negative component is a function of the additional overgrazing created by one more animal. Since, however, the effects of overgrazing are shared by all the herdsmen, the negative utility for any particular decision-making herdsman is only a fraction of 1.
Adding together the component partial utilities, the rational herdsman concludes that the only sensible course for him to pursue is to add another animal to his herd. And another; and another. .But this is the conclusion reached by each and every rational herdsman sharing a commons. Therein is the tragedy. Each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his herd without limit--in a world that is limited. Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.
The NZC suggests that if we want sustainability we must seek a technological solution that has been wrested and secured - control and ownership stuff.
Hardin’s argument suggests that if we want sustainability we must manage how individuals and corporations use the commons – more control.
McKenna suggests yet another alternative – that we should unburden the individual from all that wresting and securing or being managed by others stuff and instead trust in the collective for sustainable outcomes. Less seizing and securing and technology and more changing behaviours and values for trusting and sharing. (Thanks to Nix for the link)
I have thought a lot about preservation, and what it means to preserve something, an insect, a person, a story, a fantasy. The instinct to preserve something sometimes means that we covet it and keep it hidden away, but I have found that objects can exert their will on us and preservation can become a burden. Rather than covet my father’s collection I’d like to let go of it. For this reason, when I first exhibited this work in PlaySpace Gallery at CCA, I gradually gave away every image in the piece to gallery visitors. The act of scattering these images was meant to diffuse the responsibility of their preservation and to give these objects a second life. Perhaps this gesture of dispersal can be a form of preservation, one that lifts the weight off one person and trusts in the collective. Klea McKenna The Butterfly Hunter
John Francis Fien (2003) describes what preservation through dispersal might look like in an educational context: (Thanks to RB for the reference)
“Enhancing our abilities to learn, to live sustainably and to love is the only way we will be able to address the ecological and social imperatives we face as we seek to build a fairer, less troubled and sustainable world for our children.” From Learning to care: Education and compassion. In Australian Journal of Environmental Education, Vol. 19, pp. 1-13
[I note that although social, cultural, economic, and environmental sustainability are in the NZC vision on page 8 by the time we hit the values “to be encouraged modelled and explored” on page 12 the social cultural and economic have been lost. NZC Values: excellence, innovation, diversity, equity, community and participation, ecological sustainability, integrity and respect. And that is a shame because I don’t know if it is possible nowadays to think critically about ecological sustainability without a concomitant valuing of social and economic sustainability.]