A Declaration of Values – to guide our work as academics


what-makes-medicine-scientific-15-638How often are those of us at the public university told that science must be “value-free”….. that is objective and impartial?  I disagree…..

Rather, I suggest that we need to clarify the values that drive our work and make them transparent to the public.  In fact, the so-called “value-free” university must be more influenced by values, public values such as; truth over objectivity, public service over selfishness, scholarship over politics, and compassion over competition. This blog presents a set of values and a belief system that guides my work as an academic.

About 15 years ago, I was privileged to participate in a group of activists and scholars who created a so-called Declaration of Interdependence which presents a clear statement of values to guide our work as academics.

Please post your response to this statement below.


The declaration states;

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Thus begins the Declaration of Independence, the first premise of American democracy, signed by the Founding Fathers on July 4, 1776, to establish independence from tyrannical foreign rule. While honoring the wisdom of the founding documents, we recognize that they have fallen short of providing essential protection against a modern form of tyranny not envisioned in the 18th Century: the tyranny of unbridled market competition, combined with rapidly expanding corporate control of production, marketing, and political power. This new form of tyranny often undermines the Right of humans to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Further, conventional economic analysis, being inherently devoid of ethics and compassion, often supports and directs public policy and private actions detrimental to these Rights. Specifically, we hold these truths to be self-evident:

  • that the Earth and all its components (both living and non-living things, including Air, Water, Fire and Earth) and all species have inherent worth apart from their current or anticipated future market value;
  • that humans as an integral part of Earth, and Earth as a living entity, are worthy of respect and protection from exploitative actions motivated by unlimited greed and financial self-interest;
  • that in community relationships based on love, respect for life, and stewardship of Earth rests the primary source of true abundance, beyond short-term material gain;
  • that all things on and in the Earth are interconnected, and that this interdependency is eternal and universal, transcending time and space;
  • that according to universal laws of Nature, the quality and sustainability of human life depends on harmonious, interdependent relationships among people, and between people and their natural and social environments.

Humanity’s struggle for independence and prosperity has not benefited all persons equally. While many have attained freedom and material prosperity, hundreds of millions chronically lack essential freedoms, the bare necessities of survival, and hope of a decent quality of life. Humanity’s struggle has often created dis-harmony with Nature and among people. Where resources essential to future generations are depleted or degraded, and where equitable access is denied, both the current and future quality of life for all humanity is jeopardized and Earth itself is imperiled.

Humanity lacks the wisdom to anticipate which resources will become critically limiting in the future, and which seemingly benign technologies and institutions will later prove to be destructive to the environment, harmful to human health, and contrary to community values and norms. Therefore, we should follow the Precautionary Principle of taking steps to prevent unknown harm, and the Seventh Generation Principle traditionally practiced by many Native Americans, seeking to leave for future generations opportunities better than those we inherited from our ancestors.

Therefore, We Declare Our Interdependence with all things, all peoples and the Earth, of which humanity is an integral part. All decisions must be made wisely, in view of this interdependence.

The dominant economic paradigm, postulating unlimited greed and financial self-interest as the basis for allocating income and wealth, must no longer be allowed to miss-direct public policy or to justify socially, ecologically, and economically harmful behavior of firms and individuals. We challenge the profession of economics to re-invent its paradigm in ways that will become consistent with the first premise of democracy — that all humans have an unalienable Right to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. Economics can and should begin to promote sustainable human well-being and long-term stewardship of Earth.

We acknowledge and embrace our responsibility for ourselves, for each other, and for the stewardship of Earth. We invite all people to join us in dedicating our lives and fortunes to the goal of sustaining the ecological integrity of the Earth, and attaining prosperity and quality of life for all.


The Declaration of Interdependence is a call for changing the focus of the questions we address through our research and education to be more inline with service to the public good.  I believe as academics we have a responsibility to clarify our values and make them visible to the public.  The university has never been a “value-free” environment but at times the values that drive our work are not transparent.  We can do better…..


If you want to explore an academic program based on these values, check out our UMass Sustainable Food and Farming Bachelor of Sciences degree program and our Online Certificate Program at the University of Massachusetts.  And see my other World.edu posts, or join my Just Food Now Facebook group, or follow my Twitter posts.

