‘Garbage Warrior’ thesis applicable to Education

The most compelling documentary I have viewed this year by a long shot is ‘Garbage Warrior’, profiling the remarkable career of maverick architect Michael Reynolds. Reynolds has long staked out a niche creating architectural designs incorporating various things the rest of the western world considers disposable, like tires, aluminum cans and discarded glassware. Living atop the high plateau near to Taos, New Mexico, Reynolds has not only built homes and offices based on his ‘earthship’ design (featuring banks of discarded tires packed with compacted dirt), he has also built and established an entire community of people sharing his interests in sustainable living.

Reynolds’ vision, which emerged as the thesis of the documentary, reached beyond his own sustainable housing business, to a perceived need to broaden legislation in the state of New Mexico that would enable architects and builders to innovate beyond conventional constraints presently enshrined in building-code legislation. An ability to innovate, Reynolds asserted, was/is vital to builders and designers wishing to experiment with new, more sustainable building designs and materials because of problems arising from global climate change and a need to embrace more environmentally sustainable building forms.

(Michael Reynolds next to one of his buildings)

In his quest as a sustainable building advocate in New Mexico, Reynolds faces as many barriers as any mythological knight-errant. The poignancy of his quest is profoundly demonstrated when he and his work-crew travel to an Indian-Ocean island community devastated by the 2004 tsunami and volunteer their time to create a demonstration building of much more sustainable design than conventional stick-and-frame, to the delight of locals and bureaucrats who welcomed the innovation, albeit in the aftermath of massive tragedy.

The upshot from Michael Reynolds: Humanity is facing a crisis that compels us to seek new ways to adapt to new circumstances or to help circumvent tragedy. Innovating is necessary so that builders and designers can experiment, make mistakes and eventually create breakthroughs that pose new, important solutions to the crisis.

To me, Reynolds’ message is a universal one, and especially pertinent to education. We presently face an enormous crisis rooted in how we approach the activity of nurturing learning in our children and youth and throughout adulthood. Conventional education, and its handmaiden curriculum-driven, coercive schooling, is based on assumptions about human learning that exceeded their expiry date many years ago (if they were ever valid, and many were not) and an over-arching value system that continues to leave most of its constituents – students – poorly prepared for the rapidly-changing world into which they are merging.

Education desperately needs to innovate but few bureaucrats or bureaucracies yet perceive this. I encourage them to watch ‘Garbage Warrior’ and connect the dots.

* Reference links: Garbage Warrior: www.garbagewarrior.com


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