The Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education is a New York City based non-profit founded by Jamie P. Cloud in 1995. The Institute has developed a holistic educational philosophy that involves the individual student along with his or her classroom, school, and community. Known as Education for Sustainability (EfS), this learner-centered method works with the primary influences in the lives of students, knowing that true, long-term change is most easily attained when nearly all major influences support the new vision.
This is the second of three posts that provide Jamie’s answers to several questions I recently posed to her regarding sustainability education.
Can you please explain the distinction between educating about sustainability and educating for sustainability?
What people don’t always realize is that educating for sustainability is not always about sustainability. It is first and foremost about developing the knowledge and the ways of thinking that will help us to thrive over time.
It is clear that people educating for sustainability do not all have a shared vocabulary with shared meanings.
The Cloud Institute’s framework for Education for Sustainability is designed to contribute to our individual and collective potential and that of the living systems upon which our lives depend.
When we educate about sustainability we treat sustainability as a topic. In my opinion, its use strictly as a topic is limiting and does not allow for what I believe is its highest and best use. To us, sustainability and regeneration are the names for the desired condition we are educating for. I think the greatest value to us is that the concepts of sustainability and regeneration are aspirational and measurable destinations.
Why have you chosen to focus your efforts on K – 12?
The Cloud Institute believes that a sustainable community agenda is unsustainable if it doesn’t formally involve all the children, young people and their teachers. We unite schools and communities to learn and change together to instigate, sustain, and scale up the innovations and best practices that contribute to sustainability and that characterize Education for Sustainability. We can accelerate the shift toward Sustainability by engaging the schools in Education for Sustainability and securing the role of children and young people as participants, innovators and leaders. We believe that K-12 education can substantially influence knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviors related to sustainability. This is the most fertile ground for helping to shape a society committed to sustainable development.
In the most serious conversations about sustainability, I have not detected a shared understanding of the role of education, particularly K-12, in contributing to the shift toward a sustainable future. I have spoken to system dynamics modelers who assume that the time horizon for the return on an investment in K-12 education is twenty years. When I hear that, I ask them, “Do you know any children?!” In my experience, it takes children and young people very little time (especially compared to adults) to turn what they’ve learned into action at the local level. On average, they are much more responsive, creative, and quicker to make change than we adults are.
Many people have given up on public schools and yet we keep sending the majority of our children there. It is a bad scenario. We can either give up on them and create something else instead, or we can transform them into learning organizations that contribute to our children’s individual and collective potential and that of the living systems upon which our lives depend (we actually like a bit of both.) We cannot, I would argue, continue to send the majority of our nation’s children to places for thirteen years of their lives that we have abandoned financially, psychologically and emotionally. That’s just a disaster. That’s part of the problem. I’ll say that upfront.