Pop-Up-Foundation – Preparing the Ground for Sustainable Living
Dr. Paul Clarke
Professor of Education, St Mary’s University College, Waldegrave Road, Strawberry Hill, London email: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you plan one year ahead, plant rice;
If you plan ten years ahead, plant trees;
If you plan a hundred years ahead,
educate the people.
This paper will argue that a curriculum for sustainability can only arise through practical actions that are focused on ecological principles. To achieve this we need to invest time and energy to establish basic operational conditions in our schools which foster such principles; these conditions are distilled from the broader canon of sustainability research and development in the case of our programme into six foundation themes, energy, water, waste, food growing, well-being and sustainable buildings. Collectively these can be thought of as the basic building materials for what I have called elsewhere an eco-capability (Clarke 2010). They are a framework for understanding and focusing our learning and action concerned with sustainable living. They will be informed by, and evolve through human activity and experience, but connect closely with natural systems and processes all aligned to the development of a new consciousness arising form a need to make a transition from the modern to the ecological age (Clarke 2012). The basic idea embedded within the Pop-Up-Foundation is embedded in and around a set of modules that schools use that guide their actions to become sustainable. The modules set the groundwork for new learning and experimentation, out of which emerges new understanding and solutions for sustainable living.
Our experience, arising from the Pop-Up-Farm (Clarke 2009) programme has taught us that the basic ideas of sustainable living need not be overcomplicated, indeed, they resonate with the everyday and encourage creative engagement, but they have to provide routes for profound change in organizational and individual behaviour. What is more complex, and remains a testing matter, is how to proceed and engage with a school community in a way that enables teachers to integrate ideas about sustainable living in the curriculum (Capra 2010). We have found that learning and understanding about sustainable living comes from action, from doing things and seeing how sustainable living can be easily undertaken. Our approach is best experienced as a living, emergent, formative, evolutionary form of pedagogy. It has to relate and reflect the reality of where we live, and acknowledge that we are in the main living in far from sustainable communities.
Our central dilemma when it comes to mainstream education, concerns how closely to align with existing practice, and how far to push the boundaries to facilitate new thinking. Moving too far, too soon, can frighten people away from taking steps forward, but too much caution will not generate the necessary creative organizational turbulence to initiate any shift of mind or practice. Therefore how to position the sustainable living agenda in such a way as it maintains the vitality and creative impetus without compromising our radical ambition is a central concern for progressive eco-literate design.
Introduction – setting the context
As societies around the world begin to recognise that their relationship with the natural environment has to evolve if it is ever to be sustainable, the role of education becomes ever more critical as it moves to the centre stage. The trouble is, that if we turn to mainstream education across most developed nations we will find very little ecological learning takes place beyond some elementary ideas about how to grow a few vegetables in the schoolyard.
Education in the industrial age has traditionally fragmented learning, corresponding educational understanding with the ways in which we have modeled and progressed our societies through industrial growth and development, creating subject disciplines that disintegrate rather than integrate knowledge. By way of contrast, the ecologically capable learner engages with ideas differently, they combine ideas to form coherent, holistic ways of understanding, indeed the notion of single, isolated solutions is meaningless within an ecological pedagogy as the entirety is interdependent and mutually supportive.
So there is a job to do, to offer a coherent and cogent curriculum for sustainable living that does not end up as a bolt-on addition to existing curricula, or a set of fragmented experiences which fail to provide sufficient connection for learners to get the fundamental messages about sustainable living.
What we need is a new set of capabilities and literacies concerned with deep ecology, and a set of steps for people to get there which connects hand, heart and mind through practical learning (Sterling 2005). What is clear is that, as yet, there is an insufficiently connected and systematic response to the broad concept of sustainable living emerging from the school world as it grapples with this dilemma of moving from older formulations of learning to new ones, and through this process of transformation, reconceptualises the entire enterprise of the schooling experience to suit the emerging ecological arena that is unfolding across business, communities and systems worldwide. Clearly, a few vegetables in a schoolyard are insufficient on their own to enable a conceptual shift to happen, but they do serve as an important starting point upon which to build (Clarke 2009).
Interest in the natural environment as a facility for learning raises the need to think carefully about what we might learn, what we already know, but do not consider to be of value, and what do we need to find out about to make the connection between curriculum content and attributes which will help young people to understand and apply this new knowledge to make their own life choices in greater harmony with the world around them.
