Richard Dunne, head teacher of Ashley C of E Primary School in Surrey, inspired the audience at the Harmony in Food and Farming conference on 10 and 11 July, with his clear vision for the future of education – a curriculum informed by the principles of Harmony and based upon what Dunne calls “enquiries of learning”. Dunne’s thinking was bolstered by HRH The Prince of Wales, in his keynote speech, who said that the world had to be seen as “joined up” and “integrated”, and that there were already steps in education designed to achieve this. The Prince also explained that skills such as traditional architecture, craft, music, education and engineering could be used to establish a “much more sure-footed response to the enormous problems we face” in terms of current environmental challenges. These problems, he explained, cannot be solved with a ‘business as usual approach’, instead a systemic change is needed, and what better way to promote the sustainability of this change than through the education of children.

Integration, unity and connectedness were common talking points, recurring in discussions throughout the course of the two-day conference. In education, the idea of connectedness means that rather than separating out the different subjects – individually studying maths or science, art, geography or music – a topic like climate change would become the subject of an enquiry of learning, with all key disciplines explored in reference to the topic. Richard Dunne described this as a “project-based” approach, in which it is possible to fulfil curriculum requirements in an inter-connected way that is both engaging and stimulating for children.

During a parallel session on the second day of the conference, Dunne explained the significance of a ‘harmonious’ education system, based on a flexible curriculum informed by seven key Harmony Principles. The first is the principle of the cycle, drawing upon nature’s cyclical structures – seasons, weather patterns, water, food and carbon cycles. It is important to teach self-sustaining, self-limiting ways of life. At Ashley C of E School, the children are taught through the lens of the seasons, with topics directly relating to the world outside of the classroom. This not only involves the school garden, which the children are responsible for planting, weeding, watering, harvesting and composting, but also the kitchen, where the children serve each other meals – 90% of which is made with organic produce, some of which they have grown themselves. This integrated approach, Dunne argues, allows children to see the significance of their actions and enables them to learn from and respect the natural world around them. This leads on to the second Harmony Principle, that of interdependence. As already noted by the Prince, enquiries of learning should be connected – much like ecosystems, curriculum subjects should be interdependent. Other principles include that of geometry, diversity, well-being and oneness, and teach children the importance of a healthy planet, a healthy lifestyle, valuing local food systems and communities, as well as the importance of travel and a global understanding of the planet.

Natasha Beeby, the Year Six teacher at Ashley School, spoke passionately in the Parallel Session about the potential for this system of learning, and made clear the ease of which it could be achieved throughout primary and secondary schools. In a discussion with Llandovery College’s former Head Boy Huw Richards, who successfully runs a YouTube channel HuwsNursery, focused on growing vegetables, she described the difficulty of a system of education based upon success and failure – attributed largely to standardised examination results. Beeby ended by calling children “the voice of the new generation…who are going to stand up and say, ‘what did we do?’” It is for this reason, both Beeby and Dunne explained, that teachers must ask children what these Harmony Principles mean to them. Enquiry in education involves asking questions, it doesn’t purport to know all the answers, for life beyond education is also a process of enquiry. Instead, education should draw upon the insights of the children as teachers and leaders both of each other and themselves.

In support of this idea is influential educator from the University of Bristol, Sir Anthony Seldon, who commented that “awareness is the key to everything”. In his closing speech at the Harmony conference, he blamed world leaders for being “unaware of themselves and the world around them”, and for having a very narrow sense of reality. This, he argued, has “led to the mess the world currently finds itself in”. In contrast, “Those who practice mindfulness” he stated, “taste this wonderful, natural food that we eat, listen to the true harmony of music, and see the world as it is.” In order to generate positive change, society needs to let go of the notion of the individual – “the self-centred pleasure seeking short term individual sense” – and instead embrace “the long-term harmony that is there always”. To teach children – the future generation of leaders – about the interconnectedness of human action, science, spirituality and the natural world, is without doubt, a step in the right direction towards a sustainable, harmonious future.

Photograph: Richard Weaver

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