Reflections on the connections between peace education, environmental education, futures education

Francis P. Hutchinson - March, 2009

Guest Column

Francis P. Hutchinson is internationally known for his work in peace education, environmental education and futures education. He is Coordinator,Peace and the Environment, Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies/CPACS, University of Sydney, Australia, and in 2008 was a visiting professor and Tamkang Chair at the Graduate Institute of Futures Studies, Tamkang University, Taipei. He serves as Consulting Editor for the Journal of Futures Studies (Tamkang University), is a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Peace Education (Taylor & Francis), and a councilor of the Peace Education Commission of the International Peace Research Association.

Distinctive dimensions of Futures Education
‘Futures education’ has much in common with other areas of educational innovation, such as peace education and environmental education. Whether in schools, colleges, universities or in community education, these areas of teaching and learning attach major importance to not only what is but what might be.

  Indeed, much of what we do as teachers and students has within it an implied sense of the future. For the peace educator, there is likely to be not only criticism of militarism, including gendered violence and extreme nationalism, but an emphasis on encouraging social imagination about alternatives to violence. Much importance is usually attached to developing skills for transforming conflicts non-violently. With environmental educators, there is often a deep concern about current trends in environmental destruction but also for encouraging students to tread more gently on the earth and to work compassionately toward a more sustainable future.

  Where futures education is distinctive is in the strong emphasis that it places on an explicit futures dimension in the curriculum. Here the interest is not in predicting ‘the future’ as if it were just some kind of extrapolation of existing trends. The fallacious assumptions of the future as a singularity and as, for example, mostly ‘business-as-usual’ or even as ‘apocalyptic certainty’ need to be unpacked. The future is far from surprise free.

  Futures education is concerned with encouraging deeper forms of learning that are open to diverse knowledge traditions and which welcome cross-cultural and inter-civilisational dialogue. It offers creative opportunities in the present for students to question taken-for-granted views of the future. In important respects, it is about inviting reflection not only on what feared-futures students may have, including what might be shaping these anticipations, but also offering enabling learning environments that encourage a constructive play of ideas about preferred futures and possible pathways for creating them . There are interconnected issues of moral imagination and responsibilities to future generations (See contrasts between conventional and deeper learning below).

Conventional learning
1) Axiom
2) Knowledge acquisition:transmitting established ‘truths’ or ‘expert knowledge’
3) Monologue
4) Surface analysis
5) Linear projections

Deeper learning
1) Hypothesis
2) Questioning taken-for –granted views about the nature of reality and potential reality; openness to alternative knowledge traditions
3) Dialogue
4) Causal layered analysis(e.g. of long-held myths or mental-maps about unilinear ‘progress’, neoliberal /cowboy economics, consumer paradises and ‘a resourceful earth’ that are coming under questioning with the current interlinked global financial, military and environmental crises)
5) Extrapolative thinking; action research spirals;  alternative futures thinking about cultures of peace and sustainability

  Futures education as a necessary component of education for a culture of social and ecological peace
To seek to educate for cultures of social and ecological peace, invites active participation in the present in building better futures. Clearly, there are many empirical indicators and early warning signs that our interconnected world faces some critical challenges, economically, socially and environmentally. In such a context, it may be possible to be either immobilised by the politics of fear or to live out the escapist politics of denial and consumerist fantasies. With the latter, there are the delusions of ignoring or seeking to ignore existing and emergent signs of both structural and ecological violence, or of attempting to blame-shift problems onto others.

  From a futures education perspective, it is important to question such conventional assumptions or habits of thought for responding to difficulties. As peace educators and environmental educators, the challenge is not simply to confirm worst fears or grim, in perpetuity ‘us’ versus ‘them’ scenarios of times to come. After all, this is precisely the mind-set that military strategists tend to take for granted in their planning for future operations, and in arguing for high military budgets ‘to ensure security.’ With the latter, there is foreclosure on the possibility of creating durable cultures of peace and sustainability. Rather with such scenarios projected future landscapes comprise escalating violent conflicts with struggles over scarce resources and intensifying climate change destruction. There are no real exits visualised from permanent war economies and future onslaughts. The notion of transition or transformative futures thinking and non-violent action for cultures of peace and sustainability are dismissed in these narrowly security-oriented and masculinist discourses as ‘naïve, unrealistic or unattainable’.

  Elise Boulding, a leading feminist futurist and peace educator, in talking about futures thinking and enhanced moral imagination some years ago, coined the term ‘image literacy’. She introduced this concept to help explain what she meant by forms of literacy that get beyond taken-for-granted ‘national security’ discourses, colonising or impoverished media images of what might be. Crucial to such a task is the provision of adequate opportunities in the classroom to critically reflect on current challenges. This, however, in itself is unlikely to be enough to encourage any real sense of agency as global citizens in resisting non-violently feared futures.

  From my years of teaching experience at the school, college and university levels, I strongly agree with Boulding here. In what we do, it is vital to integrate both the languages of critique with the languages of hope. This means inviting active learning, including the use of cooperative learning techniques and ‘futures workshop’ activities on how to make hope practical. Such peaceful pedagogy is not about confirming fatalism or making despair convincing.

Futures education and intergenerational equity
  To get beyond narrowly egocentric ethics is in part a matter of how we may begin to negotiate a sense of inter-being or interdependence, including notions such as a ‘global ethic’, ‘peace with environmental justice’ and ‘intergenerational equity’. In an increasingly globalized world, this entails particular challenges and many contradictions. Rather than one identity, we may have plural identities ( a teacher, a student , member of a local community , member of a global community). How these identities play out may have significant implications for the future.

