Biocultural Diversity Education

With both environmental degradation and social turmoil rapidly rising around the world and putting our future on the planet at growing risk, there is mounting recognition that the root of our global problems lies in an ill-conceived and maladaptive way of thinking: a mindset that sees people as separate from and dominant over nature, and sees nature merely as a storehouse of resources meant for human use. It’s a mindset that poses daunting challenges for the sustainability of life on earth.

How do we veer off this self-destructive path, recognizing the “inextricable link” between humans and the natural world and the need to fully reintegrate with the biocultural web of life? At Terralingua, we believe that bringing about this profound societal shift is above all a matter of education — education not just as knowledge acquisition, but rather as a process that deepens our understanding and radically transforms our moral and spiritual values.

biocultural diversity

That transformation is ever more urgent in our troubled times, which is why in our work we put a strong emphasis on outreach to the public. And it’s especially crucial for that transformation to start early on, in young minds — and that’s why we started our Biocultural Diversity Educational Initiative, to foster curiosity and caring for the diversity of life in nature and culture. We chose to focus on youth at the high school level, a crucial phase for the development of social and environmental responsibility.

We began by envisioning what an integrative biocultural approach to education would look like. Our Overview of a New Approach to Education and Curriculum Development can be accessed here, along with three appendixes in the form of slide shows: a brief introduction to the idea of biocultural diversity and its relevance, a summary of education standards relevant to teaching about biocultural diversity, and guidelines for integrating biocultural diversity into secondary school curriculum.

biocultural diversity
Credit: Ndee Bini’ Bida’ilzaahi Program

We are currently working on a set of curriculum lessons that present the basic concepts about biocultural diversity. Those introductory lessons will be complemented by an open-ended series of case studies that will serve to illustrate the concepts with examples from different cultures around the world. We will make the lesson available here once they are completed and tested.

But you don’t have to wait! If you’re interested in introducing the idea of biocultural diversity in an educational context, you can rely on several other resources that we’re already making available: an issue of Terralingua’s flagship publication Langscape Magazine entirely devoted to the them “Exploring Biocultural Approaches to Education,” and an earlier educational booklet on biocultural diversity developed by Terralingua in collaboration with UNESCO, along with its companion map.

And if you’re looking for “real-world” examples of biocultural diversity that you might explore with your students, you can refer to our Biocultural Diversity Conservation Projects Portal, where you’ll find several dozen case studies that are included in our book Biocultural Diversity Conservation: A Global Sourcebook. Or you can browse the issues of Langscape Magazine, which brim with stories about biocultural diversity from all corners of the world. And check out our Voices of the Earth project, for cases of biocultural diversity conservation in which Terralingua has directly partnered with Indigenous Peoples and local communities.

For further information about this initiative, you can contact project co-directors Dr. Luisa Maffi (Terralingua) and Dr. Carla Paciotto (Western Illinois University).

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Philip and Muriel Berman Foundation
for the initial development of this project.