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Schools for Disaster: Rethinking Endless Growth in Education

Schools for Disaster: Rethinking Endless Growth in Education

We have good reason to be proud of our North American education system. Especially in the 70 years since the end of the Second World War, it’s helped to create and sustain more prosperity for more people than ever before in history. Higher education, once the privilege of a very few, is now considered essential for most careers.

Among our best-educated are the climate scientists who since the 1980s have tested and re-tested the theory that human activities are changing the climate. Despite the criticism many of them have endured, we trust them precisely because we trust their education.

Right from the start, North American public education was designed to assimilate immigrant and working-class children and prepare them for the workplace. To my generation of teachers who started in the 1960s and ’70s, it was the great equalizer — the way underprivileged kids would gain their share of the postwar golden age. Thanks to us they would get good jobs, vote and make this a better country.

We were just beginning to realize that “the environment” was a real issue. Problems like oil spills and smog and rivers catching fire were not the cost of progress — they were obstacles to progress. We teachers figured that our educated students would soon get around to cleaning up the planet.

Just as we didn’t foresee climate change, we didn’t foresee that our students would settle for a good job, two cars and a house in the suburbs, just as we had. A society built around endless growth and development was the subtext in everything we taught. Only with growth could we ensure more high-paying jobs and the promise of upward social mobility.

Consumption and more consumption

The purpose of such jobs and mobility, of course, is consumption and more consumption: a bigger SUV, a bigger house with more appliances, more air travel, more everything. More consumption demands more energy, especially fossil energy. Consuming energy costs money. And that is why business schools are crammed with students while liberal arts schools fight for their lives.



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