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Blaise Pascal, the 17th Century French mathematician and physicist, once wrote “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” As people and governments around the world are wondering whether or not to self-isolate to stop the spread of covid-19, Pascal’s adage has become more pertinent than ever.

As we grapple with our new world, I wanted to bring you a special episode of FreshEd. With me is Yaneer Bar-Yam, a physicist, systems scientist, and founding president of the New England Complex Systems Institute. Yaneer has spearheaded endcoronavirus.org, which aims to minimize the impact of Covid-19 by providing useful data and guidelines for action.

In our conversation, Yaneer discusses what different countries are doing in response to the virus and talks specifically about children and whether or not they should be in school.

Citation: Bar-Yam, Yaneer, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 192, podcast audio, March 17, 2020. https://www.freshedpodcast.com/bar-yam/

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Today we talk about powerful knowledge, a concept that has sparked a major debate about what should be taught in schools. My guest is Michael Young, a professor of Sociology of Curriculum at UCL’s Institute of Education.

Michael’s work in the sociology of education has been criticized by both the Right and the Left. That’s why I wanted to sit down with him to unpack what he even means by powerful knowledge and how it applies to schools. Where did the idea come from? How has his own thinking evolved over his career?

Michael Young has worked at the Institute of Education for over 50 years. A student of Basil Bernstein, he has had a major impact on the field of sociology of education since the publication of his first book, Knowledge and Control, in 1971. Much of our conversation today focuses on his 2008 book, Bringing Knowledge Back in.

Citation: Young, Michael, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 188, podcast audio, February 24, 2020. https://www.freshedpodcast.com/michaelyoung/

Will Brehm 2:14
Michael Young, welcome to FreshEd.

Michael Young 2:16
Thank you. I am very delighted to be involved.

Will Brehm 2:19
So, you have this idea of powerful knowledge and it, sort of, has taken on a life of its own, in many ways. Could you just define the concept of ‘powerful knowledge’? How would you tell a student, for instance, what this idea is?

Michael Young 2:34
I think that there would be many definitions, and what I can do is say something about the starting ideas that, in fact, led to it. And then, I suppose what I wanted to do when I came up with the idea, and I do not know if it is uniquely me … but there was … I was focusing more on educational research in sociology, and I thought that it was important that, in fact, we refocused how we approach questions about the curriculum in sociology. And so … I came up … I gave a talk at the Institute in about 2007, 2008, about the future direction of research. And … it … and I made this distinction, which I think is a very important one, between knowledge of the powerful, and powerful knowledge. And, on the whole, the sociological tradition has been to focus on knowledge … the curriculum, as knowledge of the powerful, and that comes from, basically, a left Marxist tradition, which basically sees the knowledge that people get access to as ideology, masking the nature of the societies that, in fact, they’re in.

Will Brehm 3:48
So, for instance, it would be the people in power who are writing the curriculum, writing the syllabi, writing the textbooks, their knowledge, their interests are being reproduced inside the curriculum. And that is the knowledge of the powerful.

Michael Young 4:02
And, in a sense, what the sociologists did was to expose this. And I felt that there was time … we had to stop. Because, actually, it was an oversimplification this… was… Although that knowledge of powerful ideas got some truth in it, it is also true that, in fact, people can get quite other kinds of things from being educated in a school system … university system … in a Western capitalist society. And, what they can get is access to if I call ‘powerful knowledge’. So, in a sense, there is a tension within education systems in capitalist society, on the one hand, wanting to perpetuate a particular social order, but also having an alternative … but … to give access to criticism of that social order. And this is an argument that, in fact, Basil Bernstein makes quite powerfully in his work.

Will Brehm 4:57
Right. So, what would be an example, in today’s world, of powerful knowledge, as you see it?

Michael Young 5:03
Johan Muller, who’s a colleague I work with from Cape Town, he and I decided … we had to try and write a paper, actually trying to answer that question. And, I think the important thing to say is that, in fact, and this is where Bernstein comes in, is that, in fact, the meaning of powerful knowledge depends on the … area … the field of knowledge you’re talking about. And, in a sense, there is a tendency for the model from the natural sciences, to be seen as a definitive one, across the whole of the field of knowledge. Because, unequivocally, if we think back to industrialization, the knowledge that is transformed the society is the scientific knowledge, and the increasing emphasis of the sciences, in industry, manufacturing, and so forth. But I am not wanting to negate that, but what is extremely important is to recognize that, in a sense, the knowledge fields are differentiated. And that, in fact, you have the social sciences, you have the humanities, you have the unity. And, I think the key thing … this is the point that Bernstein makes, which I think is quite useful, that, in fact, depending on which which field you’re in, knowledge progresses in different ways, new knowledge is developed in different ways … according to where …now in the natural sciences it’s developed through the process of greater generalization and abstraction. So that, in fact, Einstein incorporates Newton and all the nineteenth century, in his field … it does not mean that they were wrong, but they were partial. And Einstein provided a broader theory, quantum theory and so forth, is an attempt to combine those, and there is the endless attempt in physics, which is to bring, in a sense, relativity and quantum theory together.

Will Brehm 6:59
Right. So … so basically powerful knowledge, in a way, you’re saying, is that once you differentiate between fields or disciplines, there are different sort of traditions with in those disciplines that, sort of, legitimate …

Michael Young 7:12
Yes.

Will Brehm 7:12
… powerful knowledge. And, I think one of the words you use is ‘specialized …

Michael Young 7:16
Yes.

Will Brehm 7:17
… knowledge’. So, what is the difference between ‘specialized knowledge’ and say ‘non-specialized knowledge’?

Michael Young 7:22
Well, non-specialized knowledge is the knowledge that is developed without reflection in communities, and is valuable to make sense of the world that people grow up in. So there’s, in a sense, non-specialized knowledge, it’s about the streets you live in, whether there’s a shop here or there, what bus is going where they go, that’s everyday knowledge, as discussed, for instance, particularly by the psychologist Vygotsky, and indeed … it’s … Durkheim uses the term ‘profane knowledge’ for that … that … it’s … it’s knowledge of experience. I think the big difference between specialized … starting something … between specialized and non-specialized, is that it is knowledge from experience, or it is knowledge that goes beyond experience. And that, in fact, I quite often give the example that, in fact … a city … a young person in the city … knows quite a lot … has a lot of knowledge of the city that he or she has grown up in. And, at the age … depending … seven or eight or nine, he certainly meets a geography teacher. And, the geography teacher has specialized knowledge of cities, what happens to them, how they have changed, different parts of the city affect, in different kinds of ways. And, in a sense, you get what … the … some of the researchers say is a disruption, disruption between the specialized knowledge of a field like geography, which relies upon research, inquiry, debates, within its community, and the everyday knowledge, which is also about the city, urban geography or urban sociology, is about the city. So is the young boy growing up in the city …

Will Brehm 9:09
Or the black taxi driver’s knowledge …

Michael Young 9:11
That is right … taxi drivers … is knowledge indeed, yeah…yup, yup.

Will Brehm 9:15
But that would be everyday knowledge.

Michael Young 9:16
That would be everyday knowledge, yes indeed.

Will Brehm 9:17
That would be the profane to use Durkheim’s word.

