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In Our World


Looked at from the perspective of that clichéd image of “Planet Earth from Space”, the grief of the world is too much to bear. This chapter in human history seems to be contextualised above all by violence and alienation, brought down upon the natural world as it is upon the vulnerable members of the human family.

Earth and air and water bear witness to the devastation visited on them by late capitalism—the pollution emitted to support it and the bombs detonated to enforce it. They bear witness to old growth rainforests clear-cut for exports, underwater moonscapes, and all the vast, incomprehensibly diverse and delicate ecosystems blown away or contaminated by decisions made in greed, ignorance or desperation.

Human beings and other animals in turn bear witness to the struggle of the elements. Climate change, for example, brings extreme weather, melting icebergs, and rising water levels affecting humans and animals around the world, but impacting the poor, living in precarious places, most acutely. We breathe air, drink water, and eat food—and all are contaminated in ways we are only beginning to understand.

At a basic level, this toxicity affects all our learning. Fluorescent lights in most classrooms, emissions from computers and printers, recycled air in institutions, and the chemicals and other pollutants in homes and neighbourhoods (particularly those inhabited by those of us with few choices) all tax our bodies and detract from participation in learning environments. For example, even low levels of lead exposure in children “causes reduced IQ and attention span, hyperactivity, impaired growth, reading and learning disabilities, hearing loss, insomnia, and a range of other health, intellectual, and behavioural problems”. Recent research links mercury levels in the blood to Autism and other childhood cognitive functions, while the combined impacts of a broad range of chemicals in the environment is only just beginning to be researched.

Damage to the physical world and its inhabitants, however, is only one way hyper-consumerism affects learning. Our relationships to our surroundings often range from the disconnected to the adversarial; the tone and pace of survival encourages us to shut ourselves off from those surroundings. Hearts, minds, and bodies are out of step with the inherent rhythms of day and night, of seasons, of years, even as we are alienated from the sources of knowledges we carried until very recently: how to heal, to birth babies, to rest, and to die. And those knowledges themselves are dismissed and undermined as we are taught to refer exclusively to experts and professionals.

Our bodies re-learning how to listen to themselves, and becoming a bit more in tune with their environments, will take us toward learning and teaching practices that both address violence adequately, and enact a deeply non-violent way of being together in the world. But this difficult learning takes place in a world where many do not feel safe in an essentially violent context. Those doing this work are heroically brave.

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Amnesty International:
Making Violence against Women Count: Facts and Figures

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