Curriculum for the Age of Climate Change?

Have you heard of First Peoples Principles of Learning, a list of approaches to learning common amongst Indigenous Peoples for the multiple millennia before colonization brought the scourge of Residential Schools? The publication of the principles is a result of a collaboration between the BC Ministry of Education and groups of “Indigenous Elder[s], scholars, and knowledge keepers” and meant to provide an overview of Indigenous pedagogy, a philosophy of learning grounded in relationships and responsibilities. The principles are:

Learning ultimately supports the well-being of the self, the family, the community, the land, the spirits, and the ancestors.

Learning is holistic, reflexive, reflective, experiential, and relational (focused on connectedness, on reciprocal relationships, and a sense of place).

Learning involves recognizing the consequences of one‘s actions.

Learning involves generational roles and responsibilities.

Learning recognizes the role of indigenous knowledge.

Learning is embedded in memory, history, and story.

Learning involves patience and time.

Learning requires exploration of one‘s identity.

Learning involves recognizing that some knowledge is sacred and only shared with permission and/or in certain situations.

What if the Class of 2030 was completely immersed in experiences that upheld First Peoples Principles of Learning? Would they be better prepared to face the challenges brought by climate change when they graduate?

The next series of posts will explore these questions.

But before  continuing with my thoughts about what First Peoples Principles of Learning could look like in classrooms, I need to write about an incident that happened almost twenty years ago, at the beginning of my teaching career in Canada. It’s a memory that makes me feel quite ashamed when I recall it. 

I remember that I was in the middle of one of those crazynutsbusy days that are the norm for teachers when I was told that a parent was wanting to speak to me. I remember wondering why she hadn’t come to the classroom as I walked to where she was. This part of the memory is so vivid I can see it as though it was happening right now.

I am standing at the top of a short flight of stairs at the entrance of our portable building. At the bottom of the stairs is a woman whom I’m told is the mother of one of my students. We greet each other while I’m wondering about why she’d come.

As soon as she begins to speak she starts crying and I don’t understand what she’s saying. It takes me a few minutes to hear her tell me that she’s so happy that her son, my student, was going to pass Grade 11. That he was the first person in the family to do so. And that she was so grateful that my classroom was the kind of space that helped him to succeed.  I don’t know what I said in response but it must have been something quite inadequate like “You’re welcome” or “I’m so glad that he’s enjoyed being with us”.

Here’s why this memory fills me with shame. I didn’t know her son was Indigenous. I didn’t know at the time that graduation rates for Indigenous students were abysmally low. And, most important of all, I really didn’t know what I had done to deserve her thanks.  I didn’t think I deserved it at all since I had not consciously set out to make her son’s learning experiences any different to the learning experiences of all my students.  It took me many years to figure out what possibly could have made the difference to her son. 

Because of my own experiences of alienation while being educated in South Africa during the apartheid era, as a teacher I am biased toward collaboration and cooperation. One of the first tasks that my students have to fulfill at the start of each semester is to learn each other’s names because they spend a lot of time working together. Building community is the focus of the first part of my planning schedule before it becomes the background to much of what we do in my classroom for the rest of the school year. I do it not only for my own sense of comfort but also because I believe that if we can’t learn to be together in public school classrooms, we’re not going to be able to be together in the world beyond the classroom where we need to “live together as brothers [and sisters] or perish together as fools” as Martin Luther King Jr. said.

It was just serendipity that what I needed to be able to teach in my classroom was what her son had needed to succeed.  It’s also what we’re all going to need as we face the impacts of climate change, together.

Connection.

Cooperation.

Collaboration.

Community.

Dear Fellow Passenger on Planet Earth

Dear Fellow Passenger on Planet Earth,

We have to talk. It’s about a topic you really don’t want to think about. When it comes up you flip into fear and then slip into denial while you silently hope that someone is going to save the day.

But there’s no one here but us. We’re all we’ve got on this tiny blue planet spinning in a dark void.

I know the data is overwhelming. It’s difficult to wrap your head around the facts, the statistics, the predictions. I get that. So don’t think about all that.

Think about the children. The ones who just got here. The ones who arrived on a warming planet of rising seas, devastating droughts, monster wildfires.

At some point they’re going to know that we knew what we were doing. That we knew we were putting too much carbon into the air. We knew that we were using up in 7 months what it took the planet 12 months to replenish.