  As teachers, we usually feel a strong sense of responsibility to our students. There is within such a professional and moral framework an implied futures perspective. We are not just concerned with what happens here and now in a particular classroom context, but much more. We are concerned with what will happen when our students finish school and, if they have the chance, go on to college or university. If I run into former students and they tell me that they are doing well and are engaged in doing socially valuable work, I am delighted.

  Yet, such an implied futures perspective arguably needs to be made explicit both within the formal curriculum and how we teach. In so doing, there is an important invitation to rethink our moral imagination in ways that include not only responsibilities to the present generation but to future generations. Our sense of inter-being and active hope would then be part of an emergent global civic culture. Foresight and a compassionate regard for future generations, both human and other species, would be integral to visions of good teaching for this century and beyond.

An integrated approach to peace, environment/sustainability and world futures.

There is still too much of a tendency in curriculum development and design to focus on narrowly disciplinary frameworks rather than encouraging active cross-disciplinary dialogue and an explicit futures dimension. As part of the push of the past with the ways in which the major Western academic disciplines have come to be constituted, we tend to ignore interconnections. I have attempted to address such problems in both undergraduate peace studies units that I have taught over the years at the University of Western Sydney and, more recently, as part of a Masters program at the University of Sydney. The first unit that I developed and taught at the University of Western Sydney during the mid 1990’s was called, ‘Peace, sustainability and world futures’. It was later to become a foundations unit for the undergraduate program within the social science undergraduate program. Similarly, when I earlier worked as a curriculum consultant in peace education (kindergarten to year 12), I attempted to bring together issues of peace, sustainability and world futures.

We tend to put areas of knowledge into specialized categories or little boxes like commodities to be purchased on supermarket shelves. Or, to change the metaphor to a one of conventional military strategy, there are rivalries perceived between jealously guarded ‘knowledge territories’. These are often seen as needing to be protected from incursions and threat-laden times to come rather than as openness towards plural ways of knowing, including non-Western perspectives.

Issues of peace, social justice and environmentally sustainable futures do not neatly fit into ‘boxes’ or ‘territories’. The direct and indirect environmental impacts, for example, of unequal patterns of global consumption and bloated military budgets cannot be adequately understood by staying within the conventional disciplinary, interpretative frame of economics. If we are genuinely concerned with working toward better futures rather than accepting our feared futures as inexorable, both enhanced cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural dialogue are likely to be important.

Emerging trends in peace education and environmental education suggest the importance of more integrated approaches, providing such approaches welcome diversity and do not confuse integration with uniformity in philosophy and methods. To the extent that even in such areas of cross-disciplinary curriculum innovation as peace education and environmental education there has not been enough dialogue and sharing of ideas, this needs to be actively addressed. Each cross-disciplinary field brings both insights and a variety of voices on current challenges, and much may be learnt from the other.

Still, there remains a real issue of the need for greater cooperation across diversity. For cross-disciplinary fields to approach questions relating to cultures of social and ecological peace in a discrete or separate manner that substantially ignore the other’s insights (or even misunderstandings), I think is short-sighted. There is some definite evidence that such compartmentalization and lack of foresight persist in some strands of both environmental and peace education even today.

However, in saying this, I would also caution against any uncritical approach that seeks to telescope one field into the other. An appreciation of biological diversity is a central precept in ecological thinking. At the same time, active listening and openness to cultural diversity are important pedagogical principles in peace education, along with notions of creating vibrant, equitable and inclusive learning communities that respect ‘the rights of future generations’.

In other words, we should not be frightened of diversity. We do not need to work for a uniform curriculum between peace education and environmental education. That would risk what Vandana Shiva has critiqued as ‘monocultures of the mind’. The goal should be unity in diversity rather than unity in uniformity.

My current involvement with an Indigenous studies curriculum project, has made me particularly conscious of the risks of forms of ‘integration’ that insist on assimilation and which privilege or take for granted Western ways of knowing about the environment rather than valuing equal participation. Similarly, as a peace educator and futures educator, working recently in an Asian culture, I think the importance of cross-cultural and inter-civilisational dialogue is crucial, including a greater awareness of Islamic, Confucian, Taoist and Buddhist knowledge traditions on peace and the environment. I like the metaphor of building rainbow-coalitions across diversity. In so doing, we seek to avoid culturally arrogant claims to ‘superior’ knowledge, and are prepared to better cooperate together as both teachers and learners.

Need for an explicit futures dimension across the curriculum

In conclusion, I would argue that a need exists to rethink our current priorities in education and other spheres in less short-sighted, more imaginative and less greedy ways so that there may be greater global cooperation in actively meeting the basic needs of all humanity and the environment

In reflecting on how to possibly begin to transcend the combined addictions of armament culture and the disproportionate ‘wants’ of high carbon consumptive economies, the prospects of building ‘a culture of peace and sustainability’ may appear to recede quickly into the realm of impossibility like a mirage in the desert. After all, our school and university systems remain still, in many ways, very much part of the problem in their lack of an explicit futures dimension to curricula and teaching.

Moreover, integrated approaches to issues of ‘environments for peace’ are not easy given the many institutional constraints, often petty or parochial rivalries, and ‘business-as-usual’ habits of thought. There remains a strong ‘push of the past’ within established academic disciplines and power structures. Too often, there is inadequate funding or support for newer cross-disciplinary fields of social inquiry to enable them to establish themselves and to make a real difference. I am reminded of Gandhi’s comment that the world has enough for our needs but not for our greed or manufactured wants. Yet, at the same time, our schools and universities are contradictory sites. In various ways, they are crucial parts of any potential solutions. To use an ecological metaphor, they are places where seeds of peace and sustainability may be planted but which may be affected by seasonal changes, and how much attention is given to nurturing creative growth and diversity.