Professor Spirovska posed the following questions:
Have Liberal Arts institutions stepped up to deliver a values-based education relevant for the 21st century? Are educators prepared to deliver integrated, multi-disciplinary experiences that promote long-term sustainability across societies, organizations and the environment? As the Chair of a new Innovation Team, convened by her Dean, our speaker was charged with helping her institution move towards a common 1st year student experience focused on sustainability, and with identifying a relevant curriculum.
She distributed green index cards and asked attendees to write down what came to mind when they heard the word “sustainability.” Some of the responses were durability, long-term planning, gaining traction, surviving and thriving, ethical responses and global development. Professor Spirovska then shared part of the U.N.’s 1987 definition (from the report of the Brundtland Commission): “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
This led to her discussing the questions “who defines the needs?” and “how can we know what will constitute the needs of future generations?” “What are real needs vs. perceived needs?” “How can we face the challenges and choices of reinventing education or taking it back to its roots…and what could constitute a “holistic education?” She urged the audience to consider our vision(s) of the 21st century student, and what we want for them. For example, it is not enough to teach students how to make money without teaching them how to spend it, making students aware that their spending choices are equivalent to their votes for sustainable systems.
She then divided the audience into two groups to discuss and share what we do at our home institutions to promote and sustain the liberal arts & sciences, as well as environmental sustainability — and also what we feel are the main challenges to our succeeding.
Professor Spirovska also gave us several examples of her First-Year-Experience project for sustainability in a Liberal Arts curriculum, including an anecdote about using “A Fertile Crescent” as a teaching tool. She employs four modules in order to help students develop an expanded world view encompassing sustainability and enabling them to find their place in society as global citizens. Her four themes are:
- Self and meaning
- Culture and society
- 21st c. challenges, innovations, professions
- Future forecasting and leadership in environmental initiatives
She concluded by emphasizing that we need to support students as they find their own purpose, passions, values… and to help them move beyond being consumers, or merely expecting to be “entertained.” Professor Spirovska shared an important resource with the audience: http://www.aashe.org/
(Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education). It was an inspiring and provocative session.