They’ll also know that we knew what we needed to do to mitigate the impacts of the changes. We knew that we needed to stop burning fossil fuels, that we needed to stop shopping for pleasure so that we could stop wasting precious resources. We knew that an economy based on unlimited growth was unsustainable on a planet of limited capacity.

What will we tell them when they ask us why we didn’t act?

What story will we tell?

 

See, that’s what I want to talk about. The story that’ll be told to the generations to come about this time when we were too afraid to think about how our children will cope in a world of 45 degree summers and dried-up rivers. A world of drowned cities and growing deserts.

It’s true that stories like that already exist. Stories that are apocalyptic. Dystopian. Frightening. The kinds of stories that would give children nightmares.

But what if we could tell a different story?

What if we could tell our great-grandchildren about that time when we stopped being frozen in fear, the time when we realized that if we didn’t change our present, there would be no future?

Is that time now?

It seems to be a good time right now because we’re into Back to School season, a time that’s always felt like a second New Year, a time for beginnings and future dreams.  What collective dream do we have for the children, those returning to school, those just starting their schooling journey, and those who just recently arrived on our planet home?

If we’re ready, there’s no shortage of topics and themes for new dreams, new stories.  In the decades to come we could tell stories of the time we all leaped into a new relationship with our environment or the time a thousand towns transitioned. There’s already unfolding stories within the new economy and plenty of fascinating plots in the pursuit of a zero waste lifestyle.

Now, while we’re living in the future’s prologue, can we think about creating a new plot?

What say you?
Sincerely,

Passenger # 5 354 309 834

 

Creativity in the Class of 2030

Near the end of this second decade of the 21st century, there is ample evidence that earth’s life supporting systems are slipping into crisis. We are in urgent need of all the creative solutions we can get to help us to transition away from the destructive path we’re on.  The last thing schools should be doing is constraining creativity but that’s likely what is happening to many of the children who began their schooling journey a few months ago, the ones who will graduate in 2030.

Ken Robinson’s Do Schools Kill Creativity? talk should not be seen as just an interesting thought exercise. With humanity facing the devastating consequences of climate change, his words should sound like a five-alarm fire.  

Our students are going to need new ways of coping with the realities of the world they’ll inherit: increasingly hotter summers, more frequent droughts, abnormal floods, regular wildfires, scarce resources and a teetering global economy that will likely mean that they’ll be “hard at work in a jobless future”.  

I confess to being impatient with those who believe that children are “too young” to learn about the realities of life. All across the world, there are millions of children who are taking care of younger siblings, because they’ve lost parents to war or disease. There are an estimated 100 000 unaccompanied child refugees trying to survive in Europe after crossing continents in their flight from war zones. Every year thousands of unaccompanied children flee Central and South America to travel to the United States. An estimated 300 000 children  are being used as soldiers around the world.  For millions of children, facing difficult realities can’t wait until they graduate.

So, when should we let the Class of 2030 know about the challenges they’ll face?  

What should they learn beyond reading, writing and arithmetic?

Because education systems the world over have been in constant state of “reform” for decades, there’s a bazillion possible responses to that question but, despite all attempts at change, schools the world over still look quite similar to the way schools looked in 1917.  And, as much as I like to dream of having trillions of dollars to turn all public schools into the kind of creative schools that Ken Robinson has written about, I have reluctantly realized that just wishing and hoping is an indulgent waste of time.

We have to think about what can be done with what we have right now, right where we are.  We have to engage the kind of creative thinking that people everywhere are capable of whenever they’re faced with a disaster or a crisis.

Something like the kind of thinking that William Kwamkambe engaged when he solved his family’s need for electricity by gathering scraps from a dump heap and reading about how to build a windmill from an old textbook.

Or perhaps the out-of-the-box kind of thinking of Kelvin Doe who scavenged through trash to find parts to build generators and batteries for his own radio station.

There is no shortage of examples of young people finding creative solutions to intractable problems all across the world, making do with what they have and what they know to make a difference in the world around them.

Children enter school as natural scientists, artists, makers, doers. They’re inquisitive about the world around them, excited to explore its nooks and crannies. But how will they leave after 13 years of being told a thousand times not to stray, to stay within the lines that separate curriculum from curiosity? How much of their childhood creativity will still be alive when they graduate in 2030?

Imagine what could be possible if their capacity for solving problems was nurtured and encouraged in schools everywhere for their entire 13 year journey.

