Sightlines Initiative

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5 minutes reading time (1020 words)

Education is in the beauty of life

Biodiversity: "we are all in this together."

Around fifteen years ago I was in my second year of biological studies at the University. I was in Italy, specifically in Tuscany, a region worldwide known for the splendour of its Renaissance art. At that time, lecturers used to took students to nature observing it for long periods: memories of my ramblings in woods looking for living creatures, from plants to microscopic animals, are still sculptured in my mind. Seeing and studying the multitude of life in all its forms and "in the field" was the guiding experience that brought me to become a biologist with a deep urge to understand biodiversity and work out solutions to preserve it.

This interest took me and my family around Europe, giving us the possibility to live in Germany and now in UK, working with colleagues from all around the world. Meanwhile I became a mother. Facing the responsibility of what education implies, I felt the urgency to re-think the responsibility of each individual in its daily life in a wider perspective and thus the importance of education in our society: we are taking the responsibility to build a sustainable society, if we want our Planet and us to survive.

From my point of view, that of a biologist and a mother, we take care of the Earth as much as we take care of our children and thus education. And the other way around. So, we have the huge duty to educate our children to take care of our Planet and its biodiversity, which sustains us every single day. In other words, we have the responsibility (and the honour!) to facilitate the love that every human being innately has for nature. When during my work I try to work out solutions to communicate awareness of Earth's biodiversity to every people, the light that leads me is ultimately the same that led me many years ago in those woods in Tuscany while I was studying the brimming of life. This light is made in its core by the sense of beauty – the same that probably inspired many Renaissance artists, like Leonardo or Michelangelo!

How do we communicate children caring for the Planet Earth? How do we let children thrive this light? Giving them time and space to nurture and let flourish the sense of beauty that they innately have in a nutshell since they are born: experiencing nature every day, playing in nature, trusting their ability to relate to nature.

Children's innate recognition of beauty and educational work that supports this have been widely studied and enlightened by eminent protagonists of the Reggio experience. 

In her book 'Art and Creativity in Reggio Emilia' Vea Vecchi (or some excerpts in English of her TEDx Talk given in Reggio can be read here) illustrates with passion the importance of recognising beauty, not only in the environment but also in the process of learning and understanding. The long Reggio experience of education also pointed out that in many schools we are misinforming instead of educating, because we are removing the 'pulsing of life' (quoting Gregory Bateson) from the world around us. We are risking to switch off the innate strong empathic relationship children have with the world around. This emphatic relation is made of sense of beauty and care, thus sense of solidarity and participation. It is through the sense of beauty that human beings communicate in a way that 'rationality and imagination travel together', so learning and understanding deeply the world and ourselves. It is through respecting, protecting and championing this intense, poetic, relationship children have with the world around us that we put 'the foundations for a sustainable future'.

In an exciting chapter of 'Learning to Learn in Nature', one of many publications of Sightlines Initiative on the importance of putting beauty at the centre of education, the author Annette Poulson documented very well the power that beauty has in the process of learning and understanding in children. She illustrates the children innate recognition of what beauty is and how the experience of it in nature 'will influence their values, their sense of responsibility, and their future life decisions, helping to make a better world for everyone'.

Thus this huge responsibility we have today for our Planet and the future of our children is than to reframe the basic concepts of current education – education is essentially the way we live and how aware we are of it. Today, instead, priorities of education according to the governmental 'Palace' are: tests, assessments, academic achievements and standards.

This video of Pam Jarvis illustrates very well and clearly how human learning starts and what are the foundations of human learning. It demonstrates how policies about education must pass through understanding how human beings learn. Pam Jarvis shows also the importance of facilitating this development in children: they born deeply creative and eager to enquire, with a innate sense of beauty and love for nature. They are spontaneous 'independent learner', we don't have 'to input stuff'!

Given the last government proposal to assess children in reception classes, serious concerns are growing all around from mindful parents, teachers and educators. I really recommend two videos of the More than a Score campaign about dangerous consequences on our children such kind of education based on tests can lead to. In one video, heads and teachers 'speak out on the damage caused by a test-driven primary curriculum'. In the second video, the first reactions to the government's primary assessment consultation are explored.

Ultimately, I was stunned by the words of a child in this video (min 9:11) for it's clear truth and simplicity that gets to the core of the matter: 'we learn more because we have more fun'. Indeed, it is all there: fun is made of joy and sense of beauty. This video was the launch of the More Than a Score UK campaign in 2016, where alternatives to the current system are also very clearly exposed. 

Maybe preserving our planet's immense beauty and thus working for the future of our children; changing current education, is something that someone would call a 'dream'. 
But without dreams or, better, visions of the future, 'the new is never invented.'
Curiosity is the essence of human existence
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Thursday, 02 February 2023

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