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Number: 67
Year: 1999
Author: Eloísa Trellez Solís and Gustavo Wilches Chaux
Title: Education for a Sustainable Future in the Americas

“Humanist” and “Technocratic” Visions

One of the main obstacles to understanding the world’s dynamics from a multidimensional and holistic perspective is the way in which we have come to accept the arbitrary compartmentalizing of knowledge. If sustainable development depends on our capacity to perceive and understand the determinants of natural and social reality, and on our ability to intervene in these same processes consciously and critically, changing their course in favor of more equitable human and environmental relations, then we must recover the ability to comprehend the world as a whole.

The proliferation of information and the ever-increasing tendency toward specialization leads inevitably away from a Renaissance conception of knowledge. In fact, one of the challenges facing education for sustainable development is the need to promote in-depth knowledge of partial realities without obscuring or eliminating an awareness of totalities. As we work toward the future, education must provide us with the conceptual, methodological, emotional and ethical tools needed to explore the possible meanings of wholeness.

In this context, Lacan’s “dialogues of imaginaries” – including dialogues of ignorance and knowledge - are increasingly important. Dialogues between humanists and technocrats, politicians and bureaucrats, and dialogues of all of these groups with citizens, are required to construct an image of reality. In particular, an image is needed that can be understood by both the citizen and by the specialized expert who has lost sight of the totality.

The objective of such dialogue is not to eradicate specialization, but rather to approach it with holistic criteria and thus subordinate it to sustainability: i. e., to the satisfaction of human needs on a planet that provides conditions favorable in the long-run to the existence of life. In such a multidimensional educational atmosphere, humanists would construct their knowledge on the contributions of science and technology. At the same time, scientists and technicians would assume their mission with full awareness of their social responsibility, both at the global and the local levels.

Scientists and the public are becoming more aware that no “neutral science” exists, from an ethical point of view. In practice, however, few educational programs actually train us to question the apparently neutral position of scientific methods and applications.

Challenge for the Future
  • To promote the study and appreciation of processes, in order to shape the mentality required to pursue a sustainable form of development.
  • To focus learning less on discrete events isolated from their context, and more on holistic criteria, which can subsume and incorporate specialization.
  • To construct new bodies of knowledge based on dialogues of knowledge and ignorance among different disciplines and forums for action.