Distance Learning, Virtual School, and Homeschooling: What’s the Difference?
There’s a lot of confusion right now as parents are preparing for their children to return to school in the coming weeks. Except, for many families, “school” this year will be a very different experience. With schools across the country choosing virtual and hybrid learning setups, and news articles hyping up “pandemic pods” and homeschool co-ops, families are trying to make sense of all the options available to them this year. To help you make heads and tails of all these new terms, I offer a few definitions Distance Learning means your child’s normal school has moved to a virtual or hybrid format. Your local public school may offer Virtual or Hybrid learning this year, allowing your child to work with their teacher and peers in an online setting. All of your child’s academic subjects are still taught by their teacher(s), just on the computer instead of in-person. Your role in this setup is: Ensuring your child has access to the necessary technology and resources Monitoring your child to make sure they’re attending class and staying on task Assisting your child with work as needed Homeschooling means you have opted out of the school system and are instead taking sole responsibility for your child’s education. You are your child’s teacher; you choose the curriculum, assign projects, and grade your child’s work. Your role in this setup is: Choosing a curriculum Establishing a daily “school” routine Instructing your child Grading homework and assessing your child’s progress Locating “enrichment” opportunities (music, art, movement, etc.) as needed Homeschooling allows parents to set their child’s schedule and decide what their child learns Virtual School falls somewhere between Distance Learning and Homeschooling. Virtual Schools can offer a comprehensive curriculum in an online environment. Accredited virtual schools will act like your public school’s Distance Learning program, providing a comprehensive curriculum and subject teachers — your only job is to help your child and keep them on track. You must apply and enroll in this type of school, and most are already full. Your role in this setup is: Choosing a Virtual School and applying Ensuring your child has access to the necessary technology and resources Monitoring your child to make sure they’re attending class and staying on task Assisting your child with work as needed Two other words you might have heard recently are Co-ops and Pods. These two models can both be used for Distance Learning students and Homeschooling students. The goal of both Co-ops and Pods is to share the childcare and instruction burden, and provide opportunities for children to socialize. Both models place the control and responsibility in the hands of the parents, allowing families to decide how, what, when, and where their children learn, and with whom; but it also means that parents must put forth much more time and effort (and maybe money) for this freedom, as well as take on liability. Co-ops and Pods can offer exciting enrichment experiences from parents or local artisans. Co-ops group together multiple families who cooperatively teach and provide childcare. Usually one family will take one day a week; the group of students may go from house to house, or stay at one location with the parent teachers coming and going. Coops are a low- to no-cost option, but do require families commit considerable time and energy into teaching, leading activities, and providing a learning space. Pods are similar to co-ops, but instead of parents teaching the children, the group collectively hires someone. This obviously increases the price to participate in a Pod, and can range from the hundreds and even thousands a month. The “teacher” can be a licensed teacher, or could just be a parent or informal tutor. The group may meet at a family’s home, the hired teacher’s business location, or a public space. Pods typically are also designed to create a “bubble” of families who restrict their outside interactions to reduce exposure to the Coronavirus.
Homeschool Curriculums with Heart
Secular education that promotes inquiry, creativity, and critical thinking, with a focus on nature connection and social justice Once upon a time, Homeschooling was primarily the realm of religious families choosing to opt out of the public school system. However, today’s Homeschool community is more diverse than ever, and it demands a variety of curriculum options and learning models. Families want curriculum that is hands-on, fosters inquiry, promotes empathy and compassion, and engages learners in real-world questions and issues. Families want their children to be outside, solving problems, exploring, engineering, and playing. To grapple with big questions, to learn uncomfortable truths, to advocate for the powerless, to care for the earth and all its creatures. But if your family decides to homeschool, it can be overwhelming to know where to start when choosing a curriculum. There are so many! As an education consultant working at the intersection of environmental education, critical pedagogy, and social-emotional learning, I’m often asked for Homeschool curriculum that aligns with my teaching philosophy. Following are all Homeschool curricula I have either personally used or at least read through and can personally recommend as aligning with the Educate Regenerate Philosophy. You can also access a comparison table of these same curricula here. Cost Key: $=$-$150 | $$=$150-$300 | $$$=$300-$450 | $$$$=$450+ All-In-One Curricula Blossom & Root
Grades: Pk-4th| Cost: $
Subjects: Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies; Enrichment: Nature Studies, Art, Music Studies
Approach: Waldorf-Inspired, Charlotte-Mason-Inspired, Hands-On/Experiential, Nature-Based, Holistic, Eclectic/Mixed Methods, Flexible/Adaptable
Format: Digital Download, Supplemental Books (You Supply) Blossom & Root offers “creative, flexible, hands-on curriculum for secular homeschooling families with a focus on nature, literature, STEM, and art.” You can feel the love with which this was created by homeschool mama & former Kindergarten teacher Kristen in every page. Inspired by Waldorf and Charlotte Mason pedagogies, but infused with her own unique STEM and nature-based flair, Blossom & Root is a child-centered and holistic curriculum that is engaging for the whole family. I am particularly pleased to see the emphasis on Anti-Racism resources on their website, and with the recent addition of the “River of Voices” American History curriculum (mentioned below). While Math is integrated into the curriculum, the authors recommend adding a supplemental Math program to ensure your child masters the necessary skills (might I suggest the Wild Math curriculum mentioned below?).
