Jorge Osorio Vargas

The future livability of our planet depends on the responsible management of its natural resources. A central part of education consists in stimulating this feeling of responsibility for life and survival, in other words: ethics of caring. Economic growth and competing with others for individual success are no longer the yardsticks for social development but are giving way to the emergence of a new paradigm, that of well-being of everyone in community with others. Just so, educative tasks are best dealt with in community and mutual networking. Jorge Osorio from Chile has a long history of connection with the Latin American Council of Adult Education (CEAAL) and served as its general secretary in the nineties. Today he works as a professor for Adult Education at the University of Playa Ancha in Valparaiso, Chile.

Education for Sustainability: Learning and Networking for Action1

Global Map for the Development of Education for Sustainability

In the west, changes have been made in how the relationship between humans and the natural environment as an expression of deeper ethical awareness is understood. there has been a recognition of the fact that human responsibility toward the natural world is part of the question of the habitability of the planet and its social and cultural conditions of existence. this approach has challenged the instrumental and utilitarian definition of the human relationship with nature and recognised its own value.

The magnitude and impact of environmental problems and the need to act to solve them, together with the development of important eco-political movements which propose liberal and social-democratic concepts of democracy and organisation of public spaces, has resulted in the emergence of a debate on the philosophical underpinnings of “eco-political change,” rethinking the role of technology in the present and the way to ethically assess the care of the environment and its governance through democratic means.

In the middle of this debate is the issue of the roles of States and democratic public deliberation and the dynamics of the market in confronting global and local environmental problems. critical issues emerge from this debate which have no epistemological frameworks that enable their transformation into common-sense notions such as “intergenerational justice” and “sustainability” as moral supports of good living and as complex existential conditions of “living beings”.

This discussion has generated a substantial critique of western modernism, superseding its anthropocentrism and expanding the concept of environment to that of life, and making it a field of ethical and political reflection on new epistemic and philosophical foundations. the construction of an industrialised world “through technology”, as was the utopia of modernism, with its corollaries in colonial ideology and as the dominant predator in nature, is being displaced by a new cultural sensitivity which constitutes the horizon of educational work. It is therefore possible to say that the “ecological crisis” brings a shift in ethical thinking and teaching with it. the issue of habitability also involves a theory of human action, and eco-social movements feed off of this.

Education and the Ethics of Care

We know that there can be no moral theory that is able to cover all situations, however, the so-called “ethics of care” seems to be highly relevant in order to establish a new ethical sensitivity of the requirements of the environment and its relation to the social and political life of human beings.

Care refers to reciprocity and mutuality and the recognition that knowledge of the other is based on a kind of confidence that only emerges from sensitive awareness, which reveals a unique relationship, a sense of community and appreciation of justice as the vehicle of the rights and duties of living in public spaces.

Learning the ethics of care develops attitudes, generates appropriate responses to each situation, calls for individual and social responsibilities. It is an ethic of cooperation and mediation, which specifies the universal principles of justice for the social and cultural processes embedded in history.

We have to acknowledge that this proposal adheres to a new paradigm of the pedagogical movement which, socially and environmentally, focuses its interest on the “web of life” which includes the territory, cultural identities, health, neighbourhood, the quality of citizen participation, local government and the local and global environment. this educational movement of which we speak is nourished by the ethics of care as well as the “ethics of proximity”, as a practical way for a new communitarianism with nature, which is not treated as an artificial object, but as otherness, reciprocity and mutuality.

The Culture of Sustainability and Learning from the “Action Networks”

One of the main arguments for developing an education for sustainability is the critique of the paradigm of modernism in which reason and technology order and dominate nature. under this approach, the “world” of life in nature is converted into artificial life, which is the interpretative matrix of the current global ecological crisis and the basic point of reference that has served to open the debate on the possibilities of a new ethic in the relationship between humans and nature.

The “environment” is currently a field of ethical disputes and in the controversies surrounding these disputes a path is being forged to a new discourse on education, social responsibility and complexity of the problems of present and the future of the planet. As we have noted, the ethics of sustainability is primarily an ethic of responsibility to life in all its complexity (in Latin America we call it the “ethic of care”). this is so much so that from the urge to converge culture and nature the paradigm of complexity emerges as a thinking strategy that allows us to put ourselves, in a practical sense, face to face with the dilemmas posed by sustainable development, linking science and the consciousness of nature. we go a step further, noting that the ethic of sustainability is an affective ethic that integrates three dimensions: the ecological community, responsibility and solidarity with the future of the planet and the democracy of its citizens.

This challenge demands the construction of a new common sense about development, now described as the “good life”. the notion of progress, as outlined in the tradition illustrated, must be overcome, and social welfare issues should be placed in a logic of cooperation and respect for human beings among each other and with nature.

An abstract imperative ethic is not enough, it is necessary to form people able to understand life in its systemic dynamics and, starting from that, to establish responsibilities based on their moral autonomy and their ability to establish agreements for the care and management of the environment.

In this way, we must assess the actions of educational movements, ethical and global citizens who build agendas, establish partnerships and networks of mutual support and work to make available to the public relevant information about economic policies and the business affecting the global and local environment.

The practical expression of a movement is through its networking. However, building networks is more than just a methodology of action. It is a strategy for potentialising the capabilities of human beings to become more ecumenical and dialogical.

In social movements and citizen organisations, to network is an ethical choice: it presupposes a belief in cooperation as a practical value. However, networking is also an openness to ways of understanding social action in new ways.

Crosslinking (“working in networks”) is to think of the possibilities of social action as a complex weave of relationships, a confluence of the dynamics of association and confrontation. we can define power as a way to practice influence through hegemonic networks relative to others which are less strong. thus, networks can be seen as partnerships designed to achieve political ends based on the confidence of specific actors who convene through their own will to achieve certain goals in society.

Networks are a certain method for practicing leadership, which assume coordination, agreements and the agreed upon identification of the results that are considered adequate to be achieved. they involve partners more than members or adherents, unlike in the political organisations of the past. they are based on mutual respect and on resolution of conflicts through mediation. Its power lies in its ability to mobilise resources of different types, in a flexible way, where each partner understands the meaning of the actions taken and is willing to use their best skills for the agreed goal.

The networks also involve the systematisation of the knowledge produced through the interaction of its members; in this sense, a network is always a knowledge management system. A network is powerful due to the ability to understand this phenomenon, strengthening each of its members through the distribution of knowledge relevant to the purposes of the association. commonly, in our organisations, we “launch” many networks, but the truth is that networks should be built, woven, with transparency, building trust between its associates and by putting knowledge at their disposal which increases their potential. It is key that a network, in its process of constitution, resolves the forms of decision-making procedures and the revocation of the mandates of coordination. equally important is that members of a network identify both the possibilities and the limits thereof, and thus work with a healthy realism, not demanding results that it cannot produce. It is not the same thing to work in a network of leaders to influence public policy as it is to work in a network to exchange good practices for sustainable development. the first cannot leave out an explicit process of public leadership and the accumulation of political resources in order to become visible in the field of those who make decisions on such policies; in the case of the second type of network there will be no such pressure, however, it is clear that for this, a key factor is that there are good matrices for systematic practices that are the source of critical reflection and learning. through both modalities two types of action are generated: the creation of conditions to influence the public and the circulation of strategic information, and the ability to be able to count on good analytical devices that qualify the basic information necessary for action.