For years, I’ve asked students to use sourcing websites and internet articles about labor rights to search for the factories in which a couple of items of their clothing were made. Usually a pair of shoes and a favorite shirt.
By undertaking this search, students think about the labor that supplies them with so much. They tend to think with new empathy about the people, often Asian, mostly female, who make their clothes. This focus also shines a powerful, unflattering light on advertising and its role in obscuring the often unpleasant experiences of those who make our things.
This year, my students will become sourcing consultants, putting what they’ve learned about supply chains and ethical consumerism into practice.
Three students at our school have begun designing and selling t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan, “Proud to be a Feminist.” The young women are dedicated to human rights but–as one of the students told me–they have no ideas about the conditions under which the shirts were made. Enter my Globalization class!
I have given my students the option of working for proudtobeafeminist.com or pursuing another similar project:
Even if your school doesn’t have start-ups, you can still run this project with your school’s athletic gear. In the US, student clubs often buy t-shirts. This project could help with those purchases as well.
I have told my students they’ll need to follow some steps:
What do we need to know? Numbers, goals, costs, etc. You need a meeting with the proudtobeafeminist.com team.
The current companies: what are their practices?
Finding and contacting workable options for sourcing shirts AND printing/ink based on what you learn from proudtobeafeminist.com
Making a pitch with 3 viable options.
They’ll be looking for companies owned by women, companies with strong labor and environmental records and, because it’s a priority of the client, local shirtmakers and screeners as well.
It isn’t difficult to discovery the human rights record of a company like Gilden or Fruit of the Loom. Even a simple Google search” “Gilden” “t-shirt” “labor rights” with results limited to the last year brings up enough to narrow the search and find stories of chronically hungry Gilden workers in Haiti in 2014. Even with this information, students have to decide if three-year old reporting still matters and whether companies that have recently cleaned up their acts would be given another chance.
Of course, with such a project, I cannot control exactly what my students learn. They also might not be successful in finding ethical shirts (and screening) that comes in at budget and fulfills the client’s requirement for social responsibility. I bet they will succeed–but if they don’t? Even that will be a valuable lesson–a lesson within and assignment that I doubt any of them will ever forget.
The wealthiest 8 men on earth (and yes, they are all men) possess wealth exceeding the poorest 50% of humanity.
That’s about 3,700,000,000 people.
My students are stunned by this simple statistic from Oxfam’s new report on economic inequality. The report is readable for secondary students and filled with prescriptions for change. For educators interested in solutions-based curriculum, it’s a terrific new resource, especially as a guide for suggesting areas for student research.
Look at this image:
Somehow, Apple feels it is acceptable to pay subsistence wages while, “in 2010 almost three-quarters of revenue from its iPhone went to profits.” Similarly, citing the website, Make Chocolate Fair, the briefing notes that “Cocoa farmers in the 1980s received 16% of value of a chocolate bar; today they get 6%.”
How could such inequality possibly come about? Because of globalization, the world’s great consumers have to dig (and care to look) to learn these alarming facts. But this sickening inequality is not natural: it’s due to policy and to a learned mindset in the wealthy nations that savage inequality is somehow natural.
The Oxfam report was reported to be on the agenda for the World Economic Forum in Davos: we’ll see what that leads to. Given the interest of the for-profit media in obscuring the reality of income and wealth inequality, it falls on educators to pull these facts into the light for our students to see.
After laying out the economic myths that support the current, unsustainable system, “An Economy for 99%” offers a number of specific paths to take:
a “new global consensus and a virtuous cycle to
ensure corporations and rich people pay fair taxes, the environment is protected, and workers are paid well”;
a system in which “proceeds of business activity should go to those who enabled and created them – society, workers, and local communities”;
an end to “the extreme concentration of wealth to end extreme poverty”;
“a human economy [that] will work equally for men and women”;
governmental intervention “to ensure that technology contributes to reducing
inequality, not increases it”;
pursuit and adoption of “sustainable renewable energy” sources;
And, finally, “Moving beyond GDP, we need to measure human progress using the many alternative measures available.”
