Educating for the Anthropocene: Trying to Climb Over the Obstacles

In previous blogs I have tried to summarize the transformation of the international educational system that is needed to accommodate the coming global shift to the Anthropocene (May 3, 2016):

The real point is that governing has reached a greater complexity than ever before. Governing bodies must consider global issues as well as local. They must set and implement policies that balance society’s safety and that of our physical environment. Such a feat necessitates considering multiple stories, setting priorities, and being aware of long-term consequences. It requires that scientists be involved in governance as well as that politicians be scientifically literate. For that, we need some major changes in our educational system to promote that sort of bilingualism.

Last week (May 24) I concentrated on the college where I teach: Brooklyn College of CUNY, and described some of the difficulties we’ve encountered while trying to actually implement such changes:

1.  An obscure pathway between graduation and job opportunities. The skillsets of being prepared to vote and operate within the coming Anthropocene are not yet marketable for job opportunities upon graduation. Nor do they provide clear pathways for advanced degrees. In many cases, attempts to correlate statistics of future job opportunities with the learned skills met with considerable amounts of skepticism.

2.  Credit requirements. The central premise of preparation for the demands of the emerging Anthropocene is becoming bilingual in the sciences and the social sciences. But sciences are much more vertical than social sciences. In other words, they require many more prerequisites. So a major that focuses on that bilingualism became a very large major. To graduate, students are required to take a certain number of credits (122 in Brooklyn College). A large major decreases students’ abilities to take elective courses outside their major and outside other requirements such as General Education.

My experience convinces me that the broader educational shift will at best be a halting transition with many more obstacles than the stuttering energy transition that I often talk about here.

The complications and difficulties arise because in the educational transition we not only face different opinions as to what the future will bring but also a sharp conflict between the roles of educational systems in preparing our children for the present and preparing them for the future. I gave my book (Climate Change: the Fork at the End of Now) a title that includes the word “now,” which I defined as the lifespan of my grandchildren; God willing, that will extend to the end of the century. The main job of the current educational system everywhere is to prepare the youngsters for the much shorter term version of “now” –the period immediately after graduation. When students and parents sense that there is a conflict between their long term and short term interests, they will always choose the short term.

Once I zoom out to global requirements, the obstacles become much more formidable than those I faced while trying to institute the educational transition within my school. The Anthropocene is a worldwide phenomenon; it has to be managed globally. This is especially true of changes to educational systems. Next week I will look at how educational systems everywhere directly correlate with resource distribution across the world. In communities that strive to feed their people, education is not a top priority.

Even if we neglect the huge disparity in resources available for education, the amount of knowledge necessary to understand the coming Anthropocene and help to guide its governance is very large and constantly growing. There is no way that students can master it all within the time period that we currently devote to education. Fortunately, this gloomy picture looks brighter when we consider technological developments: our educational experience need not be limited to the time that we spend in school. We can and should extend it throughout life.

Here is an example from my own activities:

At school I am in direct contact with about 120 students per week. On average, each of these undergraduate students spends about 3hrs/week with me. Adding in a few graduate students, we arrive at 500 student hours/week. This estimate is on the high side. I am being paid my salary for this activity. When we promote a faculty member (I serve on such a committee) the three elements that we consider are: teaching performance, research, and service. Most of the service is confined to college and departmental activities. We have a yearly prize for “community activity” but it doesn’t enter into the record for promotion – community in this case refers to anything outside of school and the college is not being paid to provide such activity.

I do realize that my responsibilities as an educator do not end with those tasks I am paid for. That is one reason behind my starting this blog; I want to share my expertise with the world. To that end, I pay a public relations office to publicize and edit the blog.

The statistics for the reach of this blog are given below:

Time Period Visitor Visits
Today: 244 1,525
Yesterday: 425 4,222
Last 7 Days (Week): 3,386 93,555
Last 30 Days (Month): 14,740 350,400
Last 365 Days (Year): 203,651 4,064,862
Total: 356,419 4,984,481

Since the blog is posted once a week, the number of visitors per posting is in the thousands. Of course, most of the visits to the blog are spambots that probably don’t read any of this, but compared to the 140 students that I teach regularly, there are plenty of exposure opportunities. I also make use of Facebook and Twitter to help spread my message.

Last week’s Facebook metrics:

Metric Last Week Previous Week Trend
Page Visits 18 8 ↑125.0%
Weekly Total Reach 269 83 ↑224.1%
People Engaged 13 5 ↑160.0%
Total Page Likes 107 98 ↑9.2%

My blog has had direct quotes featured on various platforms. I see this as an indication that not only are there actual people (not bots) reading, but my content is spreading successfully. Several of the links are posted on the sidebar. I have listed them below for your convenience:

I also integrate the blog into my teaching – both in terms of content and incorporating students’ comments.

CCF is obviously not alone. Statistics are hard to come by because the numbers change all the time, but recent figures counted almost 200 million blogs posted on the internet. They include any topic that one can dream of; likewise, their quality runs the gamut. Writing itself is one of the best available teaching tools. Almost all publications I know of have related blogs where readers can comment. Going through some of the comments (especially on unmoderated threads) can make one blush. Blogs are not edited textbooks so credentials and their verification are important when sourcing info but open platforms make such verification easier.

Blogs and their counterparts have global reach and are usually less limited (than traditional media) by local interests or censorship. They provide a context for bottom-up rather than top-down learning and teaching. Government agencies everywhere are becoming aware of the possibilities and resources that the internet offers. Hopefully they will use it to enhance future efforts to improve the world.

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About climatechangefork

Micha Tomkiewicz, Ph.D., is a professor of physics in the Department of Physics, Brooklyn College, the City University of New York. He is also a professor of physics and chemistry in the School for Graduate Studies of the City University of New York. In addition, he is the founding-director of the Environmental Studies Program at Brooklyn College as well as director of the Electrochemistry Institute at that same institution.
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