In traditional American classrooms, students memorize textbook material for discrete subjects and later are evaluated through written tests. But is this truly the best way to prepare and empower them to solve the complex problems that they will encounter in the wider world? Paul Bocko has been engaging with this question for decades, and he now supports a problem-based approach that, combined with sustainability education, helps students develop the skills and enthusiasm they need to thrive in our world. In this conversation, Paul gives specific examples, discusses the concept of “wicked problems,” and talks about how we can take these practices into our own lives, families, and communities.
Visit Antioch’s website to learn more about the Certificate in Climate Change Education, the Masters of Education in Educating for Sustainability, and other programs from the School of Education where Paul teaches.
You can download Paul’s dissertation on the UMass Amherst website.
This episode was recorded on December 13, 2022, via Riverside.FM and released January 25, 2023.
The Seed Field Podcast is produced by Antioch University
Host: Jasper Nighthawk
Editor: Johanna Case
Digital Design: Mira Mead
Web Content Coordination: Jen Mont
Work-Study Intern: Sierra-Nicole E. DeBinion
A special thanks to Karen Hamilton, Amelia Bryan, and Melinda Garland
To access a full transcript and find more information about this and other episodes, visit theseedfield.org. To get updates and be notified about future episodes, follow Antioch University on Facebook.
Paul Bocko, PhD is Faculty in the AUNE Department of Education. He teaches in the Experienced Educator and Integrated Learning (elementary, early childhood, and special education licenses) programs. He is the Concentration Director for Place-based Education and Educating for Sustainability in the Experienced Educator Program. He serves as the Internship Coordinator for the Integrated Learning Program. Research and special interests include sustainability education, place-based education, place-based social justice, equity in education, sociocultural theory, reconstructionism, and problem-based learning. Paul also serves as the Director of the Antioch Center for School Renewal (ACSR), the professional and community development service division of the department. He is a Critical Skills Master Teacher and School Reform Initiative National Facilitator. He is the Project Manager for the HORATIO COLONY NATURE PRESERVE, 645 acres of uplands, wetlands, and diverse woodlands in Keene, NH. He earned his PhD from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst College of Education, in 2022. His research focus is on how teachers guide K-12 students to design solutions for real-world problems as they fully participate as citizens and ensure that current and future generations live meaningful lives and advance racial, social, economic, and environmental justice.
S5 Episode 1 Transcript
Jasper: [00:00:00] This is the Seed Field Podcast, the show where Antiochians share their knowledge, tell their stories, and come together to win victories for humanity. I’m your host, Jasper Nighthawk, and today we’re joined by Paul Bocko for a conversation around the question, how do we prepare young people to address some of today’s biggest problems, and in particular, sustainability in this time of climate change? I’ve been really looking forward to this conversation and I’m excited to have the chance to talk with someone who spent their career thinking about how best to educate students and run classrooms, especially around this big question. For anyone who’s listening to this, I don’t think this is gonna be an abstract or an impersonal question for myself.
I spent thirteen years in kindergarten through twelfth grade classrooms, and in so many of these classes, we just worked from textbooks. We would learn material from a specific unit. We’d complete [00:01:00] worksheets, and that was it. The bell would ring, and we’d go to the next class, the next subject; we’d go from English to Science, to History, to whatever our electives were.
And there were these discreet places where we were expected to learn of a set body of knowledge. I also think that I’m not alone in having experienced a really sharp break. When I went out into the world and actually started working on various jobs out in the world, there weren’t these hard lines between subjects.
There were just problems that I had to solve, and I had to bring everything that I had and sometimes bring in other resources to try to solve them. And this was true as a young person; I worked in construction, I worked in restaurants, I worked as a poetry teacher, and then eventually, I found a career as a writer.
And success in all of these jobs required different skills, but in none of them, was it just like one discreet thing? It called on all of my capacities as a person, really. And it was quite a bit [00:02:00] different from the skills required to be a straight-A student in a traditional classroom. This question of how we go about teaching students and preparing them for life in our world is, I think a really deep and essential one when we’re talking about education, and when we’re talking about the lifespan of, citizens. And I think today when our society is facing so many big and urgent problems, we absolutely should be reexamining the way that we teach.