The report is neither exhaustive or perfect. But it is a great launching pad for discussion and, I hope, better choices by students and schools. We owe it to our students and our children to show them the economy as it actually is.
I began a post a new few weeks back, but I doubt I will finish it. I confronted the grief I felt this autumn, teaching about 19th-century imperialism and my misery at the unpaid debts owed by the old empires–the US included–to the so-called developing world. It is unhappy business, teaching 15-year olds about King Leopold’s murderous rule in Congo or the British colonizations of Gambia and China.
I feel I need to clear the air about all this with my students. Is our wealth dependent on all the suffering we read about? And how can we refer to the places attacked and robbed–sometimes for centuries–as “developing nations?” It seems like a bad joke.
I feel I have to figure out how to teach my students, honestly, about the toll that imperialism–largely European and American imperialism–has taken on the world.
My students learned for the first time about invasion, meddling, strong-arming and other bad American behavior in the Philippines, Guam, Hawaii, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, not to mention Honduras, Guatemala, Panama, Cuba, and seemingly every other nation in Central America. The involvement of the US in these places over the past 150 years has been extremely destructive, yet our media and our government abet our amnesia by never mentioning the empire. Still, the work feels incomplete.
I want to come up with a pithy way of describing this. About the relationship between “the West and the rest,” between the global North and the places it has attacked in recent centuries. So I began a blog post about the American empire and its impact on its colonies.
I took notes on the death toll of the invasion of the Philippines; I added up the number of times the US has invaded Cuba. When I found myself skimming Jack London’s letters home from his 1907 trek across the Pacific Ocean in his boat, The Snark, looking for the scene in which he describes the unhappiness on the face of deposed Hawaiian Queen–I remembered reading about him hobnobbing with the American elite at the Honolulu Yacht Club while ex-Queen Liliuokalani sat apart, largely forgotten and ignored–I realized that the scope of my complaint is too large to be contained here.
So for now, I am turning back to the present moment and the many topics I will soon share with my students in my Globalization course! But I’ll simmer on my new, catchy name for imperial debts.
This year, when we tackle the patterns and ethics of outsourcing and offshoring, I am excited to look at China’s move to “send jobs to Africa.” I’ve been speculating about this for a long time. It simply made sense when I read the “race to the bottom” articles of the late 1990s, decrying the policies of Nike and other footwear and apparel manufacturers for chasing cheaper wages across Asia. Who remembers our first Nikes were made in Japan? Soon it was off to Korea and China, Vietnam and Bangladesh.
I wondered at the time if the final frontier in this journey would be Nigeria, because of its huge population and the fact that half of the people there, about 80 million, speak English. Now may be the time.
In Ethiopia, English is the language of instruction in secondary schools and colleges. What’s more, according to DHL’s logistics magazine, Delivered, “factory wages in Ethiopia can be about $40 a month, less than 10 percent the level in China.”
Will workers in China feel their jobs are being “taken” by Kenyans or Ethiopians?
Will most Chinese people feel proud that wages have risen to this point?
Will such outsourcing mean migration patterns will shift? Is it possible those looking for work might move instead to nearby countries where new jobs are created by this new wave of globalization?
What is the relationship between China’s huge infrastructure projects in Sub-Saharan Africa (see here and here, for example) and the potential shift of manufacturing jobs from China to places like Ethiopia, Egypt, and Zambia?
Another theme of my course will be the globalization of waste and pollution: carbon dioxide and methane, of course, the gyres of trash in the ocean, and also microbeads and microfibers. Microfibers are especially of interest in Oregon, where I teach, because Patagonia is a popular and respected clothing company here. It is from synthetic clothing, like Patagonia’s “fleece” jackets, that microfibers come.
For years I have asked students to trace a pair of shoes and a favorite shirt or jacket back to the factory where it was made. This leads to all sorts of discoveries about the transparency of companies and the hollowness of unenforced “codes of conduct” for contracted factories, more window-dressing than anything else.
