The Sustainability Principle
 of Energy


Home   First draft Aug  2010

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The Power of Symbols

What is a Prime Symbol?

Variations on the Wisdom Of Confucius

How to Conserve
the Potential

The Human Condition

General Theory

Practical Application

Index of Denial/Acceptance

The Joys in 
Are you vulnerable to denial?
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Evaluate your
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The Compassionate Curriculum
Defining some Prime Symbols


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Peak Oil
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Unsustainable New Zealand Aotearoa

Reflections on a conversation with Anne Tolley, Minister of Education, about education standards in this country.



Definitions of prime symbols

Letter to  the NZ Minister of Education

Response letter from the Minister


The ultimate test of a national education system is whether it produces sustainable human beings. There is now much evidence that just measuring levels of literacy, numeracy and technological proficiency is very insufficient. Some of the most brutal, wasteful and destructive individuals and groups in recent history have also been the most literate and numerate. Clearly education systems that produce such beings are profoundly flawed and put us all at great risk. 

The statistics of our consumption rates, pollution levels and other vital measures indicate our Anglo-American education system is a prime example of such failing systems. 

The following letter is from the New Zealand Minister of Education, a person renowned for her insistence on high education standards. Well-paid Ministry officials who are the quintessential products of our education system and who are our nation’s specialists in curriculum development, the science curriculum in particular, drafted the letter. The Minister’s office assured me the Minister does not sign any letter she has not read carefully and fully agrees with. 

The reader may note the following: 

At no point does the response attempt to challenge the notion that the ultimate test of an education system is the sustainability of its graduates. Nor is any attempt made to rebut the performance data provided in my letter. The Minister acknowledges the “importance of sustainability”, thereby implicitly supporting the suggestion that it is the ultimate evaluation of her Ministry and that our education system is a serious failure. However at no point does the letter admit to this possible failure. 

This suggests the Minister and her officials are unable to understand and undertake the first steps in any rigorous evaluation process. Such evaluation must conclude that the New Zealand Curriculum fails to address “issues of sustainability through its vision, principles, values, and key competencies” and that there exists overwhelming evidence indicating that there is something inherently flawed in the Curriculum's governing framework. 

The statement that “sustainability is explicitly mentioned in four of the five strands of this learning area” reinforces this suggestion that the Minister and her officials are incompetent at evaluation. The truer measure of an education activity is the active response of the student, not what they say. Similarly the truer measure of a curriculum is the actual sustainability of the students, not the inclusion of the sustainability symbol in the curriculum. 

The learning area referred to is “science”.  As you read the Minister’s letter you will notice an interesting phenomenon. The letter acknowledges my request for the Ministry’s definition of the “science” symbol. However its authors are meticulous in not providing a definition. The letter speaks of “science”, “the science learning area”, “scientific research and development” and “science” teachers without defining in a meaningful way what “science” is. 

The linked page (Curriculum Learning Area/Science) also fails to provide a meaningful definition and reveals profound confusion of the nature of science. 

For instance, observe how the New Zealand Education Curriculum Framework symbolises science as a parallel learning area to all our activities rather than as the process underpinning them. 

The curriculum states: Many of the major challenges and opportunities that confront our world need to be approached from a scientific perspective, taking into account social and ethical considerations.

This implies ethics is not inherent in science and that science is not a state of being. It implies that not all activities need be ethical decisions. It is difficult to see how this vision of the nature of science is compatible with the education of sustainable beings. 

The curriculum also states: They (the students) learn how scientists carry out investigations, and they come to see science as a socially valuable knowledge system.

This implies students are not inherently scientists to some degree and completely undermines the stated notion that science is about inquiry and experimentation. Surely it is their inherited spirit of inquiry and experimentation that enables students to develop language, civics and other arts as infants? In other words, a primary message of the curriculum is that it not true that all human beings are born into the state of science to some degree.

It is a fact that a majority of students experiencing this curriculum conclude they “do not get science” and consider themselves "failures at science". It is also a fact that less than 1% graduate from our educate system formally as “scientists”. The remaining 99% of us are, by implication, deemed to be “non-scientists”. This evidence indicates the NZ Curriculum communicates this primary message with considerable success. As mentioned above, this is also a prime message of the governing Curriculum Framework.

These and other confusions perhaps explain why the letter provides no definition of science. The Minister and her officials instinctively recognise that a sustainable definition would reveal the fatal flaws in the current NZ Curriculum Framework. 

This hypothesis is supported by the Ministry’s responses to my requests for their definitions of energy, power and electricity. You will observe that the letter acknowledges these specific requests and then takes great care to avoid providing definitions. It is clear that the Minister and her officials cannot define them. 

The probable reasons for this extraordinary behaviour of our top policy makers is that they intuitively realise that the current Ministry uses of these symbols are unsustainable and that the provision of sustainable definitions would expose the flawed learning activities occurring at every level of the formal education system and in Government policy.

These meticulous omissions are most probably born of non-scientific political considerations. 