As I’ve dug into Paul Bocko’s work, his writing, his course syllabi, I found it to be really fascinating. Paul is a longtime faculty member here at Antioch, teaching in the education programs at our New England campus, where he directs the Antioch Center for School Renewal and is also project manager of the Horatio Colony Nature Preserve. Paul’s work often ties together environmental studies with education with a distinct focus on sustainability education, which is so important as we face human-caused climate change.
Alongside his teaching, Paul just completed a year [00:03:00] ago, another degree of his own, a PhD in teacher education and curriculum studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. His dissertation there tackled this exact question of how best can we teach students, especially around questions of sustainability. I liked that he took a quantitative approach to investigating the concept of problem-based education.
We’re gonna talk about that specific term a little bit more in just a minute, but I’m really excited to talk with Paul about his work, exploring how teachers can guide students to design solutions for real-world problems and in the process, learn more about citizenship and advancing racial, social, economic, and environmental justice.
So with that big introduction, welcome to the podcast, Paul.
Paul: Thanks. It’s great to be here. And what a thoughtful introduction.
Jasper: Well, hopefully, it frames some of the questions that we’re gonna unpack, and you can gently correct me where I got things wrong I’m excited to learn here; this is also an educational experience.
Paul: Yeah, for me
Jasper: What a great attitude to bring to things. [00:04:00] So I’ll start with the question we always start with, which is, what is our positionality and where do we come to this conversation from? Especially as people listening can’t see us, we’re coming through their ears.
So I’ll start off. I would like for people to know that I’m white. I’m a cis-gendered man. I’m not currently living with a disability. I have a college degree and an MFA. And I have stable housing and full-time work. Also, I think it’s worth disclosing. I’m not straight, but as a man married to a woman, I move through the world with a lot of straight privilege.
Paul, could you, as much as you’re comfortable, tell us what you’re coming to this conversation from?
Paul: Sure. I’m also a cisgender male. I don’t have a disability. I’m very lucky to have full-time work, yeah, it’s something that, you know, I continue to ponder and consider, but I walk this world, I navigate this world, with a lot of privilege as a white male. And I’m [00:05:00] working to be a, a good ally to everyone that I run into out there,
Jasper: Thank you for disclosing that, and I want to push a little bit beyond the demographic boxes too. I think that can be useful as a starting place. But I’m curious about your own path, like you’ve dedicated your career to training K-12 teachers and thinking critically about the ways that we go about teaching these students.
So could you tell me a little bit more about how you came to this work if there were any pivotal moments or experiences that led you down this path?
Paul: Yeah, I think, way back, I won’t start in the crib, but going back to when I was a child, I spent a lot of time in the woods in Northern New Hampshire. I went camping and that’s what our family could do. We didn’t do, you know, resort
Paul: or whatever, and I’m actually happy about that, but that laid a foundation.
So that’s a pivotal period of my life that laid a foundation for being connected to nature, [00:06:00] you know, it took me through undergrad, um, at the University of New Hampshire to realize I wanted to do some work in the environment. I didn’t know what it was yet, but that was pivotal. I didn’t know what I wanted to do during undergrad, really. took till the end of it.
And about two years later, I applied to Antioch. I applied to Antioch, New England, and eventually got into the environmental ED program in the environmental studies department here in New England; I’m really leading up to is the big pivotal moment is when I graduated in 1995, and I got a job at the Harris Center for Conservation Education, nearby Keen New Hampshire.
And my job was a teacher naturalist. So I was going into schools, and I was, ideally, working side by side with the classroom teacher to teach natural science. Sometimes the teacher was off doing other things, and I was alone. Which,[00:07:00] you know, was good learning.
Jasper: Yeah, depending on, on how the classroom dynamics were working, that can work or not work.
Paul: Yes, yes. And there were adventures with that. That might be another podcast about facilitating a classroom. that launched me on a focus of teaching about nature in schools, and that’s evolved since then, which we’ll get into just by the focus that you have for this.
But that was a big, pivotal moment. I could have ended up at a nature center or, um, park ranger, who knows, but I ended up in schools, and it brought me back to schools. Never thought I would be there, but I just became so attracted to the challenge, the wonderful challenge of how do you make this experience even more meaningful. Teachers do great work, but how do you make this more meaningful? And my way was, at that time, focused on the environment and nature. And I did that for four years, and that launched me to next steps.
Jasper: [00:08:00] yeah. So eventually, you became not just someone working in classrooms but also someone like a scholar thinking critically about pedagogy and our approaches to working in classrooms. correct?