On this assignment, Patagonia has always stood out. The environmental and supply chain section of its website is so detailed, I have considered not allowing students to study this company. But now there is increased concern about the impact of microfibers on the environment: they apparently become lodged in the bodies of fish, literally entering our food supply. Microfibers also carry bacteria and other pollutants. How will this highly responsible company respond? (Click the image here for a terrific, if academic, podcast on microfibers.)
Once we really master the issue–which plastics are going where, such as when we wash a fleece jacket–perhaps my students can create a report tracing their clothing not only back to the factory but also forward into the food and water supplies! Then we will come up with an action step, which I want them to develop. Some ideas to get started:
ask a speaker from Patagonia to visit our class and ask them what their plans are for combatting pollution from their clothes;
look into other, similar clothes that don’t shed as many fibers;
lobby the state government for regulation;
put together some sort of information program/guide for teens.
We may decide to work on a different, related issue, like banning bottles with caps from area schools; or working on an ordinance in nearby Beaverton, Oregon, to ban single-use plastic shopping bags, as nextdoor Portland has.
The link just above leads to a short video about how bottle caps from bottled drinks are ending up in the stomachs of the birds of the Pacific Ocean. On the island of Midway, once the site of a great battle between the American and Japanese navies, seabirds like albatross are dying at alarming rates. As their bodies decompose, it becomes clear that their stomachs are full of plastic, especially bottle caps. Is this the outcome of a new kind of imperialism? The great global powers are no longer competing for colonies as they once did, but they nevertheless directly impact helpless and harmless places all over the world, now through our environmental carelessness.
Postscript: Here is a recent article on the Trump Administration’s possible change to policy in Africa.
As 2016 draws to a close, those of us who teach about global issues, global competence, global skills, or global citizenship are trying to figure out how to proceed. Here is a partial list of relevant issues in the news this year:
The meaning of nationalists, often ethnic nationalists, taking power, or assuming greater political roles, across the global North;
The impact of the migration crisis on politics in Europe;
The fate of the European Union after the Brexit vote and the success of Euro-sceptics across the continent;
The impact of the election of Donald Trump on international agreements, especially regarding climate change and Sino-American relations;
The fate of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Here may be the central question for educators that arises out of the year’s news: Does the advent of Brexit and Trump foretell the decline of global identity and global citizenship?
It goes without saying that many politicians in the global North and elsewhere are seeking power by invoking populist themes. In many developed nations, political passions have shifted and venerable anxieties about economics, immigration, crime have settled around the issue of national sovereignty. This means that issues such as ocean acidification and air pollution–topics which don’t privilege nationalism–are pushed aside by politicians and the press alike in favor of talk of terrorism and borders.
In our everyday lives, however, we experience globalization in a number of sometimes-contradictory ways simultaneously. While politicians warn about terrorism and “open borders,” marketers and business consultants prepare brands and companies for a global marketplace and worried citizens seek relief on Facebook and Instagram. Even those that vote for nationalist candidates enjoy their access to an ever-increasing array of consumer goods and media. This isn’t hypocrisy–it’s our current condition. But how can political nationalism–or in some places religious fundamentalism–coexist with globalization in nearly every other aspect of life?
A case in point in US President-elect Donald Trump who, according to CNN, “has about 150 companies that have had dealings in at least 25 countries outside of the US, including Turkey, China, Saudi Arabia, and Azerbaijan.” Yet as a politician, Trump says this:
We hear a lot of talk about how we are becoming a “globalized world.” But the relationships that people value in this country are local. Family, state, country. They are local. …
There is no global anthem. No global currency. No certificate of global citizenship. We pledge allegiance to one flag and that flag is the American flag.
From now on it is going to be: America First. Okay? America first. We’re going to put ourselves first.
It is not Trump’s job to square these facts. He has business partners all over the world but his rhetoric uses nationalism and nostalgia that is exclusive and exclusionary.
The rhetoric our schools use to talk about these issues matters. Are we preparing “global citizens?” Are we readying our students with “21st-century skills” to compete in a global market? The latter here appears more palatable to the powerful in American education: there is no threat to populist emotion to assert that students will be trained to outperform others from around the globe in terms of innovation and entrepreneurship. American leaders then try to thread the needle, seamlessly connecting personal and national success.
