We Are All Connected…

http:::www.imcreator.com:free:nature:sunrise-3
http:::www.imcreator.com:free:nature:sunrise-3

 Anyone who spends time with children or teens knows that they sometimes say the most profound things, perhaps without actually meaning to. It’s as though their eyes can see the world in ways no longer possible for those of us who have fully conformed to conventional ways of thinking, those of us who no longer see the ordinary magic that surrounds us.

Each year I am reminded of this ordinary magic when I take my students on a three-day camping field trip. Even though it’s the most exhausting and stressful thing I do – imagine being responsible for 30 teens for 72 hours – I know that their experiences at camp will be what they remember for the rest of their lives. They come back to school each year to tell me so.

There is nothing extraordinary about the camping field trip. They canoe, complete a high ropes course and engage in various teamwork challenges. But it’s what happens to them in between these activities that they remember most of all.

In teenspeak it’s called bonding. And, as in all words that teens repurpose, its meaning goes beyond what may conventionally come to mind, of two or more things being fused together.

When I first heard the term I had to ask a lot of questions before I fully understood what it meant. Teens don’t always articulate clearly the full meaning of what they’re trying to express.

Bonding, I learned, is what happens when they stay up all night (despite my best efforts to discourage this)  talking to each other. The topics of these talks range from the silly to the sublime but no matter where they begin, they end in a deeper understanding of each other. They get to this place of understanding when they learn how much they have in common with each other; how so many of them have similar struggles, the same concerns and worries. They learn that they’re more alike than not, that their families and circumstances are similar despite cultural divides.  It’s this deep understanding of each other that leads them to experience what they call bonding.

Scientists would have a different way of describing these “bonds”, the ties that bind us to each other.

Neil deGrasse Tyson says it’s the most astounding fact – that we are all not only “bonded” to each other but indeed that we are “bonded” to the whole universe:

“Recognize that the very molecules that make up your body, the atoms that construct the molecules, are traceable to the crucibles that were once the centers of high mass stars that exploded their chemically rich guts into the galaxy, enriching pristine gas clouds with the chemistry of life. So that we are all connected to each other biologically, to the earth chemically and to the rest of the universe atomically. That’s kinda cool! That makes me smile and I actually feel quite large at the end of that. It’s not that we are better than the universe, we are part of the universe. We are in the universe and the universe is in us.”

Christmas is a perfect time to consider this most astounding fact about our existence.

Consider that our biological connection to each other extends far beyond the family with whom we share the Christmas meal. It can be traced all the way back, through thousands of generations, to our first home in Africa. The food we eat during this time of feasting connects us to the earth chemically and those chemicals themselves are the result of the atoms spewed by stars into the universe.

Science has long provided the evidence for this most astounding fact. Why then do we live each day oblivious of it?

If we walked through our days acting on this fact, we would not still be engaged in debates about whether we should protect our environment or not. Engaging in such debates is akin to wondering whether we should protect our bodies from the cold or whether we should breathe air free of smoke.

If the education of our children was based on this fact, we would radically change what we call school and would do all that we could to prepare our children to survive through the age of climate change.

If we shaped our economic activities based on this fact, any action that could lead to the poisoning of waterways, the pollution of airsheds and the extinction of species would not only be rejected but not conceived of in the first place.

If our individual and collective decisions, whether political, social or economic were based on this fact, we would be living in a far different world, one where consumption was not cancerous,  one without poverty or pollution, one where peace was more than a pipe dream.

We would be living in the kind of world we wish for each other in the greeting cards we exchange at this time of year.

At this time of celebration of family and of joyful feasting, I hope we will pause to consider this most astounding fact and that we then resolve to act on it in the new year.

We are because Earth is

we are because earth is
http://picjumbo.com/download/?d=IMG_8782.jpg

Have you noticed that when politicians in the US and Canada talk about education reform, the  reason they provide for why change is necessary is because of what  “the economy” needs. They tell us that the reason we need to change what happens in schools is because we need to grow the economy and the only way to do that is for schools to produce the kinds of workers that corporations want.  Given the fact that there can be no economy without a healthy environment, isn’t this focus on what the economy needs a bit short-sighted?