You can purchase each subject individually or as a grade level bundle; they also offer “Book Seeds,” which are STEM-centered, nature-based mini-unit studies based around a specific book. Be sure to read the description to make sure you’re selecting the correct item for purchase. Kekere Freedom School
Grades: 1st-8th| Cost: $$$$
Subjects: Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies; Enrichment: Language & Linguistics, Art, World Cultures, Cooking, Dancing, Textiles, Games, and more!
Approach: Hands-On/Experiential, Eclectic/Mixed Methods, Culturally-Responsive, Decolonizing Pedagogy, Holistic, Social Justice Pedagogy
Format: Digital Download, Supplemental Books (You Supply) Kekere Freedom School is a passionate community dedicated to celebrating diversity and affirming identity. It is primarily a homeschool co-op in Ypsilanti, Michigan, but they offer a growing catalog of their finely curated curriculum full of rich activities for sale on their website. The program has a strong emphasis on Decolonizing and Culturally-Responsive pedagogies, and is inspired by the Freedom School movement from the Civil Rights Era. Each lesson offers a handful of activities to dive into which cover themes like Ancestral Wisdom, Preserving Languages, and Radical Imagination. Activities are differentiated by age level and range from watching short video clips followed by thoughtful journal or discussion questions, to cooking and arts & crafts activities. Please note that while this curriculum technically covers all the main academic subjects, you may want to supplement with additional Reading or Math curriculum depending on your child’s needs. Your Natural Learner
Grades: Pk-5th| Cost: $$
Subjects: Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies; Enrichment: ??
Approach: Developmentally-Appropriate, Eclectic/Mixed Methods, Child-Led/Flexible, Holistic, Hands-On/Experiential
Format: Digital Download, Supplemental Books (You Supply) Your Natural Learner allows you to “be as boundless as an unschooler, and as well-prepared as an academic.” Developed by an experienced teacher and homeschool mama, Your Natural Learner is grounded in current research on how children learn. While still ensuring that your child meets academic benchmarks, creator Leah has developed a curriculum with built-in flexibility and fun to instill a life-long love of learning. With charming illustrations and approachable language (and even an online “de-schooling” courses for parents!), Your Natural Learner is easy to use and adapt to your lifestyle. Magic Forest Academy
Grades: 2nd-6th| Cost: $
Subjects: Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies; Enrichment: Cooking, Art, Games, Nature Journaling, Nature Studies
Approach: Holistic, Literature-Based, Nature-Based, Eclectic/Mixed Methods, Flexible/Adaptable
Format: Digital Download Magic Forest Academy adds a bit of whimsy into your homeschool program. With 52 weekly units on themes like “Sticks & Twigs,” “Dreams,” and “Foxes,” children cover content and skills in all the primary subject areas, plus many enrichment activities. The curriculum is full of engaging hands-on activities that foster creativity and imagination, and each unit includes a handful of additional links and resources for extended learning. You can purchase the whole curriculum as a bundle, or by season or even by week. Please note that while this curriculum technically covers all the main academic subjects, you may want to supplement with additional Reading or Math curriculum depending on your child’s needs. Global Village School
Grades: K-12| Cost: $$
Subjects: Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies; Enrichment: Global Studies, Film Studies, Sustainability, Psychology, Civics & Citizenship, Peace Studies
Approach: Holistic, Culturally-Responsive, Literature-Based, Social Justice Pedagogy, Sustainability-Themed, Structured