Michael Young 9:20
Yeah, yeah …that … But, in a sense, the interesting thing is that there is also a difference between codified and uncodified knowledge…

Will Brehm 9:30
Meaning?

Michael Young 9:31
… and, in a sense, specialized knowledge means that, in fact, it is more than just organizing knowledge … I mean … the taxi driver’s knowledge is codified, so you can test them, do they know it? – and so forth. But it is not specialized. In the sense that it never progresses, you just have to keep up with what’s going on when the new roads are built, and so forth. And, in a sense, it is different from … the … the person who lives in an area who has uncodified knowledge about the names of the streets, and the pubs, and the shops, and things like that …

Will Brehm 10:07
Right, exactly, exactly. Okay. Now … I mean … you know, the specialized/non-specialized knowledge, it seems like it is a dichotomy that might be too absolute, in a way. Would you … you know … is there some gray area where there could be types of powerful knowledge that is both specialized and non-specialized?

Michael Young 10:25
I think that in a modern industrial society, these categories … I mean … to use the term that the great German sociologist Max Weber uses, ‘ideal types’, they are not descriptions, and therefore, somebody’s knowledge will always have bits of specialized and bits of unspecialized, but when you move, say, from everyday knowledge of a city to a geography teacher, then you get a focus and a specialization that is focused. It does not mean that you throw out the unspecialized knowledge, but it is a different way of thinking. And, in that sense …it is a … students find it difficult to make that step.

Will Brehm 11:07
So … so … okay. So, we have knowledge that is specialized, we have knowledge that is unspecialized as ideal types, and then we still have this knowledge of the powerful. And would that … be … that sort of fits into specialized and non-specialized as well.

Michael Young 11:22
The knowledge of the powerful is a way of thinking about specialized knowledge. Whereas powerful knowledge is another way of thinking about specialized knowledge. Because, in a sense, if you’re approaching it from the point of view of knowledge of the powerful, you focus on ideological assumptions, you focus on who has the knowledge, what interests does it protect? – and so for those kind of things, so it’s not so much … so it’s a question of how you think about it, rather than that.

Will Brehm 11:53
Right, right. Okay. And so, I mean, we have spent a lot of time talking about knowledge. What about the word ‘powerful’, like, how are you conceptualizing the very idea of power?

Michael Young 12:02
I think it is … quite … it is an important point. Johan Muller and I, we wrote a paper in ‘The Curriculum Journal’ last year, which, in fact, revisits the question of power. Because we realized that, in a sense, and particularly important for education, that, in fact, for instance, you come across new literature or new sciences then, in a sense, on the one hand, that is powerful knowledge, but it also has powers through knowing it, and therefore, what we realized was that, in a sense, power can either mean … can mean power over, it also means power to do certain things, to think certain things. So, in a sense, power has always got those dimensions. And the problem was, to some extent … is what sociology’s emphasized, it is always the power of domination. Because it is a very powerful, it’s a very significant factor, in societies, the domination of knowledge. But it tends to neglect the fact that, in fact, students, from whatever social class, can actually acquire knowledge that empowers them. So that, in a sense, somebody like Paulo Freire is talking about the emancipatory potential of knowledge. Whereas, in fact, somebody like Althusser and Bourdieu is talking about dominating power of knowledge.

Will Brehm 13:29
Right. Okay.

Michael Young 13:29
So, there are two very, very different notions of knowledge.

Will Brehm 13:32
Yeah, very different notions …

Michael Young 13:34
That makes it a complex issue for students actually studying and thinking about it. They want to see it as simple, that either it is power over or it is power to …

Will Brehm 13:44
Right…

Michael Young 13:45
…never.

Will Brehm 13:46
And it is both …

Michael Young 13:47
And it is both…

Will Brehm 13:47
… at the same time.

Michael Young 13:48
Yeah, at the same time, yes …

Will Brehm 13:49
…and that is difficult to then unpack …

Michael Young 13:51
… and this is somethings that is always true …

Will Brehm 13:53
Right …

Michael Young 13:53
… about social …

Will Brehm 13:54
Right …

Michael Young 13:54
… organization.

Will Brehm 13:56
And so, would all specialized knowledge be powerful?

Michael Young 14:00
Would all specialized knowledge be powerful? Again, it depends. The reason why people specialize is to further knowledge and, in a sense, to make it, generate new ideas, extend their imagination about the world, or make predictions more powerful. So that the purpose of specialization is always to increase the power. I think that … but on the other hand, for instance, if you take the Gnostic knowledge of physicists, about the nature of the atom, then that, actually, can lead to Hiroshima. As much as it can lead to a way of producing energy.

Will Brehm 14:44
Right, right … so …

Michael Young 14:45
And so, it is not so much whether it is always powerful, but it’s powerful with different consequences.

Will Brehm 14:52
And in different times. So …

Michael Young 14:53
Yah, yah …

Will Brehm 14:53
… so, at one time, it …

Michael Young 14:54
Yah, yah …

Will Brehm 14:54
…it can be a domination over …

Michael Young 14:56
…that’s right …

Will Brehm 14:56
… certain people, and other times it can be …

Michael Young 14:58
… and you cannot really, you cannot really escape that …  we have the dramatic case of it now about artificial intelligence, it’s actually incredibly productive, the things it can enable us to do, but also it has very, very negative consequences as well, as we know from, you know, the Cambridge Analytica project, and all those kind of things.

Will Brehm 15:19
Exactly. And I guess this is where some issues of politics come in, because then there has to be choices that are made … by how these, sort of, new knowledge in different fields gets applied to society or applied in society, right? So …

Michael Young 15:33
But it is a most tricky issue for politics …

Will Brehm 15:36
Oh, of course …

Michael Young 15:36
… because, in a sense, it is not unambiguous right …ly … right … or left.

Will Brehm 15:42
Exactly. Right. And there is, yeah, exactly …

Michael Young 15:44
People want to find things …of, you know, that the Labour Party can go in for or the Conservative Party, but it is not like that …

Will Brehm 15:50
Right…

Michael Young 15:51
…knowledge is not like that.

Will Brehm 15:52
Right. So, I mean, this, sort of, brings up this idea of, you know, what is truth? And we, sort of, live in this moment of ‘fake news’. And where journalism is, sort of, you know, they feel the need to present both side ism. So, in every article there is, you know, here is what one person says, but we also have the opposite take by this other group with that has other interests. Do you think that powerful knowledge, this idea that we’ve been talking about, can actually help, you know, societies today, sort of, get over or get through this idea of ‘fake news’ and where truth is relative and anyone can have as many different truths as we can count?

Michael Young 16:32
I think the notion of … there are two things need to be clarified there, I think. One is that, in fact, there is a difference between, if you are like, I cannot think of quite the right term, the difference between absolute truth, and with something more like procedural truth. I mean, there is … and, in a sense, I would use the term for procedural truth, better knowledge rather than, in fact, another version of truth. There’s always better knowledge knowledge. And that takes you back to the fact that there’s better knowledge in different disciplines, there is better plays, better films. And then the reason … what ‘better’ means is that you can get the background, the argument, the evidence, and, so forth, for why you claim to be better. And it is very, very important that, in fact, school education, in particular, actually focuses on better knowledge.