In this age of climate change, shouldn’t we be asking  what our environment needs and then preparing our children accordingly?

The children who entered kindergarten in 2014 will be graduating in 2027.  Although we cannot predict with any certainty what the economy will be like then, thanks to the work of thousands of scientists over many decades, we now have a good idea of what the physical world will be like within a few decades if the gathering in Lima, Peru this week fails to make definitive decisions about mitigating climate change.

There are a few future scenarios that we have to consider in thinking about the world current kindergarteners will graduate into.

One is the scenario painted in exhaustive detail by the the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Committee on Climate Change.  In this scenario, any economic policies based on constant growth will be rendered void by the pervasiveness of extreme drought, extreme floods and extreme heat leading to food shortages, among other things. There can be no work done for “the economy”  if the workers have no food to eat.

Should our kindergarteners therefore learn how to grow food in extreme conditions?

Another future scenario is painted by the Pentagon which has said that climate change will be a “threat multiplier”,   increasing political instability around the planet.

Should we prepare our children then for constant war on an overheated planet where people fight desperately for access to food and water?

There are more apocalyptic scenarios in a similar vein to the ones already mentioned. Scenarios that would turn the fiction of The Hunger Games  into bleak fact.

But there are also other scenarios that are just as possible. Scenarios in which our 2014 kindergarteners graduate into a world where the cancer of constant economic growth has been routed and replaced with degrowth and economic policies that fit within the physical capacity of our planet.

To prepare our children for such a world, for the complete restructuring of our political, economic and social systems necessitated by the climate change crisis,  we need a restructuring of our education systems so that collaboration, connection and creativity replaces the dominant paradigm of individualism and competition in schools.

An education system structured around connection, collaboration and creativity would, in addition to providing education in traditional literacies, prioritize a new set of literacies. These literacies – ecological, emotional, technological, critical and social – would be framed by ubuntu, the African concept that “I am because we are”.

A child educated in such an education system would graduate with ecological literacy skills to be able to ‘read’ the land, the sky and the oceans, with emotional skills to increase well-being and decrease stress, with skills that enable navigation of  technological landscapes, with critical literacy skills to question political media and messages and with social skills that will decrease the possibility of conflict and increase the potential of working collaboratively.

A child educated in such a way would see the problems posed by climate change in a completely different way,  just as the Net generation reads the world differently to those born before we got the Internet.

And we need new ways of reading our world. So many of us think of our environment as a thing that is “out there”, disregarding completely the fact that we humans grow out of the environment as an apple does from a tree.

There can be no apple if there is no tree.

We are because the earth is.

This should be what we teach our children, this above all.

If all the delegates meeting this week in Lima, Peru, knew this and acted upon it, we would not have to fear that the scenarios posited by the Pentagon and by the IPCC could come true.

So much depends on that meeting in Peru because this week is when we begin to create the world that our current kindergarteners will graduate into.

Question Box

question-box

Something I love about my job is when my teen students tell me something that ‘blows my mind’ (in teenspeak). Being a teacher of teens means that I am frequently having to adjust what I thought I knew about a whole range of issues.  The most recent adjustment has been to what I thought I knew about teens’ relationship with the Internet.

Before this week, I believed that a teacher of teens should never ask a question that Google could answer because a teacher’s reservoir of knowledge could not compete in any way with what Google could deliver in nanoseconds.

Turns out, teens are not impressed with that instantaneous delivery of piles of content. As was made clear to me this week, teens much prefer to have conversations about topics they are interested in, rather than just consuming content whether from a teacher or the Internet.

It’s not that I did not have an inkling that teens interacted with information differently to the way my generation did.  Don Tapscott in Grown Up Digital did warn us in 2009 that the Net Generation (aka the Digital Generation, the teens I teach) have a radically different way of interacting with information than those of us born before the Internet existed.

In his book, Tapscott reveals that the Net Generation prefers to learn collaboratively and through discovery rather than through the traditional ‘downloading’ of information.

But it’s one thing to read about research and quite another to experience a phenomenon first hand as I did in my classroom this week.

