On September 20th, if Our Students Are Not in the Streets, Let’s Bring the Streets to Our Students

By Ursula Wolfe-Rocca

At the end of August a group of student activists presented a letter to the Portland, Oregon, School Board regarding their plans to walk out of school on September 20th, part of a wave of activities in the week-long Global Climate Strike. The letter included an ambitious set of demands — no penalties, academic or extracurricular, for student strikers; the right to organize and promote the strike at school; dissemination of climate justice curriculum for educators to teach in the days leading up to and on September 20th; and more. The letter left me energized and inspired to do my part as a teacher to act in solidarity with my students.

There was only one problem: Those activists who have been showing up to school board meetings, sitting on climate justice committees, and organizing the September 20th walk-out, are not my students.

Although I live in Portland, I do not teach there. I teach in a wealthy suburb south of the city and, in the first two weeks of school, I have heard not a word about September 20th from my 11th-grade U.S. history students. In fact, when we read an article about Greta Thunberg’s activism, only a handful of students celebrated her actions and expressed support for the strike; most of my students were dismissive, even hostile, to the strikers and the climate emergency for which they’re sounding the alarm. Some students questioned the efficacy of the tactic: “It’s not like skipping school actually fixes the problem they’re supposedly so concerned about.” Others questioned the motivation of the strikers: “I think a lot of kids are just looking for an excuse to skip school.” Still other students expressed alarming views on our climate future: “There is really nothing anyone can do to stop climate change at this point. We need to focus on developing new technologies. Technology is the only thing that is going to save us.”

So what does educator solidarity with the student strikers on September 20th look like at a school like mine, with students like these? Or what about for other teachers, who work in schools that will not countenance a walk-out from kids, much less educators?

First, we can recognize a more meaningful solidarity with climate justice activists will not be limited to a single day but extend throughout the year. Indeed, in the second week of school, by sharing their assumptions about climate change and youth activism, my students offered me a roadmap of some teaching I need to do in the year ahead, on climate change, yes, but also on the history of activism and social change, and, in particular, the role of young people. To imagine and enact the kind of change that is necessary to avert further catastrophe, and to build a more fair, equal, and just world moving forward, our students need the tools offered by a rich, multidisciplinary climate syllabus. Our curriculum will need to emphasize the causes and consequences of, and current responses to, climate change while unearthing lessons from times in our past when collective resistance and social movements changed the world in unimaginably significant ways.

Second, at a minimum, on September 20th, we can surface the climate emergency (to which the strike is planned to draw attention) in our classrooms. I will be in the early days of a unit on the Gilded Age; it will be easy to tie in climate change by examining the exponential growth in the burning of fossil fuels that occurred during that era or the unregulated extraction of the earth’s resources by powerful men, celebrated as the quintessential U.S. capitalists. I am confident many teachers can find ways to make a lesson on climate justice “fit” in their existing scope and sequence.

But since few (perhaps none) of my students will walk out on September 20th, I want to make sure class is not business as usual on that day. I have the freedom in my school to abandon the calendar — at least for a day. Almost every year there comes a time when important events overtake my syllabus. Two years ago, after a white supremacist murdered two people on a MAX train in Portland, my students and I spent time processing and writing poetry of sorrow and solidarity to offer to the school communities that had been impacted. At the start of my first year teaching full time, 9/11 occurred, and I suspended my curriculum only days after I had launched it. Just as in these examples, I will share with my students the “why” behind our breach with the status quo. I will explain that since the climate crisis requires, in the words of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “unprecedented changes in all aspects of society,” and since activists have spent a lot of time and energy organizing this week of action, we are going to take the day to learn a bit about their work. I will invite students to Meet Today’s Climate Justice Activists, by participating in a mixer role play profiling activists from all over the world, many of them young people. Since my students will not be taking to the streets, this lesson will allow me to bring the streets to my students.

Third, we can build in and protect time and space in our curriculum after the strike for understanding and analyzing what happened on September 20th, with a keen eye toward the stories not making front pages and social media feeds. My students deserve a clearer, fuller view of the (mostly unheralded) student strikers — not just Greta Thunberg — to counter some of the misinformation fueling their dismissive judgments. They deserve an opportunity to change their minds.

