[permaculture] re: who's qualified to teach permaculture?

michael at naturalinvesting.com michael at naturalinvesting.com
Mon Jul 7 15:51:44 EDT 2003

It is interesting to consider the implications of not controlling the process
of cultivating permaculture teachers.  The permaculture movement in the US to
date has been decentralized, so as Toby suggests, anyone can teach.  Many first
and second generation teachers made a commitment, albeit voluntary, to apprenticing
new teachers after they had a few years of permaculture experience before making
them full-fledged members of teaching teams, but the truth is anyone can teach
at any time, with or without the approval of anyone. So we've had some great
courses and some awful courses - just like any learning system on the planet!
 But this method encourages people to start teaching, which is a positive, while
it also limits our ability to assure quality, which is a potentially harmful
practice.  For even the process of self-selection (based on student enrollment)
doesn't always stop some people from teaching, nor should it.  People need to
practice in order to improve, even if it makes some of the more experienced
teachers uncomfortable. If anything, experienced teachers need to proactively
create opportunities to mentor novice teachers. 

My preference would be that newer teachers choose to have mentors to guide them
as they develop their teaching ability, but I don't know if requiring them to
do so or to go through a formal teacher certification process is the solution.
Certification might be able to guarantee a certain number of years of experience,
but would it address teaching quality? If one looks at academia, getting a doctorate
qualifies one to teach at the university level, but that doesn't necessarily
translate into effective teaching, no matter how knowledgable a person might
be on the subject matter. 

The issue of quality permaculture teaching should be of concern to all of us,
for I have heard many comments over the years about dry and boring lecture-based
design courses with the occasional sheet mulch exercise.  The retention rate
with this "talking at people" pedagogy is poor by design, which translates into
a lack of understanding permaculture, and therefore, a lack of being able to
or feel confident teaching it.  Last year at our Permaculture Teacher Training,
Christopher Peck and I noticed right away that the students lacked a basic understanding
of the permaculture design process, patterning, and other core content areas,
so we spent a lot of time focusing on that.  

The final point I wish to make at this time is that the permaculture design
course content is also diverse, as every teacher puts in their own unique content.
 Does this weaken the curriculum? It does if key concepts are omitted, but many
design courses have actually been strengthened by having expanded content that
builds on the original core curriculum.  This is the successional model at its
best, building on the work of the pioneer species. 

There is a fine line between fostering creative freedom and assuring quality,
but rather than trying to develop restrictions, perhaps we could focus on creating
standards of effective practice.  These would be guidelines rather than requirements.
I'm happy to participate in this process, and it begs the question - how do
we as a permaculture community make decisions without any kind of organizing
body? This is precisely why in my "State of the Movement" article in the Activist
this year I called for the development of a national permaculture conference
to form a national permaculture agenda and non-profit organization.  I will
admit to being surprised by the lack of response to this call for action.

Michael Kramer

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