To my fellow teachers,
I am writing this letter to tell you, if you haven’t heard already, that I am leaving my position as a secondary school teacher. My last day, after ten years, was 10th February and I want to explain why I have taken this decision.
I remember very clearly on the way to school in October 2018 reading the Guardian headline “Humanity has wiped out 60% of animal populations since 1970“. I was stopped in my tracks with this devastating information, and realised that although I was aware of climate breakdown from the 2018 IPCC report, and the massive problems with plastic pollution, this was what was meant by the Sixth Mass extinction. I remember sitting at lunch with two colleagues, the conversation was normal… football and politics, but it all seemed so pointless compared to this revelation. I needed to start a conversation about it, I needed to find a way to bring it to people’s attention, and I decided to redirect the conversation and tell colleagues what I had read.
I spent about a month in November 2018 walking around in a kind of daze. Greta had already started her Fridays For Future school strikes, Extinction Rebellion had formed and was preparing civil disobedience actions. The science was out there, the reports of climate breakdown and ecological collapse were occasionally hitting the headlines, but there was no reaction among people outside of the activists and journalists I already followed. Business as usual continued everywhere, including in secondary education. It became increasingly strange to me that schools, whose very existence is to educate future generations, were not reacting and sharing information about the most important issue humanity has ever faced. Our future is certain to include millions of climate refugees, devastating effects of climate and ecological breakdown at locations across the globe, it will not be “business as usual”. We need to prepare ourselves, and future generations, to cope with these problems, and ultimately solve them.
“I firmly believe that the multiple crises we are facing are symptoms of our pathological habit of understanding and experiencing ourselves as separate from nature, from each other, and from the community of life.”
I don’t know to what extent I can have a positive impact on reversing the ecological collapse, or delivering environmental education in a way that inspires and promotes behaviour change; I am one person among seven billion. But I know that my time is not usefully spent learning how to train students to get points on exams. I don’t believe that the formal education system has its priorities right, and I genuinely believe that students would learn more from a day in solitude in wild nature. I’m not the only one, these are quotes from Daniel Christian Wahl, PhD in his 2016 book “Designing Regenerative cultures”:
“Most university graduates are equipped with outdated knowledge and skills by the time they graduate. Overspecialisation has limited their capacity for integrative, lateral and holistic thinking.”
“Making time for solitude in wild nature helps us to have the largest conversation we are capable of having with the world.”
As the new decade started I realised that since our future depends on the health of ecosystems everywhere, putting my energy into regeneration and promoting living-systems thinking is what I should be doing. To have any chance of achieving the transformation which will prevent run-away feedback cycles and the loss of most life on Earth, we need to raise everyone’s ecological and social literacy. The formal education system I know is not placing enough emphasis on this. The time limit to make these changes is 10 years. Last year it was eleven years, and nothing close to the scale of necessary action has been taken since we knew that.
As well as joining Extinction Rebellion, the Boodaville Association is where I will be dedicating my time from now on. I founded the association in 2016 with colleagues from sustainability and permaculture backgrounds, after eight years slowly building up an eco-education project on land I own in the Matarranya. We are running projects implementing organic regenerative agriculture, and well-designed holistic forest management, which are practical solutions that have been identified as critically important. But the most important change, as identified in a 2012 UN report entitled “Resilient People, Resilient Planet“, is empowering people to make sustainable choices. This shift can be achieved by the right kind of education, which I now firmly believe needs to include time in forests and natural spaces.
In the future, or starting now, you all have the chance to be part of these solutions, or part of the social movements demanding action. Boodaville is a project about Permaculture, which is a word for ecological design, and I openly invite you to keep in touch with me and the work we are doing. With help from the EU we offer funded places for young people to learn in nature or to develop their own projects, and it would bring a genuine smile to my face to know that many of you think this is important as well.
At boodaville.org you can sign up to stay in touch with the project, please sign up! If any of you are feeling overwhelmed by the reality of the “sixth mass extinction” and “climate breakdown”, you are not alone. A starting point to deal with these issues is a Deep Adaptation group and at the Climate Psychology Alliance they offer support and counselling.
Wake up, fear less, love more.
Anna Louise Gurney