GEORGE F. KNELLER PLENARY ‘Education Beyond the Human: Can We Think Differently?’ (Arathi Sriprakash, Stephen Sterling, Freya Mathews, and Jeremy Rappleye as moderator) COMING IN APRIL!

The struggle to think differently, to remake our reductionist culture, is a basic survival project in our present context. (Plumwood, 2010)

As the environmental catastrophe accelerates, it is increasingly apparent that most educational researchers cannot think differently.  Theoretical paradigms and pedagogical practices forged in the long sweep of modernity are repackaged as solutions to the new challenge of a crumbling environment.  ‘Business as usual’ applies not only to capitalism and politics, but also to knowledge and education. There is a striking lack of reflexivity on the fact that current paradigms and pedagogies have rendered the environmental catastrophe largely invisible to even the most ‘educated’, cosmopolitan, and/or critical researchers.  This is particularly true in our field of comparative and international education, which has long praised itself for seeing beyond national containers and cultural prejudice. And yet it has wholly failed to recognize this epochal global issue and understand that the invisibility of the environment is generated by deep cultural biases inherent in what being ‘educated’ means.

Is it still possible to think differently? If so, how might we begin to do so?  These questions guide this Plenary Session, one that seeks to explore – in a preliminary sort of way – how the philosophical and theoretical tools we utilize might be remade to move beyond business-as-usual approaches.  Since its inception, CIES has been more skilled at advocating the Enlightenment paradigm of education – liberal humanism – than thinking beyond it.  It has strained to expand solidarity, rather than diversify the onto-epistemic foundations.  The field has worked more on developing efficient modes of delivering the True paradigm, than on demonstrate ways to escape from it.  Certainty and delivery now reign, whilst questioning and receptivity have retreated.

Yet, how much longer can this status-quo hold in the face of the inevitable disintegration of our Hegelian-esque Faith that the world is ‘getting better’ in the decades ahead?   Do we – as comparativists – still have the time to develop alternative paradigms and pedagogies to replace our eroding master narrative before the environment forces us to do so?   Which aspects of existing philosophical and theoretical projects can be partially salvaged when creating the new paradigm? Which need to be wholly scrapped?  More challengingly:  Is there sufficient depth of thought in the field of CIES, a community that long ago turned away from philosophy and theory, for new paradigms to take hold?   And even if there is, will new thinking germinate or be disparaged as an affront to the unfinished project of modernity, and counter to our commitments to deliver Enlightenment?

Showcasing a spectrum of ideas from critique to regeneration, the three presentations that comprise this Plenary take up these far-ranging questions to different degrees, and from different angles.  Each presentation will last approximately 20 minutes, followed by time for extensive time for dialogue with the audience.  Herein Arathi Sriprakash extends her path-breaking post/decolonial perspectives to questions of the environment, challenging us to reconstruct ‘humanism’ by unflinchingly facing our past and its enduring racial exclusions, as a necessary pathway to contemplating the future.  Renowned environmental education scholar Stephen Sterling then issues a call for ‘dis-illusioning’ our-selves, as a prerequisite for developing an ‘ecological state of mind’ and reopening the closed world of education.  Last, Freya Mathews, author of the widely read The Ecological Self (1991), shares her most recent thinking, an approach that highlights alternative cultural narratives as resources for remaking the metaphysical foundations of both education and philosophy.  Together the panelists highlight the many possible touchstones for ‘thinking differently’ that still exist.  While in no sense exhaustive, these perspectives point the way towards how we might begin to escape the delusion of ‘human’ exceptionalism and remake the deepest foundations of our field.

Arathi Sriprakash is a Reader in Sociology at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge. Her recent work has addressed the politics of knowledge in comparative and international education, particularly the ways in which the field’s epistemic frameworks have been enmeshed in global systems of racial domination.

Stephen Sterling is Emeritus Professor of Sustainability Education at the Centre for Sustainable Futures, University of Plymouth, UK. A former Senior Advisor to the UK Higher Education Academy on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), and a National Teaching Fellow (NTF), he has worked in environmental and sustainability education in the academic and NGO fields nationally and internationally for some four decades, including as a consultant and advisor on on UNESCO’S Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) programmes. Widely published, he is a Distinguished Fellow of the Schumacher Institute, and a Senior Fellow at the International Association of Universities (IAU).  At Plymouth University, he led whole institutional change towards sustainability.

Freya Mathews is Adjunct Professor of Environmental Philosophy at Latrobe University, Australia. Her books include The Ecological Self (1991), Ecology and Democracy (editor) (1996), For Love of Matter: a Contemporary Panpsychism (2003), Journey to the Source of the Merri (2003), Reinhabiting Reality: Towards a Recovery of Culture (2005), Without Animals Life is not Worth Living (2016) and Ardea: a Philosophical Novella (2016). She is the author of over eighty articles in the area of ecological philosophy. Her current special interests are in ecological civilization; indigenous (Australian and Chinese) perspectives on (so-called) sustainability and how these perspectives may be adapted to the context of contemporary global society; panpsychism and critique of the metaphysics of modernity; ecology and religion; and conservation ethics and rewilding in the context of the Anthropocene.

Jeremy Rappleye (chair and moderator) is Associate Professor at Kyoto University, Graduate School of Education. He is interested in overcoming divisions between philosophy and empirical social science on the one hand, and Western (predominantly Anglo-American) perspectives and non-Western approaches on the other.   His most recent publications include Comparative Education as Cultural Critique (Comparative Education, 2020) and Culture and the Independent Self: Obstacles to environmental sustainability?  (Anthropocene, 2019, with Hikaru Komatsu and Iveta Silova).