Paul: Yeah. I mean, that started intensely in, you know, 2013 when I started my doctoral studies. Those roots were there all the time. I mean, I spent ten years at this campus, Antioch, New England, working for the Antioch, New England Institute. We were doing community-based education, to put it in a broad term.
Maybe this has come up on other podcasts, but you know, we’re very practice based institution. And so what I do now is very practice based, but yes, it has a, heavy dose of research and, and scholarly work. But those 10 years, that was a consulting organization. We were out in communities bringing the resources of university to communities to, tackle challenges and design [00:09:00] solution.
Jasper: So I want to zero in on one of the ideas that you teach courses around now and that you addressed in this dissertation, which we’re, we’re gonna go through in this conversation, some of the ideas there, but it’s this concept of problem-based learning. So can you tell us what problem-based learning is and how it works?
Paul: Sure. So it’s engaging and learning by, you know, solving a problem, students find the challenge themselves, or it’s presented by teachers, but instead of learning through a text as you mentioned in your introduction, learning just through a story, you start with a challenge, and in the purest sense, there is no prior study, related to the problem.
However, everyone brings prior knowledge. Even the youngest of students does that. So you have something to contribute, and there may be multiple solutions. There isn’t just one answer, [00:10:00] it’s important in problem-based learning to reflect, pause, reflect; this is in a lot of educational models. But pause, reflect, and think about future use in that problem-based experience you’re having; you’re developing more prior knowledge, and then you carry that on to the next design challenge or problem.
Jasper: Yeah, so in your dissertation, you are following an Antioch alum in her classroom. I think it’s a fifth-grade classroom.
Paul: Fifth, sixth. Yep, as they tackle the project of building a solar oven, and they split into groups, and they all come up with different designs and refine those designs and have all sorts of questions about it.
Jasper: How long does a process like the Solar Oven project take?
Paul: I’m not gonna get the exact length right, but I mean, this was like six to eight weeks at least.
Jasper: Okay. Is that normal for project-based education or problem-based?
Paul: think I would say it’s normal for[00:11:00] this is my positionality on this coming forward. um, for a meaningful, deep experience, I think it is, and it could be longer, but just, sort of off the cuff here, I think that’s a minimum of really establishing a process and a, and a deep experience. That teacher, gosh, she, she’s just a master teacher. And I’m not saying that just because she went to school at Antioch, but it, it helped. Those six whatever weeks, six, seven, eight weeks were nested in the full year, that full chapter of her career and the students learning, of other cycles like that, you know, all sort of working together.
It was not never perfect, but those six to eight weeks were amplified and supported by all this other work she was doing and the connections she was making from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.
That’s beautiful. So it’s also not like it’s a [00:12:00] discreet unit, it’s actually has these kind of ties into the rest of the curriculum.
Paul: For example, in the first, it was in the spring. It was May. I did my visits and they were really working on the solar ovens. In the fall they had gone through a similar process, read a book I’m forgetting the title, but, a book about a boy in Africa who built a windmill. you know, so they, They actually built windmills, it was a smaller project, she didn’t necessarily know she was gonna do the solar oven project, but that was a project that built a foundation for the problem solving they did with the solar oven.
Jasper: Yeah, I think I can imagine how a solar oven building would engage maybe science. So you would learn about like the rays of the sun and maybe some math as you’re deciding how to cut different pieces to build a solar oven. How would that engage other subjects in other areas of learning?
Paul: Communication. People might not [00:13:00] think about it as much, but in language arts curriculum, there’s a whole section in the common core and I think other versions as well where it’s speaking and listening, and it’s about being able to listen to others, be able to speak and share your opinion.
And these kids, as you said, we’re in small groups and they had to communicate with each other. one of the images in my dissertation. It’s about, stems of conversation starters that are up on the board in the teacher’s classroom, Things like, “I understand what you’re saying and I think it’s important to…” You know, so she was teaching them to come together and have their ideas bumping up against each other to get to the best solution.
So that’s language arts, more language arts. Throughout the year, she did the sustainability work and this problem solving in many different ways. And at the end of the year they had a writing project. It was a teen activism writing project.
So students had to research teen activists from [00:14:00] around the world and the US of course, they had different levels, she was addressing different academic skills and developmental stages in the classroom. So there were different choices, but the students were charged with investigating real teen activists and gleaning out you know, what were the characteristics of these teen activists? what does it take? What’s the essence of that? Why did these people get here? So there’s just these beautiful essays, and that’s part of some of my results in the dissertation. showing how, the students really engaged in problem solving and understood through their own work, but also through others’ work, how to tackle the tough challenges.