My Psychology students had been tasked with presenting what they discovered about a topic they were personally interested in within the field of psychology.  While presenting what they had learned, they also had to explain why they found the topic interesting/significant.

As I listened to their presentations, I was struck by how frequently a student would mention that they had always wanted to know more about the topic but that they just didn’t have time to ‘look it up’.

I found this very strange.  After all, they are the first generation in human history that is able to carry in their pockets a device that gives them instant access to all of human knowledge. How was it possible that they did not use that device to look up what they wanted to know?

To help me to understand, I asked them about this in a circle discussion.  At first they could not clearly articulate what it was that was stopping them from ‘looking something up’ but gradually I was able to ascertain that it was not the availability of the information that they needed. Instead, it was having someone to talk to about the information. They wanted to have a conversation about what they read. They wanted to be able to ask questions, to talk about what they were reading, what it actually meant for them, in their own lives.

When I finally understood why they had not ‘looked up’ the information before, I also understood why the Question Box is the most popular of my teaching tools.

The Question Box is a little cardboard box in my classroom into which students can anonymously  place questions about anything they want to understand but do not want to directly ask an adult about. The questions that are placed in the box can range from the sublime to the ridiculous and everything in between. I have had the Question Box in my classroom for over a decade but have never really fully understood its popularity. Now I do.

Although my students can search Google for information on any topic, they can’t have a real world conversation with the author/s of the information. They can’t ask questions, in real time, about what they still don’t understand after reading the links.  They may be able to send a comment that may or may not be responded to sooner or later but this is not the same as having a direct conversation with the writer/s of the information.

Thanks to lessons on media literacy, teens are fairly adept at sifting through search results to find credible sources for information but they seem to be not quite satisfied once they do find reliable information.  In fact, the students I spoke with seemed to have a  kind of disdain for what they “learned” about the topic this way.  I was stunned to realize that they preferred putting a question into the little cardboard box in the classroom rather than into a Google search box.

Perhaps the Greeks were right about true learning arriving through dialogue, not through the dumping of information.

But what does all this mean for the latest education reforms that are focused on technologizing teaching, adding more computers into classrooms under the guise of ‘personalizing learning’ ?

I would suggest that education reformers speak to teens about what they would prefer to have as learning experiences. Teens would tell them that, although they enjoy using technology,  they prefer to have teachers to talk to about what they are learning.   Perhaps everyone involved in education could learn a thing or two from teens about personalized learning.

Reading, ecologically…

Alice and Isaac in nature

Alice, a neighbour’s 6 year old daughter, is learning how to read. She’s learning how squiggles on a page can be filled with meaning. She’s learning that these squiggles ‘say’ things. A whole new world is opening up for her, a world of different spaces and places she can travel to through those squiggles.

But I wonder what other kinds of reading she will need to master in order to make sense of the world in this age of climate change?  Should she know how to ‘read’ the land as her ancestors used to do?  To know what to expect when certain flowers are in bud or when the wind shifts or when particular birds arrive in the garden?

David Suzuki seems to think so. In a recent column he makes the case that children should learn how to observe the natural world. What he calls “observe” others like David Orr and Fritjof Capra call ecological literacy, a way of observation that decodes signs in nature in the same way that we decode squiggles on the page in traditional literacy.

If children learned to read their environment, what changes could we expect in society as they grew up?

One change perhaps would be the eradication of what Richard Louv calls nature deficit disorder, a result of children spending less time outdoors and too much time indoors, cut off from the natural world.

Each year when I take my  teen students on field trips into natural spaces, I am amazed at the transformation that happens when they spend time among the trees or just skipping stones on the water. It’s as though they have just woken from a deep sleep and are seeing the world anew. In effect, they probably are, given the amount of time they spend staring at screens instead of their immediate environments.

If children learned to  read their environment, they would have first hand experiences of changes wrought by climate change, experiences and knowledge that could not be ‘spun’ by the fossil fuel industry that spends billions each year fuelling climate change denial.

Environmentalist often lament the fact that our children can recognize more brand logos than they can tree leaves. Ecologically literate children would not only be able to name trees and describe their leaves but would also be able to name the kinds of fauna that depend on the tree for survival.

