Future Earth Academy puts significant emphasis on community. First, let's define what we mean by community.
For purposes of our program, community refers to a defined physical place - a social, cultural, political and ecological fabric made up of people and many other valued forms of life. We make explicit that community is defined by much more than human variables, and this awareness frames everything we do as a school.
Where does community enter our work? Everywhere. We start, as learners stationed across the globe, with thoughtful sharing and exploration of each other's communities using the immersive powers of virtual reality. One of the first social experiences Future Earth Academy learners have is to be invited through VR into the communities of their peers, to meet the people, see the places and experience the aspects of community that each learner finds valuable and key to identity.
Then, we begin looking at emerging definitions of community from scientific perspectives such as those of Donna Haraway in Staying with the Trouble and Eben Kirksey in The Multispecies Salon. The goal is to establish a thoughtful common language and baseline understanding about community before the work begins, getting in step with the thought leaders of our time and with each other.
During the beta phase (Oct 2020-May 2021), all learners participate remotely from their home communities, collaborating with peers in VR while leveraging the unique aspects of their locations for fieldwork. Then, beginning in Fall of 2021, some learners will attend school at the physical site while continuing collaboration with their remote peers. Other learners will remain in their home communities throughout their Academy experience, remote but fully connected through immersive tech and always engaged in parallel fieldwork.
The school's first physical location will be in Brooklyn, New York, specifically in the neighborhood of Gowanus, chosen because it is a community confronting a complex matrix of environmental, social, economic, political and cultural issues at a critical moment in its history.
Gowanus had a pivotal role in NYC's history of industrial growth because of its waterways and other geological assets, and as a direct result of its industrial role, its primary waterway - the Gowanus Canal - is now a toxic Superfund site. At the same time, Gowanus is one of the most fiercely activist of the Brooklyn communities, with a substantial population of longtime residents who can remember its history.
As with so many NYC neighborhoods in recent decades, Gowanus faces the forces of gentrification, including big developers who may or may not value its history or the fragility of its current ecology.
In the face of change, Gowanus residents have mobilized to take control of their community and protect its history and its social and geological landscape. Locals have developed a cutting-edge blueprint for sustainable development that promises to revolutionize the way communities organize around their environmental futures.
In short, Gowanus provides the perfect setting for purpose-driven learners to build meaningful and ever-relevant knowledge and skills. There is also an opportunity for the school and its students to introduce emerging technologies and disciplines in the context of Gowanus’ development, with the goal of supporting the growth priorities of community stakeholders and to contribute value to the community as a whole.
This means that learning, whether at the physical Academy site or remotely via virtual reality, will involve substantial fieldwork. Being in the field can mean taking water samples, attending community meetings, shadowing government activity, experimenting with emerging applications such as mycelium, conducting neighborhood surveys, joining local green initiatives, and more.
Learn more about Gowanus' environmental blueprint here.
Learners who attend at the physical site do so as boarding students, living with their school peers in school-managed housing in Gowanus. Boarding allows all students at the physical site to immerse themselves in community, living side by side with other Gowanus residents and developing an intimate understanding of the community's identity and dynamic.