This week’s blog post comes to us from David B. Sutton, Ph.D. former University Professor and President of The Antaeus Organization (TAO). David is currently working with the Linden Centre on improving its sustainability efforts, as well as its environmental education programming.
I have just had my first experience with a University group coming to the Linden Centre. The program from Lawrence University, was called “Sustainable China: Integrating Culture, Conservation and Commerce” and designed to provide multi-disciplinary opportunities for students to examine the critical issues of economic growth, environmental sustainability, and a shifting cultural landscape facing China.
The Linden Centre is in an ideal situation to provide first-hand learning experiences towards these goals.
The University was awarded a Luce Grant to support their “Sustainable China” program. Their visit to the Linden Centre is one of the first parts of this program. They have also collaborated with faculty from the Karst Institute in Guiyang.
I have always been a strong advocate of “experiential learning” and have over almost 30 years of University teaching always sought real world experiences that could inform a student’s classroom learning back at home.
An outside learning experience can breathe new life into a student’s area of concentration. Through total immersion into a chosen field, the student has a chance to put their book learning to use. The experience can verify the wisdom of a chosen direction and then provide guidance for the next step. On the other hand, it can also turn the student around by revealing a wrong track, and enabling a mid-course change.
These opportunities combine the most potent mode of experiential learning with the challenge of being engaged in real-world issues. It is an attempt to link direct student experience of social problems and issues with academic studies – a rare chance in academia to connect theory with practice.
The Lawrence Program is to be commended for developing this for its students and I am sure that they gained much from their first-hand experiences in China and at the Linden Centre.
I gained a few take-away lessons, myself, from being with them.
First, I was reminded of the valuable lessons that can be learned from mistakes. For, in addition to the wonderful things that the Centre has done to foster the preservation of local Bai architecture and culture, the students were exposed to a number of good ideas throughout the area that were improperly implemented, due to poor design and planning. Things such as; a biogas facility designed to produce methane for cooking that depends of the input of the farmer’s manure that they would rather (and rightfully so) use to fertilize their fields; a state-of-the-art water treatment plant that leaves a significant portion of the downstream village untreated and the inadequate disposal and use of 4 tons of collected trash a day.
Through our discussions of our concern to rectify these things above, they were also to learn of the on-going obstacles to implementing the things we know that should be done.
I was personally interested to hear several of the student presentations on things such as “Big Dams” and the “Privatization of Public Water Supply” to name a few.
I hope that in the future these students get more experience at places like the Linden Centre where they can learn that sustainability isn’t just about finance and economics.
Here in Xizhou, we are at the center of programming for a range of students: middle school, high school, university, professional degree candidates, as well as interested travelers and business executives.
Engaging with people from diverse backgrounds and levels of experiences, it is my goal to help the Linden Centre become a center of “Higher Education” (1) and sustainable living.
David B. Sutton, Ph.D.
Sustainability Expert in Residence at the Linden Centre
Note: (1) David Sutton has written elsewhere on his belief that there is a need for a “higher education.” Not in the sense that it is commonly used, meaning merely beyond a high school education. But in the sense of an education preparing people for a higher purpose, for redefining a sustainable life of meaning and purpose …. One that moves us towards an international community of self-fulfillment, not just the massive production of stuff and accumulation of wealth and power in the hands of a few.