Fourth, we can reach out to find allies among colleagues, parents, and community members to push forward the climate curriculum and policy of our schools. Four of my colleagues met after school last week to chat; we brainstormed lesson plans for 9/20, talked about where we might build in climate analysis to existing units, and shared what we’d been hearing from students in the first weeks of school. Our informal meeting in my classroom is a far cry from the achievements of the Portland team of parents, students, educators, and activists who succeeded in pressuring the school board to pass a sweeping, first-of-its-kind climate resolution in 2016. But it’s a start.

The September 20th walkout was called by students; but there is a clear ask of adults. The organizers wrote,

“We’re asking adults to step up alongside us. There are many different plans under way in different parts of the world for adults to join together and step up and out of your comfort zone for our climate. Let’s all join together, with your neighbours, co-workers, friends, family and go out on to the streets to make your voices heard and make this a turning point in our history.”

For some of us, this stepping up may take the form of walking out with our students. But for many of us, that may not be practical, either because, as in my case, there seems to be no student movement to join, or because the professional risks are simply too great. But the alternative to walking out need not be silence. Let’s join the students, whether in the streets, or in our classrooms, by using our teacher voices for climate justice.

Ursula Wolfe-Rocca (ursulawolfe@gmail.com) teaches at Lake Oswego High School in Oregon. She is an editor for Rethinking Schools and a teacher organizer for the Zinn Education Project.

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This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

 

The Green New Deal and Our Schools

By the editors of Rethinking Schools

As Mark Hertsgaard and Kyle Pope wrote recently in The Nation, “There is a runaway train racing toward us, and its name is climate change. This is not alarmism: It is scientific fact.”

This is where the Green New Deal, introduced in February by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Edward Markey, begins: with the terrifying prospects of the runaway train of climate catastrophe. But the Green New Deal seeks to mobilize people not from fear, but from hope — hope for a radical transformation of society. It’s a manifesto that begins with the imperative of dramatically cutting greenhouse gases — global reductions of 40 to 60 percent in emissions from 2010 levels by 2040, reaching net-zero global emissions by 2050.

Why the Green New Deal? Ocasio-Cortez, supporters in the Sunrise Movement, and others, draw inspiration from the audacious initiatives of the Depression-era New Deal programs, as well as the massive World War II mobilization. Because anything less is inadequate to the urgency of the crisis, as laid out starkly in last October’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. But the new New Deal explicitly rejects the racism of its antecedents, which, for example, excluded agricultural and domestic workers from Wagner Act union protections and baked in a future of racially segregated housing through Federal Housing Administration policies.

The Green New Deal imagines a vast social reconstruction that will meet 100 percent of U.S. demand for power through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources; upgrade buildings in the United States to achieve greater energy efficiency, water efficiency, safety, affordability, comfort, and durability; support sustainable family farming and build a sustainable food system; create millions of good, high-wage jobs; provide “unprecedented levels of prosperity and economic security for all people of the United States”; and more.

The Green New Deal is not just about suppressing carbon emissions, it’s also about democratizing decision-making. It calls for the use of “democratic and participatory processes that are inclusive of and led by frontline and vulnerable communities and workers to plan, implement, and administer the Green New Deal mobilization at the local level.” It concludes by promising “high-quality health care,” “affordable, safe, and adequate housing,” “economic security,” “clean water, clean air, healthy and affordable food, and access to nature.”

It imagines a very different country from the one we now live in.

And schools? The Green New Deal includes only one line about “providing resources, training, and high-quality education,” and, in fact, never mentions the word schools. Nonetheless, the Green New Deal has profound implications for schools, and offers an extraordinary opportunity for social justice educators to draw on the utopian — in the best sense of the word — vision laid out in the congressional resolution.

*** Click here to purchase a copy of Bill Bigelow and Tim Swinehart’s groundbreaking book on teaching climate justice, A People’s Curriculum for the Earth ***

Let’s start in our classrooms. The revolutionary aspirations of the Green New Deal will only be brought to life by people who grasp the enormity of the crisis that humanity faces and the radical changes necessary to address it. This requires that we teach a climate justice curriculum that: 

• engages students in the science of climate change;
• probes the social and economic roots of climate change; 
• emphasizes the brutal inequality that results in those least responsible for the crisis being hit the hardest;
• alerts students to the breadth of global activism for climate justice;
• helps students see how climate justice is inextricably linked to addressing broader issues of racism, militarism, imperialism, and class exploitation;
• invites students to imagine a society based on principles of ecology and social equality; and
• encourages students to come to see themselves as activists for a green and just world.

