Rendering the Intrinsic Value of Nature and Public Education Explicit


Our theme for this week has been the intrinsic value of nature and public education. I noted that this recognition of intrinsic value represents a moral shift, not simply one of methodology. Will noted that there is also an inherent aesthetic value of beauty in education. I diverged a bit to start a dialogue with Sara Mead over on The Policy Notebook, but I’d like to bring it back to our original theme before we shift over to a new focus over the next week.

After posting on the fact that public education and nature both “possess a value aside from anything that we might ‘get’ from them,” I read a fascinating article on a 5 year effort to assign value to ecosystem services in Tanzania (thanks to Learn Sustainability for tweeting a link to this). 
The article tells of an effort to assign value with scientific certainty to those ecosystem services for the purpose of environmental protection.

“On the one hand, you can say, ‘Look, we all depend on these services, so the value is inherent,'” says [Neil] Burgess. “But we can’t go to Coca Cola and say, ‘This catchment delivers this amount of clean water, and has this value to you.'” [Bold added]

In order to present the specific value of ecosystem services to businesses and governments, scientists embarked on a study (their research can be viewed on their webpage, “Valuing the Arc“) in order to derive solid data that could counter current practices in Tanzania destructive to essential natural capital.

[Valuing the Arc’s] mission is to quantify the economic value of specific ecosystem services in the Eastern Arc Mountains . . .

“Neil basically realized that he needed to get beyond general statements about the value of nature and show decision-makers where the value lies within their actual landscapes,” says Taylor Ricketts, co-founder of the Natural Capital Project . . . 

As the measurements become more concrete and targeted, Burgess believes the beneficiaries of ecosystem services will become buyers – and for economic reasons, and not just for philanthropy . . . 

“The whole intention of Valuing the Arc is to try to establish the true values of these resources and the services that they offer, and through that make arguments for greater investment on the government side for conservation efforts,” he says, adding that private sector investors will still be needed to make the system viable over the long haul. [Bold added]

This perspective forced to me to pause and reconsider the stance which Will and I had begun in advancing our model of schools as ecosystems. I believe that our arguments for the moral and aesthetic value in education are strong and wholly essential, but the fact is that we are not going to convince those who don’t currently see the intrinsic value of nature nor public education unless we can demonstrate concrete, measurable, and scalable value from the application of our model.

To this end, therefore, as we draw from research in other fields and continue to outline ecological principles that transfer to an educational setting, my purpose is not solely to construct a viable philosophy and methodological approach to school design, but furthermore to define metrics that can be researched, quantified, and observed directly within school and community settings.

In other words, though currently some of the aspects of positive, nurturing school culture may be “intangible,” we must find some way of rendering this value into something that can be presented to policymakers, investors, and other stakeholders in a tangible and concrete way.

We shouldn’t have to demonstrate the instrinsic value of nature nor public education. But such is the world we live in.

We would like to show decision-makers where the actual value lies in our communities and schools.

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