The action research project that we didn’t do!
I was a relatively junior environmental education policy officer with a Minister who believed that seniority was less important than recent school experience and I had the latter, if not the former. I had been working on policy development for environmental education and teacher professional development, and I was fresh from the classroom. Following the conference at Linz that marked the conclusion of the first phase of the project Environmenta dn school Initiatives (ENSI), it was agreed to open up involvement to all member countries of the OECD. Australia had been developing policy in environmental education in a number of states and it was agreed that Australia would join ENSI. I was the man on the spot and my Minister nominated me as Australia’s National Coordinator.
My first involvement with ENSI was attending the 10 day workshop, led by Peter Posch and John Elliot, at Villa Falconieri just above Frascati, in turn just above Rome. It was the year of Italia 1990, the World Cup opening in Rome on the night that the Action Research Workshop ended. There were no tickets for love nor money, but that is another story.
The workshop was exhilarating. Working with intelligent, thoughtful and passionate practitioners from 19 OECD member countries, all under the benign guidance of academics more interested in changing practice than writing poly-syllabic research papers, was indeed a privilege. Whether it was the jet lag, the copious quantities of Fracscati in a bottle or just plain excitement, I cannot say, but too many nights I went to bed too late after wonderful evenings of argument and fun. My fitful sleep was accompanied by the nocturnal song of nightingales floating across the undulating Umbrian landscape.
We were set action research projects to explore, in an action research mode – learning by doing, accepting the strictures imposed by our own critical friends, walking the talk. Hilary Axelrod from Gothenburg won us all over with her investigation into why the showers were idiosyncratic at best, sometimes just plain contrary and too often arctic in temperature. She exemplified the action research process in finding out why we suffered. But there was a topic for action research that we all noted – but none took up!
Some afternoons, we would walk the one kilometre down the cobbled and tree-lined road to the village of Frascati and sample the delights the town had on offer. There were Italian bars, bistros and trattorias to leaven the fare that our excellent in-house cooks prepared. We would see the young blades strut in high Italian fashion and posture for the admiring young women, themselves as fashionable as all get out.
As we would walk down to town, we inevitably wondered about and commented on the pages of broadsheet newsprint strewn down both sides of the ride. Did a big pile of papers blow off the back of a van, or perhaps we were seeing the results of a relentlessly careless paper boy tossing away rather than making his deliveries? There were always pages of newsprint, the various degrees of yellowing showing that they has been lying about for varying numbers of days, littering the road and blowing in the wind. And we couldn’t work out why.
That is, until we returned to the Villa Falconieri after a night on the tiles. We walked back up the hill around midnight after an extremely pleasant night checking out the night spots. The road, which until now had very few cars but plenty of paper scattered about, now had many cars and still plenty of paper, with a great deal of it taped inside the cars, masking the windows. From the regular and vigorous bouncing of the cars, it wasn’t hard to guess what was going on inside. Now we could understand why there was so much paper on the road, with additions being made every night. With no privacy at home, what else was a young Italian couple to do?
We might have looked at the littering as an action-research project, but I seriously doubt that any amount of academic wisdom or advice from critical friends was going to bring about a different result. We might have applauded their resourcefulness in creating some privacy, but we certainly decried their wanton littering after the paper had served its purpose.
Perhaps selecting the plumbing, albeit of a different kind, would have been a more suitable topic.
National Coordinator 1990 – 1996