The relation between education and sustainability cannot be an external, still less an instrumental one. Sustainability means humans, as individuals and societies, consciously trying to go with the grain of nature. Learning to understand the natural world and the human place in it can only be an active process through which our sense of what counts as going with the grain of nature is continuously constituted and recreated. This process cannot have its agenda set to subserve sustainability criteria which it actually makes meaningful. The policy discourse, parameters and indices of operational sustainability are heuristics, and the conditions for deploying them intelligently are at one and the same time the conditions for a genuinely learning and for a deeply sustainable society. This suggests, too, a basis for reclaiming education in general from the instrumentalising approaches that currently beset it.