Will Brehm 17:25
So, isn’t one person’s idea of ‘better’ different from another’s?

Michael Young 17:29
Well, it’s potentially better, but, in a sense …one of the things that schools try to do is to give students access to the specialized communities who spend their life on trying to clarify the better knowledge, and that gives the historians … they don’t have an answer, you know, anybody can have a view about the origins of the American War of Independence or whatever, but what historians do can document you, what happened and why, and the arguments that they can make. And, in a sense … and therefore we turn to them, but we do not turn to them for an absolute truth, we turned to them because, in fact, what … the way that the …the issue … I would say the way … it is important for everybody to be thinking about knowledge, not necessarily about powerful knowledge, that is not always that helpful.

Will Brehm 18:25
Right.

Michael Young 18:26
But, in a sense, if they think about powerful knowledge, they will realize that they are involved in some judgment, but there are limits to their judgment, because of specialization. I cannot make a judgement about some technical thing involved in artificial intelligence. But I can make some broader judgments about what assumptions about intelligence the AI people are making, because I am, you know, that is what philosophers and sociologists do. So, there is a question of where your own specialization applies.

Will Brehm 19:00
So, you know, it is interesting this idea of trying to, you know, view specialized knowledge, or view powerful knowledge within specialized fields, within specialized disciplines. Because, at the same time, in higher education, we hear a lot about trying to be cross-disciplinary, transdisciplinary, trying to not simply work within single disciplines, but work across disciplines, to get at certain issues that don’t fall neatly in one area, right? So, for instance, one example that I can think of is climate change, right? Because that obviously has issues that not only impact, you know, environmental studies and physics and, you know, but also sociology, also technology. So how, you know, how do you understand or how can cross-disciplinary thinking fit within ideas of powerful knowledge?

Michael Young 19:50
Climate change, I mean, I’m not a geographer, but climate change is a very interesting example, because there was a debate about whether, in fact, climate change should be introduced or not … and it’s … in the primary school. And some people thought it should because it is relevant, and practical, and happening every day. I would make the argument that, in fact, that is fine but, if you do not really know what climate is, then to think about the consequences of climate change is absurd. So, I would take the view that, in a sense, the starting assumption of schooling is to focus on, if you like, disciplines, which provide you with the intellectual basis for being transdisciplinary. And, I would not introduce, I mean, certainly I used to teach chemistry, as a schoolteacher, and I used to feel much happier … I often had to teach physics and biology, but I did not know much, but I did not feel that I was such a good teacher then. Whereas, I knew my subject, and that’s why people could basically get excited about it, if I taught them, and also, they could learn. So, I think that, in fact, it is very important to see the interrelationships between the discipline, or the subject, and the interdisciplinary inquiry. Because, of course, you look at the, for instance, UCL’s range of research, a lot of it is interdisciplinary. But the people who work in interdisciplinary fields have a strong background in some discipline or other.

Will Brehm 21:28
Right, so they are, you know, you need to specialize in a particular knowledge tradition. But then you also have to have the skills to be able to talk to people and work with people in other disciplines.

Michael Young 21:38
But I think that what’s really important there is, particularly at the school level, it’s slightly different, but has similarities to the university level, is that, in fact, what a subject… cause we … in England anyhow we tend to talk about subjects in schools, disciplines in universities, very crude distinction, but nevertheless. And that … what’s … what’s very important, I think, is that, in fact, if you come to school, from your everyday knowledge, a subject gives you a sense of your identity as a learner, of whether you’re progressing, what’s better knowledge and what less good, and in a sense, it provides an important resource for you. Because, and also, at some point or rather, you may come across the boundaries of the subjects, and then you know … what … what you can speak about, and what, in fact, you need to inquire or talk to colleagues in other subjects, and so forth. So … I think … I think the boundaries between subjects have a very important role for the progress of learners.

Will Brehm 22:39
Right.

Michael Young 22:40
And we have gone against that. I mean, I now find… I don’t teach Masters courses, as I used to, but what I used to find was that, in fact, the disciplines had got broken up, and there were these interdisciplinary modules, and I would have 20 or 30 students, and some of them have never done any sociology before, some of them had done lots. And that is not the best context …

Will Brehm 23:05
Right …

Michael Young 23:05
…for taking them on …

Will Brehm 23:06
… because how do you teach …

Michael Young 23:08
Yah…

Will Brehm 23:08
… such a diverse group of students?

Michael Young 23:09
And I am not sure you do. You see, I think that … they … they would be better to have done some courses in sociology or economics and psychology …

Will Brehm 23:17
… before moving up to

Michael Young 23:19
… then move up …

Will Brehm 23:19
Right, right. I mean … so … and going back to this issue of climate change, so before you can learn about … the … what’s happening in climate change in a cross-disciplinary way, you need to have the … real … good foundation of what climate is.

Michael Young 23:32
And it is quite an abstract concept ‘climate’…

Will Brehm 23:33
It sure is, yeah, yeah…

Michael Young 23:34
Yeah, I mean, like weather, and all these things, yeah…and… yeah …

Will Brehm 23:39
… and climate is not weather, it is … not …

Michael Young 23:40
… no, no, it is not … exactly. And, that is important, you know…

Will Brehm 23:43
So, what then do you think of someone like Greta Thunberg? You know … this … she’s the 16-17 year old that is making all of these speeches and, sort of, leading a massive social movement across the world to get politicians to address the issue of climate change or what … what … she calls the climate crisis. Like, is she working in powerful knowledge? Or, is this more of the everyday knowledge? Like … how would you … How would you understand the phenomenon of Greta Thunberg?

Michael Young 24:12
Well, it is good question, actually. I mean, she is obviously a very bright and thoughtful girl, no question about it. And, she is thought a lot about the issues, and so forth. But … I think … I do not think she is so much a leader; I think she is being used. And, I do not use that negatively. But then people think if we can show that there’s somebody of her age, we’ve got these things, she represents something, they may convince some people that, in fact, another academic, who really knows about it, who has the specialized knowledge, which she doesn’t have, she’s got a concern, and, I think, we can respect that. But I think she is being used as a …sort of … rather like that extraordinary Pakistani girl, Malala.

Will Brehm 24:59
Yeah, yeah …

Michael Young 25:00
I mean, she got used, you know, got the Nobel Prize, not because, in one sense, she deserved it, but to symbolize something that she stood for, was the, kind of, courage and bravery … and it … kind of … concerned about … and I think they’re very much the same. And I am sure that Greta will get some kind of Nobel prize, at some point, just because, in fact, for a 16-year-old to do that everybody thinks it’s wonderful. They cannot really criticize because she’s only 16…

Will Brehm 25:26
Right…

Michael Young 25:27
But I do not think … it is not the knowledge …that’s the important thing, it’s a symbol of the young girl.

Will Brehm 25:33
I think one of the things that’s so powerful about Greta is her ability to take specialized knowledge in the research literature, in diverse fields that focus on climate and climate change, and say them in ways that are so easily understood by people, from politicians to, you know, other schoolchildren, but also to adults, right? Who aren’t in that specialized knowledge? So, she is almost … I see her almost as translating this specialized knowledge into, sort of, everyday knowledge, and it’s become popularized, in a way, where now there’s, sort of, this common language, you know, even the idea of calling it the climate crisis, rather than climate change, you know, in many ways that discursive change … is … or linguistic change … is to her credit.