On the masthead the White House’s page on education, President Obama is quoted as saying, “If we want America to lead in the 21st century, nothing is more important than giving everyone the best education possible — from the day they start preschool to the day they start their career.” In terms of primary and secondary education, the Obama White House argues that, “To create an economy built to last, we need to provide every student with a complete and competitive education that will enable them to succeed in a global economy based on knowledge and innovation.” Not empathy or justice or service, but competition and economic success. Even American progressives funnel global identity into the rhetoric of business.
The key words in Finnish education policy are quality, efficiency, equity and internationalisation. The basic right to education and culture is recorded in the Constitution. The policy is built on the principles of lifelong learning and free education. Education is seen as a key to competitiveness and wellbeing of the society.
Finns then don’t deny the reality of economic competition, but it isn’t rooted in a zero-sum game that leads to treating the education of the young as a race to prepare workers to fend for themselves in a cut-throat and now global race.
It is clear that people’s work is interconnected as never before. Smartphones and shipping containers, logistics and free-trade zones have connected producers, marketers and consumers together as never before and these processes don’t appear to be slowing. Culturally, the same platforms have similarly linked us. My students in Oregon listen to K-Pop and Hindi Pop while teens in Korea and India watch “Game of Thrones” on Netflix.
As a teacher, I am wondering where the world is headed. What skills and knowledge do my students need in order to work in a global marketplace–of ideas as well as products. And how will the shifting political and economic sands alter their sense of self, of identity?
What follows are resources compiled with educators in mind, to further investigate these issues. Some of this material is taken from globalschoolroom.org. Here are the categories:
discussion questions on global identity/citizenship and their challengers;
links to recent journalism on these topics;
links to readings on global education and global citizenship; and
links to organizations that support global identity and citizens, especially in terms of education.
Look at the age breakdown of the Brexit vote: why are young Britons apparently so much more international in outlook than those over 50? Might it suggest that the vote may someday be reversed?
Is it possible to choose which globalizations we want? In other words, can we have the global flow of capital and information without the global flow of people and identities?
Can teachers educate students to succeed in a global economy without altering their identity as citizens? Can we have a global economy and globalized culture without global citizenship?
Are global and national identities at odds? Does an increase in one mean a decrease in the other? And does dedicating oneself to putting one’s nation “first” help or hurt people abroad?
Recent Articles on Challenges to Global Identity and Globalization
Tara Nuth Kajtaniak, “10 Key Terms for Global Education.” This handy page offers definitions for words we hear a lot, including “global citizenship,” “global competencies,” and “globalization.” It offers links to authoritative sites where many of the definitions originate as well.
Jen Chavez-Miller, “Themes of Global Education in Finland,” 2015. This page looks at both the big picuture of global education in Finland as well as at a couple of specific school Jen visited as a Fulbright grantee in Finland.
Global Identity and Global Citizenship–Groups and Organizations
Global Citizen. This is a great site for reading about global issues and for thinking about what it means to be a global citizen. It has thematic sections (Girls and Women, Education, Health, etc) and encourages activism in many ways.
Global Citizenship Institute. A week-long summer program run out of St. Mark’s School in Massachusetts in conjunction with the Salzburg Global Seminar in Austria. It’s goal is to “educate and support faculty and students from public, private and international secondary schools as they learn ways to become engaged global citizens actively working to solve problems of global and local significance.”
Global Oneness Project: “Founded in 2006, the Global Oneness Project offers free multicultural stories and accompanying lesson plans for high school and college classrooms.” The materials are aligned with US Common Core standards. They are also well organized into categories including migration, climate, vanishing cultures, nature, etc.
TakingITGlobal: “TakingITGlobal is one of the world’s leading networks of young people learning about, engaging with, and working towards tackling global challenges.” The site offers free, downloadable “action guides” on a series of topics, including climate change and HIV/AIDS. They are a bit out of date but offer some useful frameworks for a large-scale project.