An ecologically literate child would know that she was not in the environment, that the environment was inside her.

An ecologically literate child would know that some forest bathing would do more for her stress level than retail therapy would.

An ecologically literate child would know the connectedness of all things, that whatever we do to the earth, we do to ourselves.

The scientific revolution gave us new tools to read the world beyond the visible light section of the electromagnetic spectrum. Before that dramatic change in the way we saw the world,  we had to know how to read the land for our own survival and so paid close attention to every detail of the natural environment.  These days we would sooner check the Weather Network online on our computers before we went outside to see what the weather was.

Before the scientific revolution, we would know when seasons changed when we saw signs of the coming change in trees, in plants, in the sky. Now we look at a calendar.

If we could integrate the kind of knowledge humans had about the natural world before, with the knowledge that we have gained through math and science, how much more could we read and see and know about this place, our cosmic home?

In an age of climate change, when all around us nature is signalling her distress, perhaps one of the most critical skills we all can have is the ability to read our environment,  the ability to read the sky, the land, the water, the plants and the trees.

We can’t all have the knowledge that the scientists on the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change do, but we all can know a little more than we currently do about what is normal and what is not in the natural world around us.

We should all join Alice in learning how to read, ecologically.

Fracking their Future

pumpjack reindeer
Pumpjack Reindeer were part of a Christmas parade in nothern BC last night. The normalizing of an environmentally destructive industry continues unchecked. Image courtesy of Destiny Ashdown

Why are we allowing the BC Liberal government to hijack our education system to provide workers for the fracking industry at a time when climate change, caused by massive emissions of greenhouse gases, is already wreaking havoc in the lives of millions of people around the planet?

Why we are funnelling our children toward an industry that is associated with environmental death and destruction, an industry that has a long track record of contaminating waterways?

I can understand why adults who already work in oil and gas industries would continue to do so, but why, at a time when there are viable alternative energy industries, are we not preparing our children to live in an age of climate change?  

Evidence that the  BC Skills for Jobs Blueprint is nothing more than a fracking industry recruitment drive is abundantly clear in the LNG seminars that are currently touring our province. Designed to spin all the benefits of the fracking industry, there will be a lot that will not be mentioned in the presentations to our children.

Groundwater being contaminated by undisclosed chemicals won’t be mentioned.   The folly of pursuing training for a single industry won’t be mentioned either. And certainly the fact that fracking wells leak dangerous methane gases daily, won’t be mentioned.

What will be mentioned is how much money our children will make in the jobs not taken by the many Temporary Foreign Workers we are to expect.

But even when money is the topic, what won’t be mentioned is how many billions oil and gas corporations will make and how little of that will actually be collected in taxes, how little they will pay for the extraction of our collective resources and the destruction of our environment.

Why are we standing by while profit is prioritized above ensuring there is  a livable planet for our children? 

With the money that they will earn, where will our children go to buy a new planet once the oil and gas industry has destroyed the possibility of human life on this one?

Why is it so difficult for people to understand that we are not in the environment, that the environment is in us.

Whatever we put into our water, we put into our bodies. 

Whatever we put into the air, we put into our bodies.

Whatever we put into the soil, we put into our bodies.

Is the fact that there are PCBs and other pesticides in the breastmilk of nursing mothers not enough to cause us to pause and to reflect upon what we are doing in the name of the economy?

There can be no economy if there is no healthy environment.

Our children are entering a world they did not create. What kind of world is our education preparing them for?

When enormous resources are being spent in a spin machine that is trying to persuade our children that the only viable option for employment is an industry that destroys the environment, what are we doing? 

Why are we not insisting that our children are trained for skills in green technology industries?  Why are we not demanding that our governments follow the example of countries like Denmark that are rapidly moving away from fossil fuel dependence?

Why not teach our children a new way of being in the world, a way of living that does not destroy what our lives depend on?

Why are we fracking our children’s future?

Would a poem elucidate our options more clearly?

The Ark of Consequence by Marge Piercy

The classic rainbow shows an arc,
a bridge strung in thinning clouds,
but I have seen it flash a perfect circle,
rising and falling and rising again
through the octave of colours,
a sun shape rolling like a wheel of light.