They were reading and then they had to write, they had a specific assignment to write. So that’s another integration.
Jasper: Yeah, it’s great to hear these things and, I agree that it’s not always obvious that collaboration is a skill that we learn because it’s not one of the traditional subjects necessarily, [00:15:00] but it also engages our speaking abilities, our language arts abilities.
Well, I want to expand a little bit from this one project, which is great to, , have it grounded in those specifics, but in your dissertation, you talk about how problem-based learning is especially effective when tackling what you call like “wicked problems”. I know that’s not your original idea, but can you tell us a little bit about wicked problems and kind of why it might be important for students to have skills to tackle those?
Paul: A wicked problem. It sounds like a, off the hand name,
but it’s actually in literature. Yeah, , but a wicked problem it’s got some literature around it and some thinking around it. And it’s a problem that has inherent contradictions. There are multiple solutions, there is really, you know, I said problem based learning, there isn’t just one answer for some of these problems there just is no apparent answer.
Jasper: There’s no answer I
Paul: mean, these are tough, gnarly problems and examples [00:16:00] are climate change, and what, and where we’re at with that. just take a look at the countries that are coming together every year to tackle issues. You just listen to the news. It’s just all about a wicked problem, just
the example of, you know, less developed countries really pushing on developed countries. Like we we’re not just gonna make changes, you need to help us. You caused all this. It’s, it’s very challenging.
Yeah, on the level of society, somebody’s gonna have to pay for it. Somebody’s going to have to muster the will and maybe give some things up, with climate change, there’s so much carbon emissions that are already baked in that we’re not going to be able to avoid climate change entirely. Obviously it’s already affecting us ,Other
examples, poverty, that’s, that’s another good one that has a
Jasper: Yeah. Well, here in California I see every day, a really profound crisis in not having enough housing supply to house everybody and people [00:17:00] living in really terrible conditions. And as our state has struggled to address the problem, there are homeowners who are affected by it today and would like to see people arrested and carted away. And there are people who will see their houses decrease in value if there are enough houses to go around. And some of those people can barely make the payments on their enormous mortgages, and they will really negatively be affected. So this is getting a little bit far from what you might teach in a sixth grade classroom, but these problems are all around our society. And when I was reading your dissertation, I was thinking about this, it really reminded me of Horace Mann.
Jasper: founding president of Antioch . I mean, , he’s kind of the father of public education in the US and he wrote extensively about the importance of education to people being citizens, and having a democracy where the people are the ultimate source of power, rather than just sort of some enlightened elite or enlightened monarch. And[00:18:00] it struck me that, these are exactly the kind of problems that we have to confront as citizens, these wicked problems.
Jasper: Do you see students who engage with this type of problem based learning, gaining the ability to engage in really tough questions?
Paul: Yes. And that’s true in my dissertation research, but also beyond it when I’m not necessarily looking at it as formally. Especially in those writing pieces, I talked about the teen activism paper that the fifth and sixth graders did. They were able to demonstrate, and we should return to this about how much of this are we putting on kids because it’s, it can be a lot. But in those papers, , there are different abilities with the twelve students in the classroom, but to varying degrees, they were able to hold up these big concepts. about Equity, economy, and environment when you’re problem solving within the context of [00:19:00] sustainability and sustainability education, you have to bring those three e’s together. And Those are big concepts coming together and that are competing with each other. Environment, and economy, and social justice, and equity, they were able to start talking about them. In my interviews as well is really where I asked about the three E’s, but you saw it in their papers as well where they’re able to write about, well, this, this teen activist was focused on reducing electronic waste. And that takes money. So there’s an environmental issue there, but then they brought in the economic issue and then it was like, Who’s able to even have these electronic devices? Where’s all this waste coming from? It may not be from a lower socioeconomic status.
So think I wrote about it as of a nascent understanding of when you look at those three E’s together, I think it can help you navigate the gnarly, wicked problem on some level and understand it as a system rather [00:20:00] than, there’s just one solution.
