Daniel Goleman, Lisa Bennett, and Zenobia Barlow explain how we can teach kids The following is adapted from Ecoliterate: How Educators Are Cultivating. Ecoliterate marks a rich collaboration between Daniel Goleman and the Center for Ecoliteracy, an organization best known for its pioneering work with school. Ecoliterate: How Educators are Cultivating Emotional, Social, and Ecological Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, Lisa Bennett and Zenobia Barlow (review).

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The following is adapted from Ecoliterate: Ecoliterate shows how educators can extend the principles of social and emotional intelligence to include knowledge of and empathy for all living systems. For students in a first-grade class at Park Day School in Oakland, California, the most in-depth project of their young academic careers involved several months spent transforming their classroom into an ocean habitat, ripe with coral, jellyfish, leopard sharks, octopi, and deep-sea divers or, at least, paper facsimiles of them.

Their work culminated in one special night when, suited with goggles and homemade air tanks, the boys and girls shared what they had learned with their parents. It was such a successful end to their project that several children had to be gently dragged golemam as bedtime approached.

By the next morning, however, something unexpected had occurred: When the students arrived at their classroom at 8: Looking inside, they saw the shades drawn, the lights out, and some kind of black substance covering the birds and otters. Meeting them outside the door, their teacher, Joan Wright-Albertini, explained: But most of the students were transfixed for several long minutes.

Then, deciding that they were unsure if it was safe ecoliteerate enter, they went into another classroom, where Wright-Albertini read from a picture book ecoliyerate oil spills. They leaned forward, a few with damiel open, listening to every word. When she finished, several students asked how they could ecoliterste up their habitat.

Wright-Albertini, who had anticipated the question, showed them footage of an actual cleanup—and, suddenly, they were propelled into action. Later, they joined their teacher in a circle to discuss what they learned: Wright-Albertini felt the same way. She also observed them understand a little bit about their connection to nature and gain the knowledge that, even as six and seven year olds, they could make a fcoliterate.

To foster learning that genuinely prepares young people for the ecological challenges presented by this entirely unprecedented time in human history. Ecoliteracy is founded on a new integration of emotional, social, and ecological intelligence—forms of intelligence popularized by Daniel Goleman.

By weaving these forms of intelligence together, ecoliteracy builds on the successes—from reduced behavioral problems to increased academic golemam the movement in education to foster social and emotional learning.

And it cultivates the knowledge, empathy, and action required for practicing sustainable living. To help educators foster socially and emotionally engaged ecoliteracy, we have identified the danniel five practices. These are, of course, not the only ways to do so. But we believe that educators who cultivate these practices offer a strong foundation for becoming ecoliterate, helping themselves and their students build healthier relationships with other people and the planet.

Each can be nurtured in age-appropriate ways for students, ranging from pre-kindergarten through adulthood, and help promote the cognitive and affective abilities central to the integration of emotional, social, and ecological intelligence.

At a basic level, all organisms—including humans—need food, water, space, and conditions that support dynamic equilibrium to survive. By recognizing the common needs we share with all organisms, we can begin to shift our perspective from a view of humans as separate and superior to a more authentic view of humans as members of the natural world. From that perspective, we can expand our circles of empathy to consider the quality of life of other life forms, feel genuine concern about their well-being, and act on that concern.


Most young children exhibit care and compassion toward other living beings. This is one of several indicators that human brains are wired to feel empathy and concern for other living things. Teachers can nurture this capacity to care by creating class lessons that emphasize the important roles that plants and animals play in sustaining the web of life. Empathy also can be developed through direct contact with other living things, such as by keeping live plants and animals in the classroom; taking field trips to nature areas, zoos, botanical gardens, and animal rescue centers; and involving students in field projects such as habitat restoration.

Another way teachers can help develop empathy for other forms of life is by studying indigenous cultures. This worldview of interdependence guides daily living and has helped these societies survive, frequently in delicate ecosystems, for thousands of years.

By focusing on their relationship with their surroundings, students learn how a society lives when it values other forms of life. Organisms do not survive in isolation. Instead, the web of relationships within any living community determines its collective ability to survive and thrive. By learning about the wondrous ways that plants, animals, and other living things are interdependent, students are inspired to consider the role of interconnectedness within their communities and see the value in strengthening those relationships by thinking and acting cooperatively.