Format: Textbook, Supplemental Books (You Supply) The Global Village School boasts an impressive pedigree and thoughtful teaching philosophy based in sustainability, global citizenship, peace studies, environmental justice, and social-emotional learning. The curriculum is thoughtfully structured for new and seasoned homeschool families, and has been developed by a team of experienced teachers. You can rest assured that your child will be meeting academic standards while engaging in exciting topics and practicing real-world skills. Global Village School offers homeschool families two different options: a distance learning program or a curriculum only option. Their distance learning program is an accredited K-12 school and, while technically “virtual,” does not require your child to be on the computer all day. The same curriculum is also offered on its own for families to adapt to fit their needs at home. There is even the option to order a customized curriculum at an additional cost. Oak Meadow
Grades: K-12| Cost: $$$
Subjects: Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies; Enrichment: Civics & Citizenship, Nature Studies
Approach: Waldorf-Inspired, Holistic, Nature-Based, Structured
Format: Digital Download, Kits (Additional Cost), Textbook Oak Meadow is a well-known Waldorf-Inspired homeschool program, grounded in holistic, experiential, and character-based learning. The program blends Waldorf themes and with traditional topics for a comprehensive and standards-aligned curriculum. Oak Meadow offers both distance learning and curriculum-only options. The distance learning program is accredited, and limits the time spent on the computer. The curriculum-only option offers families the ability to adapt the curriculum based on your family’s needs. The curriculum is sold as grade-level bundles; you can also purchase the supplemental literature books, activity books, and activity kits on their website. Torchlight
Grades: Pk-5 (approx.)| Cost: $
Subjects: Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies; Enrichment: Music Studies, Art
Approach: Literature-Based, Holistic, Eclectic/Mixed Methods, Child-Led, Secular, Flexible/Adaptable
Format: Digital Download, Supplemental Books (You Supply) Torchlight takes a a unique approach to learning in that it is both literature-based (a la Charlotte Mason), but also Socratic and Humanistic. This translates to being child-led, holistic, and inquiry-based, encouraging children to follow their curiosity and discover the truth for themselves. You can tell that the curriculum developer, educator and writer Tiffany, has put a lot of thought into not only the curriculum itself, but also the underlying philosophy and methodology — I highly encourage you to check out her website and learn more. The curriculum includes weekly library lists (for the many books you’ll be borrowing or buying), hands-on activities, discussion guides, workbooks, and more. Subject Specific Curricula Some homeschool families prefer to mix and match curricula, or they might just want to supplement an all-in-one curriculum with an additional focus on a specific subject area. Below are a small selection of subject-specific curricula Social Studies A River of Voices: The History of the United States
Publisher: Blossom & RootGrades: 4th-8th| Cost: $
Subject: Social Studies (American History)
Approach: Literature-Based, Culturally-Responsive, Social Justice Pedagogy
Format: Digital Download, Supplemental Books (You Supply)
An exciting addition to the Blossom & Root catalog is this new standalone American History curriculum with a focus on the multiple perspectives and the unheard stories in our nation’s story. As curriculum creator Kristina so beautifully put it, “I wanted history to be not the babbling stream of a single and dominant narrative, but a river of voices.” Parents will learn so much alongside their children with this curriculum, exploring events from the perspectives of Indigenous people, enslaved people, immigrants, women, and more.
“A River of Voices” is slated to be a three-part series, with Volume I out now— covering the Early Colonies to 1791 — and Volume II expected in 2021. Oh, Freedom!
