Education for a Sustainable Planet


World leaders gathered in the United Nations General Assembly on September 24, 2015 and on September 25th they met in a special summit to adopt the post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda. On September 24th, in recognition that quality education is necessary to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals, there was a First Ladies High Level Forum on Education at the UN for the spouses of the world leaders. The Forum, organized by U.S. Federation for Middle East Peace, was chaired by its President Salwa Kader and broughtforward leaders in both education and gender equality to discuss endowing youth of the world with the resource and opportunities needed to accelerate achievement of Millennium Development Goals and development of the post-2015 agenda of the United Nations. Presenters included H.E. Mrs. Ban Soon-taek, wife of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, First Lady of Haiti Mrs. Sophia Martelly, and H.E. Dr. Joyce Banda, former President of Malawi.
This address by Tikkun Editor Jonathan Granoff can be viewed at 1:21-1:34 at the web cast of the entire event by clicking here.
We are the first generation of human beings challenged by the choice of being the last. We are passing this weight to the next generation. Our educational foundations did not prepare us to properly reign in the capacities for destruction or creativity and benefit gifted us by science and technology. In addition to enormous wealth and abundance, not justly distributed, but in existence, we have set our own destruction in motion.
We have created weapons, nuclear weapons, which provide less security the more they are perfected – a malevolent enormous paradox – and systematized an economic order which rests on perpetual growth without regard to the limits of the natural world – a strange denial of the sacred bounty and blessings of nature.
Science and technology in the service of fear and the pursuit of security has placed over all of our heads 16,000 swords of Damocles. In the service of the market and unlimited appetites – properly called greed – we are melting the polar ice caps, cutting forests faster than they can be replenished, and destroying species at 100 to 1,000 times the normal evolutionary base rate. In other words, the horse is out of the barn and galloping without sufficient constraint. Law and morality are the reins we have neglected, and education is the key to their proper use.Creating curriculum for a sustainable future is a necessary conversation that needs to start here and now. Education must always be founded on values and be fleshed out with relevant necessary facts and the capacity to analyze, interpret, and act with a sense of moral agency, and in this time of human existence, realistic urgency.
The foundation of values is what builds strong character in children and the courage to act with wisdom in adults. These values are not by any means culturally relative. Let me share a heart-warming story.
One night, long past midnight, I was awakened by a phone call. Our conversation went something like this:
“Hello, Granoff, McNamara here, Bob McNamara.”
“Uh, yes, sir, what is it?”
“Well, I am writing a book, Wilson’s Ghost. It’s about lessons in life I have learned. Your argument, that nations should treat other nations as they wish to be treated, has a footnote I want to use.”
“Well sir, you don’t need permission to use the footnote. It’s fair use.”
“I know, but I wanted to tell you that until I read the footnote where you cite the Golden Rule as expressed in every religion, I did not know that it was accepted by Muslims and Buddhists.”
“In all due respect Secretary McNamara, the Golden Rule does not come from religion. It comes from the inner architecture of being human. It is an aspect of the conscience. It is where God talks to all of us, and He does talk to all of us without regard to religion. It is where we feel when we hurt another and know it’s wrong or love another and know it’s right.”
“Yes, yes! I know. I am just learning this.”
A man up in his eighties with that open mind and open heart – for me, that is real wisdom. But, this was a man who graduated from Harvard, was head of the Ford Motor Company, Secretary of Defense of the United States and President of the World Bank. We must make sure as educators that no student of any great university, no less high school, ever graduates without knowing the importance and the universality of the Golden Rule.
We are living in an increasingly intense market-driven global society, and capitalism is a system that organizes competition and encourages it. This can be a cruel system if not mitigated by other values that arise from the conscience and our capacity for compassion. These dimensions of our humanity have too long been neglected in our educational institutions. Skills such as dialogue and cooperation and qualities such as kindness and love are quite natural in children, as are other less gentle capacities.
If we are to have a generation that can use wisdom and moral agency to protect the planet, inner character which resonates with the Golden Rule must be nurtured. Each culture might do this in a nuanced and unique way, but let us never again neglect the spirit, the heart, the conscience and inner character.
Lives are not just for production and consumption. They are each sacred and filled with these magnificent qualities and values. Let’s not keep them in the closet any longer. Let’s make sure that children are comfortable learning about kindness, love, compassion, gentleness, and character.