How much of the burgeoning interest in schools might be assigned to mandatory measures, rather than a particular organisational conviction remains to be seen. The emergence in the regulatory framework of carbon reduction measures will no doubt translate into required activity by every institution and household as nations strive to meet targets that have been set on the international scale. In the English context this is already taking shape both structurally and culturally. At a structural level, Local authorities and businesses are having to look closely at their internal schemes for reduction of their carbon footprint, and at a cultural level recent Ofsted reports have cited the importance of learning outside the classroom and its role in improving student achievement, standards, motivation, personal development and behaviour (Ofsted 2008). Without going so far as to ensure that both awareness and action are mandatory, the general direction that they have pointed towards in terms of best practice suggests that some form of knowledge, perhaps informed through the previous government gateways to sustainability, may provide a framework for action and modification of curriculum to guide and inform a transition of basic practice.
Elsewhere there are more systemic efforts being introduced which will form structural and subsequent practice based changes. For example, the Australian national curriculum reform has embedded a full third of the entire cross curricular themes to sustainability thinking, but even here, the tension between conventional design through subjects and an overhaul of these ideas better suited to ecological principles is causing considerable design challenges.
The importance of innovative community projects, learning design and method
Perhaps more important than the centrally prescribed ‘sustainability’ pedagogy, is the rise of community awareness on the issue of sustainable living. These many and varied projects are connecting local activism with new thinking about community and landscape, which amongst other things is generating public debate on daily habits and routines (Hopkins 2008, Clarke 2010). In my own case, my involvement in the design and development of Pop-Up-Farm and more recently the Foundation have provided direct evidence of a rapidly expanding and demographically widespread interest in the way individuals and communities can take action to redefine themselves and re-orientate their activity towards more sustainable practices. The drivers behind these projects vary from personal beliefs and values, to simple economic necessity, but the prevailing focus is localism and redefining self and local context. However, there remains a consistent acknowledgement of the importance of networks and connectivity within our programme globally. Indeed, critical to the success of the programme is the network, sharing, challenging and strategising for an emerging set of conditions.
This tension between local and global, by personalising the bigger sustainability challenges and framing them within a consistent set of core themes enables people to participate and act, it encourages debate and questioning of existing ways of living, and in turn can be used within schools as a vehicle for reform and redesign of both curriculum practice and process.
Pop-Up-Farm has evolved in a matter of a few years from a small-scale school sustainability project, to an eco-lobbying force with connections locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. It is now moving to charitable status, will shortly participate in new programmes of agriculture through trade between Uganda and the UK, linking enterprise and opportunity to the sustainability agenda, enabling people to begin to see ways of creating new business opportunities and begin to create intergenerational assets. As it has evolved we have recognised that an emergent methodological approach has been adopted, not particularly by deliberate design, but by circumstance. As we began to see that there was so much happening we also realised that to orchestrate all elements of the programme within one operational structure was a self-defeating job. Instead, we encourage creative participation and self-managing of discrete programmes within the broader project, and we contain the overall concept within a set of capabilities concerned with core ideas – actions to become sustainable (hand, heart and mind), energy, water, waste, well-being, growing food, and buildings.
Oddly enough, these simple ideas raise some challenges for schools, who have in the past tended towards very structured approaches to learning and development to be applied to fit alongside their existing arrangements. We see this, but we question their logic, and encourage them to engage with the possibility of making connections as a route to learning which take risks, are experimental in nature, and continually provide them with links and systems of support to reinforce and guide their learning in emergent rather than pre-defined ways.
The Pop-Up-Foundation, and Pop-Up-Farm is not interested in business as usual with a few eco-green additions, instead we are looking for a radical overhaul of how to live. To make the shift, we encourage all learners, of any age, to see the programme as a series of interdependent and mutually supportive micro-projects, that way, they can adopt a strategy – from the small-scale to the ambitious depending on their interest, and we encourage them to then begin to experiment using the bigger frame of the Foundation to provide a type of bounded zone that provides their experimentation with conceptual and operational justification for their activity, as it is endorsed by the broader local community and by connection to a much wider network of similarly minded organisations. As a result, we have a series of innovative projects underway, ranging from growing (Pop-Up-Farm), coffee (The Thoughtful Coffee Co.) energy (Pop-Up-Power) to a dispersed orchard project (Pop-Up-Orchard).
The pedagogic implications of these observations are important, we see any ‘eco-literacy’ or ‘eco-capability’ as essentially emergent forms of learning, emphasising process as a vital component of how to understand and interpret what is happening when we engage with the natural world.
In the programme, schools are all experimenting with different ways in which they might engage young people and parents in practical activities which on their own appear relatively benign, such as growing food on an old playground, or planting an orchard, or learning jam-making and pickling, or introducing compost heaps, or water harvesting strategies.
