Educating for Simple Living

Mark Burch has just written an important and timely essay on “Educating for Simple Living” which will be published through the Simplicity Institute in a few days. The full essay is available in advance here, and I’ve posted the introduction below.

Educating for Simple Living

by Mark Burch

In the following pages I aim to explore education within a culture of simple living and some methods that might serve the new educational project implied by such a culture. The historical and survival challenges we currently face as a species also requires that I approach this discussion from two distinct but intertwined perspectives:

First is the trans-historical role that education plays in our perennial efforts, both as individuals and as societies, to fashion a good life. The desire for a good life arises spontaneously within us as a fact of our inner experience. It is basic to our species. It draws us continually to transcend our historical situation through self-transformation and cultural evolution. This is education for a better life.

Second is the specific role education can play in helping us front the survival challenges posed by the imminent demise of consumer culture. We face the historical confluence of challenges such as peak oil, climate change, the end of economic growth and grid-locked institutions of governance, to name only a few. This more or less assures the end of material affluence as either a desirable or attainable goal for personal and social development. Our historical situation is driving a “transition” toward some new culture and worldview we cannot yet fully articulate (Hopkins, 2008). The only certainties are that the consumer culture of the past cannot be maintained for long and that it arises from a delusional worldview. Education has a key role to play in helping us evolve our worldview, and hence our culture, in directions that are more consistent with human well-being and ecological sustainability. This is education for human survival.

Finally, I take an essentially psychological perspective of our search for well-being and how we meet our survival challenges. Peak oil is a “problem” today because human beings are over-consuming oil in pursuit of inordinate desires for power, comfort and wealth. Climate change is threatening every ecosystem on Earth because human beings are releasing excessive greenhouse gases in pursuit of limitless affluence. While peak oil and climate change certainly threaten our survival, they are not something Earth is doing “to us.” They are instead the outer-world consequences of how we think and what we desire. While improved technology, better policies, and more humane social relations are undoubtedly necessary conditions for a better life, they are not sufficient. Such practices fail to address the essential motivational, attitudinal, and cognitive causes of the challenges we face. Since, as individuals, we are all prone to falling into unwholesome psychological states, it only seems sensible to engage every available cultural mechanism we have to compensate this tendency. Education can make a major contribution to this end.

The full essay is available in advance here.

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