Continue reading

Take Sides for the Earth and Teach Climate Justice

A People's Curriculum for the Earth

A People’s Curriculum for the Earth by Bill Bigelow and Tim Swinehart.

TEACHING CLIMATE CHANGE AND THE ENVIRONMENTAL CRISIS

As we celebrate Earth Day, we invite you to join us in taking sides for the Earth by teaching climate justice and becoming part of the #TeachClimateJustice movement with our book,  A People’s Curriculum for the Earth by Bill Bigelow and Tim Swinehart.

The book is an infinitely useful collection of articles, role plays, simulations, stories, poems, and graphics that help breathe life into teaching about the environmental crisis. A People’s Curriculum for the Earth features classroom-friendly readings on climate change, energy, water, food, and pollution—as well as on people who are working to make things better.

For Earth Month, get 15% off your order when you use code EARTH19 at checkout through 5/1/19.

Order your copy today. 


Additional Resources to Teach Climate Justice

Varshini Prakash of the Sunrise movement.

OUR HOUSE IS ON FIRE — TIME TO TEACH CLIMATE JUSTICE
By Bill Bigelow

For too long, the fossil fuel industry has tried to buy teachers’ and students’ silence by saddling us with a curriculum of climate denialism, and spreading climate change doubt that made its way into mainstream textbooks. The gulf between the severity of the climate crisis and the curricular response in schools continues to yawn wide. This is where we come in. Social justice educators need to expose the biased and damaging curriculum and construct an alternative.

Continue Reading. 

 


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ZINN EDUCATION PROJECT’S TEACH CLIMATE JUSTICE CAMPAIGN

This month, the Zinn Education Project is launching the Teach Climate Justice campaign.

How do we teach the climate crisis in a way that also confronts racism, economic inequality, misogyny, militarism, xenophobia, and that imagines the kind of world that we would like to live in?

The Zinn Education Project has compiled classroom-tested lessons, recommended books and films, a sample school board climate justice resolution, and is offering workshops for educators.

Visit the Climate Justice Resources

 


‘WE CAN BE WHATEVER WE HAVE THE COURAGE TO SEE’: A New Video from AOC Envisions a #GreenNewDeal
From Common Dreams staff writer, Eoin Higgins

AOC-Video

Common Dreams shares a colorful new video from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez released by The Intercept that can help us imagine what the Green New Deal will mean for our communities, schools, and classrooms.

 

The video features art from Molly Crabapple, the artist who illustrated our #SchoolsToo magazine issue cover.

Learn more and watch the inspiring video here.

 

Rethinking Schools vs. Heartland Institute

Dear Rethinking Schools friends,

Did you see that the Koch brothers-supported Heartland Institute is sending a climate denial textbook to every science teacher in the country? As the Moms Clean Air Force writes, “Every science teacher across America will receive a ‘free’ copy of a book of climate lies.”

The climate crisis is threatening life on Earth, and the fossil fuel industry is so drunk with greed that they continue to poison the curriculum around climate change.

Teachers desperately need resources to teach the truth about climate change and to counter the Heartland Institute’s materials that are flooding into schools.

Donate now so that we can send a copy of A People’s Curriculum for the Earth to every teacher who requests one in the states most threatened by lies spread by the fossil fuel industry.

As Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything, says, “A People’s Curriculum for the Earth is an educator’s toolkit for our times.” Help us send it where it’s needed most.

~Bob Peterson, Rethinking Schools Board President

Climate Deniers Flooding Schools with Alternative Facts — Educators Are Fighting Back

By Bob Peterson

While hundreds of thousands of concerned global citizens march for science and climate justice, a massive corporate-financed disinformation campaign on climate change is flooding our nation’s schools.

The right-wing Heartland Institute, which is financed by the Koch brothers and other billionaires, is sending out 200,000 glossy books, Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming and an accompanying DVD to the country’s science teachers.

TIFFANY CRAWFORD, VANCOUVER SUN

The purpose of their book is to sow confusion and doubt, not unlike previous campaigns the Heartland Institute has conducted, such as the one in the 1990s, financed by the tobacco company Philip Morris, to raise doubts about the dangers of second-hand smoke.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Heartland Institute has for years, “received funding from fossil fuel interests such as ExxonMobil and the coal magnate Koch brothers.” Heartland even sponsored a billboard campaign in 2012 casting climate change activists as “murderers, tyrants, and madmen.”