It is when we begin to accumulate these different elements we can see the emergence of a formula or ‘pattern technology’ for sustainable living, connecting self to place, to soil, to water, to weather, to season and therefore making that important first step to connect to the natural world, and gain an understanding of the intricacies of place, highlighting the uniqueness of context.
The resilient sustainable community is not, we suggest, something that has been pre-formulated and pre-defined, it is emergent and remains in this dynamic state indefinitely. This insight into design may be of great value as we proceed to try and make sense of how to nurture suitable sustainable capabilities within our school systems.
Each school context remains unique, and importantly so because we are not interested in mass-production of single solutions; but each context connects to a wider network of ideas and approaches which begin to illustrate and demonstrate a shift of mind, a change of cultural understanding.
Our design of an eco-literacy, a pedagogy for the ecological age, might be seen as a process of engagement and enquiry with critical local concerns, in consort with global challenges, rather than a set of assumptions based on global circumstances, which may not be easy to connect with in our own school settings.
For example, we can begin by looking at what we have and ask: ‘What can we do with the waste space we have around school? What can we grow here? How much can we grow together across a network of schools? How do we reduce our wasteage of resources to a point where 100% becomes recycled? How do we generate more energy on our school site than we use? Can combinations of schools begin to overcome the persistent problem of provision for lifelong learning in difficult to reach communities?
Such questions might also lead on to other more embedded challenges that would not necessarily lie traditionally within the remit of schooling. We might explore questions such as:
What does our city/neighbourhood look like with failed infrastructure?’
What does our city/neighbourhood do when 15% of its population are undocumented?
What might our city/neighbourhood look like when a great number of its children get no formal education?
What strategies might our city/neighbourhood adopt when its water resources begin to run dry?
From such questions we are able to think about the opportunities that exist in our environment around school which can provide responses to these questions. We can consider the approaches we might adopt, from the mandatory to the free-forming, we can see that different governance approaches will have different consequences. We can then move to the practicalities and consider what happens if we grow food in our small urban spaces. We learn that we have to know how to nurture that produce, we develop specific, contextualised understanding of soil, water, plants, light, heat and the ways they combine, patterns for sustainable living and enquiry.
These simple starting points provide our students with a direct link to their environment and offer them a route to redefine their urban environments based upon what they discover. This is the first step to an eco-capability of retrofitting what we have in the form of educational provision, to suit a new situation. The point being that cities, neighbourhoods and streetscapes are not going to go away in a hurry, they will be the places we live – sustainably or otherwise, and they will form the landscape which in turn will shape the mindscape of our citizens. As a result, we have to reconceptualise them so that they serve our needs and those needs of the planet, the small act of growing sustainable communities, through challenges which in turn generate new insights becomes a route map for this new literacy.
Pop-Up-Foundation is therefore just one example of the way that people as a community of learners (Clarke 2010) can take practical steps towards sustainable living. We know from our global encounters, that people need examples, they want to be able to see how it might be done, and this means that schools can play a very important strategic role in educating not just young people, but their entire neighbourhoods. The use of the school-yard as a food source is one powerful approach which Pop-Up-Farm, as a part of the Foundation, promotes. To rethink the physical landscape of the school as a sustainability learning-hub challenges us to experiment with existing space and put it to new use. This is a foundation piece of the approach we adopt – to get people to look again at their landscape, and to change their mindscape: be it the playground, the classroom, the street, the park or the balcony, they can all be seen as starting points for new thinking about sustainable living.
In our case we have seen schools use a variety of solutions, planters to enable growing on tarmac playgrounds, wall-gardens, herb gardens, hen coops, water capture projects, all of this physical activity generates practical questions – how can we secure water for the plants? what happens out of school time? how do we know what will grow well here? can we create new ways of using old resources and waste to improve soil quality and perhaps generate greater warmth through greenhouses and sheltered growing? We are learning that simple starting points, such as food growing generates significant connections across the core issues of water, energy, soil, well-being and place and enables students and staff and parents to connect on a practical set of activities which in turn generate deeper questions about longer-term sustainability.
