How to replant a rainforest

I’ve just met Willie Smits. It’s pretty incredible that so quickly we have entered this world of world-class environmentalists. Willie was at TED 2009 last week and from what I hear from those that heard him speak, he stole the show. Sandwiched between some of the greatest minds in the world, Willie’s vision for conservation inspired those that were in attendance. We had never heard of Willie until this past December when I read about him in an issue of Scientific American. He has worked to replant the rainforest and his first experiment with his idea has been at Samboja Lestari, where we are now. This project has been described as the singe most important reforestation project on the planet. That article and what he is doing are why we are here now. Pretty amazing how life is.

Samboja Lestari

We spent the day working with the often overlooked sunbears. With the eyes of the world on the orangutans, the kind and gentle sun bears do not receive the attention they deserve. Before coming to Samboja, I also did not know very much about the sun bears. Thanks to our new friend, Meike, a 32 year old German who is currently working at Samboja, we now have a new appreciation for this animal. Today was a very important day with the Sun Bears. Two of the bears were transferred out of the smaller quarantine cages and were brought to another location to get ready for entry into the larger outdoor cages. These bears have spent the last 5 years in very small cages and now are two days from their first taste of “freedom” in their lives. It’s quite an incredible story and I’ve decided to document this story with video and see where it takes me. I’m currently sitting here on the top level of the lodge and am watching orangutans on the islands enjoying the cool evening by playing and swinging on the trees and enrichment facilities. A family of wild boar just walked down the road and up the trail near the sun bear facility. Off in the distance, the sun bears are also enjoying the late afternoon. Yesterday a gibbon was desperately trying to get our attention with his amazing call, we hasn’t been back today. Willie Smits the founder of Samboja Lesari was the hit of the 2009 TED conference this past week for this work with Samboja Lestari and what has been called “the greatest reforestation project on the planet.” It is quite amazing. Environmental conservation isn’t always galmorous. Today we scrubbed the sun bear cages with brushes and built hammoks for the bears still in quarantine. It was hard work but worth the effort when you see the bears go back into a clean cage. Tomorrow we are heading to “Kilometer 23” to see a sun bear education center built by a Dutch woment and her husband. I’m very curious to learn more about the plight of this small bear. Next week we will be meeting with the head of BOS International to talk about our NPO and hopefully Wille will be coming here soon. We are also planning a trip to the coal mine near here, a palm oil plantation as well as a day trip to some primary rain forest near here where the first BOS (Borneo Orangutan Survival) orangutans were released. I have a feeling that our month here will go by extremely fast. We are still discussing the feasibility of bringing students here. It has a ton of potential; we just need the green light from the higher ups. This is an amazing planet and being in the middle of nature helps remind me of how incredible and precious our short time on this planet is. Looking down on the orangutan island, I see that most of the orangutans have made their nests and settled down for the evening. I think I’ll do the same.

Links for Educators

Please click here to access the ASCD article on Expeditionary Learning. Please click here to access the Keynotes “It’s all about Design” and “Awakening Global Consciousness.” Please click here to access the Awakening Global Consciousness Wiki. Don’t forget to join the Facebook group Awakening Global Consciousness and join a group of individuals working to make a difference in the world.

being caribou

Karsten Heuer and Leanne Allison spent 5 months being caribou as they following the porcupine caribou herd’s annual migration to the birthing grounds in ANWR. The story of the adventure of traveling with the herd is itself worth the read. However, what separates this book from other adventure narratives is the discussion and openness that Karsten shares of how being caribou for 5 months effected both him and Leanne personally. They opened themselves up to learn from the caribou and by doing so were forever changed. We have a deep connection to nature and to every creature we share this planet with. We have depended on each other for millions of years and this connection is what makes makes us human. Having the opportunity to learn from another species besides the human species is a gift that every student should have the opportunity to experience. One cannot walk away from the experience of learning from another species without a profound sense of appreciation and humility for the other creatures we share this planet with. Karsten and Leanne had the incredible gift of spending 5 months with another species and learning from them. being caribou for 5 months helped them learn what it really means being human.

“Mans heart, away from nature, becomes hard; the Lakota knew that lack of respect for growing, living things soon led to lack of respect for humans too.”
– – Luther Standing Bear

The Importance of Nature

I’ve been reading a wonderful book by Richard Louv, “Last Child in the Woods” which has fallen into my hands at a very opportune time. My wife and I are in the process of developing a “school without walls” where we will take students on 8-16 week educational expeditions in Africa and Indosnesia (to begin with). Our main purpose is to awaken global consciouness in students by providing an experience that will help them to live in and interact with the world in a very different way. One which is more sustainable and which leaves a much smaller footprint. The greatest brainstorming for our ideas have come while taking long walks in the snowy woods of Squamish, BC. Breathing the clean air and listening to the stillness is inspiring and has reminded us of the importance of nature in education. Nature inspires, feeds the soul and nutures the creative potential. For thousands of years, our learning happened outside, in nature. We are wired for this. There is a growing body of research which points to the importance of nature on learning and Richard Louv does a great job presenting this evidence in his book. However, go outside and take a walk in the woods, feel the inspiration and sense of calm that nature has on your mind. This is really all the evidence you will need.

