Respect the wisdom of the Earth
Life pushes back against a story that excludes it.
~ Margaret Wheatley
Life pushes back against a story that excludes it.
~ Margaret Wheatley
Albert Einstein wrote, “Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.” In this design, we turn to a level of awareness that is billions of years old. We turn to the wisdom of the Earth to inform the design work for how humans live and learn together. There is a lot out there about applying living systems principles to human design particularly in agriculture (permaculture), organizational development, and architecture. The research is scant (and practice even more so) in educational design.
There are four main living systems principles: wholeness, autopoiesis, emergence, and context. At Springhouse, we apply these principles respectively by first, respecting and engaging differences as active aspects of wholeness, honoring diversity rather than assimilation; understanding that every individual can both transform a community and be transformed by that community; valuing challenges and instabilities in a person and in the community as opportunities for emergence and strive to create the fertile conditions and resiliency that invite these forms of generative problem-solving; and fostering contextual understanding and the deep sense of belonging that arises from it. We will explore a bit more in depth below how these principles show up at Springhouse and how naturally, a vitality-centered design includes fostering a connection to the Earth and deeply respecting its wisdom.
Wholeness. Every system, from molecule to ecosystem, is an irreducible whole. We recognize differences and diversity as the components of our wholeness, and we honor diversity rather than assimilation. We do this by honoring all voices in our community, especially those not listened to historically. In 2018, Springhouse was awarded a grant from Teaching Tolerance to explore racism and privilege in the rural south. The impetus behind this project was the understanding that a community cannot be healthy and whole if it is leaving out some of the people in it. This project supported a project where the Springhouse community partnered with a local Black church to have conversations about racism and privilege and at the end of the project, we all co-created a community event that involved music, dialogue, and food. Another way that Springhouse applies this principle is by creating networks that allow for the various components of the whole to be autonomous, yet connected and responsive to a common purpose. Leadership is shared and networks strengthen the ways in which we serve the Springhouse mission. Springhouse teen learners are represented at every level of leadership and all voices are valued and invited forth in decision making processes–at the Board, curricular, administrative levels and more. Wholeness consists of a web of relationships.
Autopoiesis. Living Systems are open systems (they interact with their environment) that maintain an ever-changing equilibrium through their ability to self-regulate and self-create. Springhouse recognizes itself as a living organism and seeks opportunities to strengthen our connection to the community we are in reciprocal relationship with. This past spring we walked to Roanoke. We interacted with the landscape on the Blue Ridge parkway as we walked 48 miles from Floyd Virginia to Roanoke. We stayed on people's farms, in daycare centers, and on a high school soccer field. We were fed by neighbors, and visited artists, rangers, and others along the way. We ended the walk stronger and more resilient because of our interactions with each other and our place. On this trip, and in daily life, this learning community attracts what it needs to sustain itself and thrive, in ways that we often find miraculous. Springhouse continues to thrive at every level including financial.
Emergence. Living systems not only maintain a flowing integration, they also evolve in complexity through responding to feedback. Emergence is one of the hallmarks of life. It has been recognized as the dynamic origin of development, learning, and evolution. Springhouse values emergence in learning, in community development, and as an essential vehicle for change-making in the world. To this end we value challenges and instabilities within and between individuals and the Springhouse community as opportunities for emergence, and strive to create the fertile conditions and resiliency that invite these forms of generative problem solving. An example of this is a young adult program that emerged at Springhouse called The Well. Within a year of starting the school, young people in their 20s and 30s started coming to the school to learn and be of service. The Well emerged to provide these young adults with a structure to learn more about themselves within a community and also have a clear pathway to be of service to teens. We did not start out with the idea to have an intergenerational learning community but that is what has emerged. We now offer programming for teens, young adults, and adults as well.
