Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Failure of Environmental Education

I ran across this book today. The title is what has haunted me for the last five years.

This is the publishers description available at:

At a time when wild places everywhere are vanishing before our eyes, Charles Saylan and Daniel T. Blumstein offer this passionate indictment of environmental education—along with a new vision for the future. Writing for general readers and educators alike, Saylan and Blumstein boldly argue that education today has failed to reach its potential in fighting climate change, biodiversity loss, and environmental degradation. In this forward-looking book, they assess the current political climate, including the No Child Left Behind Act, a disaster for environmental education, and discuss how education can stimulate action—including decreasing consumption and demand, developing sustainable food and energy sources, and addressing poverty. Their multidisciplinary perspective encompasses such approaches as school gardens, using school buildings as teaching tools, and the greening of schoolyards. Arguing for a paradigm shift in the way we view education as a whole, The Failure of Environmental Education demonstrates how our education system can create new levels of awareness and work toward a sustainable future.

Interestingly, one of the main reasons the failure of EE has haunted me is that my teaching practice in a school included organic gardens, using school buildings as teaching tools, and efforts at greening the campus grounds. And it still failed. Now this may be down to my rubbish teaching skills. But I did get plenty of positive feedback from a diversity of sources and a number of teaching awards. And I do not mean to say that this is not where schools should be headed. I was lucky enough to work at one with excellent token environmental programmes that benefited a small minority of students tremendously. But there was no systemic change. So instead of settling for tokenism any longer I left teaching to become a student. My research is still along the lines of Saylan and Blumstein, but more looking at the barriers and opportunities to actually do what they are proposing. It is neither straightforward nor easy.

One of the recent barriers I've come up against - not in my PhD research per se, but in other EE efforts I'm involved with - is what I am calling the Ego-movement. I've been saddened and discouraged by the amount of damage that those within the eco-movement inflict on others in the movement. Don't we get enough thrashing from the outside? Why do those within the eco-movement hold the movement back because of ego? It's a cryin' shame. No really, it does make me want to cry, and it is a shame on our movement.

I am an eco-designer. I design systems with the intention that they be adaptive, exploratory and symbiotic. The business model of the ECO School is synergy. In other words, we seek to enter into symbiotic relationships where both parties benefit and the resultant whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts.

• What I have learned while trying to implement this ecological vision for environmental education is that most people and organizations have little or no interest in working cooperatively.

• What I have learned by taking an exploratory (evolutionary) approach to building symbiotic relationships is that most people and organizations do not answer emails which express an interest in working cooperatively. From a large number of emails sent to Transition Town groups, permaculture groups, conservation groups, environment centres, etc., my response rate is well below 20%. I understand that people are busy, but if you put your email address on your website, I would suspect that you may expect to be contacted. I find it very sad that so many of those who place themselves in leadership positions in the eco-movement cannot bring themselves - at a minimum - to say, "Thanks for the inquiry. Sounds cool, but it does not suit our present needs." In some cases where websites explicitly call for input, those in control fail to thank contributors or even acknowledge their input.

• What I have learned about email lists, Meet-up groups, and newsletters, is that many of them are not democratic. Many of the leaders of the eco-movement who control these networks for the dissemination of sustainability information do not share the power democratically. In my opinion, sustainability networks belong to the people, and they should decide what they want to learn about or not.

• What I have learned about answering all email enquiries I receive is that many people do not make an effort to thank me for my time and effort. From what I understand, everyone has their opinion on whether saying thank you on email is appropriate or not. Call me old fashioned, but when I know that someone has gone out of their way to provide information for me or to compliment me on something I've done, I write a thank you note. At very least, it builds good will in the eco-movement.

One final note which may come as a surprise to those outside of academia. Since I have become a PhD student I have sent about half a dozen emails to researchers in the fields of science, psychology, and education. And I have gotten a response from every single one. Some say that academics have big egos, but they do not appear to get in the way. And so the sadness is greater that in the eco-movement, ego does appear to get in the way.

While this does not relate specifically to my research, I am still very interested in learning why this unfortunate situation (the ego-movement) appears to be retarding advances in the eco-movement. If you have any ideas or insights, please post them in the comments section or email me at the ecoschool. I promise I'll thank you.

Peace maker, Estwing

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Science Rulz

I was honoured to be asked recently to serve as a judge for the regional intermediate schools science fair.

Judge Jandal?

