Books Magazine

Book Review: David Orr’s Earth in Mind

By 2ndgreenrevolution @2ndgreenrev

Book Review: David Orr’s Earth in MindOriginally published in 1994 during what could possibly be considered the second of three environmental movements to date, David Orr’s Earth in Mind: On Education, Environment, and the Human Prospect sets forth a new agenda for education vis-a-vis the environment.

While I started the book last summer (and thought I had lost the library copy until a co-worker serendipitously pulled it out of his bag), there have been a number of fascinating quotes and concepts throughout the book. I finished by reading the last 40 pages of the book over the past week. Earth in Mind is a compilation of essays, many of which are brief, but informative. Published by Island Press, the book consists of four parts, 1) The Problem of Education; 2) First Principles; 3) Rethinking Education; and 4) Destinations. From the publisher’s website comes the following synopsis:

In Earth in Mind, noted environmental educator David W. Orr focuses not on problems in education, but on the problem of education. Much of what has gone wrong with the world, he argues, is the result of inadequate and misdirected education that:

  • alienates us from life in the name of human domination
  • causes students to worry about how to make a living before they know who they are
  • overemphasizes success and careers
  • separates feeling from intellect and the practical from the theoretical
  • deadens the sense of wonder for the created world

The crisis we face, Orr explains, is one of mind, perception, and values. It is, first and foremost, an educational challenge.

The fourth and final section of the book contains some lengthier considerations of humans and their interaction with nature and “place.” Orr puts forth the idea that using the natural environment and one’s surroundings are essential in educating for a sustainable future. This idea has become known as “place based education.” It receives a thorough treatment in the work of David Sobel, from Antioch University as well as Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods (previously reviewed on 2nd Green Revolution).

Orr’s style is eminently readable. The brief chapters that comprise the first two sections of the book are fast paced and attention grabbing. The longer chapters, especially the one on biophilia, contain great information, but may change the complexion of book. The more technical chapters also tended to be the longest ones. Many of Orr’s arguments are laid out similarly, namely as a series of numbered points. This made the reading a bit less enjoyable, but helped the reader understand the point well.

Perhaps the greatest implication of this work revolves around the notion that the most educated members of our society are the most destructive from an ecological perspective. The damaging arguments goes something like this: the more educated people are, the more disconnected they are from the environment that supports them, and subsequently the less aware they are of their actions, which tend to be the most damaging. Education has not been the answer to this point, but a source of the problem. We have not educated for a sustainable future, but for a consumptive one.

For a number of excerpts from the book, check out this site.

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