Context. Every system is a complete whole in its own right, as well as being a nested part of many surrounding larger systems. This complex network of connection and interdependence is the web of context. Thus Springhouse is nested within the context of the greater Floyd community, which is in turn nested within the regional ecosystem of rural Appalachia. Each system carries all of its concurrent histories, complexities, and conflicting forces into the web of context. Celebrating the interdependence of this diversity and multiplicity is what weaves strength, resiliency, and sustainability into any community. Springhouse fosters contextual understanding and the deep sense of belonging that arises from it. Springhouse launched the Community Internship and Apprenticeship program two years ago where learners are now out of the school interacting in the community twice a week.
Earth Connection. Experience begins with the body, but without the acknowledgement that our bodies rise and fall back to the Earth, we truly are homeless. With the distractions and comforts of today, it is easy to forget that this planet is our lifeline; we belong to it. John O’Donohue (1997) writes, “The urbanization of modern life has succeeded in exiling us from this fecund kinship with mother Earth. Fashioned from the Earth, we are souls in clay form”. Though human beings might fear its wildness, and might not understand its ways, we are intimately connected with the land. Fostering connection to the Earth reminds us of the wholeness present within its natural cycles. Denying the natural cycles of life cause us to live in an illusion. When we avoid death, for instance, we simply do not live as fully as we can, and in this culture it is death that we often fear and ignore. Somehow, in Western cultures of limitless growth, we have managed to collectively avoid the reality of dying. In a vitality-centered design, all seasons of life are welcomed and explored, including death.
Educators as Architects of Living Systems: Designing Vibrant Learning Experiences beyond Sustainability and Systems Thinking
Living Systems Principles and their Relevance to Design- Terry Irwin
Nature’s Design Principles: Processes- Sam Chaltain
Education as a system or an organism?
Organizations as Living Systems
Bringing Schools Back to Life
Look to the Mountain- Greg Cajete
The Power to Transform: Leadership That Brings Learning and Schooling to Life
Living Systems and High School Dropout Rates
Social justice leadership in living systems: Max Klau at TEDx
Social Innovation: How Would Nature Do It?
How to escape education's death valley | Sir Ken Robinson
Ecoliteracy: Learning from living systems | by Daniel Christian Wahl | Age of Awareness
Sir Ken Robinson Compares Human Organisations to Organisms: Education Is A Dynamic System
From Tree to Shining Tree | Radiolab
GaiaEducation.org – Design for Sustainability
Next Level Transformation: Inventing Community-Based, Learner-Centered Ecosystems - Education Reimagined
Seed and Spark
Leading living systems | Kathleen E. Allen | TEDxEdina
Shape Note Singing Community Project
How Our Creativity and Resiliency Can Build Stronger and Wiser Communities=
Roanoke Times: Project Based Learning and Building a Banjo
Floyd students hike to Roanoke on 4-Day Field Trip
Springhouse Community Gathers to Bless New Space
Teen Perspective on Climate Change
Beth Macy leads community dialogue on opioid epidemic with Springhouse learners
Springhouse Gets Stronger
Floyd Virginia Publication: Springhouse Community School Has Moved to a New Building
'Who Are the Local People?' Native Leaders Want Ancestral Ownership Acknowledged
- What would a curricular or pedagogical structure that protects and cultivates curiosity, creativity, and emergence look like?
- What are living systems principles and how do they show up in an educational design?
- How does your current personal and community design honor and foster wholeness? Self regulation or self-creation?
- Does your design allow for emergence? In what ways, where do you see evidence of emergence?
- How are you in interdependent relationship with the community you are a part of?
- What is your personal connection to the Earth? Do you have practices that connect you to your place? Does your community?
- What are you learning from the way the Earth works?
- What does this quote mean to you from Margaret Wheatley: "Life pushes back against a story that excludes it"? Have you experienced this?
- What is your relationship with death? Is it important to address in an educational or community design? If so why or why not?
- Which resources on the resource list did you study? Do you have questions?
- What questions do you have about how Springhouse embodies and applies living systems principles?