Back in May I posted about some innovative school programming we were doing, including a project at Wanganui Intermediate School called "The Science of Sustainability." That project highlighted much of the ways we use science here on the Eco-Thrifty Renovation to heat our home and water, and to grow food organically. The idea was to make science relevant to students and also solution oriented. Thanks to the amazing teachers at WIS, there was an entire category at the science fair for environmental science projects.

These are just the finalists in the environmental category from
all the regional intermediate schools.

I judged 12 projects and they were all excellent. It was hard picking out three for awards. Here are some of the cool ideas the students came up with.

Good on ya, students! Prize giving tomorrow.

Peace, Estwing

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Third (!?!) Law of Thermodynamics

I've taken over editing the monthly River Exchange and Barter System (REBS) Newsletter from my wife because she gets busier by the week with work at the YMCA. It has given me the opportunity to think and write about ways of retaining wealth in our community. Below is the article I wrote for the September Newsletter.

Peace, Estwing

Energy is often defined as the ability to do work. In many ways, money - or wealth of any kind - is also the ability to do work. In other words, I can pay someone like Jonah to help me install my stove, or I can buy petrol to put in my car. A big difference between these two is that when I pay Jonah the wealth stays in the community, but when I buy petrol most of the wealth leaves the community. However, I can't really pay Jonah to bring my wife home from work on a day she works later than the last bus. (Come to think of it, I probably could but she may not enjoy the ride in his bamboo bike trailer).

The point is, the work that energy or wealth can do is not 100% transferable back and forth. But sometimes it is. Going back to the example of the multi-fuel stove, the work that Jonah did will translate sometime in the future into energy savings in the form of reduced home heating costs.

Additionally, the wood that we will burn will likely come from the land cared for by Melinda and Murray. Therefore, any wealth transfer for home heating goes to these three "locals" and not to Meridian Energy in Christchurch (I believe).

And the same can be said for another form of energy delivered to Wanganui nearly every day for free: sunlight. Sunlight can heat homes quite effectively, and simple insulating and draft-proofing efforts can help hold the heat in overnight. These efforts may be labor intensive, but if the labor is local then the wealth stays in the community. Over time the homeowner makes up the upfront cost in energy savings. And then those savings can be reinvested in the community. For example, our electric bills are so low that we treated ourselves to an afternoon of local rugby. Go the Butcher's Boys!

Friday, August 26, 2011


Was it coincidence that our application for New Zealand residency was due the week of our paper anniversary? I think not.

Aside from my masters thesis this was the largest document I've ever compiled in my life. Thank goodness this one didn't need proper APA citation. It did however require documentation for nearly every job I've held over the past 10 years, as well as full medical checks, police checks, and proof of our relationship.

My gift for Nelson for our first anniversary wasn't quite as heavy, but took even longer to prepare. Here it is waiting to be opened.
And fully unfurled in all its glory. A blessing for the home Nelson is building us. Made with paper from Trade Aid, adorned with paper cut outs very carefully done with an exacto-blade.
I can understand why paper represents the first anniversary. It is delicate, can be easily ruined, but also holds promise. Let's just say there were many a tense moment working on the tiny cutouts. Our blessing, heavily inspired by one I saw in a friend's home, begins with the following phrase:

All I can hope for is that in five, ten, and twenty years time, I feel as content in my life as I do this week. When I look around me, I find myself surrounded by beautiful things and beautiful people, largely as a result of the work that my husband has done to pave the road for opportunities to come our way (ok, and maybe I helped a bit too!)

And finally, I'll leave you with one more shot from the night of our anniversary. We are untying the cord that was used for the handfasting during our wedding ceremony. Traditionally this was done one year and one day after the initial tying. We were either a day early, or right on target depending on how you look at it. Getting married in a different timezone can really confuse the whole year and a day component. Let's hope accuracy isn't too important.Couples are meant to untie the knot and then decide together whether they want to retie it, or break the bond. We untied the knot and spent a few minutes talking about what we had learned during our first year of marriage.

Then we retied that sucker. Oh yeah!

-June Cleverer

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Addicted to P

We have an addiction to P in our home. (Note: In no way do I mean to diminish the real problem of P addiction in NZ - indeed, in our neighborhood - or in the USA known as "meth.") The P addiction in our home is all about permaculture. Please be aware that permaculture is not the only ecological design system that exists on this glorious planet, but some say that it is the most comprehensive. To that, I add the most documented. Permaculture has over 30 years of books, magazines, and even a few peer-reviewed papers, as its chronicle. This is particularly useful for those (ie, me) writing doctoral theses on ecological design in science education.