Michael Young 26:18
Yeah, no … but it might have been an adult, it could have been somebody else…

Will Brehm 26:22
Right…

Michael Young 26:22
But, in fact, it is symbolic that it is not an adult …

Will Brehm 26:25
…Right …

Michael Young 26:25
…and therefore, people, in a way, have to listen to it … I do not think she is done a massive amount of reading …

Will Brehm 26:32
… I, see, I actually think she has …

Michael Young 26:33
…well, she is obviously done… more than most 16-year olds, but I, in a sense, I think it is less… I mean, I agree with you that her ability to articulate, and to express, in accessible lang … is admirable. It is almost as if she is a specialist in communication, rather than in climate knowledge …

Will Brehm 26:53
…Yeah …Yeah, right … I mean, that’s … yeah … that is a good point, because she really is capable of talking about some of these complex issues …

Michael Young 27:00
But I think it is her as the symbol, rather than just what she says.

Will Brehm 27:06
Yeah, it is complex, you are, sort of, becoming multiple things, right? As she is gaining more and more famous … and … you know, her face is known all over the world. So, you know … in … I read a little bit about your history before coming into this interview. And it is quite striking that … I learned that … in … when you were a young lecturer, I think about probably the same age I am now, in the same Institute, you wrote a book called ‘Knowledge and Control’ …

Michael Young 27:33
That is right …

Will Brehm 27:34
… which was very much about how knowledge or school knowledge is socially constructed to … basic … to privilege the ruling classes, those with power, and disadvantage the workers. Fast forward 50 years, we are beginning to, sort of … a … you know … in this conversation today, we’re not really talking about the social construction of knowledge anymore. You are talking about powerful knowledge. These disciplinary knowledges …

Michael Young 27:59
I mean … I realized that, in a sense, the development of … First of all, I think that, in a sense, unless you … … unless you’re a very religious person, social construction is a rather banal notion that is true. That all knowledge is humanly constructed by groups of people in particular contexts. And what is important to say about that is that, I think, is that one of the things that is continued to … is that therefore, it is also always potentially accessible to anyone. Because it’s a human thing, it’s not, you know, it’s not God, you know, it’s not the universe or something like that, and, or some divine being or creator, or anything like that. And I think that was … but if you follow through the social construction, you end up by saying … focusing only on the social  … and … and therefore, on the whole, on par, and true knowledge is a knowledge that the powerful have, you get to knowledge of the powerful. And, you do not actually get to any understanding of knowledge, the knowledge itself disappears. Because it is all social. It is kind of a … it is a, kind of, sociological imperialism…

Will Brehm 29:10
Yeah. Right.

Michael Young 29:11
… because … and it’s interesting that, in fact, you know, Marx, who was the first social constructivist, if you like, I mean, he had this notion of post the revolution, something more like primitive communism, where everybody was able to do everything. Now, I think that is a mistake … he was an anti-specialization person. And so, I think, I realized, and I suppose I got a lot of flak, for the first time, not the only time in my life, a lot of flak from the academics, and people, about social constructivism … and rightly, but I want to hold on to the fact that it’s still got an element of truth, just, we tend to convert it into the whole truth. And, that was … I think … that … that was what was misleading. So, and I think I particularly … what was important for me was … in … in the early 90s, I went … I spent a lot of time in South Africa, as a kind of consultant with the Democratic Movement on developing a new education system, because obviously, they were just about to abolish apartheid, which was, in a sense, determined their education … so now what were they were going to do? And, the only theory I had at the time was a socially constructed theory, which basically said, basically, you should let everyone be free to construct their own knowledge. And, in fact, because that is what people used to …flag … wave a flag saying, knowledge is a social construct. But, of course, the poor teachers have not a clue. They were there in the schools and what on earth did they do? And, in a sense, there was chaos in the schools. And, in a sense … and what I have been doing ever since is trying to recover from that idea, to realize that there is actually something real about the world. This is why social realism comes, there’s something real about the world. We do not just social construct, as we will, we social construct an external world, whether it is social or material, or whatever … and we try and improve our understanding of that … material … of that world. And I … then … and then I went back, and I came across Durkheim, and I reread Durkheim, who I read and misunderstood when I was an undergraduate. And, and he was the starting point for me, and the influence of Bernstein as well. And indeed, Vygotsky. So, I looked for an alternative. And, in a sense, ‘Bringing Knowledge Back In’ … the book is a, kind of, conclusion. But it is not a conclusion, it does not solve the problem, it just says ‘here is a way of thinking that is much better than the way we’ve had before’. And then … that social realism, but, in fact, that requires you to accept the importance of specialization, to accept the importance of an external world, to accept the importance … you never have the absolute truth. You are always trying to improve it. I mean, the people in quantum physics are trying to improve quantum physics…. to make it a more adequate account of, you know, of the atom …

Will Brehm 32:06
So, from social constructivism to social realism, and now you are bringing knowledge back in in your working … where to next?

Michael Young 32:16
Well, I mean, I think that the … when we came to powerful knowledge, and the idea that there is better knowledge, and that that should be the basis for the curriculum, for all pupils, because in England, as you probably know, and probably is the same in the States, we had a kind of diversified model of knowledge that, in fact, for the kids who appeared to be in quotes, not ‘academic’, you would give them something more like everyday knowledge. And, of course, that actually kept perpetuating the inequalities for them. So, in a sense, so the … the … thing that I am focusing on now, primarily, is that, in fact, the curriculum is about stipulating the best knowledge, right? And that is fine. I think you can do that, but if you are thinking about education … that, in fact, the educational problem is the stipulation and the de-transmission problem. And that, in a sense, because you cannot transmit the knowledge that is produced by researchers, there has to be … Bernstein called ‘recontextualization’ of that, and which involves the relationship between the teacher and the pupil. And that, in fact, if you don’t do that, and you think it’s only the curriculum and stipulation, then … you … you get a curriculum, which involves expecting people to mug up to memorize, to reproduce, you don’t actually give them an access to knowledge, which is about changing their thinking. You do not.

Will Brehm 33:47
Well, Michael Young, thank you so much for joining FreshEd, really a pleasure to talk today. Thank you very much.

Michael Young 33:53
Not at all. I have enjoyed the discussion.

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Today we review the field of comparative and international education for 2019. With me for the last show of the year are Susan Robertson and Roger Dale, co-editors of the journal Globalisation, Societies and Education

In our conversation, we touch on many topics, including the rise of global populism, the power of youth, and the impending climate crisis.  The end of the second decade of the 21st century was a watershed year in many respects. What were the big events and ideas and where are we headed in 2020?

Susan and Roger also make a big announcement at the end of the show. So stay tuned until the end!

Susan Robertson is a Professor of Sociology of Education at the University of Cambridge, and Roger Dale is Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Bristol.

School students all over the globe have declared a “Climate Emergency.” For some time now, youth have been striking for immediate and effective action to stop global warming and secure the habitability of our planet. Greta Thunberg is perhaps the most recognizable student protesting. You’ve probably seen her moving speech at the United Nations last month.

In the context where students skip school to protest, what role do teachers play? More broadly, what is the role of education in times of climate crisis?

