david orr

“and for what destination and for what destiny do we educate our children? for all of the fashionable talk about multiculturalism, the fact is that modern education has contributed greatly to the destruction of local cultures virtually everywhere. locality has no standing in the modern curriculum. abstractions, generalized knowledge, and technology do. education has become a great homogenizing force undermining local knowledge, indigenous languages, and the self-confidence of placed people. it has become an adjunct to the commercial economy. it has hired itself out to the forces of growth and development, which as far as i can tell, is the effort to make the world safe for big capital. taken as a whole, education has lacked the courage to ask itself what kind of world its graduates will inherit and what kind of world they will be prepared to build.”

david orr earth in mind 2004


“Education can be a dangerous thing. Accordingly, I intend to focus on the problem¬†of education, not the problems¬†in education. It is time, I believe, for an educational “perestroika,” by which I mean a general rethinking of the process and substance of education at all levels, beginning with the admission that much of what has gone wrong with the world is a result of education that alienates us from life in the name of human domination, fragments instead of unifies, overemphasizes success and careers, separates feeling from intellect and the practical from the theoretical, and unleashes on the world minds ignorant of their own ignorance. As a result, an increasing percentage of the human intelligence must attempt to undo a large part of what mere intellectual cleverness has done carelessly and greedily”.

“This first and overriding danger is that it will encourage young people to find careers before they find a decent calling. A career is a job, a way to earn one’s keep, a way to build a long resume, a ticket to somewhere else. For upwardly mobile professionals, a career is too often a way to support a “lifestyle” by which one takes more than one gives back. In contrast, a calling has to do with one’s larger purpose, personhood, deepest values, and the gift one wishes to give the world. A calling is about the use one makes of a career. A career is about specific aptitudes; a calling is about purpose. A career is planned with the help of “career development” specialists. A calling comes out of an inner conversation. A career can always be found in a calling, but a calling cannot easily be found in a career”.

“A second danger of formal schooling is that it will imprint a disciplinary template onto impressionable minds and with it the belief that the world really is as disconnected as the divisions, disciplines, and sub-disciplines of the typical curriculum. Students come to believe that there is such a thing as politics separate from ecology or that economics has nothing to do with physics. Yet, the world is not this way, and except for the temporary convenience of analysis, it cannot be broken down into disciplines and specializations without doing serious harm to the world and to the minds and lives of people who believe that it can be. We often forget to tell students that the convenience was temporary, and more seriously, we fail to show how things can be made whole again. One result is that students graduate without knowing how to think in whole systems, how to find connections, how to ask big questions, and how to separate the trivial from the important. Now more than ever, however, we need people who think broadly and who understand systems, connections, patterns and root causes”.

“Third there is the danger that education will damage the sense of wonder – the sheer joy in the created world – that is part of our original equipment at birth. It does this in various ways: by reducing learning to routines and memorization, by excess abstractions divorced from lived experience, by boring curriculum, by humiliation, by too many rules, by overstressing grades, by too much television and too many computers, by too much indoor learning and mostly deadening the feelings from which wonder grows. As our sense of wonder in nature diminishes, so too does our sense of the sacred, our pleasure in the created world, and the impulse behind a great deal of our best thinking. Where it is kept intact and growing, teachers need not worry about whether students learn reading, writing and arithmetic”.

The Dangers of Education by David W. Orr