Adaptive thinking

November 19, 2015

Dame Julia King’s illustration of restructuring student learning around “universal challenges” such as climate change (“Climate change will take all our expertise”, Opinion, 29 October) reveals both the attraction and danger of such an approach. Yes, students should be encouraged to think beyond disciplinary boundaries about how such challenges are changing the world and what their contribution might be. But such complex “cross-cutting” issues lend themselves to multiple framings, which alter the educational challenge.

For example, to frame the challenge of climate change as “shifting to a low-carbon economy”, as King suggests, is only one way of thinking about it. One might equally well design innovative educational curricula inspired by climate change around “well-adapted societies”, “social equality”, “cultural transformation” or “participatory democracies”. All these are legitimate, but different, ways of framing what the challenge of climate change means.

What we need to teach our students about climate change and other such issues is that they have multiple meanings and implications for the contemporary world. These differences derive from different worldviews and conflicting values, and may very well challenge the dominant frame that serves entrenched paradigms and incumbent interests. This, then, would be an emancipatory curriculum, which would place human values at the centre, rather than science, technology or economics.

Mike Hulme
Professor of climate and culture
King’s College London

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