Urban Agriculture in the Motor City


By Matthew Kirby, UMass Sustainable Food and Farming student in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture

oldhouseMany symbols of American culture have come out of Detroit, Michigan.  Motown Records and classic American cars are some of the things that come to mind when someone mentions Detroit. However, since the collapse of the American auto industry and the economic decline that followed, the city is also known for its high crime rate, poverty and abandoned buildings. The city filed for nation’s largest municipal bankruptcy in 2013. Detroiters however, have not given up on their city and what has now become one of the largest urban agriculture initiatives in the United States is a testament to their determination and the power of local food.

oldbuildingsThe population decline in Detroit has led to 70,000 abandoned buildings, 31,000 abandoned houses and 90,000 vacant lots. Poverty and unemployment has limited Detroiters access to fresh, nutritional food. The Michigan Urban Farming Initiative however believes that vacant land, poor diet, nutritional illiteracy, and food insecurity are several problems in Detroit that can be reversed by grassroots urban agriculture. By using abandoned land to produce food, Detroiters have begun to increase their access to real food and create jobs.


Vacant lots mean land is inexpensive

There are several businesses and non profit organizations that have taken the lead in Detroit’s urban farming movement. Food Field, for example, is a business that started in 2011 by turning an abandoned school into a four acre organic farm. With nearly 20 square miles of vacant space and a poor economy, the city is very willing to sell its vacant lots to people interested in urban agriculture. Food Field produces a wide range of vegetables including spinach, tomatoes, garlic, sweet potatoes, radish pods and squash blossoms. They also have apple, pear, cherry, plum, chestnut and paw paw tress as well as over 50 laying hens and ducks, a pond of 500 catfish and blue gill and honeybees. This food is sold through a cooperative called the City Commons CSA, which sells food from several farms in Detroit to local businesses and CSA members.

motorcityThe Greening of Detroit is a non profit organization which plants trees, gardens and farms throughout Detroit. Not only do these grassroots organizations produce food and jobs, but by beautifying the city, they can boost residents’ morale and make the place more desirable for visitors. Furthermore, the Greening of Detroit started an organization called Green Corps, which hires about 200 high school students each summer to tend these gardens. Since the start of Green Corps 45 schools in Detroit have started their own raised bed gardens to supply their cafeterias. Rebecca Witt, who runs the Greening of Detroit says that “We’re teaching [students] how eating the stuff that they’re growing is different than going to the gas station and buying Cheetos. People always talk about the difficulties of getting kids to eat vegetables. When they grow those vegetables, it’s not hard at all.

pumpkinkidAnother element on the forefront of urban agriculture in Detroit is Detroit Grown and Made. The campaign was created in 2014 as a collaboration between the Detroit FoodLab and farms in Detroit. The FoodLab is a network of local restaurant owners and food entrepreneurs. By organizing with local farms, Detroit Grown and Made seeks to have all food based businesses in Detroit source their products from Detroit farms.

Guns and Butter is one such restaurant which sources a lot of their food from Detroit farms and hires Detroiters. In this way, urban agriculture helps create jobs in other sectors of society. General Motors, too, wishes to see their city revitalized and has recently begun to donate old engine shipping containers to be used as raised beds in vacant lots. This way the owner of the lot doesn’t have to tear up the asphalt to produce crops.

detriotDetroit’s motto is “We hope for better things; It shall rise from the ashes”.  It seems that the city has lived up to the motto and has been able to turn decay and ruin into productive and beautiful spaces. As we have seen in Cuba’s urban farming revolution, economic hardship often causes people to rethink how they use their urban space, and hopefully Detroiters’ determination and ingenuity will help them to continue to recover their vibrant city spirit.


For information on the Sustainable Food and Farming major at the University of Massachusetts see, http://sustfoodfarm.org/.  You may provide feedback on this article to the author at; Matt Kirby.

Dialogue Education has come to Academia


dialogueRe-posted from Global Learning Partners with permission of the author

Dr. Daniel S. Gerber, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, School of Public Health and Health Sciences, University of Massachusetts, Amherst MA

At a recent visit to have dinner with my mentor and friend Dr. Jane Vella I said, “Dialogue Education has come to academia.” In my experience, Adult Learning Theory which includes Dialogue Education, has become the premier pedagogy in Higher Education.  I asked, “Why else would UMass, Amherst recently build a new academic teaching building at the cost of one hundred and ten million dollars with mostly team-based learning classrooms?”  These are classrooms, housed with ten to fifteen round tables and nine chairs at each table, where students work cooperatively – learning the material by problem-solving and participating in other student-centered active learning projects.  At this point Karen Ridout, who came by Jane’s house to meet me, said, “Dan, would you be willing to write a blog about this?”  I said “Sure”, thinking I have never written a blog before and I don’t have a clue as to the format.   But, I am certainly willing to put my thoughts on paper.