This campaign has come under recent criticism by Curt Stager in a New York Times op-ed, but his exposé touches only the tip of a massive iceberg. School textbooks rarely do the issue justice, teachers are not well versed on the subject, and conservative politicians in many states frown on even discussing the issue. Moreover, the oil and coal industry continue to pour money into various pseudo-educational materials to obfuscate the truth.

Victories can be won against such corporate-financed curricular materials. Educator Bill Bigelow recounts how in 2012 a coalition of education and environmental groups, spearheaded by Rethinking Schools and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, exposed the cozy relationship between the coal industry and Scholastic, the world’s largest publisher of materials for children. After publication of an exposé of Scholastic’s propagandistic “The United States of Energy” in Rethinking Schools magazine, a campaign to pressure Scholastic to break its ties with the coal industry led to a New York Times editorial, “Scholastic’s Big Coal Mistake,” and then quickly to Scholastic pulling the curriculum off its website and promising not to shill for the coal industry any longer.

Last year the inadequacy of school textbooks on climate change led students, teachers, and climate activists to convince the Portland, Oregon, school board to adopt a climate justice resolution and to “abandon the use of any adopted text material that is found to express doubt about the severity of the climate crisis or its root in human activities.”

Despite attacks by the Heartland Institute and other climate deniers, the Portland schools are moving forward engaging parents, community members, students and parents to create a climate justice curriculum for kindergarten through 12th grade.

People interested in learning how to organize similar resolutions in their school district can visit the Rethinking Schools site and download a free Climate Justice Kit.

People can also make sure their school library and child’s teacher has a copy A People’s Curriculum for the Earth, edited by Bill Bigelow and Tim Swinehart. The 410-page book contains resources, lessons, and engaging role-plays. Naomi Klein called it “an educators toolkit of our times.”

It is a good antidote to the poisons that are being spread by the Heartland Institute and other climate deniers.

As we march and organize for climate justice, the schools are an important battle ground. Our children and grandchildren should have the right to learn the science behind climate change, the stories of those most affected, the impact on all living fauna and flora and what they might do to work for climate justice.


Originally published at bob-peterson.blogspot.com on April 29, 2017.

Nation’s Largest Teachers Union Endorses Teaching “Climate Justice”

By Bill Bigelow

In May, the Portland, Oregon school board passed the country’s first comprehensive “climate justice” resolution. The school board voted unanimously to “abandon the use of any adopted text material that is found to express doubt about the severity of the climate crisis or its root in human activities,” and called for all schools to teach a “climate justice” curriculum. The Portland resolution said that students in city schools “should develop confidence and passion when it comes to making a positive difference in society, and come to see themselves as activists and leaders for social and environmental justice—especially through seeing the diversity of people around the world who are fighting the root causes of climate change…”

That effort received a big boost last week in Washington, DC, when the country’s largest union, the National Education Association (NEA), voted at its national convention to support the Portland resolution and to encourage state and local affiliates to create and promote climate literacy resolutions in their own communities, using the Portland resolution as a model. The NEA has close to 3 million members, and its convention is dubbed “the world’s largest deliberative assembly,” with 7,000 delegates.

The effort to pass the resolution was led by teacher delegates from Oregon, Washington, California, Wisconsin, and North Carolina, and included members of the national Badass Teachers (BATs) caucus.

Oregon teacher Kathleen Jeskey was one of the delegates supporting the NEA resolution: “Clearly teachers from all over the country see that it is past time to teach our students the real science of climate change and properly prepare them for the future. BATs is a caucus dedicated to social justice and we realized that no other social justice issue can be dealt with properly if we ignore the issues around climate.”

In addressing the convention, Jeskey paraphrased the Portland climate justice resolution: “We must commit ourselves to providing teachers, administrators, and other school personnel with professional development, curricular materials, and outdoor and field studies that explore the breadth of causes and consequences of the climate crisis as well as potential solutions that address the root causes of the crisis, and do so in ways that are participatory, imaginative, and respectful of students’ and teachers’ creativity and eagerness to be part of addressing global problems and that build a sense of personal efficacy and empowerment. Our schools must play a leadership role in modeling for students climate and environmentally friendly practices.”