The P addiction in our home results from an approach to permaculture not as a set of principles to memorize and apply in a formulaic manner, but rather as a way of seeing the world. In other words, permaculture as systemic, not systematic. This perspective, for me, results from decades-long involvement in ecological design and a learning disability that was misdiagnosed (ignored) in my youth. In other words it is a combination of nature and nurture. I was born with a brain that is better at seeing at the space in between things than the things themselves. While this may have contributed to my success as an All-American lacrosse attackman (ie finding my way between large defensemen), it also inspired my second grade teacher to alert my parents that I would never read. Luckily, they were both teachers themselves, and sent me to a tutor instead of to the meat works (to work, that is, not to contribute my flesh).

Ethical note: NOT my second grade class. This looks like 4th grade. Wait, maybe 6th grade.

Regarding nuture, I'm not referring to the 17 years of private school or to the amazing support given to me and my brother by our parents. If anything, the rigid, traditional schooling I experienced for much of my life suppressed my potential for systems thinking. The main lesson I learned from school is that it was all a game, and the playing field was tilted in favor of certain brains and away from others. My brain was an other, and I struggled mightily not to drown (below C-level) through primary school, middle school and into high school. Around the time I hit my stride in lacrosse, I also figured out how to play school. Interestingly, some psychologists suggest that certain people outgrow their ADD after going through puberty. I don't know if that was the case for me because I'm definitely still ADD. Instead, I think that I figured out how to succeed in a reductionist paradigm by taking a systems approach. Although I considered earning good grades a game, I never took it as seriously as lacrosse because I did not respect it. It was more of a joke, where sport is serious business.

It was not until I had graduated from university (Magna Cum Laude, now that is a joke) until I came to the unfortunate realization that I hadn't learned how to do anything in all those years at school. I could not grow a garden. I could not prune a tree. I could not build a house. Seventeen years of private education and all I got is this lousy scroll! No, the nurturing of a more holistic perspective did not occur until I began learning how to grow food, prune trees and build - ok, renovate - houses. A garden, a tree and a house are not things. They are systems, and we can never hope to understand them from a reductionist perspective. And for me, luckily, the seed I was born with was not terminated by a "Round-Up Ready" education. I've heard that certain seeds can remain viable for decades and even centuries. By those standards, 17 years appears fair to middling.

But I reckon that was good enough because it germinated in the humus of a pumpkin patch and the dust beneath a crosscut saw. And during the ensuing 17 years (and then some) I've nurtured a holistic perspective by actively practicing systems thinking. It was not easy at first, but with practice strides came. As I took up running marathons I made the easy connection between exercising my body and exercising my mind. At the same time, as a professional science teacher (go figure) I began to develop systemic pedagogies. In other words, teaching ecology in ecological ways. The release of creativity inspired me as a teacher and inspired many of my students. (Some still preferred reductionist approaches to teaching and learning. Most likely because they were familiar to them, and that they had found numerical and alphabetic success under them.)

And around that time I found a Masters program developed and delivered by the amazing Coleen O'Connell and Cloe Chun. Mind you, I had no intention of ever going back to school as a student. But they were willing to embrace a different paradigm for education that resonated with me. I can vividly recall Coleen selling the Masters in Ecological Teaching and Learning to me at the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests building in Concord. I listened politely and told her, "I do all those things already." She replied, "And you should get credit for them." I was sold, especially because my employer paid for the degree.

I really must thank Coleen and Cloe for helping advance my education practice, which has lead me here to this computer in this foreign land and an email address that ends in And I must thank the New Zealand government for offering affordable tuition to international doctoral students and very reasonable health coverage. And most of all I must thank my supervisors Chris, Kathrin and Richard. But especially Chris for being an awesome colleague and friend.

Centre for Science and Technology Education Research community garden great potato harvest of 2011.

To his credit (and maybe his regret) he encouraged me to do my research "in a permaculture way." This half-sentence of advice has made the process of PhD research more dynamic, more enjoyable, and hopefully more robust. For example, the methodology chapter in most theses is direct, dry and formulaic. In other words, dull to read and boring to write. Thanks in part to Chris' advice, a holistic permaculture perspective, and drugs (not P), I have had a lot of fun writing this chapter.

Three a day keeps distraction away.

I have engaged with the material and, in my opinion, created something entirely original. Many synergies exist between permaculture and education research. It is just a matter of creating a guild.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Oh, that was exhausting. For you too? This post takes a different approach than previous posts. If this is your first read, take some time to explore others. There should be something here for everyone. Maybe not Rick Perry.