For example, by examining how their community provisions itself—from school food to energy use—students can contemplate whether their everyday practices value the common good. If a homesteading family cleared their land of trees, for example, they might soon experience flooding, soil erosion, a lack of shade, and a huge decrease in biodiversity.

But the global economy has created blinders that shield many of us from experiencing the far-reaching implications of our actions. Although some places on the planet are beginning to see evidence of climate change, most of us experience no changes. We may notice unusual weather, but daily weather is not the same as climate disruption over time. If we strive to develop ways of living that are more life-affirming, we must find ways to make visible the things that seem invisible.

Educators can help through a number of strategies. Through social networking websites, students can also communicate directly with citizens of distant areas and learn firsthand what the others are experiencing that is invisible to most students. Finally, in some cases, teachers can organize field trips to directly observe places that have been quietly devastated as part of the system that provides most of us with energy.

Many of the environmental crises that we face today are the unintended consequences of human behavior. For example, we have experienced many unintended but grave consequences of developing the technological ability to access, produce, and use fossil fuels.

These new technological capacities have been largely viewed as progress for our society. Only recently has the public become aware of the downsides of our dependency on fossil fuels, such as pollution, suburban sprawl, international conflicts, and climate change. Teachers can teach students a couple of noteworthy strategies for anticipating unintended consequences.

One strategy—the precautionary principle—can be boiled down to this basic message: Historically, to impose restrictions on new products, technologies, or practices, the people concerned about possible negative impacts were expected to prove scientifically that harm would result from them. By contrast, the precautionary principle which is now in effect in many countries and in some places in the United States places the burden of proof on the producers to demonstrate harmlessness and accept responsibility should harm occur.


Students who can apply systems thinking are usually better at predicting possible consequences of a seemingly small change to one part of the system that can potentially affect the entire system. One easy method for looking at a problem systemically is by mapping it and all of its components and interconnections.

It is then easier to grasp the complexity of our decisions and foresee possible implications. Building resiliency—for example, by moving away from mono-crop agriculture or by creating local, less centralized food systems or energy networks—is another eecoliterate strategy ecolterate survival in these circumstances.

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Ecoliterate people recognize that nature has sustained life for eons; as a result, they have turned to nature as their teacher and learned several crucial tenets. Three of those tenets are danuel imperative to ecoliterate living.

First of all, ecoliterate people have learned from nature that all living organisms are members of a complex, interconnected web of life and that those members inhabiting a particular place depend upon their interconnectedness for survival. Teachers can foster an understanding of the diverse web of relationships within a location by having students study that location as a system.

Second, ecoliterate people tend to be more aware that systems exist on various levels of scale. In nature, organisms are members of systems nested within other systems, from the micro-level to the macro-level. Each level supports the others to sustain life. When students begin to understand the intricate interplay of relation- ships that sustain an ecosystem, they can better appreciate the implications for survival that even a small disturbance may have, or the importance of strengthening relationships that help a system respond to disturbances.

Five Ways to Develop “Ecoliteracy”

They have learned from nature that members of a healthy ecosystem goleeman not abuse the resources they need in order to survive. They have also learned from nature to take only what they need and to adjust their behavior in times of boom or bust. This requires that students learn to take a long view when making decisions about how to live.

These five practices, developed by the Berkeley-based Center for Ecoliteracyoffer guideposts to exciting, meaningful, and deeply relevant education that builds on social and emotional learning skills.

The Hidden Driver of Excellence. You can learn more about Goleman and his work at www.

Lisa Bennett is a Bay Area danel focused on solutions to climate change. She is the coauthor of Ecoliterate: Follow her on Twitter LisaPBennett. If you support the Greater Good by December 31, your donation will be matched dollar-for-dollar.

We need your help to keep the “science of a meaningful life” coming. Click here to watch the video about our newest idea, and to donate. Scroll To Top The following is adapted from Ecoliterate: Daniel Goleman Daniel Goleman, Ph. Get the science eecoliterate a meaningful life delivered to your inbox.