Grades: 3rd-12th| Cost: $
Subject: Social Studies (American History)
Approach: Eclectic/Mixed Methods, Literature-Based, Culturally-Responsive, Social Justice Pedagogy, Flexible/Adaptable
Format: Digital Download, Supplemental Books (You Supply) Developed by journalist and homeschool mom Delina, “Oh, Freedom!” emerged as as response to the white-washed version of history common in curricula. “Oh, Freedom!” instead takes a determinedly multi-cultural and honest view of American history, particularly focusing on the experiences and voices of Black folks (while also weaving in the voices of women, Indigenous people, and immigrants). Delina uses decolonization and social justice pedagogy throughout to highlight injustice and empower youth to stand up for what’s right. There are three versions of this curriculum: the original version (what Delina used with her children, which includes some Christian themes), the secular version, and the high school version (mostly the same content, but adapted for an older audience). A Whole New World History
Grades: 6th-8th| Cost: $$ — $$$ (multiple options)
Subject: Social Studies (World History & Global Studies)
Approach: Culturally-Responsive, Social Justice Pedagogy, Literature-Based, Partially Online, Structured
Format: Live Online Classes, Digital Download, Supplemental Books (You Supply) The newest project by Woke Homeschooling, “A Whole New World History” takes the same social justice lens from “Oh, Freedom” and applies it to world history in this interactive hybrid learning program. Called “a journey to the past [to] study people, power, and resistance,” this curriculum blends history with current events to develop a nuanced understanding of complex ideas like development, war, trade, politics, government, and more. There are two membership options, one of which includes live online classes and a book club. Both options include interactive online modules, videos, hands-on activities, reading, and workbooks. Math Wild Math
Grades: K-5th | Cost: $
Subject: Math, Enrichment: Nature Studies
Approach: Hands-On/Experiential, Child-Led/Flexible, Nature-Based
Format: Digital Download Created by teacher and homeschool mama Rachel, Wild Math makes math fun with nature-based and hands-on activities. Math can be a challenging subject for learners, but by using natural manipulables like rocks and sticks and using mathematical concepts in real-world scenarios, children quickly develop not only mastery but enjoyment! The curriculum can be used as your child’s primary math curriculum, or as a supplement to practice. The author provides many enrichment ideas as well. Science Science through Nature
Grades: 2nd-5th | Cost: $
Subject: Science, Enrichment: Art, Nature Studies
Approach: Hands-On/Experiential, Exploratory/Inquiry-Based, Eclectic/Mixed Methods, Nature-Based, Flexible/Adaptable
Format: Digital Download Science Through Nature is just that — learning scientific concepts and developing scientific skills while connecting with nature! It is a “series that fuses scientific discovery with nature exploration.” Taking a fun narrative-based approach, learners embark on “quests” written as notes from characters in their story to investigate a concept or phenomenon. The entire “quest” is thoughtfully planned out to engage young minds as they learn about reptiles and forests, and practice skills like nature journaling and critical thinking. Quests can be purchased individually (they are available monthly), or as part of the “Be a Naturalist” bundle. Not much is in the store right now, but I expect great things from this new program! I am actively seeking out curricula written by and/or highlighting the stories of people of color and other underrepresented voices. I welcome recommendations to add to this list. Please first review the Educate Regenerate Philosophy, and if you have a curriculum you think should be added, please email me.
Before featuring a curriculum here I have either personally used it or thoroughly reviewed a sample. Some of these links are affiliate links, which means I collect a small percentage of any purchases you make using the link. This does not increase the price for you, and it does not influence my decision to feature a curriculum on this page. This income allows me to continue to offer my consulting services to homeschool programs and schools at an affordable cost.
Educate Regenerate works at the intersection of environmental education, critical pedagogy, and social-emotional learning. We offer custom curriculum, program advising, teaching workshops, and more at EducateRegenerate.com
Native American Heritage Month Education Resources
Challenge bias | Teach the truth | Celebrate resilience The following is a curated list of resources to support educators and families in teaching Native American heritage through a social justice lens.
Books & Reading Lists Picture & Early Reader Books Children’s Book Read-Alouds Middle & High School Books Curriculum & Teaching Books Lesson Plans & Curriculum IllumiNative: Native Education for All
Lesson Plans | Art | Curriculum/Unit
Designed for both in-classroom as well as remote learners, this project-based lesson plan asks: What is the impact on human lives and property, biodiversity, and air and water quality when we honor and restore land stewardship to Indigenous peoples? Native Knowledge 360
Lesson Plans | Teaching Guides | Videos | Articles | Art
Native Knowledge 360° (NK360°) provides educators and students with new perspectives on Native American history and cultures. NK360° provides educational materials, virtual student programs, and teacher training that incorporate Native narratives, more comprehensive histories, and accurate information to enlighten and inform teaching and learning about Native America. Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde
Lesson Plans | Videos | Curriculum/Unit
This curriculum was developed by the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde in accordance with Oregon academic standards. A well-produced and thorough curriculum covering Social Studies, Math, and Language Arts. Tribal History — Shared History Oregon Dept. of Ed.
