I am a huge proponent of Permaculture. That will not change. But it doesn’t mean that I am a blind follower. I try to balance my absolute wonder with the natural world and the power of regenerative agriculture with my skeptical personality. Permaculture has its detractors and critics (it had them from the start, and it has had them all along), and while I feel that some of the critiques are justified, I do think it is up to us within Permaculture to honestly assess the criticism and to develop solutions (Holmgren’s Permaculture Principle Four: Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback).
My latest thoughts have been on the topic of teaching Permaculture which is routinely done through the PDC Course. This foundational course has received its share of praise and attacks.
The Permaculture Design Certificate Course (also known as the PDC Course) is a 72-hour educational experience based upon Permaculture’s co-founder Bill Mollison’s 14-chapter textbook, Permaculture, A Designer’s Manual. Bill Mollison initially set up this training program as a way to teach Permaculture around the world. There was no “official” governing body. One only had to take a course, based on the original material, and the graduate was issued a Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC). With a PDC in hand, a person could use the word “Permaculture” to promote themselves or their business for design services or implementation… or teaching. Yes, teaching. If a person has a PDC, they are able to, according to Bill Mollison’s original model, start teaching PDC Courses immediately. I believe Bill Mollison did this intentionally to prevent Permaculture from becoming institutionalized. It has kept Permaculture a true grass-roots effort.
However, this freedom from institutionalization, as with most anti-establishment ideas, has some issues. Here are a few of the problems I see with this model:
1. It allows people with no practical experience to give advice to others with no experience. Wrong information or techniques are promoted and propagated. This allows certain dogmas to be perpetuated without anyone ever asking if the information is correct. (For one example, see my article on Dynamic Accumulators.)
2. It allows teachers to include additional information and/or requirements to the PDC. This can be out of good intentions (usually) or malicious ones (rare, but very damaging). Those with good intentions will think they are helping, but in reality, they are adding unneeded information that strays from the brilliance of the original 72-hour course. Some will add course material in an attempt to influence the students toward a particular mindset, worldview, or social/political ideology. This is disgusting and manipulative at best.
3. It allows teachers to treat the PDC Course as a means to an end, i.e. they see dollar signs with every potential student. Individuals with dynamic people skills and an entrepreneurial spirit will capitalize on this. These are the network marketing type individuals… every person is a “mark”, and they will try to teach until the “well runs dry”. These individuals will either run out of work, put themselves out of work, or continually move to new locations for new targets. The reality is that it takes a lot of time and money to put on a quality PDC Course. If you are “doing it right”, teaching these courses are exhausting and not exactly lucrative. This is why bad teachers put on really poor PDC Courses; they want to make money without the work or attention to detail needed for a quality course.
4. It allows individuals to teach a PDC Course with no formal education or teaching experience. This is a sticky topic within Permaculture. There are those who feel the requirements to teach Permaculture should not be changed; if you have a PDC, then you can teach. The students will decide. Good teachers will rise to the top. Bad teachers will be out of a job. It is now even easier to separate the wheat from the chaff in our modern era of social networking and instant online feedback. However, there are others that feel there should be a governing body for Permaculture. (Ultimately, this debate drives to the real question of “Who is in charge of Permaculture?” I wrote an article about that very question, and you can read it here.) There are other organizations who have decided to fight these problems by creating institutions that provide credentials for those who wish to teach Permaculture. While I still don’t know what I think about this approach, I entirely understand their reasoning. I think they have good intentions, and it looks like they are off to a pretty good start.
Here is the text from one organization that has established teaching credentialing, the Permaculture Institute USA in Santa Fe, New Mexico:
At a minimum, any certificate course shall meet the following criteria:
– The lead instructor is an established Permaculture teacher with a Diploma in Education (beginning in 2015) or equal credentials . Lead instructor is present throughout the entire course and course certificate bears his/her signature.
– The course provides a minimum of 72 hours of direct contact with instructor(s), in addition to group design time, homework assignments, self-study time, hands-on projects, visits to demonstration sites and other learning activities. Courses shorter than 12 contact-days are generally not offering sufficient time for learning and should be evaluated by potential students for their validity.
– Course material is inclusive of, but not limited to, all subjects listed in the PDC Outline.
– Course includes at least one design project exercise or multiple design vignettes.
Currently, there is no unified oversight for the multitude of permaculture courses offered globally. We encourage prospective learners, if in doubt, to request course syllabus from the lead instructor and compare it against criteria listed above or contact us with further questions.
I bolded and italicized the last sentence because it is so important! If every potential student did this, then I think the need for teacher credentialing would be nil.
With all this said, I know that I want to be part of the solutions, not the problems within Permaculture. I want to be clear that I have no issues with any particular teacher, nor do I have any issues with those who want to be teachers. That is just not for me at this point. I am not trying to be pious about this, but I know I will not teach a PDC Course for a long time. I have studied Permaculture for well over a decade. I have written many articles about Permaculture. If you read through my articles, you will see that I have worked hard to only share verifiable information. I am a physician and have a background in Biology and have participated in bench work research as well as literature search research. I am pretty good (not perfect!) at sorting through information, identifying the facts, and condensing it into a readable article. But I don’t feel I have enough on-the-ground experience to formally teach Permaculture yet. After moving every 2-4 years for the past 18 years, we have only just settled down on our own farmstead five month ago. How can I speak on the long-term application of Permaculture when I have yet to do it myself?
What I will do is continue to share my experiences. I will share my successes, and I will share my failures. I will be as transparent as possible. I will continually strive to keep Permaculture pertinent, relevant, reliable, and reputable. For that is what I feel Permaculture is. And I believe that is how we will positively move Permaculture forward.
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