“What is an anarchist? One who, choosing, accepts the responsibility of choice.” ~ Ursula K. Le Guin
A few days back I had an interesting e-conversation with a friend from the local Transition group: we are planning a PDC (Permaculture Design Certificate) for next year and the issue of Certification came up…
Coincidentally the same week, we received an inquire from the Cascadia Permaculture Teachers Training Facebook group I moderate along with Jude Hobbs, and a response from another of its members
This is a topic about which it is difficult for me to take a stance because it has both benefits and drawbacks and goes further into the ethics of Permaculture: what is Permaculture for? Why do we practice it and teach it? (If you want to know what I stand for, go to “The future: what is Permaculture for” right on the bottom of this post)
In order to make my point, I’ll put some background on it. This way, whether you are a recent PDC graduate looking for teaching, somebody with lots of experience with no PDC or certification (as a Permaculture teacher), somebody with no experience in Permaculture but full understanding of the paradigm or a full certified Permaculturist…you can make a decision of what is the place of “certification” for you and those affected by your teaching and practice…
Teaching Permaculture: what’s out there?
Permaculture has been around for ~ 35 years and in certain aspects it looks like a cult where Mollison and/or Holmgren and sometimes other “elders” are seen as geniuses and their word is taken as indisputable wisdom to settle any controversy.
We can find people teaching Permaculture who:
Among any of the above categories, we also find people who:
I may be missing a group or two, but the above is what I have gotten from my observations…if you have been following my current and pasts blogs you may guess what “category” I belong to
Current paths to certification:
Currently, there are three known certifications paths:
Each one of the above institutions is run by a group of well-known and respected “elders” of Permaculture: people who have dedicated their lives to study, design and teach it.
The good, the bad and the ugly
“We have met the enemy and he is us” ~ Pogo
As mentioned above, certification belongs to what we can call “Permaculture politics” and there are many pushing for certification and standards…and others who wouldn’t care less.
As anything human, there is no easy answer and people tend to complicate things further…let’s see the options:
Why certification may be a good idea
“You need something to open up a new door, to show you something you seen before but overlooked a hundred times or more”
~ Bob Dylan, Writings And Drawings
There is one thing most permaculturists agree on: the world has gone nuts and overshot, there is a lot of ecosystems destruction and loss and we need to do something positive about it.
There is a lot of common sense and ancient wisdom which may help, but people have chosen to look somewhere else…things our grandmas and their grandmas did have been abandoned in the name of efficiency and comfort, but this has impacted not only ecosystems big deal, but also other cultures and human beings
Thankfully, this is slowly but steady changing and institutions that were born to keep the “status quo” such as local governments, school boards, churches and so on are approaching us for an answer: they are seeing with good eyes that local people organize, create community gardens, grow food in their yards, learn to preserve food and harvest water, save energy, choose public transportation and so on…and those are some of the things Permaculture (and its urban “daughter”: Transition) have to offer
However, many of these institutions are still concerned about things such as liability, credibility and accountability
Those are good reasons why becoming certified makes sense: unless you have a degree or certificate in something and/or a portfolio and references to show expertise and experience, you value nothing to them
There are other reasons:
Why expectations on certification/experience may be bad ideas
“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
This may seem as a contradiction, but it is not: for many, certifications are expensive or impractical as some areas lack PDCs or those that exist ask for full-immersion (something many can’t afford)
Asking people to leave their families and jobs to not only take a PDC but also work on practical projects to gain experience may be a burden they are not ready to take (hey, not everybody is debt and mortgage free, is single or has the support of partners and family, is fit and able, has money to support themselves without working or has access to land)
Many, however, may have plenty of skills and ideas to share with others…or may have grasped all the elements of Permaculture really well and are able to deliver this wisdom to friends and neighbours and other community members eager to learn
When Permaculture goes wrong and ugly
“Wrong does not cease to be wrong because the majority share in it.”
~ Leo Tolstoy, A Confession
One Permaculture teacher told us once that PDC graduates are like Golden Retriever puppies: they are adorable messy beings who carry lots o enthusiasm and energy but have the potential to do as much good as damage…
I laughed but then I reflected: how right! And how dangerous that can be…
Permaculturists who don’t fully get the “philosophy” and real goal of Permaculture can do more wrong than right: both to Permaculture and to the communities or people they “apply” their projects or teaching to…
I have some examples to share:
Having said so, cutting the wings (or the paws) of these enthusiastic crowds is not a good idea either: there are more great initiatives, projects and life changes due to this than dangerous mistakes
Probably the Permaculture principle: “apply self-regulation and accept feedback” is what applies better here
Group dynamics: tendencies to standardize and structure
“We must walk consciously only part way toward our goal and then leap in the dark to our success.”
~ Henry David Thoreau
One of these phases is “norming”: this can be a somewhat dangerous phase as groups tend to develop “groupthink” and become jealous of rules, guidelines and decisions about who “belongs” and who doesn’t…
The Permaculture world is not exempt from this and it has to be cautious of not “over-policing” through standards, regulations and rules that may clash with one of its ethics: People-Care
From my point of view, and when I do support certification as a way to keep consistency, quality and focus in our own paths, too much emphasis on this may transform a beautiful, organic and grassroots thing like Permaculture into an elitist cult (or “profession”) where only a few can enter…
(See more about group dynamics in my summary of Transition training here: http://silviadiblasio.wordpress.com/2013/10/25/transition-training-week-four-group-dynamics/ )
The Future: what is Permaculture For?
“What permaculturists are doing is the most important activity that any group is doing on the planet. We don’t know what details of a truly sustainable future are going to be like, but we need options, we need people experimenting in all kinds of ways and permaculturists are one of the critical gangs that are doing that.” – David Suzuki, International Environmental Advocate
I am fully convinced that Permaculture came to be as a response to the predicaments we ourselves created.
I am also fully aligned with Holmgren’s vision as presented in his writings: Permaculture, principles and pathways beyond sustainability (book), Future Scenarios (book and website) and Crash on demand (essay, which I translated to Spanish early this year)
Since this point of view, we don’t have decades to “gain experience” nor years to “get certified”…it really doesn’t matter whether we are more in the practical side and have farmed sustainably for years, are detached from the grid and live a fully self-sufficient life…or (as I do) live in a suburban townhouse completely dependent on the grid, work a full-time mainstream job and are still attached to mortgages, debt and the grocery store: what matters is that we start applying Permaculture to our lives and (to the extend we can) to the lives of those in our communities, looking for ways to detach ourselves from the oppressive, dependency-oriented and unsustainable grid while strengthening both our inner and outer systems: our “zones” such as the local community where we live.
Those of us who can afford it can still go for certification as this would make the transition more “credible” for city councillors and school board members.
However, when the moment of truth comes and we need to test our own resilience and that of our communities, it wouldn’t really matter: what it would matter is that we learned, we applied and we shared as much as we can…
“How many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
Yes, ‘n’ how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, ‘n’ how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind,
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.”
~ Bob Dylan
Category: Career Changes, Group Dynamics, Inclusion, Mainstream Permaculture, Right Livelihood, Social Justice, Urban PermacultureTags: Holistic Permaculture, people and permaculture, Permaculture, Permaculture Ethics, Permaculture experience, Permaculture Principles, Permaculture Training, Teaching creatively