Imagine a world with more Jaylas, Boyans  Haileys,  Victorias,  Ashtons,  Ridhimas and Marleys.

Imagine.

The Last Summer we saw the Sun

The last summer we saw the sun

we didn’t camp

since it would have been no fun

without the fire

contained,

companionable,

while marshmallows

carefully were

scorched.

burned orange sun

 

The last summer we saw the sun

we watched trees become

candles,

torches,

flinging flames

onto roofs,

racing unrelentingly

across fields and forests.

 

The last time we saw the sun

bright in a blue sky,

casting shade,

growing shadows,

was before this time

of the burnt-orange disc

that sheds faint light

through a smoky dome.

 

The last summer we saw the sun

we recognized 

that Beijing’s skies

had become our own.

Musings under Smoky Skies

It was good to see sunlight and shadows today after too many days under a smoky dome. Days when I developed a soon-to-be-the-new-normal routine: check air quality readings before my first sip of morning tea.  A reading of 7 on the 10 point scale meant being inside all day; a reading of 2, some time outside, but not too much. Asthmatic lungs don’t breathe well in air filled with too much particulate.  

I have no idea what I would have done if I’d been where readings reached 49.  On a 10 point scale.

But I suppose people who live in Beijing would know what that’s like since they’ve been living under a dome of smoke for quite a while now.  There are even stores there that only sell products to help people, including infants, breathe.

Beijing’s smoky skies ‘inspired’ a Chinese mother to create a documentary, Under The Dome, after she became convinced that the tumour her child developed in utero was caused by the smoky air. 150 million people saw it before it was banned in China.

My few days of living under a smoky dome here in ‘supernatural, beautiful British Columbia’ has led me to wondering about the kind of world the Class of 2030 will inherit. They’ll be starting school in a few weeks, beginning a thirteen-year journey of preparation for a world that will hopefully soon be in full transition to a new economy, one that does not cost the earth.  

But how do we prepare them for that transition?

Should they learn about firescience so that they can protect their homes and families when wildfires are common? Perhaps they could learn what Indigenous people have known about wildfires for millennia, what they know about ensuring that fire doesn’t devour entire communities?

Should we tell them to think of about becoming a wind turbine mechanic, the fastest growing career in North America today? We should certainly tell them that jobs in 2030 will look nothing like jobs today because by then, if we are to survive, we’ll have to be well on our way to containing our cancerous consumption of our planet’s resources.

One of the signs that the transition has already started is the rapid growth in forest schools in Europe and North America. More and more parents want their children to have a different relationship with the earth, one based on reverence and respect. They know that children will protect what they have learned to love.

If I could plan the curriculum for the Class of 2030 it would certainly contain a course on ecological literacy because our children will need to learn to read the skies the way they read a book.

What do you think the Class of 2030 should learn?

What shall I tell my students?

If Christy Clark wins the provincial election on Tuesday, what shall I tell my students? When corruption and callous disregard for the marginalized can be so richly rewarded, what incentive do my students have for being good? When cheating does not preclude you from occupying the highest office in the province, why should they listen to my warnings about plagiarism?

What happens to our society when what we teach about ethics and citizenship inside our schools is not reflected in the reality outside our classrooms?

We’re all familiar with the adage that children learn what they live, that they don’t pay as much attention to what we say but they’re always watching what we do.

What are we doing, British Columbia?

Are we really going to reward 16 years of malgovernance on Tuesday?

https://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2015/11/10/Christy-Clark-Ghostly-Government/

My students will be graduating soon in a province that has the “worst-performing economy” for young people and some of the highest tuition fees in Canada. They’re more than likely to join the increasing numbers of post-secondary students using food banks. They’re also unlikely to be able to afford a home and will have to seriously consider whether they can afford to have a family, daycare costs being what they are.

And while they’re dealing with all that, they’ll also soon be responsible for the massive debt that the BC Liberals have accrued over the past 16 years to say nothing about the huge contractual obligations they’ll be saddled with, courtesy of Christy Clark’s pay-for-play politics.

Are we collectively going to say that that’s all okay on Tuesday 9th May?

The BC Liberals inherited a surplus when they won the election in 2001. A surplus. This may be shocking to learn given the massive amount of disinformation about the NDP’s governance last century.

When the NDP were last in power, we did not have young people leaving the province in mass numbers for a better life somewhere else. We did not wait 6 hours in emergency rooms. We did not pay tolls to cross bridges. And we did not have 3-year waits for psychometric assessments for students with special needs.