This probability is enhanced by the letter’s introductory statement: The education system in New Zealand enables the teaching of science to be responsive to scientific research and development. This allows our science teachers to keep up to date with potentially changing definitions and understandings. 

The Minister has invested considerable political capital in instituting a system of National Standards on our education systems. This is fundamentally hostile to the nurturing an open spirit of inquiry and inclusiveness, as the National Standard tends to become the overriding objective of the system.  This means that for the introductory statement to be true then the Ministry’s notion of science must be flawed. The National Standards ethos works against creativity and radical discovery and so teachers are less able to keep up to date with potentially changing definitions and understandings. This is proven by the fact that the Ministry is unable to even provide current definitions of these prime symbols because of the rigidity that already exists in the existing regime. 

Final reflection: it is interesting to speculate what grades the Minister’s response would receive it were a classroom activity for ten, fifteen and twenty year old students.

Here are the best definitions I can find. They are chosen because they most fully conserve the potential of the science energy power and electricity symbols at this point in the evolution of our consciousness. They are much more inclusive and radically different to most of the definitions taught in our NZ schools. 


Definitions of prime symbols

Definition of science
The “science” symbol is best conserved by defining it as a state of being and listing all the requisites required for the state of being to exist, namely:

Collegiality, openness and sharing
Inquiry and experimentation
Honesty and trust
Generosity of time and reflection

This state of being enables the development of arts, language, civics and all that is civilisation. We are each a scientist and a non-scientist to some degree.

Definition of energy
Energy is the potential of the universe(s).

Definition of  power
Power is the rate at which the universal potential (energy) is manifest. In other words, power is the measure and energy is the measured. It is commonly symbolized thus:

Power = Work/Time

Definition of electricity:
It is impossible to use the electricity symbol if we are to retain its fullest potential. It is impossible because there exists a wide range of electrical phenomena and these have very different, often completely contradictory qualities. Thus conservation of the potential of the electricity symbol involves not using it and instead giving each electrical phenomenon its own descriptive symbol.

  The Compassionate Curriculum Framework
You can view what a more sustainable curriculum framework might look like here.


Letter to the NZ Minister of Education

Hon Anne Tolley
Minister of Education
New Zealand 

Dear Anne 

I share your concerns about the standards of education in New Zealand and the need to assess the effectiveness of our education system. 

Perhaps the ultimate assessment is whether our education system produces sustainable people and the indications are that it is failing us on scale. It has been estimated that if every person on the planet consumed resources at the rate the average New Zealander does then it require at least five planet Earths to sustain humanity. For example, if every person on the planet destroyed mineral oil at the rate New Zealanders do then the rate of destruction of this extraordinarily versatile, valuable, non-renewable resource would instantly increase perhaps ten fold. Pollution would increase proportionately and economies such as ours would instantly implode as the price rose. This implosion is already occurring to some extent, as is reflected in the unsustainable increases in NZ household and national debt. 

Such analysis points to the failure of our education system to propagate science. I am aware that current Anglo-American evaluation techniques indicate the contrary – according to these measures our students rate well internationally for their level of science. However clearly these results are inconsistent with measures of sustainability. In order to establish the cause of this dissonance I suggest we all need to be very clear of our definition of science. Thus I would be very grateful if you could provide me with your definition of science

I would be very grateful if you could also provide me with your definitions of energy, power and electricity. Like the science symbol, these three symbols profoundly frame how our students view the world and behave. Our current education system evidences great confusion on their meaning. Ministry officials provide conflicting definitions and offload responsibility for definitions to individual schools. The most literate and numerate of our policy makers, including those in our universities, Government and industry, commonly confuse the symbols. Indeed the BSA has ruled that energy, power and electricity can be used interchangeably. 

I look forward to receiving your definitions of these four symbols. My great concern is that we make flawed uses of these symbols at our peril, for they have the power to destroy our society.

In kindness

Dave McArthur




Response letter from the Minister

Dear Dave McArthur 

Thank you for your email of 22 August 2010 which asks for definitions of science, energy, power and electricity, and queries whether our current education system produces sustainable people.  

The education system in New Zealand enables the teaching of science to be responsive to scientific research and development. This allows our science teachers to keep up to date with potentially changing definitions and understandings.  

The New Zealand Curriculum recognises the importance of sustainability and acknowledges that it is not the responsibility of one learning area of the curriculum to instil this knowledge in our young people. Within this holistic approach, the science learning area provides a framework for schools to enable students to investigate, explain and understand our natural, physical world and the wider universe. Sustainability is explicitly mentioned in four of the five strands of this learning area. 

Further information on the science learning area can be found at:

The New Zealand Curriculum addresses issues of sustainability through its vision, principles, values, and key competencies. Our vision is for young people to seize the opportunities offered by new knowledge and technologies to secure a sustainable social, cultural, economic, and environmental future for New Zealand. 

Thank you for writing to me about this issue and for your interest in our young people’s education. 

Yours sincerely 

Hon Anne Tolley

Minister of Education


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