NEA delegates passed a second resolution, sponsored by Noam Gundle of the Seattle Education Association, calling for the teachers union to “publicize the work of NEA members educating students and their communities on issues of anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change using innovative project-based learning and cross-curricular methods.”
There remains an enormous gulf between the severity of the climate crisis and the attention given the crisis in U.S. schools and in widely used text material. In testimony before the Portland school board in May, members of the community group Educating for Climate Justice, shared examples of textbooks currently in use in Portland schools. One passage in Physical Science: Concepts in Action tells students: “Carbon dioxide emissions from motor vehicles, power plants, and other sources may contribute to global warming.” The small section on climate change is filled with this conditional language of “may” and “might.”

A social studies textbook used in Portland and around the country, Holt McDougal’s Modern World History, begins its second of three paragraphs on climate change: “Not all scientists agree with the theory of the greenhouse effect.”

Portland’s resolution was passed with the support of more than 30 community groups including 350PDX, the Sierra Club, the Portland Association of Teachers, Columbia Riverkeeper, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Climate Action Coalition, and the Raging Grannies.

The Milwaukee-based social justice education publisher Rethinking Schools has been distributing “seed packets” to parents, educators, and community activists around the country, which include a copy of the Portland resolution, supporting articles, an “Organizing Lessons from the Portland Climate Justice Resolution,” and excerpts from the Rethinking Schools book, A People’s Curriculum for the Earth: Teaching Climate Change and the Environmental Crisis.

Rethinking Schools’ interim executive director, Bob Peterson, former president of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, an NEA local, suggested the NEA’s “new business item” in support of Portland’s climate justice resolution. “Today’s teacher unions should recognize that educators need to address social and environmental justice issues,” Peterson said. “The NEA’s support of the Portland climate justice resolution offers teacher unions around the country a concrete way to connect teachers, parents, and the broader community on an issue that concerns us all.”

The process of replicating the Portland climate justice resolution is already underway. The Seattle Education Association’s Noam Gundle plans to use the NEA’s endorsement of the Portland resolution to begin a similar effort in Seattle, working with other teachers, sympathetic school board members, and the King County Labor Council. Gundle said, “This is a first step in educating our students on the most important issue of our time.”

billbigelow-100x100Bill Bigelow is curriculum editor of Rethinking Schools magazine and co-director of the Zinn Education Project. He co-edited A People’s Curriculum for the Earth: Teaching Climate Change and the Environmental Crisis. Learn more about the Zinn Education Project and how you can help bring people’s history to the classroom.

***Blog first published on the Huffington Post***

Leave the World Better than We Found It

12

Introduction to A People’s Curriculum for the Earth

Edited by Bill Bigelow and Tim Swinehart

It’s hard to say where the idea for this book originated. It may have been in 2007 when we looked at Modern World History, the new global studies textbook our school district, in Portland, Oregon, purchased. The book began one of its three miserable paragraphs on the climate crisis with the statement: “Not all scientists agree with the theory of the greenhouse effect.” And it was buried on page 679. This was the best that Portland could offer its high school students? (This widely adopted book, published by Holt McDougal, still anchors the official curriculum for Portland high school students’ sole class on today’s world.)

Or this book’s origins may have been at an excellent teach-in sponsored by the International Forum on Globalization in Washington, D.C., that same year, called “Confronting the Triple Crisis,” about climate change, the end of cheap energy, and resource depletion and extinction. A number of the contributors to this book presented at this extraordinary gathering: Vandana Shiva, Frances Moore Lappé, Bill McKibben, Michael Klare, and Jeff Goodell. We came away from that weekend convinced of the enormity of the crisis, but we also understood how each supposedly distinct crisis linked to all the others, and then tied back to the fundamental problem of a global economy driven by the quest for profit. The teach-in was our introduction to Annie Leonard’s short film The Story of Stuff, which captures many of these connections with humor and common sense.

The decision to launch this book—and how we imagined it—was no doubt heavily influenced by the powerful and interconnected analyses offered by the speakers at this teach-in. But we were dismayed that there was no discussion about what this all meant for K-12 education. How should environmental justice movements partner with the educators who work daily with the millions of young people learning their ecological A, B, Cs—or, perhaps too often, not learning them? Implicitly, the conference suggested that this was knowledge to be shared among adults. We left inspired and informed, but weighed down by the immense burden of figuring out how to “story” the environmental crisis through curriculum.