The Most Important 21st Century Skill

Each day I am continually discouraged by the news. Bernard Madoff stole billions of dollars, the US economy continues to slide with no end in sight, the world wide environment continues to be abused at an unsustainable rate and war still ravages millions of people. The connection to education seems all too obvious. These problems can only be solved if we begin adopting a completely new set of values and purpose for schools. I believe that “Empathy” may be the most important 21st century skill and should be fostered in every student on this planet. The current design of most schools socializes students to become indifferent players in an unsustainable and unfulfillable economic game. This socialization reflects the current values of a society and it’s becoming far too obvious the sheer destruction these values have on the planet. The connection to education and the socialization power of schools seems far too obvious. It’s now time to rethink the purpose of schooling and begin equipping a generation of students with skills that will help us build a more noble, sustainable and brighter future than the one we are currently facing. Imagine what the world would be like if every school valued empathy more than indifference. That’s a future that excites me.


We did it! We stood up and demanded change and Barak Obama has made history. After a historically epic battle to the White House, Barak Obama stood up to the traditional power players and won. He broke conventions, stereotypes and has inspired millions. Now it’s our turn to step up and fight conventions and stereotypes of what education is supposed to be. Let’s stand up and inspire millions by changing education on this planet one school at a time. Hsinchu International School is beginning this change, now it’s your turn. Yes We Can!!

Why is it so hard to change?

I’ve been thinking about the change process for quite some time, actually for a number of years and Chris Lehmann’s latest post on Change brought it to my attention once again. Why is it so hard for some people to change? Schools are only a collection of people and therefore, schools don’t resist change, people do. Is this resistance hard wired into us? Is it an evolutionary mechanism designed to keep us safe? This resistance to change has been amplified over the past few years with a call for change coming from everywhere. The current and exponential growth in technologies over the past 10 years is once again reviving the call for a transformation in education. The video above is yet another call of action for schools around the world. Students are sprinting into the 21st century and dragging schools with them. However, students are also resistant to change and refuse and resist many of the innovative pedagogical practices teachers are asking of them. Why should a student search for the information on their own if they are used to a teacher just giving it to them. Why should a student work so hard at becoming an independent learner if they are used to total dependency? It’s so much easier. If we are so resistant to change, why should we be surprised when students are also so resistant to change?

Al Gore presented updated information on the climate crisis at the TedTalks in February. In a nut shell he was asking the same question I’m asking in this post. Very little has been done to solve the climate crisis in the past few years. Why are people resisting the urgency of the global crisis? Why aren’t schools leading the way in helping to manage the change process needed to begin transforming the perceptions of how young adults live in and treat the world? I’ve been exploring with my students in Global Ethics about what it means to be a 21st century citizen. Recently we have been discussing our responsibilities toward the other sentient beings that we share this planet with. We all agree that we have responsibilities toward these animals and that industrial food production is not the best way to both treat animals and produce food. However, they will still come in the following morning eating pre-packaged 7-11 pork sandwiches without thinking about it. Change is hard, even for students. Therefore, we need to learn to manage the change process not only for our teachers but also for our students. If we are asking them to think about both school and the world in a completely different way, then we must help them manage the change process. Anytime you change, you must give up something to make room for something else. When you give up something there is always a time of mourning, a time of resistance. We must do a better job of helping both teachers and students through this change process.

There is no question that we have to change. The world cannot continue to support both the industrialization of education and food. We must change, however how we manage that change may depend whether we succeed or fail.

Yes We Can

Can we change education around the world? Yes We Can! Can we use education to help create a more caring and compassionate world? Yes We Can! Can we use education to begin creating sustainable economic systems? Yes We Can! Can we bring cost effective but innovative education to everyone on this planet? Yes We Can! Can we begin rethinking the old models of education? Yes We Can! Should we begin today? Yes We Must!


It’s Tuesday night, late, and tomorrow is our last day before Winter Vacation. We had our Winter Performance debut this evening and it was a smashing success. What made this night so special was the fact that the entire evening about about kids and for kids. Our educational philosophy as a community was encapsulated in this evening. The students organized the whole event, they cooked and served the food, designed the programs, sold the tickets, performed, washed the dishes, mopped the floors and decorated the auditorium. The entire evening celebrated and focused on students and was run by students. It was truly amazing. The success of this evening and the “high” experienced after such an event, in addition to a couple of other things that have happened this week, has put me in a reflective mood. I posted an entry in August titled “A New Beginning” and then went “off-line” for a few months. Now it’s time to begin writing again.

Before I begin, I want to say that HIS is truly a remarkable place. I’m proud of what we have accomplished so quickly and have never been a part of an institution such as this. Everybody is talking about a “Whole Child” education, we are doing it. I was speaking with a parent this evening who, in tears, commented to this effect. HIS, she said, focuses on the good in each child and brings that good out. Therefore, each child can and will succeed if schools are small enough and take and create the time to find that good in each student. We are not bound by the traditional “boundaries” that most schools create for themselves. We are free to create and make a place where each child can and will succeed.

The most powerful lesson I have learned over the past few months is to Persevere! I don’t know how many times I have been told that this couldn’t be done. What we are creating couldn’t be done. The culture and parents wouldn’t accept it. I didn’t have enough experience. Actually, I didn’t have any experience. We weren’t tough enough. What about AP’s and IB’s? You can’t teach with laptops! Macs will never work in Taiwan! You can’t admit this student, he’s been expelled. Many times I have felt like a football player running through the middle of a line of blockers with each one taking their shot and trying to knock me down. Some shots have hurt worse than others and I’ve been temporarily stunned, but Persevere. Get up and keep moving forward. Whenever you try something new, something that may have never been done, you will always get the naysayers. Actually, the more bold and different you try and be the stronger the opposition. Persevere. If it’s good for kids, it’s good! Stick with it.

We’ve all been working with kids for a long time. We all have been reading the journals. We all know in our guts that education has got to change. This does not mean following some formula of schooling that has been done before. This means being bold. Trying something new, different and scary and sticking with it. We will change education one school at a time We will get knocked down. We will get up. Persevere.