This evening the Department of the Army in the US announced that the Dakota Access Pipeline would not immediately be completed. According to the New York Times, “the Department of the Army announced that it would not allow the pipeline to be drilled under a dammed section of the Missouri River.” This news has been welcomed with joy by the Sioux and their allies, but it is unclear if the pipeline will merely be re-routed away from the Standing Rock Indian Reservation or if its completion is in doubt.
The crude oil pipeline, called the Dakota Access Pipeline, stretches almost 1900 km across the north-central US, from North Dakota to Illinois, where crude oil is to be transferred to railroad and then refineries. One sobering thought for those who oppose the pipeline is that President-elect Donald Trump not only approves of the pipeline, he also owns stock in the company constructing it.
To those outside the United States, and for many in the US as well, the legal relationship between the federal government and the 562 federally recognized Indian tribes can be confusing. This is at the heart of this conflict, as is the history of the US government’s treatment of Native American rights.
“The relationship between federally recognized tribes and the United States is one between sovereigns, i.e., between a government and a government. This ‘government-to-government’ principle, which is grounded in the United States Constitution, has helped to shape the long history of relations between the federal government and these tribal nations.”
Even so, tribal sovereignty has been eroded by the states and the federal government over the centuries and the text of the Constitution, which recognizes tribes as nations separate from the United States, has given way to a loose hierarchy of federal law over tribal law over state law. So tribal is usually considered superior to the laws of the states (in which Indian reservations are encircled), but this tribal over state supremacy has, by custom, become less the matter of innate sovereignty on the part of the tribes but more because Congress allows it.
At Standing Rock, the first treaty between the US and the Sioux that has relevance to the conflict today is the 1851 Treaty signed at Ft. Laramie. This was intended to bring to an end the violence between the US, its citizens, and the many tribes/bands who signed it. It reserved the area inside the purple line on the map above.
In 1868, another treaty promised the Black Hills to the Sioux forever. (Now they are home to Mount Rushmore National Monument and several other cities, towns, and parks.) More or less immediately after the 1868 treaty, more whites moved into this protected land in part because of mineral strikes. In the process, they killed so many buffalo that tribes clashed with each other as they moved around trying to find more bison on which their civilizations survived. As you can see (though the font is small on the map) these and other stolen lands, promised by treaty, were taken by the US between 1877 and 1910.
Okay, to the north of the Black HIlls, there are two issues with Dakota Access as far as I can tell. First, it appears the northeastern boundary of the 1851 map is not agreed upon and some people claim the pipeline is slated to run on Indian land.
You can see Standing Rock on the map at the top of this post. The top right part does look a bit different than the map here. I’m not sure. A Reuters article I found helpful states: “The current route runs within half a mile of the reservation. Protesters on Monday said the land in question was theirs under the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851, which was signed by eight tribes and the U.S. government.” Whether on or off the reservation, the construction of the pipeline apparently destroyed a number of culturally important sites and destroyed several gravesites, despite public testimony about the sites in federal court days before.
The other issue is water. Millions get their drinking water from the Missouri River, which the pipeline will cross adjacent to the reservation. Also, beneath the ground is the Ogallala Aquifer, on which many Sioux are dependent for water and over the which the pipeline runs. The same is true of the also controversial Keystone Pipeline and the Sioux and neighboring tribes were already fighting that pipeline for similar reasons.
The land ownership issue seems like it could be settled without rubber bullets. I don’t know how any new pipeline could be built in that part of the world without concern for subterranean water. But I can’t see the Sioux winning the long game here. The pipeline is almost completed and it is unlikely the US won’t find a way to let it go forward. The United States has such a poor record of recognizing Native American sovereignty, especially where valuable natural resources are involved, that it is difficult to be optimistic about the ultimate ability of the Sioux to control their own water.
I met Tim Walker in Martinlaakson lukio in Vantaa. In fact, we met in the classroom of Pekka Puera, a math teacher who is something of a rock star in Finnish education circles and whose methods have inspired many of the changes I’ve made to my teaching this fall.