Power of Green Curriculum

Back home in Portland we initiated what we called an “Earth in Crisis” curriculum group, and invited colleagues to discuss and test out teaching ideas with one another. This collective nurtured many of the activities included in this book, and also identified key themes that weave through the book. One of these is that our curriculum must confront the false dichotomy between the environment and people. It’s a theme that Van Jones addresses directly in his TED Talk on “Plastics and Poverty,” included in Chapter One (p. 4). Jones points out that people were rightly concerned about the damage to living systems in the Gulf of Mexico caused by the BP Oil Spill. But he notes that we often do not seem as concerned when that oil gets to where it is “supposed” to go: for example, to petrochemical plants that dot Cancer Alley between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, where it then poisons the largely poor and African American people who live there. Yes, the “environment” is about polar bears, dolphins, redwood forests, and bees; but it is also about human beings—workers, consumers, families, and community members. We call this book a people’s curriculum for the Earth because we try to keep the focus on the inextricable link between nature and people.

And this suggests another theme that emerged in our Earth in Crisis curriculum work in Portland: Everyone on Earth is affected by the environmental crisis, but we are affected unequally—based on race, class, nationality, or location. This is maddeningly evident with the impact of climate change. Throughout the book we feature stories about individuals and communities—Matthew Gilbert and the Gwich’in (p. 74), Koleo Talaki in Tuvalu (p. 96), Anisur Rahman of Antapara, Bangladesh (p. 98), the Aymara people of Bolivia (p. 137), the Yup’ik teenagers of Kwigillingok, Alaska (p. 143), and too many others to list, whose carbon footprint is virtually non-existent and yet who are among the first to suffer from its ravages. Similar issues of race and class are at play when it comes to exposure to workplace pollutants (“Combating Nail Salon Toxics,” p. 280), lead poisoning of children in urban areas (“Teaching About Toxins,” p. 283), or the pollution from mostly foreign-owned manufacturing plants that blankets poor communities around the world with deadly consequences (“Reading Chilpancingo,” p. 288).

This is not to say that people are not organizing in response to this toxic trespass, in the expression of ecologist Sandra Steingraber. They are. And some of them are featured in these pages: the Milwaukee students who blew the whistle on oil contamination in their neighborhood (p. 67), Maria Gunnoe’s passionate anti- mountaintop removal activism with communities in West Virginia (p. 210), the indigenous people described in Winona LaDuke’s “Uranium Mining, Native Resistance, and the Greener Path” (p. 321)—“resilient in the face of a deep history of genocide and destruction.” But there is a fundamental inequality at the heart of the environmental crisis—one that is central to the articles and teaching activities included in this book.

16Shorter Showers?

In our “Earth in Crisis” group, teachers kept returning to our students’ responses: They wanted to know what they could do personally. Early in our work, we concluded that we need to help students recognize the inadequacy of responding to the environmental crisis solely as individuals. As we mention in the teaching ideas for Chapter 3, “Facing Climate Chaos” (p. 174), there are entire books that urge students to consider their individual carbon footprints, suggesting that our personal patterns of consumption are a root cause of global warming. Students are urged to think about the frequency of their baths, their electricity use, the stuff they buy. Yes, of course, we want young people— and everyone—to be mindful of the Earth as we go through our daily lives. And we want students to recognize the power they have—collectively or individually—to make the world a better place. But it’s wrong to direct students primarily toward individual solutions to create change.

In his Chapter Five essay, “Forget Shorter Showers,” Derrick Jensen confronts this problematic celebration of individual action:

Consumer culture and the capitalist mindset have taught us to substitute acts of personal consumption (or enlightenment) for organized political resistance. Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth helped raise consciousness about global warming. But did you notice that all of the solutions presented had to do with personal consumption—changing light bulbs, inflating tires, driving half as much—and had nothing to do with shifting power away from corporations, or stopping the growth economy that is destroying the planet? As students’ awareness of the environmental crisis grows, this consciousness can be misdirected by social forces that have an interest in how young people respond. The energy industry would much prefer that our students change their light bulbs, recycle their soda cans, or even install solar panels than organize a demonstration at the state capitol to shut a coal-fired power plant, testify at a public hearing against fracking, or otherwise gum up their fossil fuel machinery.

