1% for Propaganda

Ashley Thorne

This week marked the deadline for college and university presidents to sign a letter called “1% for Education.” The letter was produced by Second Nature, an organization that advocates for sustainability in higher education. Second Nature is also one of the three groups that sponsor the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), which I’ve written about in “Proven Commitment to the Climate” and “Sustainability Education’s New Morality.”  

Currently the Senate is working on a bill that will resemble the cap and trade global warming bill passed by the House two weeks ago. In the letter, the college presidents ask senators to reserve 1% of the funds from the forthcoming bill to be allocated for sustainability education. The letter argues that while the House bill supports environmental initiatives, it makes no provisions for training up an “environmentally literate” generation:

The House-passed bill funds research in new technologies, worker training for green jobs, and many other urgent priorities, which we fully support. However, the House bill overlooks the broader role of education in helping Americans understand the connection between energy and our economy in order to make well-informed decisions as consumers, workers, business owners, investors and voters. Successfully navigating the transition to a clean energy economy and coping with the effects of unavoidable climate change will require a broad base of environmentally literate and competent citizens: architects, engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs, managers, financial experts, lawyers, and political leaders – in addition to well-informed consumers and a workforce trained in green jobs.

The reasoning here sounds like the saying, “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day.  Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.” It isn’t enough to give America green. It has to learn to become green. If we teach students when they are young that the future of the earth rests on them, they will grow up and teach sustainability to their children, creating a never-ending sustain-a-cycle.

But in order for the programming to be complete (“to produce such a literate workforce and citizenry”), education must rewrite its mission. The letter prompts America to “retool our nation’s universities and colleges to become centers of education, workforce training, and research in alternative energy, energy efficiency, and new technologies” [emphasis in the original].

Should America retool higher education to become centers of sustainability training? Last month I posted “Does Environmentalism ‘Fit Squarely’ With Higher Ed’s Mission?” in response to an ACUPCC report asserting that it did. I asked readers to respond and some did. One, going by “ivorytowerreform,” said:

The educational mission of a university is the "dispassionate pursuit of truth"—wherever that truth may lead.

As commentator "Athena" points out, there is a place in the academy for the study of environmental issues, and that place is in biology, ecology, geology and other courses and departments of its kind. Also, there is a difference between environmental action and environmental studies. The latter implies rigorous scientific research, the former ideological advocacy and activism which the ACUPCC clearly embraces.

Right, ivorytowerreform. Colleges should study the natural world. But to impose a single ideology across the disciplines and make it the central focus of higher education is uncalled-for.

By its definition sustainability is not merely about the environment. It is almost invariably paired with some form of the word justice. Second Nature includes it in its definition of sustainability: “a healthy and just society...”; there’s a website called www.justicesustainability.com that helps people reach “just and sustainable agreements about land uses”; and a consortium called Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) just released a report that makes its mission clear: “We work with business to create a just and sustainable world.” Our Getting to Green blogger friend comments today on the BSR mission: “And while that statement may seem concise, it's actually slightly redundant; no world (especially in this age of asymmetric warfare) can be sustainable without being just.” Sustainability isn’t simply a fancy word to encourage people to recycle. It’s an all-encompassing schema that calls for the restructuring of society. We’ll call it justainability.

Pledges of devotion to justainability are often accompanied by terms like egalitarian, fair trade, equity. All this points to a new notion of fairness that is really not fair at all. It is a weighted scale tipped in the favor of certain people groups. It is a system that discourages enterprise and encourages resentment. We have discussed the hidden meanings behind some of higher education’s buzzwords: equity (“For us equity does not mean treating every student the same”), social justice (examining “the oppressive systems...in society” and helping students to “develop a libratory consciousness”), and inclusive excellence (“affirmative action for ideas”).

So, in light of the hidden-meaning concepts driving the sustainability movement, 1% for Education sounds more like 1% for Brainwashing...which will require students to use no more than 1% of their brains, lest they start having doubts. Asking the Senate to “retool our nation’s universities and colleges” to become sustainability education centers is asking for the pursuit of truth to get swallowed by the pursuit of political activism. Perhaps the college presidents who signed the letter don’t realize they are trying to turn students into sustainability zombies. Someone should let them know.

The 1% for Education letter is directed to Senators Barbara Boxer of California and James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who respectively chair and serve on the Committee on Environment and Public Works. Over one hundred college and university presidents have signed the letter, and they plan to deliver it tomorrow.

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