America needs to reshape education to prepare students for a world in crisis.
By Anthony Sorgi
If you found a picture of me from 15 years ago, chances are I’d have a book in my hand. I used to read everywhere, and all the time, anything I could get my hands on.
As I look back at my literary progression - from Calvin & Hobbes to Roald Dahl and C.S Lewis, Sherlock Holmes to Jules Verne, Brave New World to Orwell, Asimov, Stephen Hawking, and everything in between – I realize that reading was an incredibly important part of a journey that helped shape my goals and highlight my aptitudes.
As a college senior, reading continues to expand my own consciousness and further refine my goals, often with greater effect than much of my coursework ever has. It’s been my own experiences with traditional college and high-school education that have kindled the thoughts going into this post, because within these systems I see an immense potential, and even necessity, for change.
Now, on the eve of graduation, I’m looking back at much of my education and realizing that it’s done relatively little to prepare me for a world on the brink of disaster.
The urgent issues our society faces today are the consequences of a lack of communication, and a failure in education. The choices we need to make to deal with crises in the environment, the economy, and our society hinge on our ability to restore that communication, and to reshape the way we think about learning.
Disconnected Learning Fails Students and Society
My own curiosity has always driven me to seek knowledge beyond just in my discipline. But for many students, a traditional education merely gives a small slice of technical expertise in one field, with little sense of how it should be applied to the greater scheme of things. Instead, upon graduation we’re supposed to blindly trust that upper-level management and institutional directors will fit us together like so many puzzle pieces.
The problem with that system is that it doesn’t teach us how to find connections for ourselves, ask big questions, or think in systems.
As David Orr eloquently states in his 1994 book, Earth in Mind:
Traditional education “imprints a disciplinary template onto impressionable minds, and with it the belief that the world really is as disconnected as the divisions of traditional curriculum. Students come to believe that there really is such a thing as politics separate from ecology, or that economics has nothing to do with physics…yet the world is not this way.”
Educating “Whole Earth” Citizens
Students today have a purpose that’s more than just graduating and getting a job; it’s to usher in a new era in education, one that puts more emphasis on understanding ourselves, each other, and our significance as citizens of planet earth. We don’t need to create more technicians; we need whole-earth citizens, ones that have a framework and context in which to apply their skills and aptitudes.
With the technology we have access to, our generation could have some of the most profound impacts on the planet, good or bad.
If those impacts are to be for the good of human progress, we have to see for ourselves how we fit into the complex systems we’re a part of: we need to become full-spectrum students, capable of innovation and constant, critical thinking.
The New Earth Archive
The New Earth Archive is my attempt to try and come up with a curriculum for a full-spectrum education -- and it’s going to start by getting young people to read again.
The time is ripe for this type of project. Despite the recent decline in reading levels, an encouraging report by the National Endowment for the Arts showed that for the first time in 25 years, reading levels among adults and young adults was on the rise.
We at the New Earth Archive want to change the world, by leveraging that trend and creating incentives to get even more students reading. We’re setting up a resource that gives free access to powerful and life-changing books about topics like ecology, climate change, economics, behavior and philosophy, science, and sustainability.
Creating An Open Source Knowledge Community
More importantly, we’re creating a community to share these resources and ideas with each other, and chart their progress across the topics and disciplines that might encompass the education of a whole-earth citizen.
One of our goals is to reach out to eBook vendors like Google, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, in the hopes that these companies might provide students with some of the most important books and movies for free.
My hope is that programs like this, ones that provide open-source knowledge instead of just information, might be used to create a new social norm, one that values critical thinking, questioning, and full-spectrum learning, and above all, rekindles a sense of wonder for our environment, and our very existence on this planet.
We’re currently in the process of raising funds to develop and launch the online community for New Earth Archive users to interact and share resources. Right now, we’re in a GoodMaker competition for a chance to receive $2500 to fund a social change project. The community decides who wins, and if you believe in the power of reading and would like to support the New Earth Archive’s development, send us a vote.
About Anthony Sorgi
Anthony Sorgi is the founder of The New Earth Archive. He is a student at the Albert Dorman Honors College at New Jersey Institute of Technology, Class of 2012, where he studies biomedical engineering.