And there is another way that this celebration of the individual needs to be questioned in a people’s curriculum for the Earth. Individual property “rights” have long been seen as synonymous with “liberty.” “Liberty! Property!” was a cry of the American Revolution. But there were other more democratic cries as well, like Benjamin Franklin’s famous assertion that “Private Property…is a Creature of Society, and is subject to the Calls of that Society, whenever its Necessities shall require it, even to its last Farthing.”

What happens to the Earth if we respect the “right” of the fossil fuel industry to manage their assets however they please? More and more, the headlines are filled with the answer to that question: superstorms, drought, heat waves, melting glaciers, ocean acidification, species extinction, floods, drowning islands. A curriculum on the climate, and the environmental crisis more broadly, needs to address patterns of ownership and decision making. Our curriculum needs to confront the myth that private property is, in fact, private. The fate of the Earth “belongs” to us all.

7

Capitalism

Helping students acquire a critical consciousness about the environmental crisis means we need to consistently encourage them to ask “Why?” Why is it that the future of life on Earth has been put at risk? It seems an impossible question to answer unless weengage students in thinking about the nature of global capitalism. Throughout the book, we draw students’ attention to this broader systemic context within which the environmental crisis is unfolding. Activities like “The Thingamabob Game” (p. 147) and the trial role play, “Who’s to Blame for the Climate Crisis?” (p. 163), explicitly confront students with the fundamental clash between an economic system that prizes wealth accumulation above all else and people’s need for a healthy environment. Capitalism insists that key productive decisions be made on the basis of what will yield the greatest profit. It grants God-like powers to unelected elites whose livelihoods depend not on creating a world of equality and environmental sustainability, but on making the most money. If we’re going to help our students not just describe, but explain, the environmental crisis, it is essential that educators name this elephant in our classrooms.

Joy amid Crisis

As this book heads to the printer, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is about to release what news outlets indicate is its most dire report to date—another in a string of reports, each with more urgent language and frightening scenarios than the one before. The new IPCC report warns that at least three-quarters of known fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground if we are to avoid a 3.6 degree Fahrenheit (2 degree Celsius) rise in global temperatures over pre-industrial times (see “The Mystery of the Three Scary Numbers, p. 180 and “A Matter of Degrees,” p. 192). The consequence of exceeding these limits would “almost certainly have catastrophic effects, including a mass extinction of plants and animals, huge shortfalls in food production, extreme coastal flooding, and many other problems,” according to the New York Times, which received a draft of the report.

The news is bad. But despite the dimensions of the environmental crisis, students can approach this frightening content in ways that are lively and playful. Not long ago, we participated in a weeklong teach-in for 6th through 8th graders about energy issues at Sunnyside Environmental School, a public school here in Portland. Throughout the week, students heard speakers and participated in activities about everything from mountaintop removal coal mining to catastrophic oil spills to the civilization-threatening consequences of climate change. They also encountered people working on solar and wind power, local food initiatives, and other innovative responses to environmental challenges; but the week definitely offered an adult dose of planetary crisis. Nonetheless, in classrooms we visited during the concluding activist projects that students worked on, these middle schoolers were anything but grim; and their small- group work was electric with idea sharing and laughter. As with adults, we’ve found that students are able to live with contradiction; students grasp the sadness and injustice at the heart of the environmental crisis while finding joy and humor. For the book, we’ve selected activities that address key environmental concerns, but these activities do not invite despair. They are engaging, and feature collective work that triggers student playfulness and imagination.

13

Interconnections

Throughout the final stages of working on this book, we collaborated with Portland teaching colleagues Chris Buehler, Julie Treick O’Neill, and Matt Plies on a role play about La Vía Campesina. Despite the fact that La Vía Campesina may be the largest social movement in the world—with more than 200 million small farmers in its affiliated organizations—it’s pretty much impossible to find its work described in today’s mainstream textbooks. We conclude A People’s Curriculum for the Earth with La Vía Campesina’s efforts because we think that it highlights the way a deep response to any one crisis—for example, how to feed a world populated by perhaps a billion hungry people—addresses other social and environmental crises.

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La Vía Campesina’s presents a grassroots, “agroecological” challenge to agribusiness’s globalized, free market, chemical-drenched, genetically modified prescription for the world’s food production. The peasant movement shows that addressing hunger can simultaneously address climate change, inequality, public health, unemployment, forced migration, and much more. These are the kind of interconnections that infuse our curricula with hope— offering students the sense that fundamental change is not only desperately needed but also possible.