I think the first thing I should do is introduce myself.  I am Dr. Dan Gerber, ED.D., MPH, currently the Academic Dean in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.  I have been in Higher Education for the past twenty-six years, joining the ranks after spending the first twelve years of my professional life as an Adult Learning Theory education practitioner mostly overseas in developing countries. Like anyone reading this blog I was affected by Jane’s teachings and even followed her into the same ED.D. program she attended earlier in her career, at the Center for International Education at the University of Massachusetts. My plan was to complete the ED.D. and continue being an Adult Learning Theory practitioner overseas.   But upon completing my doctorate, the University offered me a job as a teaching faculty and my career made a hard right turn.  For additional information about me click here.  (I believe it is important for the reader to know I did not follow the normal road to Higher Education of bachelors, masters, doctorate, post doctorate, faculty, but first was a practitioner who was fortunate enough to encounter Dr. Vella and Dialogue Education in Indonesia where I was Program Director for Save the Children. And, even today as a dean I still teach every semester.  Not because the university wants me to but because I need to teach!  It is as much as who I am as being a husband, father, son, or friend.)

Entering the Academy (which is what Higher Education people call it) in 1996 with an ED.D. in adult learning and as a disciple of Jane Vella, I could not design my courses the usual way. Even my fifty minute, four hundred and sixty student personal health course which is set up for lecturing had to be changed to the best of my ability so that it was based on Dialogue Education.  Using case studies with in-class reflection questions, personal growth reflection exercises, small group discussions, journaling homework, and even community service learning projects, I have always done my best to follow the principles and practices I learned with Jane in Indonesia.  In the 1990s, I was considered an innovative teacher with courses popular with students. That has changed in the last decade. Today if you Google, “How to teach college students,” you will be bombarded with websites of college professors explaining how only lecturing does not work and how good teachers use Adult Learning Theory to help students learn the material they are teaching.  Do all these learner-centered activities follow the guidelines of Adult Learning Theory or Dialogue Education strictly?  No, of course not, but I would make the argument that ninety percent follow the four principles of Adult Learning Theory and Dialogue Educations to the best of their ability. These four principles are (as I learned them in 1987 from Jane):

  1. Respect – the learner must feel heard, and respected for himself/herself.
  2. Immediacy – learners must see how they can use their new knowledge, skills and attitudes immediately, in their context
  3. Experience – people learn best when what they are learning is related to their own life experience.
  4. Adults learn:
  • 20% of what they hear
  • 40% of what they hear and see
  • 80% of what they discover for themselves

For example, in 2004 my profession published a manual called, Demonstrating Excellence in Practiced-Based Teaching in Public Health (published by the Associate Schools of Public Health, which is based on Adult Learning Theory and Dialogue Education. I don’t care if the methodology is team-based learning, problem-based learning, community service learning, labs, small group facilitated discussion, in my experience they all, to some extent, fall under these four principles of Adult Learning Theory and Dialogue Education.  Especially important is principle number four: Adults learn – 80% of what they discover for themselves. Do these teachers know this?  Most likely not.  What they do know is the students are learning better than with the old method of only lecturing. Most might notice a higher level of energy in their classes.  Consequently, I see that we won! The old banking approach to education (strictly lecturing with tests every few weeks) is on its way out and Adult Learning Theory and Dialogue Education is on its way in. As Dean, I celebrate this!

This leads me to three questions:

  1. If this is true than why is lecturing still the predominant way of teaching generally in Higher Education?
  2. Why should pedagogy in Higher Education change at all?
  3. How do we support this process of change?

Lecturing is still the predominant way of teaching in Higher Education for several reasons:  This is how the current Higher Education faculty were themselves taught.  To become a university or college professor one does not need any training in teaching.  You are hired because you are considered an expert in your field of research or in your unique discipline.  And since lecturing is the way you learned, that is the way you teach it. Jane has said: “We teach the way we were taught.”

Lecturing is also easier to learn than doing more active ways of teaching. But it’s more than that.  In lecturing, the teacher has the most control over what happens in their classroom than any other ways of teaching.  Moving towards Adult Learning Theory and Dialogue Education the teacher gives up a good deal of control of what goes on in the classroom. To most teachers this is very scary! It takes a certain amount of security and confidence to trust a process of teaching that gives the control of learning over to the student. I might add at this point that one of Jane mantras that has stayed with me for the last three decades is, “You have to give up the control to have it be given back to you”.  In my experience I have found this saying absolutely true.