The ODE partnered with representatives of the nine federally recognized tribal governments in Oregon to create Essential Understandings of Native Americans in Oregon and contracted with Education Northwest to create lesson plans (in grades 4th, 8th, and 10th). Indian-Ed: Since Time Immemorial
Videos | Lesson Plans | Curriculum/Unit
Welcome to “Since Time Immemorial: Tribal Sovereignty in Washington State,” a ground-breaking curriculum initiative made possible through federal, state, and tribal funding. This project seeks to build lasting educational partnerships between school districts and their local tribes via elementary, middle, and high school curriculum on tribal sovereignty. Lessons of Our Land
The Lessons of Our Land Curriculum enables Pre-K through grade 12 teachers to easily incorporate Native American stories, lessons and games about land, cultures, histories and languages into regular classroom instruction. There are more than 200 lessons available that are free and easy to use in the classroom Montana Indian Education Classroom Resources
The OPI Indian Education for All (IEFA) Unit works with districts, tribes, and other entities to ensure all schools have the knowledge, tools and resources necessary to honor the IEFA requirement and integrate it into their teaching materials and methods Teachings of Our Elders
Lesson Plans| Audio Recordings
This project allows students in schools to learn all of their usual academic subjects while gaining an understanding about the traditional ways and concepts identified as essential by Native American elders in North Dakota. Honoring Tribal Legacies
Lesson Plans | Curriculum/Unit | Videos | Primary Sources
A digital collection of teaching resources for use in classrooms everywhere that honor a diverse and inclusive approach to social studies, STEM, language, and other subjects. These are original materials created by indigenous curriculum designers and some allies, too, made by and for this project. Burke Museum Educators & Schools Page
Rooted in Burke research and collections, our programs emphasize the intersections of natural history and cultural heritage in Washington state and support 21st Century Skills. Burke education programs encourage empathy for diverse cultures and all life. Teaching Tolerance
Lesson Plans, Videos, Curriculum/Unit, Articles, Teaching Guides
Teaching Tolerance’s mission is to help teachers and schools educate children and youth to be active participants in a diverse democracy. Teaching Tolerance provides free resources to educators who work with children from kindergarten through high school. Zinn Education Project
Lesson Plans, Primary Sources
The Zinn Education Project promotes and supports the teaching of people’s history in classrooms across the country. For more than ten years, the Zinn Education Project has introduced students to a more accurate, complex, and engaging understanding of history than is found in traditional textbooks and curricula. Primary Sources & Student Resources Native Lands
An interactive map showing ancestral territories, as well as indicators for treaties and language. A useful tool for learning more about the Indigenous peoples with ties to the land you live on or are visiting. PBS Circles of Stories
Lesson Plans | Stories | Videos | Photos | Art | Music
Circle of Stories uses documentary film, photography, artwork and music to honor and explore Native American storytelling Everyday Native
Photos | Poetry
This resource is meant to help heal racism by building bridges of understanding between non-Native and Native American youth. Everyday Native is one important step in becoming true neighbors. As we share our own stories, non-Native and Native, we learn the truths from our shared local and national histories. We acknowledge the difficulties of our shared past. Then we move forward together. Treaties Explorer
While treaties between Indigenous peoples and the United States affect virtually every area in the USA, there is as yet no official list of all the treaties. The US National Archives holds 374 of the treaties, where they are known as the Ratified Indian Treaties. Here you can view them for the first time with key historic works that provide context to the agreements made and the histories of our shared lands. National Museum of the American Indian
Photos | Primary Sources | Art
A diverse and multifaceted cultural and educational enterprise, the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) is an active and visible component of the Smithsonian Institution, the world’s largest museum complex. Native American Heritage Month
Primary Sources | Art | Photos | Teaching Guides | Music, Audio Recordings | Lesson Plans | Poetry
This Web portal is a collaborative project of the Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
The Story of Separation
“Cautionary stories of the consequences of taking too much are ubiquitous in Native cultures, but it’s hard to recall a single one in English. Perhaps this helps to explain why we seem to be caught in a trap of overconsumption, which is as destructive to ourselves as to those we consume,”
