Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Teaching and Learning Permaculture: Surfing around the Internet the other day, Gabrielle chanced upon this debate on permaculture education, including such topics as “What should a PDC [permaculture design course] cover?” and “Who can teach a PDC?” which got us both thinking and talking. As far as I could see, the issues were about restricting who’s “allowed” to teach a PDC, which—although I can see merits in maintaining standards—made me very wary.

Why? Last year, a good friend of ours, and very experienced farmer, went on a PDC (in England) with some well-known permaculture teachers. The three teachers were either vegetarian or vegan and, as such, our friend told us, didn’t want to admit “meat” as a permaculture output of keeping chickens, so imposing their views on accepted permaculture practice / teachings. This made me think of how Christian mass, when held in Latin, had to be explained to the English-speaking congregations via a priest, who therefore became gatekeeper to the knowledge and could interpret “The Book” according to his own views, rather than allowing individual believers to interpret it themselves. If you think my religious analogy a mite strange, this is what the same friend said of her impression of a subsequent permaculture teachers course she recently attended—an experience that had apparently left her “sad, disillusioned and angry”—
The thing was that it felt to me as if permaculture was a religious order! Holmgren’s Principles = the Ten Commandments,
Meditation to me equates with prayers,
a mandela / altar,
songs of permaculture = hymns,
closing ritual ceremony = eeeek I want to get out of here and now!

To that, I could add Mollison’s Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual as The Bible; goodness, Bill’s even got a white beard and hair!

I’ve learnt a tremendous amount, specifically about stuff you’d recognise as permaculture, from some neighbours of ours—such as the venerable Annick and pig-farmer Paul—who’d never even heard of the word before we arrived in the hamlet. I've also been listening to podcasts from The Land Stewardship Project and hearing Minnesota farmers talking very clearly about what we'd recognise as permacultural principles, without once mentioned the word (we don't have a monopoly on these ideas, you know). I really like Patrick Whitefield’s invitation at the start of his excellent The Earth Care Manual: A Permaculture Manual for Britain and Other Temperate Climates: “Welcome to the experiment”. For me, a Permaculture Design Course, an Introduction to Permaculture course, or any permaculture course for that matter, is more about inspiring people to get involved rather than filling them with a prescribed amount of information written down in a heavy book. Even more so, as some of the stuff written down is more theory than practice and can be improved upon, even refuted. I’m beginning to think that permaculture should be ”open source”. More on that later, including some disturbing information I’ve discovered about that oft recommended permaculture panacea plant, the black locust tree (false acacia, robinia).