Schools had libraries and librarians. People with disabilities had bus passes. Frail seniors in nursing homes did not wait hours to go to the toilet. No one died after waiting for help in a hospital emergency room.

This does not have to be so. We can be so much better.

For the sake of my students, please vote for a future they can believe in, one that gives them hope for a better B.C.

Let’s uninstall the malgovernance of Christy Clark

Parsimonious. That’s the word John Horgan used to describe the pattern of education funding over the past 16 years during a two hour discussion he had with a group of teachers yesterday.

If he had not already impressed us with his passion and genuine concern, his intellect and ability to articulate complex ideas would have sealed the deal.

It was so refreshing to have a conversation with a political leader who speaks in sentences that make sense, not in sound bites filled with lies and obfuscations.

It was enlightening to watch him be self-deprecating and witty while at the same time serious about the huge task he would have to turn around 16 years of malgovernance.

Like the malware that renders computers inoperable, Christy Clark’s governance is like a virus that has afflicted this province for too long.

John Horgan is the antidote we’ve been waiting for.

Portable Classrooms Catch 22

Imagine you and your family of 12 live in a home meant for a family of 5.

Imagine that you win a government grant that will allow you to build a bigger home.

But you can only get the money under certain conditions.

You will have to provide documented proof that your house is over-crowded by showing that every room, including the bathroom, the kitchen, and all the closets, are always in use, 24/7.

You will have to guarantee that none of the 12 family members will move out in the next 5 years.

And you will also have to guarantee that the new house will be ready for occupancy within 3 months despite the builders telling you that they need 9 months to build the home.

Given these conditions, would you believe that the government had any intention of actually providing the grant in the first place?

Well, imagine how teachers feel because this analogy describes how the Ministry of Education is going about implementing the Supreme Court of Canada ruling in at least two districts with overcrowded schools.

http://www.southnewtoncommunity.com/uploads/2/1/2/0/2120305/portable-classrooms-at-tamanawis-secondary-school-in-surrey.jpeg?419

The Ministry says they’ll provide more classroom space in the form of portables but only if the District can prove the overcrowding by 28 April and also if the District can guarantee that the portables will be ready on 1 September.

They demand that all these conditions be met despite knowing full well that in order for portables to be ready by September, they should have been ordered by February this year.

Yes, the Ministry is complying with the Supreme Court ruling.

Just not in a way that will actually work for students in overcrowded classrooms.

For more details about this travesty, please read this piece by Laura Barker, First Vice President of the Surrey Teachers Association.

Whose future is bright?

The B.C. Liberals want voters to believe their promise of a future so bright they’ve got to wear shades, but all I can think about are the 331 children who have died in government care since Christy Clark was elected in 2013. There is certainly no bright future for them.

In the 2013 election we were promised “families first” but we soon discovered that it was only the families of the very wealthy, the ones who could afford $10 000 a plate dinners, whose concerns would be heard by the premier.

Families who could not afford daycare were not heard.

Families forced to choose between paying rent or buying food were ignored.

Families trying to survive on minimum wage did not factor into the premier’s concerns.

For whom is the premier promising a bright future?

Certainly not the children with learning disabilities who struggled to learn in overcrowded classrooms, the casualties of 15 years of deliberate defunding of public education.

Certainly not adults wanting to complete their high school education or those in post-secondary institutions who are increasingly using food banks to cope with high tuition fees.

Perhaps the bright future is only for students in private schools that have enjoyed a 66% increase in government funding since 2005?

The newspaper wraparound election ads promise us a “strong” B.C. but on what foundation is the future of our province being built?

The Mount Polley Spill. Image from THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Conventional wisdom has it that a society’s future is predicated on the strengths, skills and knowledge of the youth but if we look at the way young people in this province have been treated by the B.C. Liberals since 2001, our future has a shaky foundation.

Cracks in our future foundation are already evident with a new report revealing that we have the worst economy in the country for young people.

Unlike older generations who enjoyed steady employment, younger people will have to get used to a world of precarious employment: temporary, casual and seasonal work that make up the bulk of the jobs that the B.C. Liberals boast about.

And while they’re struggling to make a living, our younger generations will have to find a way to manage the burden of all the contractual obligations made by the B.C. Liberals when B.C. Hydro and I.C.B.C have been completed plundered in the cause of a “balanced budget”.

