Earth Day at School
On Friday, I took time to gather us round the coffee table in a friendly circle and asked some big questions that I’m dying to know their thoughts on, this far into TAP, the biodiversity curriculum and the Earth Day activities over the past week across the school.
First asked “What do you feel are the biggest threats to us and the Earth?”
The winner was overpopulation, followed by global warming, deforestation, loss of biodiversity and various forms of war. Then a huge array of problems almost all of which scientists would agree with. A list easily as (or more) complete that adults would come up with, from disappearing of pretty places to ocean acidification and antibiotic resistance spreading. A long litany of sadness and worry, most of which were realistic. Some off beat and wise – “impulsiveness’, ‘power of corporations and govenment’. Very few superstitious or missing the boundary with fiction. Heard stuff back that had been taught in TAP, and that their core teachers were talking about during Earth Week at OIS.
“What is the most important thing you can do?”
At the start of the year it was pretty much “Don’t litter, recycle”. Now the list is much longer, more nuanced and more global. Many mentioned recycling but paired it with reducing and reusing.
Reducing consumption was the dominant theme: the among of imported food, less over-consumption, less food waste, less energy waste, buying less plastic, less car trips, less meat, less water.
And MORE buying organic, being vegetarian, riding bicycles and car-pooling, more cloth bags for groceries, more public input into decision-making especially about war, more writing letters and voting. More fairness to avoid war – a specially sweet wish from one of the girls.
A few comments sounded naive or ‘us and them’ but changed on questioning/coaching – “Third world women should have less children” became “Women in developing countries should be allowed to get education so they can limit their families and grow enough food. So more equality of women.” It felt important not to let wierd-sounding comments lie, and to help re-frame them. Another is the hunting of ‘bush meat’. Very controversial but imagine if your parents were trying to find food for you? Would they do it? They are happy to think how much their parents love them, and how fierce they get when their kids are threatened.
Finally, I asked “Is this all too much bad news about the environment for 7th grade?” This was prompted by an audience question on the KQED Forum on Environmental Education that I was at on the actual Earth Day. (I was speaking at the prior forum “Engaging Kids in Science“.)
Apparently not. The vast majority said that it was important for them to know and wrong not to share the information, even though a few admitted to being upset and 2 or 3 had nightmares. They said they needed to know now or it would be a big shock later. That if they were taught habits early that it would be just be normal by the time they were adults. It would allow them to help in time. But they also, like most adults, don’t want to have change their entire lifestyle suddenly. And one commented that they don’t like how kids have to change everything in the future because grown ups say “It’s too late for us, it’s time for kids to do it.”
Most students in all six classes were not blaming my generation, but taking it on the chin “In a few years, we’ll be the generation supporting the world.” “Everyone says ‘leave the light on, it won’t make a difference’ and that’s the problem.” “We should know about it now because it’s harder to change as adults” – a little tweak on the nose there 🙂
I’m so amazed by Friday’s classes, just taking the time to ask, to listen and find how much wiser and more courageous and forgiving they are than I even guessed. It feels like a kind of grace.