In particular, when such practical activities are then considered on a wider cityscape the potential for a set of interconnected, local and dispersed networks becomes hugely attractive, for reasons of yield potential (a multi-site, dispersed solar farm for example using school rooftops) and dispersed consciousness. This comes in the form of new thinking about the shape, movement and spaces in what are rapidly being known as smart-cities. Instead of building new roads and tower blocks, infrastructure strategies begin to spawn new ways of working, if we are asking how to retrofit cities so that they bring together the farm and the city we are asking people to re-imagine the urban space radically. We have done this before as a species, we imagined the urban space as one for business and transport, the motor car then reinvented the city to meet its own needs, this transition is in effect no different, we re-imagine the urban learning environments as trailblazers for the necessary realignment of the human with the ecological, ensuring in so doing a better chance of resolving a real response to the predicted challenges around the corner with in eco-systemic change. If schools do this, children and their parents and grandparents will be first-hand witnesses of the convergence of urban and rural. This step from unsustainable to sustainable thinking, perhaps initiated by shift from a food-for-self, to food-for-all programme of growing on scale at school sites across entire towns (and we are underway for example through Pop-Up-Farm in the Burnley network and in Uganda at Parabong School), emphasises the importance of sustainable living as a social as well as a technical consideration.
As people live in the city they need to eat, and the more people that arrive in the next few decades in cities, the greater pressure there will be to meet their basic needs across energy, waste, water, building and well-being, in sustainable or unsustainable ways. If they are to survive then we have to make the former our default position. If carbon-based energy availability emerges as the crisis issue of the next two decades as is being predicted, then our existing modes of moving food from the country to the city become ever more problematic as they are heavily carbon dependent. Instead, redesigning urban space so that it becomes a backbone for survival through the localising of food within urban space, provides a viable way forward and should therefore form a substantive element of any eco-literacy for our education system.
As we begin to connect to such a narrative, we begin to see that reshaping cities for long-term health and well-being of all natural systems is quite possible, it generates wealth and knowledge and maintains engagement of people within their social and community spaces in new and more convivial ways. In pursuing this agenda we can begin to see a new and transformational role for schools. We simply have to work outside of the predictable, a lesson we have learnt and continually adopt in the Pop-Up-Foundation.
That is why growing food in the school yard is a good start, but is by no means an end game, it is the first step on a journey towards full use-age of the city as a natural food-scape, and a direct link to the myriad of problems people face daily in their struggle to exist in cities at the present time as it enables and empowers, rather than deskills and disempowers the citizen. Schools more often than not have at least some play space, or some wall-space which can be adopted as a basic food-growing hub. This simple demonstration of the possibility of new uses for existing spaces has profound possibilities.
There are many ways of developing capabilities which serve to inform an eco-literate society. These are not exclusively the concern of schools as they are lessons we learn by living and have currency for us all. However, schools play a critical role in preparing people to see the world in culturally appropriate ways. In the past, these culturally appropriate ways included an acceptance that we can use the natural world as a resource for our sole use, to the exclusion of other living things and this was modelled through a defined curriculum, industrialized in design and fragmented in the process. As we are leaning, this is no longer tenable nor practical, if for no other reason than we now understand that our own life is dependent upon a bio-diverse community which in its interdependence and emergent learning maintains and nurtures further life on the planet.
It is therefore in our own self-interest to nurture eco-literate, evolving capabilities in learners, they follow lines of enquiry based on real time problems within their lived environment concerned with the stuff of life – water, land, energy and waste. Schools can participate in the development of a range of capabilities that will facilitate this learning. Through the curriculum they offer, and through the ways in which they utilise their resources, their buildings, their land and how they use and dispose of waste they learn by doing the necessary things to respond to the changing landscape.
We should ensure however, that this work remains naturally focused, which is why food growing plays a central role and is such a powerful connector, it serves as a guide to the necessary capabilities of observation, nurture, maintenance, conservation of resource, attention to solar energy, the cropping and preparation of food as a life source, and the cyclical properties of resources once used to form waste to enrich and maintain the soil.
This paper set about starting a conversation which Iin time will form a new pedagogy for sustainable living, it may have a bearing upon sustainable education but we may choose to lose the sustainability branding as time passes because that in itself will be self-evident, just as ‘industrial learning’ does today, where I think it leads us to is an idea of a sustainable school. The activity that is arising from the work of the community around Pop-Up-Foundation, through networks such as the Pop-Up-Farm begin to illustrate in more meaningful ways what we might understand by progressive sustainable community.
Capra, F. (2010) Schooling for Sustainability: Making Teaching and Learning Come Alive. Lecture series at Berkeley, California, June 23–25, 2010
Clarke, P. (2010) Incredible Edible: how to grow sustainable communities, Forum. Volume 52 Number 1 2010 pp.69-79
Clarke, P. (2012) Education for Sustainability: Becoming Naturally Smart. Routledge. London
Hopkins, R. (2008) The Transition Handbook. From oil dependence to local resilience. Green books. Totnes
Ofsted (2008) Learning outside the classroom. How far should you go? Report no 070219. Crown Copyright. London
Sterling, S. (2005) Sustainable Education: Revisioning Learning and Change. Schumacher Briefings. Green Books. Totnes