We are familiar with the concept of ecology as applying to biological systems, not as a metaphor, but as an interactive living system. We can also consider our human social, cultural, and technological activity as social ecologies of cognition. Not as a metaphor, but as an interactive learning system. Research in neuroscience is revealing how language stimulates neurological activity. Research in cognitive science is showing our human cognition does not reside solely in the brain, but is ’embodied’ – cognitive processes involve whole body systems to process sensory motor data from our surrounding environments and make sense of our experiences.
The notion that our human experience is in any way separable from the environment – as constituted by other human beings, objects (organic, inorganic), natural and technological phenomena – is an error in conception that can be dated from arguments for Cartesian dualism, but can be traced to earlier philosophies that privilege human life over other life forms and systems. These arguments have been proved to promote an ideological construct to rationalize human dominance of other life systems, but also taxonomies of human hierarchies that privilege whiteness, maleness, and ‘rationality’. In fact, arguments for human transcendence cannot be proven, except as historical constructs of logic.
We definitely need to re-conceive our educational systems as learning, knowledge generative systems rather than knowledge reproductive manufacturing systems. Educational systems must re-define themselves outside their service to provide educated workers for hierarchical manufacturing systems. Part of this process of redefinition must include critically examining the ways educational systems have contributed to the destructive perspectives, policies and practices that have fomented the multiple levels of crisis consequent of our human presence on this planet.
These are not changes in metaphors, but changes in the very paradigms that inform our efforts as educators. Our educational systems are ecological systems, they contribute to the cognitive, social, cultural and technological possibilities for our human existence. When educators understand their role in the formation and perpetuation of the educational systems they are working within, change will happen. Not as broad, idealized strokes of policy from government or institutions, but as an erosion of organizational structures that are recognized to no longer serve the good of humanity, and through their entropy, dissolve to be re-constructed into a new vision of what it means to learn and the role learning, and unlearning, play in the dawning of the knowledge era.