David Orr’s, “What is Education For?”, from Earth in Mind: On Education, Environment, and the Human Prospect. (Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2004, pp. 7-15).
Orr begins with a plethora of rather down-to-‘earth’ statistics, letting us know that everyday we lose: 116 square miles of rainforest (an acre a second), 72 miles of land to desert every day, 40-250 species (whether it’s 40 or 250 no one knows). The human population will increase by 250 000, and we’ll add 2700 tons of chlorofluorocarbons and 15 million tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. He notes that in the year 2000, “perhaps as much as 20% of the life forms extant on the planet in the year 1900 will be extinct.” Orr lets us know that the loss of land is due to human mismanagement and overpopulation.
The effects of all this are much more important than the statistics:
The truth is that many things on which our future health and prosperity depend on are in dire jeopardy: climate stability, the resilience and productivity of natural systems, the beauty of the natural world, and biological diversity.
I wonder if these things are truly what our future health and prosperity depend on.
Orr changes gears. He describes that this – our overpopulation and mismanagement – is not the work of ignorant people, but by very educated people. He compares this to what Elie Wiesel points out: that the designers and perpetrators of Auschwitz, Dachau, and Buchenwald – the Holocaust – were the heirs of Kant and Goethe, widely thought to be the best educated people on earth. But their education did not serve as an adequate barrier to barbarity. “What was wrong with their education?” Asks Orr. He uses Wiesel’s words:
It emphasized theories instead of values, concepts rather than human beings, abstraction rather than consciousness, answers instead of questions, ideology and efficiency rather than conscience.