Donella Meadows on teaching and learning

Systems+sustainability pioneer Donella Meadows had an unusual ability to connect with students, audiences, and workshop participants. One senses this connectivity in her audio and video recordings.

Thanks to the work of the Vermont-based Donella Meadows Institute, such legacy recordings and materials are now more accessible. One audio file I found in the Institute archives is from a talk Dana and Dennis Meadows gave at Lindisfarne, a think tank and retreat center established in the early 1970s by William Irwin Thompson. The topic of this talk is their experiences at Dartmouth, where they’d taken faculty positions soon after the 1972 publication of Limits to Growth.

Dana’s assessment was scathing: the institutional structures of higher education were, she insisted, detrimental to actual learning.

I came out of it (i.e., this experience) with very strong idea of what education should be … an idea that: No one can teach anyone anything. One can simply set up circumstances in which a person can teach themselves. Those circumstances need to be somehow related to their real-world and current concerns. And the current concerns of 18-22 year-olds are something different than that of the average 45 year-old philosophy professor or whatever. And that one has to take these things into account in the classroom.

Listen to the audio here.

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