What role education?

What role should be the educational role of the Australian Institute of Ecological Agriculture? Education of course is one of its goals but what shape should this take and how might it engage people and their creative nature? This is a question that you might expect from an educator but what about a sheep producer from Reid’s Flat near Cowra. Rosemary Hook reflects deeply on these issues and suggests a need for an educational approach that isn’t necessarily orthodox.

I am not an educator and am very aware that my thinking lacks the depth and breadth of those who are.  What I have written here may well have already been thought through by others.  Even so, I thought it useful to ask the following questions, intended to be thought provoking, to ensure robust discussion.

Do we really know what ecological agriculture is?

We have a good idea as to what ecological agriculture is not, and many ideas as to what would be better than “industrial”, “technological” or high input agriculture but given that people like Rupert Sheldrake are saying we do not yet fully understand the nature of the planet/life, can we really say what ecological agriculture is and how it should be practiced?  If not, what does this mean in relation to the aim/structure of the “education goal”?

Technicians or “aware beings”?

What sort of person/farmer is the AIEA aiming to “produce”?  A person/farmer who follows a “recipe” or one who understands the concepts involved and is able to implement a farming system that is appropriate for his landscape/family/community and able to adapt the system as necessary and as his/her understanding develops?  I think this is a particularly important issue in the management of land in the peri-urban landscapes.

Following are a couple of quotes that I think are apposite.

In all mankind there is that which knows.  Life is not revealed by building up layer upon layer of stored information.  This becomes knowledge.  Knowledge is information made static.  Life is revealed by ‘knowing’.  ‘Knowing is information in movement, kept free, spontaneous.  Science has a fixation on knowledge, particularly that which is compatible with sense perception.”  (Michael Roads, in “Talking with Nature”).

In our educational systems too much time is dedicated to accumulating information and following other people’s minds, and too little time is spent listening to what we hear internally.”  (Maurice Whelan, Sydney psychoanalyst).

Following on from these is the notion I heard in recent talks, not yet published, that at a deep level of “thinking”/being, humans are creative with creativity coming from a shared “field”.  (I hope that is a correct understanding of what was said).   I don’t just see this as a left brain/right brain dichotomy (though the part of the brain involved may be one manifestation of processes)….I think it is much deeper than that and gets to our essence, our core being, our spirit if you like.  My view is that if we are “in tune” with our essential being, we live with integrity, humility, care for the other (human and non-human) and creativity because all these are attributes of this core.  If we are coming from our essence, these qualities are lived and not ones we have tried to assume.  There is a vast difference.

This creative capacity and inner-being is mostly stifled by orthodoxy and the conformity required by groups/peers/society at large.  Education can itself stifle.  In this context, I wonder about some of the holistic management and related programs.  I have learnt much from these but do not like to see them viewed as some sort of fixed template…..we need to keep dynamics and the possible unknown in sight; templates have the habit/capacity to cause us to think we know it all and can become a new “holy grail”, later found to be lacking…..that is, they can also stifle movement and creativity.   In this context I see goals as sometimes needing to be general, rather than specific.

Ultimately, we (society) needs members, including farmers, who have access to their inner creativity and inner being, but also with the relevant knowledge with which they can work.

Providing information/knowledge is the relatively easy part for the AIEA though I would emphasize the need for landscape specific information, a need which is often ignored.  The difficult part is helping with access to inner being and creativity and what is for some, fundamentally psychic change.  This cannot be taught; people can only be helped to think differently, helped to attain insight into themselves and their own thinking/minds…..change which can be hard and cause insecurity.  This aspect needs handling with care.

What can the AIEA do in this regard?  This is an open question and one which also requires creativity.  My own thinking is that being with those who are already in touch with their deeper selves and who are creative, is in itself a catalyst for change.  The absence of orthodoxy and required conformity can of themselves help stimulate creativity and allow it to grow/flourish (though it is important not to confuse fantasy/delusion with creativity).  In other words, members of the AIEA and the way in which the AIEA functions, are role models and that is important in itself.

Consequently, I see a large component of the education role of the AIEA coming from the “being” of members and the AIEA entity, rather than formal instruction.  I see a role for workshops which stimulate creativity (music, literature and poetry, art), thinking and reflection.  Is it practical to organize the possibility of short-term work on the properties of others for experience…..more “in-depth” than just farm visits?  Conferences are fine but in my view need to be a whole experience, not just a presentation of information.  I suspect the Resurgence Trust would provide some interesting models.

Can ethics/ethical behaviour be taught?

In keeping with the above thoughts, I wonder how much ethics/ethical behaviour can be taught.  To me the issue is why we might not be behaving ethically……what is stopping or hindering that?  Behaving in a particular way because we are told it is “right”, rather than because it is inherently how we want to behave, in itself lacks integrity and leads to guilt and feelings of inadequacy.  Isn’t this where much organized religion has failed?  We all know of those who espouse one thing but their lives do not show it.  I have heard people claim they have humility, for example, in doing so demonstrating that they are not actually humble.

This is not to say that the concepts cannot be explored and benefits discussed.  I suspect though, that the biggest contributor to ethical behaviour will be if the AIEA has an ethical and co-operative culture embedded in it…..this is essential.

Addendum:  perhaps I should expand on my use of the word “creativity”.  I include in the term, thought arising from “the deeper levels” of a person, that is able to evaluate and link concepts and ideas in an independent and individual way……thoughts that have been “processed” by the mind and which are not just learned/reflexive responses and reactions.   I am not using “creativity” only in the narrower sense of artistic creativity, though I think it stems from the same place.

Rosemary Hook
Reid’s Flat, Cowra