As if that’s not enough, they will also have to pay for the clean-up costs of environmental disasters, like the $40 000 000 for Mount Polley spill, since one of the advantages of those corporate donations is the deregulation that allows mining companies to siphon profits from our natural resources without concern for environmental destruction.

The more I think about it, a future under the B.C. Liberals is only bright if you happen to be a corporation, one of the many whose donations made international news.

If you can’t afford the $10 000 a plate dinners, the B.C. Liberals have little to offer you besides more of what we’ve been subjected to since 2001: increasing poverty, increasing housing costs, increasing deaths while waiting for ambulances, increasingly longer waits to see medical specialists, increasing deaths while waiting in hospital emergency rooms, increasing deaths of children in government care.

What the B.C. Liberals offer is so bleak that accepting their promises would be like paying for “protection” from the very mob who have already destroyed everything.

A decimated social safety net, a huge debt burden, and no viable plan to mitigate climate change  portends a future that is anything but bright for B.C. under Christy Clark’s leadership.

Our Opportunity is Here

Sometimes I enjoy watching ads. I look forward to seeing Westjet’s latest Christmas surprise and I never tire of watching the Tangerine ad that honours difficult work days. I especially enjoyed the pro-diversity Superbowl ads this year from AirBnB, Coco Cola, Budweiser and 84Lumber. Their messages pushed against rising xenophobia and instead promoted human decency, the idea of one human family, the concept of “we”.

There’s another ad on regular repeat on our screens these days that also attempts to evoke a common sense of purpose: the B.C. Liberal government “Our Opportunity is Here” ad. This is not an ad I enjoy watching at all.

Launched in late November last year, the ad campaign is supposed to be about informing citizens about government services and programs.  

But I wonder if citizens see the irony in the launching of a campaign focused on government services and programs just weeks after the Supreme Court of Canada rebuked the B.C. Liberals for cheating a generation of students out of critically important services they needed for their education?

It takes a significant depth of cynicism to launch a $15 000 000 advertising campaign weeks after your government has been censured for actions that resulted in the removal of $4 billion in funding for education, a critically important government program.

But what is particularly galling is Premier Clark’s professed “excitement” at having the opportunity to invest in education that the ruling supposedly gave her, the same opportunity she discarded when, as Minister of Education, she introduced the legislation that the Supreme Court found in violation of the constitutional rights of teachers.

Piles of discarded opportunities dot the landscape of the BC Liberal’s legacy.

Some of these discarded opportunities have dollar figures attached to them: the $3.02 billion that we lose by shipping raw logs out of the province; the billions we lose in revenue each year because the royalty we collect for our natural gas resource is almost negligible.

But some of the discarded opportunities cannot be calculated in dollars: these are the lost opportunities to have made a difference to an entire generation of students with learning disabilities, and students with mental health needs, while they struggled to keep up in overcrowded, under-resourced schools.

Some discarded opportunities are simply heartbreaking as when the Ministry of Children and Families prioritizes the balancing of their budget above saving the lives of the 120 children who died in government care last year alone.

It’s for reasons like these that I see something different whenever those bright shiny “opportunity” ads flash on my TV screen.

http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/home/featured-services/featured-services-language/english

OUR

Everyone working two or three jobs at minimum wage because one is not enough to keep up with the rising cost of living.

Everyone on social assistance trying to survive on $610 per month.

All first responders burnt out from dealing with the healthcare crisis in the streets.

Everyone who has spent 5 hours in an emergency waiting room.

Everyone disgusted by the “pay for play” $10 000/plate dinners.

Everyone distraught by the environmental destruction from Mount Polley, anxious about the threat of burst pipelines, angry at the obscenity of the grizzly bear hunt, frustrated with the state of BC Parks.

Everyone annoyed by the hidden taxes in BC Hydro increases, MSP fees, ICBC rates.

OPPORTUNITY

Imagine a province where people, not profiteering, come first. Where politicians actually behave like public servants, not sycophants for corporations.

Where politicians spend more than 30 days a year in the Legislature.

Imagine a province where foreign billionaires can’t buy political favours.

Imagine a province with a Poverty Reduction Plan.

With $15/hour minimum wage.

With $10/day daycare

With public education funded to the Canadian average.

HERE

Early voting begins on 29 April.

OUR OPPORTUNITY IS HERE