Commonly it is a fraction of a circle,
a promise only partial, not a banal
Sign of safety like a smile pin,
that rainbow cartoon affixed to vans
and baby carriages. No, it promises
only, this world will not self-destruct.

Account the rainbow a boomerang of liquid
light, foretelling rather that what we
toss out returns in the water table;
flows from the faucet into our bones.
What we shoot up into orbit falls
to earth one night through the roof.

Think of it as a promise that what
we do continues in an arc
of consequence, flickers in our
children’s genes, collects in each
spine and liver, gleams in the apple,
coats the down of the drowning auk.

When you see the rainbow iridescence
shiver in the oil slick, smeared
on the waves of the poisoned river,
shudder for the covenant broken, for we
are given only this floating round ark
with the dead moon for company and warning.

From Mars and Her Children, Knopf, 1992

Holding the Line for Democracy

poppies
http://www.imcreator.com/free/nature/red-flowers

Right at this very moment, millions of people dream of having the right to vote. Thousands are in prison or being tortured for daring to demand the franchise, the right to participate in the governing of their countries. The fight for the franchise is often a prolonged struggle, as we saw with the Arab Spring that seemed to hold so much promise but has yet to deliver fully the democracy it promised.

The holy grail of so many is what we already have.

Today, four days after Remembrance Day, there is an election for local governments throughout our province. Traditionally the turnout for these elections has been low with only around 30 per cent of eligible voters casting a ballot. The successful candidates will be those who win 50 percent of those votes. They will then spend their mandate representing 100 per cent of the citizens within cities and towns after having won the approval of only a fraction of the electorate.

Is this what our democracy has come to?

During the prolonged labour dispute between the B.C. Liberal government and our union, we teachers had our flagging spirits boosted when we received a message from a Canadian soldier.

Here is part of what he said to us:

When I enlisted, and from time to time thereafter, I remember reading the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms so that I would gain a sense of the values and rules I would be fighting, and even dying, to protect. Some of those values are under assault today, and while I may be on the other side of our great nation, and while you have my gratitude and highest regard for the efforts you have made so far, I have one seemingly impossible request to make — for those minds of tomorrow: Hold the line.

I am thinking of that message a lot these days. I think about it when I hear people say that it is important to show respect for all soldiers, past and present, that it’s important to honour their sacrifices.

I hope that our respect goes beyond pinning the poppy on our lapels.

I hope our respect goes beyond standing at attention at the cenotaph.

I hope our respect extends to standing in line at a polling booth.

Our leaders speak about our democracy whenever they tell us about the reason they need to send our soldiers, our brothers and sisters, our fathers and mothers, our sons and daughters, into battle. They tell us that it’s our democratic values that are under attack, that they need to be defended.

But perhaps sending our soldiers into battle is just one way to defend our democracy. Perhaps another way is by exercising our right to vote.

The soldier who wrote to teachers urged us to hold the line in the defence of public education in B.C.  Now that public education has been successfully defended from the most recent attack, I am suggesting that the new “line” we need to hold is the one that we stand in when we line up at polling booths.

I believe that one of the most powerful ways to respect our soldiers, past and present,  is  to participate fully in our democracy.

Let’s hold the line for democracy.

Please vote.

A Green Dream

environment piece
http://www.gratisography.com/

I have asthma and so I’m always acutely aware of my dependence on air to keep me alive.  The curse of asthma is also a gift in that way as it is a constant reminder to me that I do not live in the environment, that the environment is in me.  That everything that is in the environment will eventually find its way into my body through the air I breathe, the food I eat and the water I drink. Which is why I think about the environment a lot.

Lately those thoughts have been focused on the changes that are happening in the environment as a result of climate change.  As though in a demonstration of the scientific evidence of this change, fish are moving to colder waters,  birds are showing up in areas that they have never lived,  and insects are moving away from the tropics toward the poles.

But this is not about the mountain of evidence that climate change is happening. This is about the fact that we citizens are at a historic moment when we not only have the understanding and the tools to mitigate the effects of climate change but we also have the opportunity to do so in a way that will simultaneously address other intractable societal problems.

