A Child Went Forth –Teaching Permaculture

Holistic education returns us to the Latin root meaning of the word ‘education’ – to lead forth what is naturally within the human being.” (Miller et al. The Renewal of Meaning in Education: Responses to the Cultural and Ecological Crisis of our Times 11)

“… systems thinking is based on the fundamental shift of perception from the world as a machine to the world as a living system.“ ~ Fritjof Capra


Tomorrow I start my journey to O.U.R. Ecovillage, at Shawnigan Lake (Vancouver Island). I brought myself into the challenge of be Jude Hobbs’ teacher assistant for a group of ~20 permaculturist who want to learn about how to teach Permaculture…

Being a teacher by trade with more than 20 years of experience, this shouldn’t be “new” to me…but teaching Permaculture is not even close to teach any other topic. And the journey that I started in 1994, when I decided to study Psycho-pedagogy and aligned myself with authors and practitioners like Paulo Freire, Ivan Illich, Carl Rogers, A.S. Neill and so many others has spiraled in beautiful ways and brought me here to the theory of Teaching Permaculture as an holistic, fully inclusive philosophy…the only one that fully aligns with what Permaculture represents.

Why do we teach Permaculture?

What are our own beliefs around Pc and what about our expectations and goals?

This may be different for every Pc teacher, for me, the reasons are clear: I teach Permaculture because I want to coach human beings from passive / reactive / dependent / consumers / vulnerable and isolated beings to proactive / creative / interdependent / producers / resilient and connected beings…

This cannot be done through “practical” workshops (or full courses) where people are moved from one step to the next with no much reflection or interaction…nor can be done with dry exposure to concepts and processes

Start by telling students that they won’t be spending much time getting their hands dirty. These “bootcamp” skills follow the Permaculture Design Course (PDC) and will occupy them for the rest of their lives. Instead, in your course, they will learn to see, consider, analyse and design productive landscapes from balconies to large farms and towns.” Says Rosemary Morrow in Earth User’s Guide to teaching Permaculture (book)…you are not supposed to be teaching “techniques”, as techniques (and even strategies) are usually localized and unique to certain communities, microclimates and specific challenges…you can use certain techniques to make a point or show an example, but the real learning in a PDC happens at the level of paradigm shift: when people start thinking in systems, holistically and ethically and making observations and decisions (i.e. “design”) based on this new way to see the world
I believe that learning is transformational and can start at any level: head, heart or hands…but it is only the combination of these three what creates meaningful, lasting and impactful change (i.e. learning)

Teachers as doulas

Photo credit: http://www.wisdomwellnesstherapies.com/birth-doula.html


I believe Permaculture teachers are “doulas” that support learners from even before the PDC and all the way throughout or even beyond…and that this support is not only “cognitive” (the “how to” or the “what”) but also emotional and even behavioural (the “why”, “who, where and when”)

I want learners to go from a reductionist, simplistic (but many times unnecessarily complicated) approach such as this “Industrial cup of tea”:

Photo credit: ‘Permaculture: A Beginners Guide’ by Graham Burnett


To a more systemic, ethical (and many a time, less complicated) approach such as the “Permaculture Cup of Tea”:

Photo credit: ‘Permaculture: A Beginners Guide’ by Graham Burnett


In education, we can’t pretend that “inclusiveness” or “fairness” is to create “one-size-fits-all” way for learners to access/perceive, express/create or engage/bring meaning in their learning process:



The only way to address “diversity” is recognizing the uniqueness of each individual and intentionally challenging ourselves to become more aware: aware of who we are, our hot buttons and biases, our own mental and emotional frames…and then embrace the potential of every one of us, minimizing (with the goal of eliminating) language or behaviours that may be perceived as oppressive, patronizing, negligent or even violent to others. Not because it is “politically correct” but because we have brought ourselves to the amazing place where we can see each individual as a unique piece of this interconnected system

If we embrace the idea that we may be here to learn, become better beings and support/allow others to do the same, learning becomes a life-long process of love and awareness

It is said that “self-awareness is the goal of most learning, and self-awareness develops only through self-evaluation” …it is also said that “without the perspective and feedback of others, we are locked into own self-reinforcing loops of behaving and thinking.”. So learning happens both in and out. As holistic facilitators, we need to allow space and encourage people to take time to think as well as share with others and receive feedback

Apart from my daily support to Jude and the participants (wish me luck, as this will be a full-time, almost 24/7 job for eight full days!), I’ll be presenting on holistic education, inclusion (working with diversity) and UDL (universal design for learning)

Yesterday, looking for inspiration (heart) for my tired brain (head) I found (hands) a poem that summarizes how holistic learning happens when the person (child) is undisturbed. I leave you all with this beautiful piece:
Here was a child went forth every day;                                                                                      

And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became;                                                       

And that object became part of him for the day, or a certain part of the day, or for many years, or stretching cycles of years.                                                                                                                             


The early lilacs became part of this child,                                                                                   

And grass, and white and red morning-glories, and white and red clover, and the song of the phoebe-bird,                                                                                                                                                              

And the Third-month lambs, and the sow’s pink-faint litter, and the mare’s foal, and the cow’s calf,         

And the noisy brood of the barn-yard, or by the mire of the pond-side,                                     

And the fish suspending themselves so curiously below there—and the beautiful curious liquid,    

And the water-plants with their graceful flat heads—all became part of him.” ~ Walt Whitman (Leaves of Grass)


Our first PDC, eating ants at OUR Ecovillage
Our first PDC, eating ants at OUR Ecovillage


The word “doula” comes from the ancient Greek meaning “a woman who serves” and is now used to refer to a trained and experienced professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to the mother before, during and just after birth; or who provides emotional and practical support during the postpartum period.

Permaculture a Beginners Guide: http://www.permaculturenews.org/files/permaculture_beginners_guide_extract.pdf

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