For the past few years, Tim has been writing from the perspective of an American educator living and working in Finland. His current piece for the Atlantic offers a view from the other side, from Finnish teachers who come to the US and try to ply their trade in American schools.
Tim has written in the past about time and how it alters education in the States. Education here usually seems rushed, compressed, stressed by the amount of content (and skills) teachers feel they must cover in order to fulfill extrinsic sets of standards and goals. Another interesting theme in Tim’s articles on time, stress and the difference between the US and Finland is the American emphasis on planning. American teachers are often compelled to produce detailed plans for every lesson; others are instructed that the most thoroughly “scaffolded” lessons are the highest quality. The upshot of this is untold hours of time spent documenting the process of teaching, rather than creatively responding to student’s input and questions, developing new teaching methods, or carrying on other forms of professional development. This is compounded by the number of hours American teachers spend in classroom plus the ever-changing litany of initiatives they must conform to, including Common Core. As one teacher Tim interviewed put it: “I feel rushed, nothing gets done properly; there is very little joy, and no time for reflection or creative thinking (in order to create meaningful activities for students).”
Much of this, as Tim writes in his new piece, boils down to the issue of trust. (“Trust” is a word I heard over and over during my time in Finland. It is used to describe not only relationships between teachers and students or teachers and administrators, but across society in general.) A few years back, I made a little extra income by designing daily lesson plans for a school district in Kansas. Each plan was to conform only to a particular set of desired outcomes, rooted in state standards. When I attempted to include materials which linked issues in American history to the present day ( such as relating the first-wave feminists movement to contemporary women’s issues), I was kindly asked to remove them. Worse, the poor teacher who received my lesson plans was told (by design) exactly what to write on the board and what questions to ask the students. This for someone with a college education and a state teaching certificate! This is not how we expect doctors or electricians to behave, so why teachers?
Tim points out that simply handing American K-12 teachers autonomy is probably not the answer. Such a move has to be coupled with changing the pool of applicants for teaching jobs. But federal and state governments will have to do more than pass another set of “standards” if they wish to break the vicious cycle of long days, shrinking pay, low social status, and burnout.
Check out all Tim’s great writing for the Atlantic on education in Finland and the USA here.
This report points out the promise of funding education in the poorer nations–and the problems that will came if we don’t. It is striking that even at this moment of increased globalization, international aid for education is falling.
As an American, I am struck by this passage: “Historical analysis shows that inequality fuels unrest and when educational inequality doubles, the probability of conflict more than doubles. Unrest is likely to be greatest where the gap between youth expectations and daily realities is widest.” So as my nation–like much of Europe–turns inward, the selfishness that elites use to deride “globalization” could well lead to greater international conflict.
Ironically, painfully, it’s International Education Week. It hurts to say this out loud. The meetings of earnest teachers seem hopelessly outgunned as the UK trudges towards its Brexit and the USA begins its transition to Trumpism. Across the West, nationalism is on the march and global citizenship feels in retreat.
This can’t be good news for those of us who want to educate our students to tackle the global challenges that lie ahead.
How should we respond as educators to the rising voices of nationalism, nativism, and xenophobia? At times lately, I’ve felt that there is something radical about seeing people far away as valuable and worthy of care. Is global education hopelessly political, by default the province of “the globalizers?” Some clearly think so. Writing in the New York Times in July, columnist Ross Douthat dismissed global citizenship:
The people who consider themselves “cosmopolitan” in today’s West … are part of a meritocratic order that transforms difference into similarity, by plucking the best and brightest from everywhere and homogenizing them into the peculiar species that we call “global citizens.”
This species is racially diverse (within limits) and eager to assimilate the fun-seeming bits of foreign cultures — food, a touch of exotic spirituality. But no less than Brexit-voting Cornish villagers, our global citizens think and act as members of a tribe.
What Douthat completely misses–because he hasn’t bothered to look–is that the idea of global citizenship is most popular away from wealthy nations. In a survey by the BBC, Americans were at about the global average when asked if they saw themselves more as a global citizens or a citizens of the USA. Where was global identity strongest? Kenya, Nigeria, Peru. Lowest” Russia, Germany, the UK, Chile, Mexico.