You’ve gotta look at all those variables, and it’s really important. I don’t want listeners to think that they probably get this from what Antioch is or who Antioch is, but these children were not engaged in the Solar Oven project and said, okay, if you solve this, you’ve got it all figured out. You’ve helped the world now, and you’ve just solved it. You know, we’re not advocates for laying these wicked problems on the laps of children. That’s not, not gonna do it. What we can do, though, is engage them in thinking about their world and solving smaller problems as a way to build up skills and to really engage students of all ages in decision making and citizenship, as you referenced with goals of our first president, Horace Mann. How important that is. So we can do that in small ways, and meaningful [00:21:00] ways. So children and youth can participate and contribute, but not in terms of we couldn’t figure it out. Here you go.
Jasper: Here you go. Greta Tinburg. This is your problem now. I appreciate you, pointing out that it’s not right to be like, Hey, kids, check it out. these problems are intractable and really scary and, you are responsible for solving them.
But even if you don’t do that, but you’re doing this smaller thing, which is like, Hey, let’s spend six weeks and you really will be empowered to work on a solar oven project. I want to draw out the fact that students are empowered through this, through this process. it’s not just equipping students with knowledge, which I think is an older model of education, but it’s also letting them use that knowledge and apply it to things that actually exist in the real world and to feel what it’s like to be an actor, not just to be like an observer. Is, is that right?
Paul: yeah, [00:22:00] it, according to me, it is. I think it’s really important. It makes learning engaging and, one of the ways I write about this teacher is that they excited learning; I’m using that as a verb. They really engage with students and put challenges in front of them and guided them and supported them as well, but excited them.
I’m not using it in a simplistic way, like, “oh, that was exciting,” but it really, it excited something in them and they were able to see how they could contribute. And they did in the moment. The solar ovens didn’t necessarily go to someone and they could cook, but they were doing other things during the year that were, , more directly community based, but they were engaged in reflection.
And as I said, writing to consider their impact and others’ impact of their age on the world, so they could start to see those pieces coming together. And ] it’s just beautiful to see [00:23:00] that growing understanding of these tough concepts that we as adults are challenged by. It’s all through media, you could look at a lot of stories every day , how they’re a, a wicked problem or that’s problem solving. It’s happening all the time and it underpins a lot of the progressive models, and social action models in our department and across the university that we promote.
Jasper: I want to talk specifically about sustainability, and sustainability education, because that was one of the focuses of your dissertation and also is an emphasis of our education programs that you teach in. So can you tell me what the bigger concept of sustainability education is and why this should be a part of a K-12 education?
Paul: Yeah. One way to describe it is teaching in a way that, prepares students to live and contribute to the world in a way that preserves the world for future generations. [00:24:00] So, that’s a broad way to think about it. I mentioned this in another part of interview here, but the other way to define it is teaching in a way that teaches lessons about how you reflect on and consider the three E’s, you know, economic, environmental, and equity issues, as a way to make decisions, and design solutions, and face problems. And those are pretty abstract definitions and it’s quite, it’s challenging, but that’s the core of it, really looking hard at that.
Jasper: Can you tell me a little bit more about how equity comes into this? I think environmental is obviously part of environmental education. The economy , you can kind of understand how that would tie in, but where does equity come in?
Paul: it’s almost hard to extract it. Right? when you consider an environmental problem, think about environmental justice. Where is there environmental degradation? Maybe with a, um, oil processing plant or whatever, who’s [00:25:00] living nearby? It’s black people or lower socioeconomic group. Why are they right next to this and environmentally unsound corporation or, factory? Um, so then there’s an inequity issue. Yeah,
Jasper: why do they have elevated incidents of asthma or all of these effects? And we’d see that not just here in Los Angeles, where the oil fields are right by black neighborhoods, but all across the US. that marginalized people are often bearing the brunt. They live in what is sometimes called sacrifice zones. Um,
Paul: Yep. So that’s a big way that equity comes into it and some of the measures that I used, and some Swedish colleagues use about equity is tapping into, well what are students thinking about as they learn about these issues? And are they in a place where they’re thinking about, how do I, share and help create access for other people to the environment, to nature, to learning from environment?[00:26:00] How do I help create access? Am I donating? Am I supporting others? On the educational side of it, how am I engaging in the world and trying to create a more equitable society?
Jasper: I want to bring back in the idea of problem-based education and see when we have this problem-based learning, we’re doing these big projects, and they’re based around kind of a sustainability education model where we’re emphasizing the environment, economy, and equity all equally. And I’m wondering if you could draw a little bit of a contrast between this approach and a more standard environmental science curriculum.