Another reason many people believe lecturing is the most effective way to cover a lot of content.  Whether this content ends up being retained or not is not is the issue we must consider.

This final reason was first brought to light by the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire.  Friere wrote in Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968) that teachers control what information or knowledge is given out and how it is given out so they can maintain their authority as the person with power.  Since they have the knowledge and give it out (lecturing) they are the “expert” and maintain all the perks such expertise comes with: prestige, power, resources, respect. Adult Learning Theory and Dialogue Education is perceived, many times unconsciously, to threaten the status quo.

What else? I would be certainly interested in what other reasons are keeping lecturing the predominant means of teaching?

Next, why is Adult Learning Theory and Dialogue Education having any head-way at all in Higher Education? The biggest reason is students can retain more knowledge through Adult Learning Theory and Dialogue Education, and even better, apply it to their life.  How do we know this?  Because our students have demonstrated this time and time again. The only research I have found that proves this is through the new field of neuroscience.  If anyone knows of other published research that shows that students learn and apply knowledge through Adult Learning Theory and Dialogue Education better than lecturing I would be interested in seeing it.  Meanwhile, in the field of neuroscience it has been proven that students will remember information they learned if the information is processed by Data + meaning + sensory + emotion (Endicott 2004).  This means that students are given an experience that includes:

  • Data – Presentation of data/information/knowledge
  • Meaning – Meaning is given to the data/information/knowledge
  • Sensory – Smell, touch or seeing enhances (props, video, tactile, physical interaction)
  • Emotion – Integrating all of the above plus adding an element that connects with the emotion (i.e. personal meaningful story)

This sounds like Dialogue Education!

Another change in education that forcing us to move away from lecturing to Adult Learning Theory and Dialogue Education is online teaching.  I was recently at large conference of academic deans and everyone said today they would never allow a faculty to develop and teach a course online without first giving them training in active learning methodologies. Why?  Because in the early years of online teaching faculty did just post their lectures online, assign readings, give tests and the students gave them terrible evaluations!  The students did not feel that the professor’s teaching was worthwhile and they were right.  Of course the same deans said where their institutions will gladly pay for training for their faculty to learn to teach online, they still just expect the same faculty to walk into a classroom and be a successful teacher. I asked the deans, “How many faculty that learn to teach online change the way they teach in the classroom?”  The answer I received was unanimous, all of them!

Which leads me to the third reason Higher Education pedagogy is changing : student demand! When I asked one of my university’s administrators why we are building team-based classrooms he said because this is what the students want.  He added that administration cares what the students want today more than ever because the population in the United States for the dominant college age student (18 to 22) is drastically decreasing. Institutions of Higher Education are concerned about filling their classes and dormitories in the future. Hence, administrators today are very concerned about their institution’s reputation and universities that have adapted Adult Learning Theory and Dialogue Education as their main pedagogy have the best teaching reputations.

Another reason why Higher Education is changing is employer’s demands. All the research today shows employers want students that have skills along with knowledge. For instance, today’s graduates that know how to problem-solve and work as a team player have an advantage over graduates who don’t. Again Adult Learning Theory and Dialogue Education are better able to teach these skills than a strict lecturing format.

Finally my last question is how do we support speeding up the process of change? This is actually the question Jane, Paula Berardinelli, Karen Ridout and I struggled with during my visit. One answer I heard the group come up with is to continue demonstrating the success of Dialogue Education by supporting models wherever we can.  Global Learning Partners is doing this in several of their current projects.

I have one idea for Higher Education and I’m interested to hear if readers have others.  Many institutions of Higher Education are in a battle, or maybe an identity crisis is a better way of saying it, between being an institution of liberal education and being an institution that is training the future professional workforce. On one side are mainstream academics who teach the specific content of their discipline because they love and value this knowledge.  On the other side are parents and children who are taking out huge loans to get their children a college education in order to give their children entry into the professional workforce.  I am suggesting a compromise.  Teach content specific knowledge but use Dialogue Education as the pedagogy (i.e. community service learning courses, classroom experiences designed with Dialogue Education methods).  This idea might give both sides what they want.


I don’t generally re-post blogs written by other authors, but this one is special.  First, I think it is thoughtful and timely, and second, the author is my brother.

John M. Gerber, Professor