Premier Christy Clark’s BC Jobs Blueprint has a few worthy goals  that, if achieved, will go a long way toward addressing both societal injustices and economic needs:   a dramatic increase in the number of young people entering the trades,  support for students who want to enter trades while they are still in high school, the provision of  training opportunities for Aboriginal students  and  support for education and training for people with disabilities.

But where the plan falls apart is that it focuses on an industry that not only spews vast amounts of chemicals into our waterways but also speeds up global warming, the driver of climate change.

There is now serious doubt that a BC LNG industry will provide one million, good paying  jobs as the Blueprint promises.

There are also serious concerns about the environmental damage that fracking causes to land, water and air.

Every minute that we are breathing, oil and gas wells are leaking deadly methane gas into the atmosphere.  Methane gas is 30 times more potent than carbon when it comes to warming the atmosphere.

Thirty times more potent…

Should this fact not give us pause?

Gordon Campbell, Christy Clark’s predecessor,  had a  “road to Damascus” moment in November 2006 when he went to Beijing to see the preparations for the  Olympics. Instead of being in awe of the amazing architecture, he was instead struck by the quality of the air there.  On sunny days when one should be able to see far off into the horizon, it’s possible to only see a few feet in front of you because of the smog.

Campbell’s experience of Beijing smog was what led to several actions by the then BC Liberal government to address pollution and climate change.  Did you know that the BC government has had an Air Quality Action Plan since 2008?

What would it take for Christy Clark to have her own “road to Damascus”  moment?  More Mount Polleys?

Or perhaps she needs to take a helicopter flight over the Skeena Watershed, an area that she has targeted for fracking.

Wade Davis recalls that Gordon Campbell had another moment of environmental destruction awareness when he took a helicopter flight over the Sacred Headwaters, the area where the Red Chris mine is planned.  Campbell was stunned by the beauty of the land that was soon going to be deforested and exploded in the pursuit of profit. It’s too bad that this experience  did not stop the plans for development of the mine. Is this when the the Green Dream the BC Liberals used to have turned into the fracking nightmare?

What happened to our leadership that lead to our current situation when we  are allowing ourselves to be blackmailed by a multinational corporation into giving up a pristine environment  in exchange for the equivalent of  relative pennies?

The current BC  government already has all the means it needs to take advantage of this historic moment.   All it has to do is to implement the environmental  plans that have already been  published by previous BC Liberal governments.

Did you know that our government has a Climate Action Plan for the 21st century that calls for an increase in renewable energy use?

All that is needed for Today’s BC Liberals to leave an ethical legacy is the willingness to put children, not corporations,  first.

That legacy would include ensuring that our children are  prepared for a world of wild weather as climate change speeds up.

Our children should be learning more about the environment, not less.  One of the major flaws in the new curriculum proposed by the BC Liberal government  is that  it decreases the focus on environmental studies at precisely the time we should be increasing awareness of our impact on the environment.

If our children do not receive a good foundation in environmental literacy, how will they have meaningful discussions and debates,  as citizens in a democracy,  about what they will be witnessing in a dramatically changing environment?

Post-secondary institutions have already recognized the need for more environmental education with SFU just recently announcing the new Bachelor of Environment, the only such degree in Canada.   A search on EducationPlanner.ca reveals 53 post-secondary environmental programs. These are what should receive the money earmarked for post-secondary education in the BC Jobs Blueprint.

We need to turn the Blueprint green.

We need to turn away from seeing environmental destruction and low wages as the only way to build an economy.

One of the most significant aspects of a green economy is that there is an added benefit, apart from jobs and a return on investments, of ensuring that we also have a healthy environment. A goal that our current economy does not even recognize as necessary.

We can transform our economy into one that provides good paying  jobs with benefits, an economy  that does not place people in an invidious position of having to choose between feeding their families and polluting the land, water and air on which we all survive.

If Germany can turn its economy around, so can we.

We have the means and the knowledge to create an economy that will not cost us clean air to breathe, does not cost us the chemical death of fish and fowl and does not cost us the earth.

We owe it to our children to turn away from the Faustian bargain that we are being offered by the LNG industry.

We can do better.

We must.