Paul: So, it’s also sort of hard, I’m thinking about my, Colleagues uh, , environmental studies, I mean their environmental science teaching and teaching of, of folks who will be teachers is very holistic but I, the contrast is with, outside of Antioch, there’s great work going on outside of Antioch as well, but when you [00:27:00] think about the level of testing in states, Massachusetts, where I actually live, just increase the level of test scores you need to have to, to be able to graduate high school. And that goes for all the subjects.
So what does that mean? It means that likely, instead of engaging in, problems, real world problems, where each year a classroom might, go out and help a local organization solve a problem, and it’s rooted in science, they’re more inside, in a textbook. Hopefully doing labs like I did in, in science classes, but it’s, and that’s, that’s an okay context. You can definitely learn concepts, but it’s much more engaging out in the community. So I think the contrast is similar to what you laid out in your introduction. You’re in a textbook. You’re in seats primarily, your classroom is the four walls. And contrast is, well, wait a minute, there are scientific [00:28:00] challenges going on right outside all the time.
There’s a classic example from Littleton, New Hampshire that some of my colleagues worked on where science students looked at, how can we utilize the surplus heat coming from one of the buildings. How could we use that so that we’re not wasting it?
And they were pondering an idea, forget if they ever did it, but the students came up with an idea to pump some of that heat to underneath sidewalks. So you wouldn’t have to shovel, so you could read about that maybe being done in Europe somewhere, or maybe in the United States somewhere and learn from it.
But these students were engaged in a problem. How do we keep this a safe walking area, cut down on how much workers have to shovel, or
Jasper: you to
Paul: innovative solutions like that.
Jasper: You start to think about the shape of your world. That reminds me of when I was in high school. You know, I took an environmental science class, but one of the, things that shaped how I [00:29:00] later would relate with the world in my own activism is that there was a proposal to put a skate park on a kind of empty parcel next to the school, and there was a lot of opposition from neighbors. And I ended up going to the school board meeting and speaking in favor of the skate park Ultimately, it didn’t get built. There was one built in a different location. It kind of worked out all right, but that actual real world thing of going and of hearing all the different people speaking and what was going into this,, decision and actually having to pull my own thoughts together and speak my speech was really empowering something that stayed with me and I could draw against that as a real experience that I had and nobody put me up to that, but it was great moment in my own kind of arrival as somebody who didn’t just read about things, but also did things. Yeah.
Paul: what you make me think about is, assessment. Cuz what you just talked about, it’s like, I want to talk to teachers about, you know, what? [00:30:00] Evaluate that. Evaluate what Jasper did when he brought all his thoughts together. Maybe you wrote it down, maybe it was on a napkin, I don’t know, but you wrote it down , or you had it in your head, you were able to express it. Maybe there’s a video of you doing that. It doesn’t make it easy to assess cuz maybe students in your class are doing many different things, but that can be assessed. So the contrast is writing in little blue books, or filling in ovals, potentially to demonstrate your understanding of environmental science.
It’s not necessarily either or, it’s both, and. But boy, to be able to read about initiatives, to see what’s happening in other countries and other parts of our country, and then to actually engage in getting out in the community and speaking and presenting something to a board, or to the Conservation Commission, and a lot of teachers are open to this.
It’s harder to implement, but upping teacher’s ability to assess that [00:31:00] kind of work, like what you did is, gold in so many ways. And it’s really challenging to look at, and to understand. Maybe, I don’t know if this happened, but maybe you had four or five friends who did that as well, and you all spoke and, okay, I got five of my students from the class and I can evaluate that. But, you know, maybe they’re doing many different things,
There are models of this, but it’s, it’s challenging. It’s a lot of work.
Jasper: Yeah. evaluation Would’ve been nice,
Jasper: it, it also would’ve been nice just to have an opportunity for reflection. What did say? How did that feel? Was that the most effective way? What are you doing after this? It kind of felt like it disappeared. I think I was like quoted in the town newspaper, which was cool, but I think, yeah, you brought up this thing of like, there are many teachers who are interested and open to these things and I think, I think it’s worth just like putting a little asterisk and saying the last three years have been incredibly hard for teachers in this country, [00:32:00] and so many teachers are operating under a million constraints.
And I don’t want any of this to come off as us criticizing the classroom teachers who are out there kind of in the trenches working right now. I think that’s like worth just saying.