Robbin Wall Kimmerer ¹ Our current world is characterized by inequality: social, economic, and environmental. These inequalities manifest at every scope and scale, be it who gets called back for an interview, which countries receive disaster relief from international aid organizations, or the species and ecosystems that are considered less valuable than the oil and coal who share their home. We live in a world with a few people own more wealth than entire nations, and entire nations of people who live on less than a dollar a day; billionaires are actively profiting off a global pandemic while people lose their jobs, homes, and lives.² Anywhere you look, greed, selfishness, and competition drive unthinkable destruction and pain on the world’s people, plants, animals, and non-living beings. In inspiring book The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible, Charles Eisenstein argues that much of our social and environmental woes stem from what he calls the Story of Separation.³ This story, he explains, traces back centuries, even millennia, as the growing separation of people from themselves, each other, and from the Earth. This separation arguably rose to prominence during the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century, with Newton’s groundbreaking discoveries of the laws of physics. These scientific advancements marked the dawn of a new belief in how the world — and all its natural and human-made systems — functioned, and dictated humans apply discerning logic when analyzing phenomena and systems. No longer were people to be “held back” by lore, religion, spirituality, and intuition — we had entered the Age of Reason. The assumption underlying the Newtonian or mechanistic worldview is that the world is orderly, predictable, and merely the sum of its discrete parts. A clock divides time into discrete units that never vary; the mechanism of the clock itself merely an assemblage of gears, that, taken apart and reassembled, should work just as it did before. We became obsessed with predictions, cause and effect, separation, reason, and reducing items into their basest parts. It is true that clocks work this way, as do other machines. But as Wendell Berry, beloved farmer and poet, reminds us, …it must at once be understood that a healthy organ does not — as the mechanistic or industrial mind would like to say — “give” health to the body, is not exploited for the body’s health, but is a part of its health. The health of organ and organism is the same, just as the health of organism and ecosystem is the same.⁴ People, unlike machines, are not so simple; and neither are ecosystems, economies, governments, or carbon cycles, or countless other complex systems we attempt to manage like machines. Later, with the industrialization of Western economies, our lives were broken down into parts, too. As Marx famously criticized, the modern factory is designed to alienate the worker from their labor and their product, as assembly lines replaced independent artisans.
Like factory work, many other aspects of our lives became broken down into smaller parts, dictated by the belief in order and efficiency. We shifted from communal living situations to the nuclear household. We have shifted from education, often informal and focused on real-life skills and philosophy, into a highly regulated institution of schooling with oppressive regimentation, disconnected subject areas, and authoritative hierarchies. Even as our economies move away from factory work, our work lives are dictated by the mechanistic mindset, with strict hierarchies and departments, cubicles, and a mandated 9–5 schedule. Our social and economic systems became separated, as well, commodity production chains are so long that they obfuscate the entire system. Who actually knows the whole history of the granola bar we bought at the grocery store? We do not know, and we are told not to care, not to worry ourselves. If we were to understand the true manner in which our food, our electronics, our clothes were made and transported to us, surely many of us would stand together in revolt, in disgust. But our lives are so busy, the supply chain so complicated and hidden, and we are told it is not our responsibility to care about these problems. We are too separated from the items we use in our daily life to know anything about them.
The Story of Stuff exposes the linear nature of our consumer economy, beginning with violent extraction at the beginning, and polluting disposal at the end. In a sustainable system, this process would be circular, with materials being forever re-used.⁵ Further feeding the mechanization of work and economies is the assumption of unlimited growth. This growth is assumed to create more jobs, raise the standard of living, and ensure our country is a global economic superpower. However, the claim that economies can grow in perpetuity is not only a lie, but a logical and ecological impossibility. There are finite resources on this planet, a fact business leaders and politicians seem to misunderstand. Infinite growth economies are based on the assumption that we can extract more, build more, and export more. While there may be no limit to the imagination and creativity of the human mind, there are very clear limits to natural resources and the amount of exploitation and mishandling the Earth can accommodate.