Challenging Curricular Apartheid

The teaching we observed at Sunnyside Environmental School showed us what happens when teachers collaborate across disciplines. Unfortunately, in too many schools, the environmental crisis seems to have become a kind of curricular hot potato. No discipline wants to claim the crisis as its own. We get it. We are both high school social studies teachers and we often bump up against our own shaky grasp on scientific concepts, trying to recall details from past biology and chemistry classes. While teaching one climate lesson at Lincoln High School, a student made an assertion about the impact of methane versus carbon dioxide that stumped us both and sent us combing through IPCC reports that evening. We try not to let these moments force us to retreat into the silo that traditionally has been considered social studies. And we’ve spoken with science teachers who feel that analyzing the social causes and effects of climate change reaches beyond their curricula or of their own knowledge. Similarly, teachers in language arts, mathematics, world languages, business, physical education, or art may wonder, “What does this have to do with my class?”

But in this moment of crisis, it’s imperative that we reject artificial barriers between disciplines. Throughout this book we’ve featured stories from educators who consciously cross conventional curricular boundaries—see for example, “Carbon Matters” (p. 110), “Science for the People” (p. 273), “Measuring Water with Justice” (p. 297), and “Facing Cancer” (p. 309). Throughout the curriculum, educators can collaborate to help students become the scientist-activists they need to be. Confronting the toxic injustice that has become one of the defining features of our time requires us immediately to begin constructing a fossil fuel-free world built on principles of ecology and justice, rather than profit and endless growth. No matter which classes we teach, educators need to find ways to help young people develop the analytical tools to understand the causes of the environmental crisis and to exercise their utopian imaginations to consider alternatives.

Political and Educational Context

In an article in the Guardian, Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, laments the “bad timing” of the climate crisis:

Our problem is that the climate crisis hatched in our laps at a moment in history when political and social conditions were uniquely hostile to a problem of this nature and magnitude—that moment being the tail end of the go-go 80s, the blast-off point for the crusade to spread deregulated capitalism around the world. Climate change is a collective problem demanding collective action the likes of which humanity has never actually accomplished. Yet it entered mainstream consciousness in the midst of an ideological war being waged on the very idea of the collective sphere.

That same war has been waged in the education arena. At the precise moment we need our schools to educate and engage the next generation about the historic global challenges we face, public education is under attack from the same private and corporate interests that have polluted our natural and social environments. Curriculum is being standardized and narrowed to what can be poorly measured by bubble tests. Decisions about what schools should teach and children should learn are being moved away from classrooms and communities to the same politicized bureaucracies and monied interests that are undermining democracy. This too is “bad timing.” At a time when we need an urgent national conversation about how schools and curriculum should address the environmental crisis, we’re being told that the problems we need to focus on are teacher incompetence, government monopoly, and market competition. The reform agenda reflects the same private interests that are moving to shrink public space—interests that have no desire to raise questions that might encourage students to think critically about the roots of the environmental crisis, or to examine society’s unsustainable distribution of wealth and power.

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This book is not so much “a people’s curriculum for the Earth” as it is an invitation to begin to build that curriculum. And it’s encouragement to educators to demand the right to effect a curriculum that honestly and deeply addresses the environmental crisis. Some of this work will go on in our classrooms; in meetings with other teachers; in teacher social justice conferences in San Francisco, New York, Milwaukee, Atlanta, Chicago, and Seattle; in our professional organizations; in the pages of Rethinking Schools magazine; and at the Zinn Education Project and This Changes Everything websites. And some will go on in our unions, community organizations, and other activist organizations where we fight to teach about crucial issues in the world.

The intertwined social, economic, and environmental crises that confront humanity require us to be audacious. As Naomi Klein writes, this is “the fight of our lives.” For educators, this is the curriculum work of our lives. And, yes, it is a fight, too. We need to demand and organize for the right to teach about what really matters, and not be forced to toe the textbook line or obey “rigorous” standards, developed afar, that may or may not help students appreciate and act on this moment in history.

We educators need to imagine, cooperate, create, hope—and at times, defy and resist. And we need to see ourselves as part of a broader movement to build the kind of society that is clean and just and equal and democratic. One that seeks to leave the world better than we found it.

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