Paul: Definitely worth saying. And it might sound trite or something, but teachers are my favorite people. They worked so hard and there were a million things, and it was challenging before the pandemic, and much more now, with these gnarly problems like Covid or wicked problem like Covid, and the triple demic now.
There have always been really challenging, factors, impacting teachers’ lives and therefore students lives, and they, work so hard. So they are doing incredible work and you can’t underestimate the power of the system. Sounds a little, ” it’s the system man,” but it, it, is a system of accountability. And many, many years now, since the eighties of [00:33:00] big federal public school legislation that really constricts what you can do and. assessments, accountability. There’s a place for it, but it’s still, even though , we haven’t had a huge bill lately. The, impetus that schools have to help us compete in the world market or global market is still really strong and that leads to testing, that leads to accountability, and it’s harder for people to see how you can really have achievement and, bring just incredible people into the world or while they’re students to contribute through place-based, through sustainability education and problem-based learning. It’s harder to see that it’s there, but it’s harder to see.
Jasper: The teachers who are most interested in doing this, often are facing this enormous bureaucratic inertia to keep teaching in ways that have become traditional in the last a hundred years in this country.[00:34:00]
We are almost out of time, so I want to bring around to our last question, which is, I’m wondering, not everybody listening to this is necessarily going to be a K-12 teacher, or a student in one of those classrooms.
And I’m wondering if there are any lessons as you’ve thought about this over the years, that we could take from, from these practices of problem-based education and we could apply them beyond our elementary and high schools and I’m not alone in looking for ways to make our world more sustainable, but I, I often find that that’s easier to say than it is to do and to put into practice. So I’m wondering if there are some of these lessons from problem-based education, from sustainability education that we can apply out in our own lives, our families, and our communities.
Paul: a couple things come to mind. One of the foundations of problem-based or place-based or sustainability education is engaging in the problem solving, engaging in the community. And I think that’s a lesson. I [00:35:00] don’t find it hard to convince teachers or if I’m talking to a parent that that’s a good thing.
Yes, let’s get kids involved with community and participating in doing a display at that museum, or working with the Conservation Commission, or wherever. It’s not hard to convince people to do that. It’s harder to implement in schools, but I think there’s a parallel and there’s been some, work done, on this about adults or, citizens engagement in community.
And it’s down, whether it’s just social gatherings, or, boy, school boards could, it’s a whole subject, but any sort of local governance, there’s some extreme movements with that, I think, to bring extreme views. But, the importance of participating and contributing, I think is a parallel that needs to be brought back to all of us. Myself included, you know, I’m could do [00:36:00] more. The other thing that comes to mind is, especially from sustainability, education and, problem solving or problem-based learning and wicked problems, is the importance of systems thinking and understanding the multiple elements in any system, whether it’s a school system, or a community overlapping with a school system, a university. All the different elements that you have to take into consideration, and the, conflicting, or the competing needs. But systems thinking is really important. It’s also along with the three E’s, which you can consider a system.
It’s fundamental of, sustainability educations. And sustainability in general. So all of us being able to see more. There are some things in the world I think, where it’s, it’s either yes or no, or, it’s a binary, but I I think it’s, [00:37:00] it’s not too many. We we’re in a dynamic, complex endeavor
Jasper: Yeah, well, I think that encouragement to be involved in our communities and to find ways to do that and to contribute and to think about things not as simple, yes or no or like there’s easy answers, but to look at the larger systems is a beautiful place to leave it. So thank you so much for coming on the show, Paul.
Paul: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure
Paul teaches in Antioch’s school of education, which offers a certificate in climate change education. A master’s of education in educating for sustainability, and many other classes, certificates, and degree programs around this topic. We have a link for more information in our show notes. We’ll also link there to Paul’s dissertation.
We post these show notes on our website, theseedfield.org. Where you’ll also find full episode transcripts, prior episodes, and more. The seed field podcast is produced by Antioch University. [00:38:00] Our editor is Johannah Case. I’m your host Jasper Nighthawk. Our digital designer is Mira Mead. Jen Mont is our web content coordinator, Sierra-Nicole E. DeBinion is our work study intern. A special, thanks to Karen Hamilton, Emilia Brian and Melinda Garland.
Thank you for spending your time with us today. That’s it. For this episode, we hope to see you next time. And don’t forget to plant a seed, sew a cause, and win a victory for humanity. From Antioch University, this has been the Seed Field Podcast.