One group of university professors and activists have thought deeply about these questions. They have recently launched a “Call to Action” for educators, asking signatories to transform their pedagogies and curricula, realign research agendas, and reformulate policy frameworks – all in line with the climate crisis and other environmental challenges. In short, signatories are asked to voice their concerns any way they can in their professional work in and outside the classroom.

By early November, almost 2,000 educators signed the Call to Action.

Today’s show takes you behind the scenes of this Call to Action, connecting the student protests and the climate crisis to the Sustainable Development Goals and Global Learning Metrics.

(Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/s/photos/climate-change)

Sign the call to action here: https://educators-for-climate-action.org/petition/

 

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Kailash Satyarthi won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize for his activism for children’s rights and education. He has been at the forefront of creating and leading global change against child labor and child slavery.

Today I speak with Kailash about his activism and the power of civil disobedience. In the context of the global climate crisis, what can we learn from Kailash’s experiences? Is there a way to mobilize humanity to fight against climate change similar to the way in which he organized hundreds of thousands of people to fight against child labor?

Kailash Satyarthi is a Children’s Rights Activist and Nobel Peace Laureate.

Teaching is a profession that must respond to the changing social world. From new technology and curriculum reforms to privatization and climate change – teachers are on the front-lines of a complex system that has huge consequences for the future.  In this context, what is it like to be a teacher today? How do teachers manage the competing pressures?

My guest today is  Armand Doucet, an award-winning teacher recognized around the world. Nominated in the Top 50 for the Global Teacher Prize, Armand is a high school history teacher in New Brunswick, Canada and the author of the new book Teaching Life: Our Calling, Our Choices, Our Challenges.

Citation: Doucet, Armand, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 170, podcast audio, September 2, 2019. https://www.freshedpodcast.com/armanddoucet/

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Unions are on the front lines of advocating human rights. That puts them in natural collaboration with non-governmental organizations doing the same. Amnesty International is one such NGO that has strong ties to global trade unions.

Today I speak with Shane Enright(@ShaneEnrightTU), a Workers’ rights campaigner and global trade union adviser at Amnesty International. He recounts various campaigns organized by Amnesty that have tried to pressure governments to release some teachers held prison. He also talks about climate change and the September 20th general strike.

Citation: Enright, Shane, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 169, podcast audio, August 26, 2019. https://www.freshedpodcast.com/shaneenright/

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How does change happen? What role do unions play in creating decent quality lives for its members? When is more militant action needed?

These questions are asked by all unions. So, in our quest to explore education unions in more depth, I want to explore how transport unions answer these questions. In many ways, the struggles facing teacher unions worldwide are similar to those facing the transport sector.

My guest today is Stephen Cotton, the general secretary of the International Transport Workers’ Federation. The ITF is composed of 677 national trade unions and represents over 19 million workers in 149 countries. It represents the seafaring, ports, roads, rail, tourism and aviation sectors. In our conversation, Stephen shares his history in trade unionism and reflects on the process of making change. He also talks about the climate crisis as one of the biggest issues facing unions today.

Citation: Cotton, Stephen, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 168, podcast audio, August 19, 2019. https://www.freshedpodcast.com/stephencotton/

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Education International is the global federation of teacher unions, representing some 32 million teachers worldwide. Every four years EI, as it is commonly known, holds a World Congress to determine its policies, principles, programs, and budget for the future. It is also where the President, Vice Presidents and General Secretary are elected to new terms. The World Congress this year was composed of some 1,400 delegates nominated by and representing member organizations.

I had the privilege of attending EI’s World Congress where I met and interviewed people from around the world. Over the next 2 months, FreshEd will air some of my conversations. My hope is that these interviews will show unions in their complexity. Profoundly democratic, unions struggle to figure out how best to address the biggest issues facing the world today in ways that have material consequences for the lives of teachers and students.

But unions are often misunderstood. Right-wing politicians and capitalist elites have systematically tried to destroy the labor movement for decades. These attacks on unions have decreased union membership, lowered public opinion, and even found union leaders and members harassed, imprisoned, and – in the most extreme cases — killed. I actually met some teacher union members at the World Congress who recently got out of prison. Fearing for their safety, these members could not join me for an interview, but their stories stick with me.

So to kick off our mini-series focused on the big issues facing education unions today and into the future, I begin with a two-part show. The first part is a short interview with Susan Hopgood, president of Education International and  Federal Secretary of the Australian Education Union (AEU). She explains what the world Congress is and some of the big issues being discussed.

In the second part, I interview Sharan Burrow, the General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, which represents some 207 million workers in 163 countries and territories.

Citation: Hopgood, Susan & Burrow, Sharon, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 166, podcast audio, August 5, 2019. https://www.freshedpodcast.com/susanhopgood-sharanburrow/

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Climate change and its effects aren’t some future possibilities waiting to happen unless we take action today. No. The effect of climate change is already occurring. Today. Right now. Around the world, people have been displaced, fell ill, or died because of the globe’s changing climate. These effects are uneven: Some countries and classes of people are more affected by global warming than others. Still, the United Nations estimates that catastrophic consequences from climate change are only a decade away. That’s the year 2029. [Editor’s note: The IPCC report is from 2018 and gave a 12-year prediction, so it should read 2030, not 2029.]

What is the role of education policy in an era of detrimental climate change?

My guest today is Marcia McKenzie, a professor in the Department of Educational Foundations at the University of Saskatchewan and director of the Sustainability Education Research Institute. She recently has been awarded a grant to research UN policy programs in relation to climate change education and in June will release a report for the United Nations that reviews country progress on climate change education and education for sustainable development.

In our conversation, we talk about what countries are doing or not doing in terms of education and sustainability, and we reflect on some of the existential questions that climate change brings to the fore.

Citation: McKenzie, Marcia, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 154, podcast audio, May 13, 2019. https://www.freshedpodcast.com/mckenzie/

Will Brehm  2:24
So, Marcia Mckenzie, welcome to FreshEd.

Marcia McKenzie  2:26
Thank you very much. Great to be talking with you.

Will Brehm  2:27
So, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change -which is a UN body, the IPCC I think, is the acronym- says that there is a decade left to make significant changes to avoid catastrophic consequences from climate change itself. So what role do you think education plays in mitigating some of these catastrophic consequences from climate change that the IPCC says might happen in 10 years? I mean, that is 2030.

Marcia McKenzie  3:00
Yeah. Well, I don’t know if you’re familiar with David Suzuki, a Canadian environmentalist who created his foundation decades ago, and he says now if he knew how long it was going to take us to take action, he would have got into education much earlier. So, yeah, and when we see that the problems with climate change, it’s not because we don’t have the scientific understanding of what’s happening. It’s not that we don’t have the technical ability to move to other energy forms and address climate change and mitigate still the worst of its impacts, but we don’t. We’re not taking the action that’s needed because we lack the will, you know, socially and culturally and politically. So, I think that is the role of education in terms of as the UNFCCC, which was the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which was signed back in 1992. With all the different member parties that meets every year at the COP [Conference of the Parties] meetings. And there is a commitment to education, training and public awareness that’s in that agreement that member parties to UNFCCC have signed on to but, because we don’t have a lot of research on it, you know, any data, we don’t even really have a good understanding of what makes good climate change education, we haven’t been doing as much as we can be or could be. And yet, there’s this recognition and even in that, that 2018 IPCC report, the recognition that we really need to be doing a better job of education in order to have people pushing for the change we need, right?

