Capra & Luisi’s The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision

(A book review. Sort of.)

I had heard of Fritjof Capra in university, but my classmates and I were all so caught up with Arne Næss’ Nordic O.G. appeal that I don’t recall ever us getting deep enough into Deep Ecology to learn much of or from Capra.

I was missing out.

The Systems View of Life explores the world we are part of, and our role within it, both as a means of understanding the systems that comprise and sustain the Earth, and of offering solutions to many of the issues facing the world today through a paradigm shift to a systemic point of view.

The systemic viewpoint is key because of our inextricable link to the Earth and its systems. Indeed, as Capra & Luisi state: “We can never speak about nature without, at the same time, speaking about ourselves” (p. 74).  This connection to the natural world is a key tenet of Deep Ecology, a term coined by Næss (that dude from paragraph 1) to refer to a worldview that recognizes the inherent value and dignity in all living things—not simply those that are of use or benefit to humankind—and the belief that a fundamental shift in perception and policy is required if we are to preserve the diversity and health of the Earth as a whole (see Drengson, 2012).

Capra & Luisi’s book proposes that the only viable solutions to the crises facing the world today—from energy and environment to food and finance—are sustainable approaches that work within the systemic realities of the Earth. Our assumption that resources, rewards, and growth are finite needs to be radically reframed if we are to find long-term solutions that maintain the health of all Earth’s systems.

To contextualise the paradigm shift that needs to occur, the authors delve into various ways of knowing from micro to macro levels: from the history of mathematics and science, and the evolution of these fields, to the development of the social, political, and economic systems that are prevalent in the world today. While recognizing both the contributions and the limitations of these systems, Capra and Luisi illustrate a shift from a siloed, quantitative, structural approach to understanding the world to an interrelated, qualitative series of processes.

As the authors move towards addressing solutions for the crises arising from our outdated worldviews, they pose a very ‘Cohort 21’-type question: “How [might*] we transform the global economy from a system striving for unlimited quantitative growth, which is manifestly unsustainable, to one that is ecologically sound and socially just?” (p. 371) Is not this something we should always have in our minds as educators?

*okay, the actual text says ‘can’ rather than ‘might,’ but come on: it’s so close!

I’d recommend this book for anyone, really, as education is such an important component of ecological literacy. Specifically, read this book if:

–you’ve never thought about math or science from an historical perspective;

–you’ve never thought about social science from an ecosystems perspective;

–you think unmitigated economic growth is a feasible, good idea;

–you are interested in systems thinking;

–you believe there is inherent value in all forms of life;

–you believe that Earth [is] really dying;

–you want an inspiring read that feels intellectually stimulating but still accessible.

(I’m being a bit cheeky here, but I think you get the point. I also think that if you were interested by @gnichols‘ review of Doughnut Economics, or have read and enjoyed that book, there are some similar concepts and themes at work here.)

Capra, F. & Luisi, P. L. (2016).The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Drengson, A. (2012.) “Some Thought on the Deep Ecology Movement.” Foundation for Deep Ecology. Retrieved from


GEODES: more than meets the eye

HMW incorporate vertical integration into our schedule to promote student engagement and enhance teaching practice?

I hoped to experiment with the vertical integration concept in December by having my grade 10 English class join forces with the grade 12 World Issues class on a mini-unit around the concept of agency. While we ended up downscaling from a mini-unit to a single lesson, we were able to have a meaningful discussion in which most of the students from both classes participated. I don’t feel as though this was a large enough experiment to have provided much new insight to inform my action plan, but it is fair to say anecdotally that the grade 10’s rose to the challenge of having meaningful discussion with senior students, and that both groups were able to broaden their views of agency, as it related to their respective classes, based on input from their peers.

While I was a bit disappointed that the mini-unit plan couldn’t work this semester, I also know that I really don’t need to be. What’s the hurry? There is lots of time to work on this plan. In fact, there is a way to gain some insight into my action plan coming down the pipe that I am *SUPER EXCITED* about!

For the second semester, we are working towards the development of an integrated program for our grade nines. Now, their courses are still all individually blocked in our semester two schedule, but we are planning to double or triple or quadruple up regularly, and will be framing all of our courses with the same Big Questions. We’re calling our integrated course group GEODES (for GEography, OutDoor ed, English, and Science—credit to @gvogt‘s wife Tia for the acronym!) Did I mention that I am *STOKED* for this?

As is characteristic of geodes, there’s more to this than meets the eye. There’s a twinkling, gemmy, beautiful surprise inside.

That surprise is this: beyond incorporating cross-subject integration GEODES will also provide an opportunity to think creatively and adaptably about scheduling, and welcome in other class groups, thus offering more regular—and possibly longer-term—chances for mixed-grade learning. This is not just a fun project that is pedagogically sound; it is also a chance to experience on a smaller scale some of the scheduling and curriculum pieces that will be key to addressing my HMW. 


The Magic Number

(c) Thomas Hawk

I didn’t quite follow the instructions. BUT! I felt a little bit of magic in the air, followed it, and am pretty excited to see where it leads.

