What is Earth Literacy?

outside middle panel option 1 (Custom)A MOVEMENT – Earth Literacy is one of a growing number of movements in which people attempt to respond, both in their personal and professional lives to what they see as a “turning point” in the story of life on Earth. The “turning point,” they believe, represents a crisis in the way humans perceive reality. For humans to solve the twin problems of preserving a livable environment and of restructuring self-destructive political and economic global relationships will require a radical shift in perception. The shift may be as extensive as moving from an image of a flat Earth located at the center of an unchanging universe to that of a round Earth located in one of a billion galaxies in an expanding universe. The crisis represents a choice for the human species between the possibility of ultimate catastrophe or moving into a time of unparalleled fulfillment. To live at the time of such a once-in-a-lifetime-of-a-species choice is an incredible gift and an opportunity. To be unaware of such a gift and opportunity, to sleep through the “turning point” in life’s story, would be, for an individual, a colossal human tragedy.

A NETWORK – Earth Literacy, since the early 1980’s has become a network of educational centers around the United States and in Argentina and New Zealand. The network evolved out of a two-year “communion” agreement in which individuals from four institutions came together periodically to struggle with the implications of waking up to the choice we are making as a species. The communers were from:

  • Genesis Farm, Blairstown, New Jersey
  • Miami-Dade Community College, Miami, Florida
  • St. Thomas University, Miami, Florida
  • Southwestern College, Winfield, Kansas


A CURRICULUM – Earth Literacy encompasses a cluster of central themes and resource materials that might roughly be described as a budding curriculum. Its themes parallel in some ways those of other movements such as deep ecology, creation-centered theology, Native American spirituality, eco-feminism, etc. As a curriculum, Earth Literacy is more concerned with process and story than content and categories. It is interdisciplinary and experiential. If Earth Literacy were a tree, it could be said to draw its theoretical sustenance from four major root systems.

  • One root would be the concepts of Thomas Berry,Miriam T. MacGillis, Brian Swimme, Mathew Fox, etc. This is the COSMIC ROOT which weaves together insights from ancient mystics and modern physics. A central notion is Berry’s description of the primary task we face: “We must redefine the human to re-inhabit the Earth.”
  • Another root would be the concepts of Albert Einstein, Neils Bohr, Fritiof Capra, Jean Houston, Riane Eisler, etc. This is the PERCEPTUAL ROOT which weaves together insights from new physical and perceptual science, including chaos theory, systems theory, holographic, etc. A central notion is Einstein’s claim that humankind must “master a new manner of thinking” in order to survive.
  • Another root would be concepts coming from research into the systemic role of education in society. This is the ANALYTICAL ROOT that reexamines hidden assumptions which direct our lives. A central notion is the claim by the No Limits to Learning two-year, international study that educational institutions in “developed” nations perpetuate an “old manner of thinking” and maintain political and economic relationships that undermine Earth’s ability to support life. The study recommended we redefine the meaning of literacy and substitute an anticipatory/participatory model of education for the maintenance/crisis model which now exists.
  • Another root would be concepts coming from an anthropological reassessment of the literary and artistic heritage of Western culture and religion. This is the HISTORICAL ROOT that seeks to apply the wisdom of our past genius to the interpretation and resolution of our present crisis. A central notion comes from the work of the scholar Gil Bailie in which he decodes the psychic and social dilemmas of today’s crisis using insights from Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Melville, T.S. Elliot, Flannery O’Connor, Arthur Miller, etc. as well as the writers and actors in the Old and New Testament of the Bible.

MISSION – The Earth Literacy Network spans a diverse array of participants with varying levels of involvement and individual agendas. Centers function at three levels:

  • A simple resource library can be located in a home, church or community center, as well as at a school or college. Resources consist of a few audio and video tapes, books and other printed material. These are loaned out within the local community.
  • A slightly expanded resource library with individuals able to offer introductory workshops and lead discussion groups.
  • An affiliation with an accredited college so that it can offer courses and programs that apply to an undergraduate or graduate degree.

A common mission of all centers is to invite others to consider and commune over the implications of waking up to the momentous choice humankind is now making. Many of the resources introduce Thomas Berry’s new cosmologyand the radical shift in thinking we must make in order to create a civilization that makes sense — human sense, Earth sense, universe sense.