Will Brehm  4:47
So basically, you’re saying that everyone recognizes education is like, deeply important, but we: one, we don’t know exactly what all these different countries are doing. And two: we don’t know what actually makes good education, for, or about climate change to mitigate some of these solutions. So, I mean, and we have 10 years before…that seems like a pretty big challenge. What do we do first? Is the first step to just sort of get an understanding of what’s happening around the world and all countries that are signatory to that convention?

Marcia McKenzie  5:21
Well, I think both can be done in conjunction. So there is quite a bit of good work and understanding in other disciplinary fields, say on the sociology of climate change denial, Kari Norgaard’s work, for example, where she talks about not just the, you know, what you might think of as denial in terms of saying, “No, climate change is not caused by humans”, or we don’t even agree it’s happening, but more of the subtle forms of denial that you and I and, you know, most listeners are probably engaged in where, yes, you know, climate change is happening, you know, that it’s being caused mostly by human activity. And yet because of the realities of does this mean the planets not going to be habitable for humans within a generation or two? And we don’t know how to take action, you know, people turn away from that. Right? So, she calls it implicatory denial where you are implicated in it, you don’t know what to do, you kind of live this double life.

Will Brehm  6:20
I understand that climate change happens but I’m still going to eat red meat, and fly to conferences, and buy a big SUV.

Marcia McKenzie  6:27
Exactly! And there’s other literature as well in anthropology, climate change, communication around the importance of framing such emotional issues in terms of cultural frames and priorities that are important for different groups, whether it’s a business community, a Christian religious community, or indigenous community. Candis Callison, who’s an anthropologist and Media Studies person has written about that as well in a really powerful way. So, I think we need to be bringing those insights that have been developing over the past decade or so in other fields more into education, and into both policy and practice. Because what we see right now a lot of what’s being done as climate change education, whether it’s in formal education, K-12, or higher education, or in science communication, for example, that governments may be doing and so on, is still there much just based on educating people on the science of climate change.

Will Brehm  7:29
Like it exists. Yeah.

Marcia McKenzie  7:30
And here’s how it works with the assumption that therefore people are going to be empowered to take action. But we know from longer histories of research and environmental education, as well as other fields that have looked at things like Holocaust education, when things are so emotional, so difficult that you really need to take those aspects on and wrap it into how we do education and not just teaching the science but actually look at ways to engage people in, “Yes, this is difficult and there is grief involved and there is loss” and how do you kind of wade through that, and engaging it so that we actually look at it rather than look away.

Will Brehm  8:15
It’s quite existential realizing we could be the last generation of human species and how then do you teach about it? I mean, it is totally emotional, it is totally devastating in a way and I mean, that connection to the Holocaust. I never made that connection, but I can see where educators might learn a lot from Holocaust education and other sort of genocide, conflict issues that people have to work through.

Marcia McKenzie  8:43
And I guess the second part you’re asking about in terms of looking at what different countries are doing. I think that is really key. And I’m hopeful. I don’t know if that is naive, maybe but because education is a commitment that member parties have signed on to in committing to it with the joining the UNFCCC framework. If we can develop better data and on what countries are doing and then use that to sort of leverage change. So, if you can say, “In Canada, we’re doing this in, you know, Sweden, they’re doing that, and you can kind of compare and contrast. So, who’s got it in their formal education system? And how are they doing it? Right. So, it’s going back to the first point, it’s not just is it there, but how is it being done? What’s the quality as well as the quantity and developing that data, which I mean, we have the capability to do that and a new study will be released later this year in a few months just developed that we did with UNESCO and the UNFCCC and it was an analysis of all the country submissions to the UNFCCC from 194 member countries to look at how they’re already talking about how they’re engaging in climate change education in those submissions, so that we can, by pulling that out of the submissions and looking at it together, then we can sort of set some here’s a baseline of where we’re at or where we’re at with our reporting, and where could we be next year or the year after through the COP process?

Will Brehm  10:25
Right. And so that is -it sounds like what you’re describing is using some sort of evidence, global evidence, comparable evidence from all different countries involved in the UN. But really, it being used as a political project to sort of force particular change. I mean, that is what it sounds like. It almost reminds me of PISA, you know using the sort of same test all over the world and, it has become very, very political and there’s plenty of research about that.

Marcia McKenzie  10:56
Yeah. And it’s kind of -because I consider myself a critical researcher, critical policy researcher and you know, a lot of the work done on large-scale assessment and testing is quite, you know, there’s a lot of skepticism and concern, and how do you compare across different countries and socio-economic considerations, and all these very complicated and fraught. And so, it’s kind of ironic, I guess, to be in the situation of thinking, well, here’s an issue where we’re running out of time, if there’s any chance that data can help us, then let’s mobilize that.

Will Brehm  11:32
Right. Any tool we can find, let’s use it.

Marcia McKenzie  11:34
Yea, exactly!

Will Brehm  11:35
So, what would worry you? In this sort of political project and getting this data, are there worries? Because, from a critical scholar, you look at other examples like PISA and sure, there’s plenty to be critical about PISA and I’ve had people on the show talk very critically about it. So, from your thinking through this climate change education or education about climate change and sustainability, what are the worries that you might have?

Marcia McKenzie  12:04
So yeah, I guess one of my concerns potentially with amassing that kind of global data is the way that these type of things can be used almost like branding on a product, you’d buy in the supermarket where it says it’s green, and then it’s sort of like guilt free shopping or whatever. But often there’s, we call it greenwashing because it’s not necessarily a sustainable product, or it’s much more complicated and things going on behind the scenes. So, I mean, that is a concern anytime you’re using data like this to kind of give gold stars or silver stars or you know, who’s doing it right. And where they kind of get off the hook, like, Okay, you got it there you say on paper that you’re doing it, therefore, that’s good enough. And what’s represented in a policy document doesn’t necessarily reflect what’s happening on the ground either. So, there are definite limitations to that type of assessment. I mean, anything that there is so far around education and sustainability more probably, at a global level of data collection is self-reported data. So, say that’s collected through UNESCO. Right now, there is some and that’s it’s being used in some of the indicators related to education and sustainability currently.

Will Brehm  13:19
So, there’s a validity issue?

Marcia McKenzie  13:21
There’s a validity issue. So yeah, I mean, at least something that’s not you know, it’s good to also have things that are not self-reported, as well as the self-reported options. But then, even better, would be finer grained analysis, like, comparative case studies at a global level that can help us also inform our understandings of what makes quality climate change education that is able to kind of empower and lead to changed action and that’s culturally appropriate in different settings.

Will Brehm  13:53
What sort of examples can you point to like currently that we know about of, you know, quote, unquote, good policy into action. You know, things happening on the ground in schools or in a country?