GUT—with school size and sphere of influence in mind, I took a broader approach to identifying areas of need at our school. We’re small (~110 students), open to innovation, and—as a member of the Leadership Team—I’ve got a seat at the table from which larger program initiatives need to be explored. My gut initially went to some kind of integrated approach to learning: perhaps in terms of ecological perspectives, skills-based assessment, or balance and holistic development. However, these are all things that we are already trying to focus on at RLC. So, I shifted focus to how we might make change at a program level that supports the great things we are already doing, and opens the door to additional possibilities. I am currently exploring the potential for vertical integration/multi-age programming as a means to enhance our academic program offerings, student learning, and teacher development.

(Fun fact: 3 is a commonly used year spread for vertically integrated/mixed-age learning communities.)

HUNCH—in order to collect info from stakeholders to inform this idea, I created an open-ended Google form for faculty, and a multiple-choice form for students. I am not confident I asked good questions; I wanted to get some general perspectives about the topic, without making my own position clear, and found I struggled to decide how to do so. I think this is a good first step regardless, and one that I can build upon as I speak to individuals in more detail.

LEARNING—so far, it is clear that there is existing experience and interest in vertical integration among RLC faculty, but that there is also some confusion around what it entails. Moving forward, I need to ensure that the community understands that what we are looking at is more than a split-grade or combined class, and is not based on a “stronger young kids with weaker older ones” model, but rather a true mix. It’s also evident that students of all ages are fairly stuck in the mindset that younger teens don’t have anything to teach older ones, which is something I’m hoping this kind of action plan could debunk. Framing and frontloading will be important as I continue to explore options. Finally, I am optimistic that this could be a platform through which some other cool ideas, such as cross-curricular learning, leadership development, movement towards a skills-based mindset from a grades-based one, etc, could be developed. With a little help from my friends, I’ve begun to talk through this idea with my action plan in mind, and I am excited to dig deeper. Rather than go into too much detail on that front, here is what the inside of my brain looks like when it thinks about breaking and rebuilding the system:

(I promise that this is my “thinking writing” and I am more legible when necessary!)

Moving Forward—

i. I will have more specific conversations with individuals or groups of faculty/students to garner more of an understanding of how vertically integrated programming could be implemented in a way that meets their needs, and the goals that I am striving for.

ii. I will explore the systemic limitations that might exist on this sort of model. For instance, when and how can students “reach ahead” in a vertically integrated course? Are there time requirements and ways around them? How much of role can prior learning assessment play?

iii. I will explore the factors within RLC as an institution that may govern how, and to what extent, something like this could be done. How will it be scheduled? What integration of options will be presented? For what grade ranges?

I don’t know what this will look like—yet—but it is exciting to think about the possibilities!

Ah. And as proof that I can sometimes write legibly, and because it makes sense to include it, here is my “placemat” in its current form:


Sub-2: Closing the Praxis Gap

At ~04:15 EST on Saturday, 12 October, Eliud Kipchoge crossed the finish line of the Ineos 1:59 challenge in Vienna, having completed a marathon (26.2mi/42.2km) in less than two hours.

He is the only human ever to have done so.

This was no regular marathon. In fact, this was Kipchoge’s second attempt at sub-2 in a contrived environment in which all technical and tactical focus was directed at his effort to accomplish something that had never been done before. There are purists who will argue that such an elaborately orchestrated effort “doesn’t count,” and it is true that it doesn’t meet the course or pacing guidelines to be an official world record; however, it’s a remarkable feat, in or out of the record books.

I used to be a runner, My brain still thinks I am one, no matter how desperately my body tries to prove it wrong. So, after watching Kipchoge make a little history, baby, I wondered how to make it pedagogically relevant. What newfangled ed-tech was analogous to the EV that was both setting the pace for his effort and projecting a laser onto the ground to show his pacers where to run? How were the pacers themselves, spelling each other off in teams to surround him in a counter-intuitive reverse-vee phalanx (sorry, Mighty Ducks), representative of scaffolding, or collaboration, or the support systems we put in place for our students? How long until his $300+ sneakers become a metaphor for private-sector elitism?

Maybe the comparison is simpler than that. Maybe Kipchoge’s success—and how we can view it through a pedagogical lens—hinges upon the alignment of system with subject.

Until recently, few people believed that a sub-2 marathon could be run. When Kipchoge, his coaches, and the greater running community began to view it as a possibility, they recognized that the likelihood of success could be increased through the implementation of a controllable—but not limiting—system. Natural ability and training made Kipchoge an ideal runner for a sub-2 attempt, but he was supported by technology grounded in years of research, trial, and error. He had more than preparation and skill behind him, he had science, which is perpetually driven to innovate and iterate through its inherent fallibility. He had attempted this feat before, and fallen just short; the team behind him learned from previous failure, adapted the system, and tried again.

As teachers, we believe our students are capable of great things. Many of us spend countless hours on our own professional learning, considering our teaching philosophies and brushing up on theories that might enhance our practice. In terms of our own learning, we live in a pedagogical milieu that is both inspiring and—at times—overwhelming. The issue, I would argue, is that a significant source of this overwhelm stems from the fact that we think and work within a system that was fundamentally designed to support obedience, inculcation, and task-orientation. While we have certainly made some headway over time in the ways that we teach and empower our students, that’s not what the system was actually created to do:  in fact, an alarming number of the structural underpinnings of industrial-model conservativism have survived the last 200 years in our schools. Teachers are willing to innovate and iterate, but are—far too frequently—limited by the education system.

