IEF SEMINAR 2004
Orlando Seminar on Education for Sustainable Development
15-16 December 2004
Orlando, Florida, USA
Education for Sustainable Development --
Applying Systems Thinking in the 21st Century Classroom and Beyond
In preparation for the
UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014)
The UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, launched in January 2005, is a worldwide effort to promote education that fosters sustainable development - development that allows present generations to meet their needs without jeopardizing the ability of future generations to meet theirs. The Bahá'í community in the United States is working actively to help Bahá'ís both to contribute toward the Decade and to use it as a learning opportunity. How to educate at many levels for a sustainable future was the focus of a seminar and two workshops in Orlando, Florida in December 2004, in conjunction with the annual Bahá'í Conference on Social and Economic Development in the Americas. Participants in those sessions examined how the Bahá'í Teachings contribute to the vision of a healthy world and promote sustainability in all its dimensions.
The sub-theme of education for sustainable development clearly fit the larger Orlando theme of "developing greater capacity to address humanity's urgent needs." The pre-conference seminar and two conference workshops on the UN Decade drew the enthusiastic participation of 160 individuals in total, or close to 20% of the conference's 800 participants.
The two-day pre-conference seminar attracted seventy-five Bahá'ís with a professional or serious personal interest in education. Participants, while predominantly North American, came from five continents and included administrators and teachers from several Bahá'í schools, the U.S. Bahá'í Education and Schools Department, core curriculum developers, and other professional educators.
Two Bahá'í-inspired organizations, the International Environment Forum and Educators for Social and Economic Development co-sponsored the seminar, which was supported by the American Bahá'í community. Dr. Jaimie P. Cloud, President of the Sustainability Education Center in New York (www.sustainabilityed.org), facilitated the training, in cooperation with Peter Adriance, NGO Liaison for the American Bahá'í community. The sessions explored the topic from both secular and Bahá'í perspectives.
The seminar included exercises such as a fish game that helped participants experience directly the unintended consequences of overexploitation of a natural resource and the challenges of cooperatively finding solutions that achieve sustainability. Such exercises dramatically demonstrated the importance of consultation skills underpinned by a belief in the oneness of humankind and an understanding of the fundamental interconnectedness of all life on the planet.
Participants also explored the importance of systems thinking and considered several of its dimensions such as the ability to see the whole as well as the parts of a system; having a sense of intergenerational responsibility; and balancing individual rights with protecting the commons. They found that the Bahá'í Writings encourage us to engage in the highest level of systems thinking - to become in effect "whole systems actors" who function well in highly diverse groups (e.g. consulting in Assemblies); give priority to the benefit of the whole; and recognize the interdependencies in systems.
Upon that foundation of understanding, participants placed themselves in the year 2015 and envisioned the results of their efforts in education for sustainable development in the community at the end of the Decade. They described such outcomes as Bahá'í schools and communities becoming models of sustainability; the Bahá'í community achieving a genuine outward-looking orientation, with our institutions collaborating meaningfully with other organizations to address community needs; and the development of training institutes that focus on the multiple aspects of carrying forward an ever-advancing civilization.
During the larger conference following the seminar, two introductory workshops provided an overview of the Decade (see powerpoint), explored the relationship between the Bahá'í teachings and sustainable development, and generated ideas for Bahá'í participation at multiple levels in the Decade. Participants examined actual development cases and identified the social, economic and environmental principles embodied in them. These included the Audubon Center at Debs Park (USA), How much is enough?, India Solar Cooking, and Chad Fishing. They also drew 'systems maps' that showed the ripple effects of certain decisions made and demonstrated the far-reaching interrelationships between choices made and outcomes. And they generated lists of ideas for Bahá'í engagement in Education for Sustainable Development at the individual, local and national levels.
The enthusiasm for the topic of education for sustainable development was reflected in the comments of one participant: I've learned that I CAN make a difference, and that my participation in the Bahá'í Faith gives me the most complete and perfect tools for this...I feel more hopeful about the Earth's potential to heal itself, provided we act assertively to instigate consultation and decision making on the necessary processes. I also feel less alone in facing the challenges of sustainability and have made many connections with friends dedicated to sustainability.
What's coming up? As the Decade gets underway, a listserve has been setup to link together Bahá'ís around the world in discussing issues related to the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. One can join by sending an email to grantsuhm @ yahoo.com and asking to be added to the Bahá'í Educators for Sustainable Development (BESD) list. Also, in observance of the Decade, the award-winning Bahá'í children's magazine, Brilliant Star will have a feature issue on preserving the Earth's resources in May/June. In addition, the Wilmette Institute is planning an 11-week online course on education for sustainable development in October 2005 (see www.wilmetteinstitute.us.bahai.org.) Other happenings are in the planning stages.
Some additional resources for the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014):
International Environment Forum UN Decade for ESD pages
US Partnership for the Decade www.uspartnership.org
Listserve for Bahá'ís interested in the UN Decade for ESD: email grantsuhm @ yahoo.com and ask to subscribe to the BESD listserve.
Wilmette Institute course on ESD: www.wilmetteinstitute.us.bahai.orgSee course listing for October 2005.
Brilliant Star Magazine (a Bahá'í magazine for children) will run several issues that address themes of the Decade, beginning in May/June. Email: brilliant @ usbnc.org or visit www.brilliantstarmagazine.org
"Bahá'u'lláh's promise that civilization will exist on this planet for a minimum of 5000 centuries makes it unconscionable to ignore the long-term impact of decisions made today. [We] must, therefore, learn to make use of the world's natural resources in a manner that ensures sustainability into the distant reaches of time.... The speed and facility with which we establish a sustainable pattern of life will depend, in the final analysis, on the extent to which we are willing to be transformed... into constructive forces in the process of creating an ever-advancing civilization." Bahá'í International Community (1995)
Last updated 6 February 2005