A Graduate Course in Education Using the Earth Charter

By Sam Crowell

I just completed teaching an intensive two-week graduate course at Saint Michael’s College entitled Shaping the Future: Educating forShaping the future 3 Mindful, Sustainable, and Global Citizenship. Located in Colchester, Vermont, we took advantage of the beautiful campus landscape and extended the classroom to include the sun and sky, the towering trees, multi-colored gardens, and the solitude of open spaces. An “emergent assignment” invited students on their own time to explore the natural world noticing mindfully the five basic patterns of Nature – spiral, branching, meandering curved lines, hexagons, and creative bursts. On the last day of class students prepared an inspiring and emotional closing celebration that included a gallery of their created sculptures that depicted these patterns and an artist statement that addressed the symbolic meaning behind their sculptures. It was amazing.

The course was designed to explore how planetary and global citizenship are forms of civic learning and necessarily include themes such as peace and human rights, intercultural understanding, respect for diversity and inclusiveness. Central to understanding the values behind these themes is the Earth Charter which was a central focus of attention.

As a graduate course in education, we used the Earth Charter, my two e-books on Earth Charter Pedagogy, Catherine O’Brien’s book on Sustainable Happiness, and Jane Cull’s The Circularity of Life which builds on the ideas of Humberto Maturana. Sustainable Development Goal 4.7 was the organizing “container” that held disparate themes and ideas together.

Also integrated into the content of this course was a basic understanding and practice of mindfulness and how it can relate to sustainability. Part of mindful awareness is helping students develop the capacity to positively influence and create personal futures that can benefit the world – lives that not only are rooted in foundational intellectual sills, but also oriented toward caring, compassion and love. Transformative learning necessarily shifts the nature of one’s consciousness. Learning to use our awareness to see how we focus attention on fragmentation and linear, hierarchical structures instead of connected, open, interwoven wholes is central to internalizing the worldview represented by the Earth Charter and the new cosmic story of our time.

The assumptions of Connectedness, Relationship, Caring, and Systems Thinking were woven into the intellectual and experiential fabric of the course. It modeled the pedagogy of embodied cognition, experiential learning, multi-sensory materials, and group interaction. Perhaps more importantly though, there was a strong sense of community. Group participation and responsibility were embraced. Also present was a willingness to deeply process non-linear experience and apply new knowledge and insights to real situations.

Perhaps the students can articulate it best:

– “What this course instilled in me is the notion that I am not alone in believing ‘kinship with all life’ is vital if we are to continue to not only live but thrive on our shared Earth.”

– “I am inspired to practice the values of the Earth Charter in my own life and help instill them in my students.”

-“This course has helped my see my own truth, be a part of what I am ‘seeing’, and feel connected to the larger context.”

-“This sense of interconnectedness has profoundly impacted me. I believe it can have the same impact on my students.”

– “I intend to be a more active participant in healing our world.”