Students, as the subjects (and I use this term intentionally knowing it denotes control) of the education system, have little choice but to work within it. As much as we want to empower them, it is difficult to do so authentically within a framework that teaches them to play a particular game, with specific ends and outcomes in mind. Yes, this system—like Kipchoge’s—is controlled; however, unlike his, it is inherently limiting. The theory, and in many cases, the science, behind giving students freedom to harness their potential is out there, but we are so bogged down in the dregs of the industrial educational model that it is challenging, for many of us, to put this theory into practice in a meaningful way. We’ve fallen victim to a praxis gap.

How might we close this gap?  How might we break the cycle of viewing numbers as outcomes and outcomes as end points, and instead see them as natural byproducts of something greater?

The formal school system, far too often, becomes a ceiling that limits students’ potential. Compare that with the support system—founded in research, trial, and error—Kipchoge had in place when he ran 42.2km faster than any other human being ever has; a system which opened, for him as its subject, the gateway to success.

How might we make school a gateway?

“Guys, guys, guys, can we take a step back here?’

Jokes/soundbites/attempts to appear smart at meetings aside, I hadn’t been at TYS long on Saturday before I found others with whom to share the experience of the low-level panic that occurs when you step away from work responsibilities.

Whether we were missing a homecoming festival,  asking our student leaders to run their first community event, or leaving a list of triathlon logistics for colleagues and hoping for the best, (they rocked it; see photos below by Season 7’s @lfarooq and RLC residence don J. Glavin,) many—perhaps even most—of us felt some level of guilt, anxiety, or pressure of a day away. I certainly did, and I’ve always been fairly confident in my ability to roll with the punches when things are beyond my control.

But, as challenging as it may feel sometimes to take a step back from our daily routines, we are all in the midst of a beautiful opportunity to take a step into the world of Cohort 21.  It’s exciting to be part of this special community where we can collaborate, innovate, and grow. Let’s do this, Season 8 team!

Nothing but love…

c21_logo_mediumWelcome to your Cohort 21 Blog. This journal is an integral part of your Cohort 21 experience. Here you will reflect, share , collaborate  and converse as you move through the C21 Action Plan process. 

This is your first post and an opportunity to share a little bit about yourself as a learner and leader. Please respond the to the following prompts below:

1) Reflect on your own personal learning journey and K-12 education. Identify one learning experience that you can point to as having made a significant impact on some element of your own growth and development. It could be that teacher and subject that really sparked significant growth or a trip that opened your eyes to a whole new world or way of thinking or a non-catastrophic failure that you learned so much from.  Briefly describe the learning experience and identify the various supports, structures, mindsets and relational ingredients that were put in place by the teacher or facilitator that directly contributed to your growth and success. 

In the tenth grade, I joined the outtrip club at my high school. We did an eight-day canoe trip every fall, and a four-day hiking trip each spring. Tripping taught me resiliency and self-sufficiency, the value of being uncomfortable, and how breathtaking this world can be. It made me appreciate both solitude and teamwork, and allowed me to understand that there was far more to school than Playing the Grade Game, which had always been my MO in the past. The teachers who led our trips were knowledgable and supportive, but gave us room to learn through our own experiences; most importantly, their passion for nature shone throughout each journey. While I certainly gained knowledge, skills, and confidence by outtripping that I have carried with me through life, I think the most significant insight I gleaned was how important it is to make time to do — and share — the things you love

2) What is the one Learning skill (MOE) or Approach to Learning (IB ATL) that you feel is MOST important in this day and age? How do you intentionally build it into your curriculum and develop it in your students throughout the year?

*Full disclosure: A colleague recently presented a fascinating session on the correspondence between the MOE’s Learning Skills and Executive Functioning. I’d actually like to flip a coin and let it make the decision between the EF skills flexibility and metacognition for me here, but since that’s not an option I’ll go with self-regulation, which I’d argue provides a decent mix of the two.

Harkening back to my first answer, I believe self-regulation skills pave the way for a good school-life (or work-life) balance; a way of operating that allows one to both fulfill obligations and make time for passions. I try to facilitate the development of self-regulation in my students by actively and regularly giving them input into what topics they explore, the projects they create, and the steps they feel are important along the way. My hope is that co-creation empowers students to think about the process of learning and where their strengths and challenges lie, while also giving them ample opportunity to integrate their interests into the work they do. Furthermore, it gives them ownership over the process of learning, and puts them in the position of having to adapt and revamp when that process doesn’t play out as anticipated. 

3) Insert an image below that best captures the essence of that Learning Skill or ATL. (Click on the “Helpful WordPress Video Tutorials” link in the left hand sidebar to learn how to insert it)

The path through distraction to complete the task at hand and enjoy the things you love. Urban, Tim. “How to Beat Procrastination.Wait But Why.