Marcia McKenzie  14:07
Well, in the research, and I should say I direct the Sustainability and Education Policy Network, which is a partnership of international researchers and organizations. And so, we’ve been doing research in Canada the last number of years -comparative research there- and also doing some other global projects. But looking at the Canadian example, you know, BC is somewhere that stands out for its action around climate change and other sustainability issues in both K-12, and formal education as well as more broadly. And so, there’s a number of things that lead into or I think, support that activity. I mean, one just culturally, it’s on the west coast. It’s got more of a cultural prioritization. That’s led to different things like provincial mandates for carbon action plans within schools and then we’ve got, say the City of Vancouver, it has a green mandate with the municipal politics. So, all these things kind of coalesce together so that you see stronger policy and curriculum at say the Ministry of Education level, which would be where the curriculum is developed for the province as well as different school division levels, as well as at the post-secondary institutions -like UBC is well known for its sustainability work. So yeah, and there’s great organizations there as well like the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, has a BC branch that has developed great climate justice curriculum that a lot of teachers are using in schools.

Will Brehm  15:56
So, there’s a lot of work happening in that part of Canada and it seems like its government, its non-governmental, schools are involved, cities are involved. They have the green mandate in Vancouver. How much of that is connected to the sustainable development goals of the UN? Right? I mean, so, you know, is that something that’s happening because they’re doing it for their own sort of political economic reasons in Western Canada? Or is it a response from, “Oh, the SDGs, are here and we have to meet them?”

Marcia McKenzie  16:34
Yeah, it’s an interesting question and one of the things I’m really interested in is policy mobility. So how these things like the SDGs, where do they come from? And then what impact do they have in different countries or different regions? And I think there’s a couple of different things that could factor into uptake of the SDGs or, you know, what effect they’ve had. One is, you hear about organizations or governments, who keep doing what they’re doing but they kind of orient it to the “flavor of the day” or whatever. So, I’ve talked to organizations that are like, “Well, you know, we were doing education for sustainable development. Now, we’re going to do SDGs, you know, that’s what we put on our grant applications. But we don’t -our programs don’t change, but”. So, I think, there’s some of that, but at the same time, I think the global policy programs do have a big effect. And in some places like my province, where I live in Canada, in Saskatchewan, we’ve seen absolutely the effect of the UNESCO Decade of Education for Sustainable Development-

Will Brehm  17:47
In what ways, like how does it manifest?

Marcia McKenzie  17:50
So, you know, in 2009, there was a Minister’s mandate around environment, conservation, and sustainability. So, they were recognizing, okay, we need to be doing more on this. We need to get it into the curriculum. And then they talked to folks next door in Manitoba, where they had been working with education for sustainable development and the Deputy Minister there, at the K-12 level was involved in the Council of Ministers of education, which is sort of a national advisory body of all the provincial ministries, and he had been seconded to UNESCO, so you see this kind of flow through of actually, Gerald Farthing was deputy minister at the time in Manitoba, and other folks as well that are back and forth between UNESCO Paris and the ESD section there and different Canadian places and this would be parallel in some other countries. But then you get the flow through so that the Ministry of Education in my province is talking to Manitoba, and suddenly they bring in the same folks to do the training of educational leaders and the school divisions across the province in ESD.

Will Brehm  18:58
There is a policy flow, and does it go back to UNESCO? Like does the lessons and experiences of the teachers who are getting this training and putting it into practice, get sort of that knowledge get picked up and somehow is mobile back through the channels to UNESCO to inform the SDGs and what they do in other countries or how they conceptualize what you know, quote unquote good practice is?

Marcia McKenzie  19:22
Yes, I think that is the case that there’s some of that. We just got some new funding to do a study of three UN policy programs that have a focus on climate change education and when we were -we did some initial pilot interviews for that and talking to folks from different countries that have been involved with UN programs. Before we really heard from them about how through UNESCO people coming -there’s someone from Southern Africa that we interviewed, who was involved in the environmental education and ESD work there and through UNESCO people coming- to their meetings, they were able to give feedback on what was working or not working. Or priorities in different Southern African countries and to feel like that was taken back to UNESCO and then shaped kind of later renditions of things. So, I think there is some of that for sure.

Will Brehm  20:18
Yeah. And then I mean, then you the UNESCO Secretariat would have to sort of leverage that knowledge to push other countries in ways. I mean, it’s a very political process. Really, you know, for me, and that’s what’s so fascinating is how UNESCO has to -its member driven but that Secretariat also has a very sort of clear political agenda. And we just hope that they’re doing right, and they’re going to be successful. And, you know, they have a lot of power behind the SDGs in a way.

Marcia McKenzie  20:50
Yeah, it’s very interesting and kind of who is at the table of deciding what these policy programs are going to be, and different countries that support different policy programs like ESD had its origins in Japan, and Japan’s very supportive of UNESCO and so yeah, there’s a lot of interesting politics.

Will Brehm  21:11
Yeah. I mean, when I read SDG 4.7, you know, I mean, it’s like this “catch-all” indicator, or sub-indicator, and you see that education for sustainable development, the ESD, which definitely comes from Japan, that’s where I live. And so, it’s a really, really, really big thing. But then in Korea, as Aaron Benavot was telling me, it’s all about global citizen education. So how do they fit together? You know do they fit together? Or is it just, we’re using this discourse to please two different nation-states?

Marcia McKenzie  21:43
Yeah, it’s very interesting. I mean, global citizenship kind of came along, after, in kind of the work of UNESCO from what I understand, but they are both under one division. So, there’s a section of ESD and a section of global citizenship and they work together as colleagues and there’s a lot of overlap obviously, depending how you understand education for sustainable development, but it does definitely have social aspects in there that would overlap with some of the global citizenship priorities. So, you know, in some other work we’ve been doing -for a report that will be launched in June as well -a 10 countries study and looking at focus on ESD and global citizenship education across the education policies and curricula of 10 countries. And so, you can kind of see through that process, where there’s overlap, and which countries may focus more on the environmental aspects versus the social and citizenship aspects, and I don’t know why. I’m interested to find out more about that, in terms of the politics of the different countries, but I don’t think I can comment on that.

Will Brehm  23:02
No worries. It’s just that it’s so fascinating to see how these different -because it is a member-state organization. So, the member states have a lot of power, but the Secretariat is sort of managing all of this and so the politics in that sort of global level is really quite fascinating. And I think, quite hidden as well. And, you know, it’s very hard unless you are at that table, it’s very hard to know what is actually happening.

Marcia McKenzie  23:25
And I think my sense is that the UNFCCC is even more, so you know, really sees itself or is understood as meant to be neutral and facilitating the process for member-states. But the priorities or motions need to come from the member states. So, in talking to Adriana Valenzuela who’s the education focal point for the UNFCCC about how great it would be if we could get education data on the negotiating table, and she’s like, Oh, that sounds great, but we can’t bring that forward. It would need to be a member-state. So, it’s almost like I would need to maybe work with Environment Climate Change Canada to bring it to the negotiating table to then see if we could get it there. Whereas I think this seems to be a little -UNESCO doesn’t have that same framework of the COP meetings and, you know, decision making in what’s going to be included and, you know, nationally determined contributions being put forward under the Paris Agreement and everything it’s much more kind of technical than the UNFCCC.

Will Brehm  24:31
Yeah, yeah, right. I mean, it’s really quite fascinating. As an academic, I keep thinking like it would be so great to do like an ethnography of that global process.