A magnificent expression of universal values and the inherent dignity of the every person is found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These rights require and weave a social fabric where each thread reinforces all the others. In other words, human rights take place in community, and if one wants their rights honored they must know the importance of protecting those same rights in others.
Let me propose as a minimum step that every secondary school child should be given a copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and have a simple core curriculum to learn their importance and ways in which they can be implemented. Thus, I urge a General Assembly Resolution calling upon every Minister of Education to ensure that every child in their nation be given a copy of and learn the importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
This is as necessary for global citizenship as civics is for being a responsible citizen of any nation. In that regard, I further urge the creation of a universal core curriculum that would include how the UN system works and why it is so important. For without it there is very little likelihood that we will be able to protect the global commons – the living systems upon which civilization depends, such as the rainforests, the climate, and the oceans – or rid the world of weapons of mass destruction. It is only through cooperation and the rule of law that we will be able to fulfill the Sustainable Development Goals. This will not happen unless children are educated on the UN system. Thus, greater appreciation and knowledge of the UN system is essential.
Knowledge for responsible 21st-century citizenship must also include how the living systems of the planet actually work. How could any of us have graduated school without knowing that 50% of our oxygen comes from the phytoplankton, which depends on the health of the oceans? The life in our bodies depends on healthy oceans as much as our very lungs. The natural world is part of us, and our bodies are part of it. Yes, it is an awesome interconnected magnificent web of life. It is indeed humbling to know this reality. It reveals the absurdity of war and conquest.
We are all depending on the same tree of life together. Yet, hardly any curriculum teaches about this awesome web of life. It is a reality that cannot be ignored in education any longer.
I am suggesting that education must include values, recognition of the spiritual dimension of the student, knowledge of rights and responsibilities, and the skills necessary to cooperate and live in peace.
Let me commend two programs that I think are models: Roots and Shoots of the Jane Goodall Institute, which inspires and empowers children, and Harvard University’s Religions and the Practice of Peace Initiative.
Last, all our great universities should have centers for interfaith and intercultural learning as a preventive of the demonization of people whose culture and beliefs are different.
Our core humanity will never be diminished by expanding our appreciation of others. In fact, nothing enhances it more.
To move social consciousness from the city state to the nation state, national languages were necessary. The modern state could only have evolved after Guttenberg invented and spread the printing press. Only then could knowledge spread at sufficient scale and speed to bring us modernity. Today the internet is spreading knowledge geometrically farther and faster than Guttenberg could ever have dreamed, and thus global civilization is upon us and rapidification comes along with it.
But, knowledge and wisdom are quite different. They are not opposed, but wisdom requires heart. Knowledge can be used for the love of power. Wisdom is always used to find and nurture the power of love. Knowledge without wisdom will melt the polar ice cap and render our coastal cities vacant. Wisdom will melt hearts and lead us to understand a necessary truth that every small child understands when they meet other children. In this classroom of the planet earth there is no them; there is just us.
Quotes for values of education:
Albert Einstein:
“Oh Youth! Do you know that yours is not the first generation to yearn for a life full of beauty and freedom? Do you know that all your ancestors have felt the same as you do – and fell victim to trouble and hatred?
Do you know also that your fervent wishes can only find fulfillment if you succeed in attaining a love and understanding of people, and animals, and plants, and stars, so that every joy becomes your joy and every pain becomes your pain?”
Quoted in David and Beatrix Hamburg’s comprehensive work,
Learningto Live Together, p. 363.
Sufi Saint Bawa Muhaiyaddeen:
“If each of you will open your heart,
your actions, your wisdom, and your conduct and look within, you will see that every face is your face, every nerve is your nerve, each drop of blood is your blood,…all hunger is your hunger, all poverty is your poverty…all lives are your life. You will experience this in your nerves, in your body and in what you see. When that state develops inside you, that is God’s love…If that love develops you will not hurt any other living thing, you will not cause pain, you will not reject any life, and you will not torture any other life, because if you hurt anyone it will hurt you.”
Book of God’s Love, p. 23.
Examples of Programs:
Harvard University program on Religions and the Practice of Peace
Roots and Shoots Program of the Jane Goodall Institute

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