The Future is in the Margins ~ Teaching Permaculture Beyond Barriers

“..the more differentiated use of media for instruction reveals that individuals who are defined as “learning disabled” within print-based learning environments are not the same individuals who are defined as “learning disabled” within video- or audio-based learning environments. Such revelations splinter the old categorical divisions between “disability” and “ability” and create new descriptors that explicitly recognize the interaction between student and environment in the definition of strengths.”

Rose and Meyer, The Future is in the Margins (2005)

Do you believe people are different and unique?

Isn’t a fact that people come to “class” (or any “learning experience”, formal or not) with a baggage full of diverse experiences, skills, stories, interests, assumptions, barriers, challenges, needs, goals and expectations?

Then, why do we insist in teaching as if one-boring-size fits them all?

I myself have fallen in that trap: it is easier to continue doing the old things we got used to and not being exposed to models that may create stress and challenge our beliefs or comfort zones.

As the year is winding down and I’m slowly but steadily approaching the end of my PIDP (Provincial Instructor Diploma Program) I am also working on my plans to launch the first Inclusive Urban Permaculture Design Course in Surrey, where I live.

I have been to a few PDCs (Permaculture Design Courses) but I have yet not seen “inclusion”: I have not seen new immigrants, refugees, indigenous or black people, people with disabilities, people with multiple barriers (such as poverty, addictions, mental health, homeless), people whose first language is not English or even too many regular people from the city living a “regular” life but wanting a change.

While the details of exact dates, schedules, locations and who will co-teach are still in planning stage, one thing is certain: I want this PDCs to be inclusive and I plan to use UDL to achieve that goal.

UDL implies three basic “principles”:

  • Provide multiple means for delivery
  • Provide multiple means for expression
  • Provide multiple means for engagement

When I studied psycho-pedagogy, almost 20 years ago, I was shocked to see how there were so many strategies, approaches, activities and technologies dedicated to “special needs” children and individuals: in this field, everybody was considered unique and treated as such.

We would put children back to crawl and stretch and using all the senses for perception (for example, children were exposed to sand, water, grass and other elements with different textures and patterns, smells, etc.) To create and re-create neuronal paths for language, we would “write” letters and words on their hands and backs, and to re-create paths for those who had suffered neglect, abuse or were living behind the shadows of emotional or mental un-health, we would walk them through the elements of love and resilience…there were technology and strategies to help them access the otherwise inaccessible: sound, language, movement…words were spelled out and concepts and processes were broken down and delivered through multiple means…

My question (unanswered) was: why if we knew and had access to so many different things and ideas, didn’t we apply them to “normal” children and individuals too?

UDL is the closest to an answer to that question of mine, and even when we still have a long way ahead, I feel happy it is finally here.

Design for the margins: because when you design for the margins, you’ll benefit everyone…

The above quote resembles one of Permaculture’s principles: “Use the edges and value the marginal”…it is in the margins where all revolutions start, and it is in the margins of any system where we can find more diversity and life, as margins represent the mixture and the continuous flow of what’s is “inside” and what is “outside” of any system…

I have a confession to make: I didn’t come to Permaculture to be a “designer” and end up creating gardens for others. I have nothing against that, but that’s not my call… I didn’t come to it with the plans of buying land and living off the grid either: it is not doable due to personal circumstances and it would be a bit selfish on my part if I just leave everyone behind and go to “save myself”.

I came to it because I became increasingly concerned by the state of the world in almost every corner we see…and the more I thought about it, it is the peoples in the cities who are more exposed and less resilient.

For the same reason, I’m not interested in just teaching PDCs: I’m more interested in awakening people (the way Paulo Freire and many others did) while I wake up myself with them (but for me, “awaken” also includes become aware of our indisputable dependence and inter-relationship with the ecosystems around us) ; I am interested in transforming people’s lives so they become more resilient and independent and if possible, not only as individuals but as a community. I am also interested in providing tools they can explore and decide how to use in their lives so their lives are no longer “marginal” but part of the flow.

I have always had a special attraction (that seems to work both-ways) for those who are “different”.

Creating a PDC with full inclusion is scary and risky, but it is my experience that the scariest and riskiest moves in life almost always turn to be the most wonderful.

This is a little video I made about UDL. You’ll discover I’m still learning so don’t expect a perfect product.
http://www.powtoon.com/embed/bGqp5XUjQuX/
“Remember, always, that everything you know, and everything everyone knows, is only a model. Get your model out there where it can be viewed. Invite others to challenge your assumptions and add their own.”
~ Donella H. Meadows, Thinking in Systems: A Primer

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