For a snippet of the methodology chapter, see below. Please note it is an unedited first draft that I wrote this morning on 3 pots of organic fair trade coffee. I'd appreciate any insights or feedback. I may even acknowledge you in my thesis.

Peace, Estwing

The P of METHedology

4.7 Validity and Reliability

Many tables have four legs, but stability requires just three. A guild of three complimentary plants - such as the Hopi “Three Sisters”: corn, beans and squash - provides a stable cultivated ecology for growing food. A ship lost at sea can find its way using three beacons by a process called triangulation. In research, triangulation allows for stable (robust) findings and locates conclusions out of an ocean of data. Stable research is said to be reliable (Cohen et al., 2007).

But triangulation in every case described above is not a linear progression. In other words, two plus one does not represent the same incremental increase as one plus one. For example, a table with one leg benefits little from adding one more leg, but hugely from adding a third. Corn and squash planted together do not thrive like they do when beans are added to fix nitrogen in the soil to feed them. And a lost ship is still lost with only two points for reference. In all of these cases, there is a tipping point of integrity reached by triads when symbiosis turns to synergy. The whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts, and the system punches above its weight. Three, it appears, really is a magic number (Johnson, Year?)

In the world of research, triangulation is defined as the use of two or more data collection methods (Cohen et al., 2007). Campbell and Fiske (1959) contend that triangulation is a mighty way to demonstrate concurrent validity, and the process is deemed more or less essential for those doing qualitative research. Mixed method, or multi-method, approaches in social science research provide a number of advantages. For instance, blah blah…more here...

While major advances in validity and reliability occur between one and two, and two and three forms of data, subsequent improvements tail off quickly thereafter. A more-the-merrier attitude turns to four’s-a-crowd. That said, redundancy is bad neither in research nor permaculture. If one plant in a guild succumbs to an insect pest or disease, or if one method is found to lack validity, then an extra component in the system suddenly proves helpful. In fact, ecological validity in education research requires the consideration of as many characteristics and factors involved in the subject of study (Cohen et al., 2007). Brock-Utne (1996) promotes ecological validity when studying the adoption of new educational policies in actual classrooms. I submit that, when politics and scale are removed, that is essentially what I did in this case. In other words, I developed a new approach to teaching science, provided it to a teacher, and then attempted to chart what actually happened in his classroom. However, ecological validity can run up against boundaries determined by ethical considerations such as anonymity and non-traceability (Cohen, et al. 2007). These considerations were paramount for this study, which took place in a small school in a small town in a small country.

To be continued...

and continued...

and continued...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Draft Dodger

Editor's note: Sorry about the misspelling of hongi on the last post. I have never seen the word spelled out, and to my untrained ear it sounds exactly like hangi. Dani knew the difference, but she is too busy to proofread my blogs, plus it would not have been much of a surprise for her had she edited for me, eh? If you are not familiar with te reo, google hangi and you will get a good laugh!

Anyway, the topic of this post is dodging drafts in an eco and thrifty manner.

From what I have heard, anyone who has ever lived in a NZ villa has commented on how cold and drafty they are. We have been working to change that, but unfortunately were a little late for the coldest week in recorded NZ weather history. Although we did not get the flue for our multi-fuel stove installed by a plumber in time, the week provided an excellent opportunity to collect data on our passive solar design. We reached indoor afternoon temperatures of 20 - 24.2 degrees Celsius all week long, although morning readings dropped to around 10 as overnight lows were in the 1 - 3 degree range. I reckon there are four main reasons for this: we have not yet insulated under the floor; the new concrete hearth is uninsulated; all of the pelmets are not up yet; and draft-proofing is not complete. One particular culprit in the case of the latter is the back door(s).

Could not track down a good old American aluminum storm door. Bought this wooden door on trade me for $40, including 2 locks and 6 keys.

Although the back door(s) is "double glazed" so to speak...

Replaced the original traditional rimu four-panel glass door (inner door) that had been smashed by vandals with an identical one from the Renovators Centre for $100.

... as of last week there remained significant gaps around the perimeter.

The hardware store had a sale on door seals, so I picked up a couple. I decided to test the cheapest one along with a mid-range one. The cheapest model was on sale for $10. I reckon that is a good price, but the durability and longevity may be low as it is intended to be applied only with an adhesive strip.

