The Importance of Education in Environmental Responsibility
Meet Dr. John Grim of Yale University, who advocates assuming a universal responsibility for saving the planet, in science, religion and education.
Laura Wells: A sense of environmental responsibility grows with education. Academic education through books, laboratory and experiments is one part of such an education. Dr. Grim also emphasizes that historically, religious ceremonies and rights of passage related to this seasons in the human life cycle has also been a vital part of that education, sacred songs, dances, rituals, prayers, chanting and even stories make humanity feel its connection to the rest of existence.
Male Host: Dr. Grim’s experience has taught him that religion is vital in moving humanity towards a new and necessary understanding of a wider ecosystem and all of life.
Dr. John Grim: In my own field as a historian of religion, we’ve come to an understanding namely this project that my wife and I have developed, of a sense that religions may very well be necessary for that turn and that move towards to a heightened consciousness and awareness of the community of life. But if they are necessary, they're not sufficient.
Male Host: In addition to the importance of religion, science and public policy bring their own useful perspectives to the issue of becoming aware of the entire biosphere.
Dr. John Grim: The science in its penetrating insight and especially analysis of the material world, of the world of the life world, that science has brought us to an understanding that is without parallel.
Male Host: Science employs an analytical language and vision to understand reality. This is powerful but it has limitations if used on its own. The integration of other ways of understanding with scientific language and techniques is invaluable.
Dr. John Grim: While it's a powerful vision, it is limited by its own method, in that sense, the wholeness of life, the interrelatedness of life, is something that science can analyze and come to exquisite understanding of it, but nurturing that life has been very difficult for the scientific. And then we see it now in the 21st century.
Male Host: The ways in which the traditional cultures have nurtured life through real experiences can supplement or act as a foundation for scientific understandings. The education of traditional cultures took place in the context of family and communal social gatherings. The details of each culture are unique, but according to Dr. Grim they share some fundamental characteristics.
Dr. John Grim: It strikes me that if you go from the Mayan context to the classical Greek context, to me they are extraordinarily different. I'm a historian of religion and I'm interested in this historical difference, but I'm also aware of something that they share and it strikes me that one thing they share at this deep civilization or cultural level is education that responds to the deepest relationship of the embodied character of the human, to the world we live in, namely a shared sense of breath, breathing, of food, of the nurturing love that we exchange with other people.
Male Host: Every aspect of life can become part of the civilization’s education. Basic values are embedded in the relationships of people with the world. These values can be taught through dances, songs, stories, and even help people eat.
Dr. John Grim: When civilizations are able to touch deeply, to tap into those deep, the deep ruddiness of the human into those basic fundamental exchanges with the world that a breathing becomes a way of teaching. That’s a level of engagement we’re at now, that’s the level of the exploration that I feel we need to reflect upon and return to, there will be a diversity of practices, of new ways, of understanding, but it's interesting they are new, but they are also very old in the sense they're fundamental.
Male Host: Dr. Grim’s own education come from both academic and traditional sources. He names his features, including a range of insightful people who had dedicated their lives to revitalizing humanities awareness of its connection to all living things.
Dr. John Grim: I would put Thomas Berry before others because of he transmitted so much, but another teacher that I would mention is Sim Pak Chen, his name and his language here was a Salish, a healer, and a leader of his people in Washington State.
Male Host: What he learned from Sim Pak Chen has a profound effect on Dr. Grim. Sim Pak Chen was born in Chillum, Washington State. He is from an inland group of the Salish people. His name means first light in the morning, he has brought back to life important dances in the culture of his people that connects his community to tradition and the life cycle.
Dr. John Grim: Sim Pak Chen came to his own reaching to reinvigorate a very old ceremony that in English is called the winter dance. And at that winter dance, it fills me with stories to even remember. But for our exchange is a four-day ceremony and the ceremonial brings together those individuals among the people who have songs.
Male Host: The songs themselves are important because they're understood to have the power to alter the community and the surrounding world. They connect people to animals, to plants, and particular places. Overall, they are an important part of traditional education.
Dr. John Grim: The ceremonial is about the singing of songs and of course, as in storing of religion, I would attend the ceremonial and try to understand what's being done here, what this is about, and it took me a number of years to finally realize what the ceremony—I know this is my interpretation of the teaching of Sin Pack Chen of course, but what this ceremony is about is to address the weather to change the weather and to bring where very wet snow and the freeze, and more snow, nurturing water in the spring where it would melt for the root crops. And the root crops feed the animals and the animals and the root crops feed the human.
Male Host: This relationship between the ceremonies and the agricultural cycle affects how the people view water and food. It is the more holistic approach than the disconnected approach that the modern world typically experiences. Eating an apple, brings within a deeper understanding than one would have if it was simply bought in the store.
Dr. John Grim: This whole ceremonial is a reflection upon life in its exchange. And these people teach their young about this relationship of plants in the ground, and the animals that eat them and we eat them, and then we are in turn food for the earth process. So this has been a setting in which some of my own thinking about food has been challenged and changed.
Male Host: Education, reflection, songs, and rituals are all stories in their own right. They are myths important to developing a consciousness of the surrounding world.
Dr. John Grim: Of course, everything has a story. Everything has its formative history. I love to talk with students some times to say, when you go for that interview for your position, and you have to tell your story, that’s a great mythic moment.
Male Host: When speaking publicly about traditional cultures, Dr. Grim finds it important to put forward the distinction that he is not Native American. He calls to mind the native reflection, that there should be nothing in the academic world about them that does not include them directly. This continues to be a problematic issue for Dr. Grim and how he presents his work.
Dr. John Grim: And so in that sense, I would say it would be better for a native person to tell a story about their tradition. But I'm also aware that for many native people and many native storytellers they also share publicly and Sim Pak Cheng would say for example, everything has a song so for him song and story were tightly interwoven. And that song when they come into the winter dance and people sing them, the songs are not owned by the people, they are their own entity.
Male Host: With the idea that native people should speak for themselves, Dr. Grim invites its guess to his classes to speak to students directly. He relates one experience in which he invited a Native –American singer from the Denay People, the Navajo people, the student gave him a very positive reception and some were deeply affected beyond the class.
Dr. John Grim: When he was done with his stories and his teaching, I did something which was—it's problematic for me. I asked him could you sing something for us. And he stopped, and we knew that I was asking probably not wrong, but problematic. Why are you asking this? What do you want, these kinds of things and he reflected and he said, “Everyday, about this time, I remember the inch one, that little worm that eats in the leaves and the tree and we find so problematic., maybe even in the forestry world I would know of course, the role of that inch worm but it's a problematic creature sometimes. But he says I sig that song, and he sang that song. And it was so beautiful, such an exquisite sound and you could feel that his relationship and his people’s relationship was this small creature.
To this day, I have students who write me and remember that moment, it's never left them, so it has become part of their story, part of that opening, cracking of the egg, of our objectifying of the world cracking that egg, to suddenly realize this world around us is inching.
Male Host: According to Dr. Grim, modern cultures have a lot to learn from the remaining small groups of indigenous people who have kept alive their connection to the rest of the community of life.
Dr. John Grim: Seven hundred million people on the planet who belong this small societies who maintain a common language and a sense of kinship and a story tradition. And almost consistently, we find among these small scales traditions rather intimate and extensive knowledge of biodiversity in their area, so that I have found in my studies with indigenous people rather an extraordinary understanding of environmental knowledge or indigenous knowledge of biodiversity.
The Importance of Education in Environmental Responsibility
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