Marcia McKenzie  24:40
Well, that’s what we’re trying to do. And we just got the funding to do it as well.

Will Brehm  24:46
You’ll have to come back on and tell me about it once you end up doing it. One of the things that I struggle with, with the SDGs and thinking about education for sustainability or, you know, to reduce climate change is the inclusion of economic growth in the SDGs. It’s one of the SDGs. It’s seen as what countries should be maximizing -having more growth, which, you know, will put more carbon into the air, which will ultimately make climate change even worse into the future. And at the same time, including all these environmental sustainability goals of trying to make the world more sustainable. And for me, those are contradiction. And I don’t know how education for sustainability will square that contradiction.

Marcia McKenzie  25:41
Yeah, there’s been discussion of that for sure. Because you could be say, moving forward climate action while increasing gender disparity, you know, so kind of the conversation that you need to be moving them all forward, not some at the expense of others, but that’s so hard to do with 17 priorities and never mind all the you know, I think it’s 169 target under the 17 goals. But it’s the same problem that we’ve had with sustainability before that or say education for sustainable development which a lot of people see as having at least three pillars, as they’re often called, of the social, the economic, and the environmental and oftentimes people would, or still do, separate those three out. So, in my province where this is a priority that I’ve had superintendents tell me, “Well yea, we’ve got it in the curriculum now, we do it in our school division and so if you’re doing economy, social or environment, you can tick that you’re doing ESD. So, basically everything humans would be concerned with has something to do with the social, or the environment. So, you know, it becomes meaningless. So, I think it is a challenge for the SDGs even more so in a sense because at least with three pillars, you can say, Okay, these need to be nested and you can’t have economic prosperity if it’s harming the environment or harming the social. Environment is the biggest and then social then economy are nested together. Whereas the SDGs with 17, it’s much more complicated.

Will Brehm  27:21
It seems like we need to have different definitions. Like so of the economic, what does economic prosperity mean? To me, it seems like we need a new way to define that rather than GDP per capita, for instance. Right. I mean, because if that’s the goal, then we’re going to sacrifice all these other things that we say we care about.

Marcia McKenzie  27:44
Yeah, there was a presentation yesterday on the OECD and one of the folks that have worked there in the past was talking about how they’re just starting to look at well-being indexes and that would be great to see more countries go that way sooner rather than later.

Will Brehm  28:04
Yeah. I mean, are you an optimistic person? Like, do you think that in these 10 years that we’re now saying is sort of the critical moment. So, for 2020-2030, for instance, do you think the global community is really going to be able to radically alter its practices through education?

Marcia McKenzie  28:30
Yeah. I don’t know. It may be through other means. You know, it’s been really interesting the last few months to see the school climate strikes and you know, from starting with one person that fell on everyone’s kind of minds and hearts and suddenly people are out there all over the globe doing climate action strikes in schools and so I think it you know, it’s, I hope that that type of activity will just build as we’ve all got it kind of weighing on us, but no one feels like they can do enough on their own. Obviously, our governments aren’t taking.

Will Brehm  29:10
Yea a lot of governments say go back to school. Don’t strike!

Marcia McKenzie  29:13
Yeah, yeah, exactly. So, I think education is as part of that, you know, potentially. The more we can do the better to give more people the skills to feel they can take action and make change and have the knowledge that they need and to be able to work together and all those things, but I mean, within the time frames, realistically, it’s going to have to be other things as well. Some of those people that are educated, mobilizing a lot of other people. So yeah, I don’t know. And I think it’s also a question of, you know, we always talk about climate change mitigation and adaptation. Well, what does climate change adaptation education look like right?

Will Brehm  29:43
And what would that be adapting to? You know, flooding everywhere, two degrees hotter everywhere.

Marcia McKenzie  30:01
Yeah. So, I think part of the key to the mitigation part too probably is -because it’s such an emotional, difficult issue that we need to be facing the impacts and how people around the world are already being devastated by the weather effects related to climate change, and so on.

Will Brehm  30:23
Yeah, I mean, like, how do you prepare? I mean, there’s already countless deaths happening due to climate change, and climate migration is happening all over the place already. And it’s only going to get worse. There’s going to be more deaths caused by climate change. You know, hundreds of millions or billions I, you know, it’s probably pretty hard if you’re a demographer to sort of calculate that out. Yeah, but some percentage of that will be children. It’ll be a lot of children that will end up dying. And so, the question is, like, you know, climate change adaptation education, you know, how do you teach the ability to grieve for that large number of people? I don’t know. I mean, it’s sort of this is why for me, it becomes a sort of like, existential moment.

Marcia McKenzie  31:05
Yeah, I know, I know, I have a 13-year-old daughter and I don’t actually talk to her very much about my work in this area. I mean, I tell her I do research and work on sustainability and climate change education, but I don’t go on at length about the outlook. But -through the climate school strikes- she learned more through some of her friends and came home just a couple of weeks ago in tears, you know, writing, drawing in her journal that we only have 12 years left, why isn’t anyone doing anything? And you know, it’s intense.

Will Brehm  31:41
That’s powerful. That seems to be what is needed. You know that sort of powerful, emotional response. Like a cliff that’s in the distance, that we can see. It’s coming into view.

Marcia McKenzie  31:57
And we were talking about what’s needed and how we need to change lifestyles and our expectations. We were talking about, “what would it be like to move into apartment?” she’s like, “well, that’s not a problem. Like, I’d rather say let’s move into an apartment rather than, you know, half the planet or worse goes extinct”.

Will Brehm  32:17
Yeah. Right. You’re willing to sacrifice some sort of luxuries now, knowing that it actually could -that is sort of that change in attitude that we were talking about earlier. Like maybe I shouldn’t be eating meat all the time and I shouldn’t be flying around the world.

Marcia McKenzie  32:35
But I think it’s one thing for people in their 40s or 60s or 80s. You know, you can think oh, gosh, is it going to be really bad for our kids or grandkids generation? But it’s another thing for a child to look forward and say, am I going to be able to live out my full life or is it going to be just a nightmare before then.

Will Brehm  32:59
And is that sort of conversation happening at the global level? Because to me, that seems to be the most important conversation to be having.

Marcia McKenzie  33:07
It is.

Will Brehm  33:10
But it is it being reflected in some of these sort of, you know, the global meetings on climate change and sustainability. And, you know, what we can do? Is that even being like -it’s certainly not an indicator. In no way is it an indicator of the SDGs.

Marcia McKenzie  33:23
Yeah, I mean, I think people are aware, and, you know, it’s the underlying passion. Someone like Aaron Benavot, who was director of the GEM report, Global Education Monitoring report. And, the last GEM report that he did had a focus on sustainability and was really fantastic, but you can tell he’s got that passion in him. And for a lot of people that are doing this work, they have that in them. You know, we all have hypocrisies, or tradeoffs, but, you know, that is driven by that desire to do change. But sometimes when you get together at a meeting, then you kind of take that as an assumption and just move on to trying to move things forward.

Will Brehm  34:15
Well, Marcia Mckenzie, thank you so much for joining FreshEd. Please come back on when you have more of this ethnography of what’s happening at the global level.

Marcia McKenzie  34:24
Great. Thank you very much for having me. Great to meet you.

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