That seems like a recipe for planned obsolescence. Some times being cheap is expensive. So I decided to beef up this model by pre-drilling 5 holes along its length. I used the adhesive to set it in place...

... and then tapped into my supply of stainless steel screws, which will not react with the aluminuim strip.

The entire installation took about 10 minutes and cost maybe $11 including the screws.

For the outer door, I went with the slightly more expensive model which included its own screws and was pre-drilled in the factory. I think this one was $15. But the feature that appealed to me most was the brush seal instead of the foam seal. Our new aluminium French doors has brush seals, so I figured that was a sign that they will take more wear and tear over time. Someone correct me if I'm wrong on this.

This installation took only 5 minutes.

15 minutes for both doors. Why had I not done this sooner? Oh yeah, PhD thesis, new bathroom, new kitchen, new roof, etc. And, the other measures I had already taken on these doors were functioning ok. For example, foam strips along the door frame.

Remember to follow instructions to get all sides of the frame.

Additionally, I had already put up a pelmet above the inside door and hung a thermal curtain so that it nearly touched the floor. Then I took a pair of second hand blankets from the auction and "draft-not-quite-proofed" the bottom.

When we bought this house a year ago this door was smashed and poorly covered by a sheet of some pulp-like wood product and some roofing iron. Rain driven by northwestern winds (prevailing for us) pushed water inside.

Now, for a total of under $200 in materials, we have two draft-proofed, weather-sealed glass doors to let in sun but keep out rain and cold. And, some might say its more attractive than an aluminum storm door.

Peace, Estwing

Sunday, August 21, 2011

For the Love of Good

On a more serious note - as hard as that is for me - we watched our wedding videos last night to mark our one year anniversary (Southern Hemisphere Edition). First of all, it is difficult to believe that it has been a year. So much has happened between then and now. And secondly, it is such a special memory to have had all of our friends and relatives there on that day last year.

But we don't need to look at the videos to be reminded of those special friendships. We simply look at the wall in the lounge to recall special memories.

This star quilt came as a complete surprise to me from our friends Steve and Stephanie Lamb. Dani knew about it in advance, but she did not tell me. Receiving a star quilt in the Lakota tradition is like earning a haka or moko in Maori tradition.

Hangi is a traditional Maori greeting. This one made especially memorable for Brady's (centre of star quilt) reaction.

I was fairly cavalier about the whole wedding ceremony deal until I saw the star quilt hanging on the fence. That's when I lost my @#$%. Luckily the photographer trailing me knew when not to snap any shots.

Steph wrapped us in the quilt...

... while Steve sang us a pair of Lakota songs. It was one of a number of traditional Native American parts of the wedding ceremony. And, if I do have to admit, it was the best wedding ceremony I've ever been too, and it was 100% designed and planned by Dani. She did an amazing job along with help from her sisters, the moms, and to a lesser extent the dads.

Team Gallo

Team Lebo

Team Lejnieks

There a few things in the world with the potential to be less eco and less thrifty than a wedding and a house renovation. But in the last year we have managed to pull off both. And because of both, I am filled with happiness and love. Along with my wife, here are some of the things I love.

90 degree Celsius solar hot water after the coldest week in recorded NZ history.

From an abandoned wreck, we have created a warm, dry, cozy home. Because of the passive solar redesign we've used, the house is warmer at the end of the coldest week in recorded NZ history than it was at the beginning of the week. This represents a huge success for me because I am neither a professional engineer nor builder. At the end of the day, we have a permaculture paradise for under $90,000 (NZ) or $45,000 - $75,000 (US depending on exchange rate).

I love our garlic.

I love our ducks. And I love that they eat the leaves and flowers of our tagasaste trees as proper permaculture ducks should do.

And I love that they eat puha, a native NZ green that grows prolifically on our section.

I love these lilies blooming in the middle of winter.

Beautiful, even against a roofing iron fence.

And I love the painting that Amy Lamb (Steve's niece) created for us from an old, broken villa window and a reused piece of Gib (drywall). I'm so glad that Amy and John Wright could spend time with us as our first interns. They were amazing! John went on to work on an organic farm in New England, and I hear that Amy has just started her own blog.

A. Lamb down under.

And finally (not a complete list, but this post needs to end sometime), I love my computer because my creative and skillful wife made the picture on the desktop.

Because it holds my 150,000 word (sorry, Chris) and growing thesis. And because it allows me to share our incredible eco-thrifty successes on this project with people worldwide. It's all good.

And that's the point. It is all good. And I love it all.

Love, Estwing