The myth of infinite growth is essentially a pyramid scheme. Multiple economic models have been proposed — and are even practiced on small scales — that recognize our finite resources and promote their sustainable use.It is this separation that compels us to live in ignorance of the complex systems of inequality, exploitation, and oppression in this world. As Donella Meadows, famed systems scientists, tells us, flaws in a system have many causes, but one is when the feedback system is delayed, diverted, or ignored.⁶ In a healthy system, a negative change to a system would yield negative feedback, which would prompt the system to adapt until it reached equilibrium again. However, if something is interfering with that feedback, we might continue in an unsustainable system, completely oblivious to the unintended consequences. Many of our current systems are in fact unhealthy and unsustainable, yet because of this intentional separation we do not receive the negative feedback to inform change; instead, we continue to live our lives, ignorant of the dis-ease brewing, of the bubble about to burst. This is the Story of Separation: the growing divide between our sense of self and those around us; the insistence that we must “transcend” our basic human instincts to love, build community, nurture, and connect to be happy, wealthy, and healthy. We are told to put our emotions aside and think rationally. We are told that order, technological advancement, mechanization, and industrialization form a divine path towards enlightenment, when, in actuality, these processes coddle us in ignorant bliss. As Eisenstein writes: I never fully accepted what I was offered as normal. Life, I knew, was supposed to be more joyful than this, more real, more meaningful, and the world was supposed to be more beautiful. We were not supposed hate Mondays…We were not supposed to be indoors on a beautiful day, day after day…. As my horizons broadened I knew that millions were not supposed to be starving, that nuclear weapons were not supposed to be hanging over our heads, that rainforests were not supposed to be shrinking, or the fish dying, or the condor and eagles disappearing. I could not accept the way the dominant narrative of my culture handled things: as fragmentary problems, unfortunate facts of life to be regretted, or unmentionable taboo subjects to be simply ignored. On some level, we all know better.³ We can tell that this is not the way we are meant to live, not the way the world is supposed to work. We can feel it in our bones, but we cannot identify the cause; we just have a lingering doubt that we cannot always ignore. Eisenstein argues that many of our social woes, such as chronic illness, addiction, depression, alienation, debt, hate, and fear all stem from our lack of faith in the system we are continuously instructed to believe in. We are raised to believe that we are the protagonists of the most important story ever, and that we should concern ourselves only with what will make us “objectively” happy, such as wealth, fame, and admiration. We are instructed to accept that we must compete with others to gain these things, as they are scarce and we live in a zero-sum world, where my happiness depends on your unhappiness. I must compete with Sandra to get the promotion, or I must have a better car than my neighbor. Never is there an option to share, cooperate, or disengage from the power struggle. Phrases like “It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there,” and “Survival of the fittest,” motivate us to view our neighbors as enemies, as wealth and notoriety the ultimate prize, and to fight for what are ever dwindling reserves of what we want most. It is this separation that breeds fear and insecurity in us, that compels us to ruthlessly compete, and to ignore the plight of endangered species, of refugees, or old-growth forests because those are not our problems. We are forever seeking an unattainable dream of perfect wealth, happiness, and prestige, both feeling overwhelmed by the harsh reality we experience and the knowledge that something is wrong with this strategy. It is this separation that allows multi-national companies to commit environmental and social atrocities that are buried by bureaucracy, oppression, ignorance, and self-interested self-preservation.
We are over-worked, stressed, and isolated on the never-ending rat race.This separation pushes us to take and to compete and to steal; we neglect our families and our true passions in life to work extra hours so we can take a better vacation next year; we look away with a mixture of guilt and judgement when we stop at a light and see a panhandler, obviously in need of some compassion and spare change. It is this separation that drives discrimination and hate crimes, as we feel compelled to blame someone else for our unavoidable struggles within this impossible system. It is this separation that leads to war, global conflicts, trade embargoes, imperialism, closed borders, and refugees with nowhere to go. But the world does not have to be this way. We can challenge the Story of Separation, challenge the lie of scarcity, and challenge the rat race. We do not need to compete. The Story of Separation is simply that: a story. We can learn a new story. Learning a new story will be difficult, as it relies not on a shift in laws or policies (although those are helpful), but instead on an overhaul in how we understand the world: a shift in consciousness. As the next section will explore, education holds the power to break this unsustainable and unjust cycle by challenging current dominant paradigms and cultivating in students the skills, perspectives, and insights to build a better world. I look to the Permaculture Ethic of Fair Share as an alternative paradigm for a more equitable, peaceful, and sustainable future. ¹ Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, By Robin Wall Kimmerer
²Bezos, Musk: World’s richest people smashed wealth records this week
³ The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible, By Charles Eisenstein
⁴ Ecological Literacy: Educating our Children for a Sustainable World, Edited by Michael K. Stone and Zenobia Barlow, Preface by Fritjof Capra
⁵ The Story of Stuff: The Impact of Overconsumption on the Planet, Our Communities, and Our Health — And How We Can Make It Better By Annie Leonard
⁶ Thinking in Systems, Donella Meadows