So-called “cosmopolitanism” and global citizenship are not the ethos of an elite tribe that rules the world. They are the recognition of interdependence between peoples around the earth. We need this kind of thinking.
I also have to wonder: what is the nationalist solution to climate change? To the migration crisis? To the bleaching of the great corals in our oceans?
When I look at Trumpism, or any other form of developed-world nationalism, one thing I perceive is a lack of empathy. An inability to remember that someone reached out to our ancestors when they crossed oceans leaky ships or struggled to find their place in a foreign land. This is combined with a willful ignorance about the reasons why millions of ordinary people are unwillingly on the move, why global markets are jittery or why the stomachs of seabirds are filled with plastic bottle caps. None of us are not implicated. Trump’s recent roar that “They hate us,”shows his utter lack of interest of curiosity about the world. It doesn’t make me optimistic that he will use the power of the USA to spur global development and peace.
As a teacher of global studies, I feel my job has shifted from the academic consideration of free trade or the globalization of American culture to an emphasis on having my students communicate with young people elsewhere on earth. I am working to have them collaborate with Finnish teens on global outlooks and South African teens on issues of climate and migration.
Similarly, each unit of my course will have an action step. Sometimes this will simply be the communication with other young people. But I don’t feel like I can “teach the migration crisis” at this point without trying to help. Luckily my city hosts the offices of Mercy Corps: hopefully they can help me find meaningful work for my students to do on the issue of refugees. Perhaps we can host a movie night in our community to raise awareness and a few dollars.
The educational networks that exist across national boundaries, from e-Twinning to Google for Education to my own Global Schoolroom (still just getting started!), have never been more important. It’s hard to drop bombs on someone you know, as the old expression goes. Hopefully, I can widen my students’ outlooks to include a greater empathy while inspiring them to feel empowered as helpful actors in these great dramas of our age.
[Note: this post already seems dated. The election on Tuesday has sent me scrambling for new ways to teach about tolerance, global identity, and globalization. More on all that soon.]
September, begun with Hope for Great New Things in the classroom, has given way to the slow trudge across the muddy lawns of November. Returned from a semester in Finland, some plans give way to the realities of the American system (thankfully little of it enforced at my progressive, independent school):
there will be standardized tests–even for kids at progressive, “lab” schools;
for most students there are “standards,” largely based on content, much of it soon forgotten;
the “college process” weighs heavily on students; and so:
kids care a lot about grades;
the American pace of life makes designing new lessons difficult for me and has taught my students to seek today’s “right answer” rather than see each class meeting as a part of a larger whole; and,
some students aren’t accustomed to taking charge of their learning.
So what to do?
Here are some of the things I am trying:
design classrooms for student comfort; beanbags (I’ll get them someday!), plants, tea;
show real trust in students: after having the class as a whole set clear norms for their behavior, let them move and speak freely in the classroom;
use digital technology to increase learning. Get phones into the mix TEACH kids how to use their devices for academic outcomes. Although it hasn’t been without some bumps along the way, this year I am requiring my students use their laptops and phones more in class. Cracking down on improper use doesn’t teach them how to use them appropriately. Today, some of my sophomores (second-years who turn 16 this year) were texting and visiting non-academic sites. I reminded the class that they would rather be allowed to use their tech wisely than have it banned. I think this message is getting through. I’m confident it is with my older students;
project-oriented units, employing technology and teamwork;
check-ins, reflections, peer evaluations.
If we can’t do mastery-based learning (yet), how about differentiated assessments in which students (sometimes) get to choose their own adventure? Video presentation, graphic novels, or podcast. “Think about about French nationalism by designing a new flag, anthem, holidays, and postage stamps.” All that really matters is that they express the ideas, the fundamental questions, at the heart of the unit, in complex and coherent ways.
One ongoing struggle: turn-around times on assessments. The other week I had faculty meetings after school Monday and Wednesday; Sunday was given over to Open House. Four ten-hour days of conferences began just days later.
At the same time, I just read again about how Finnish teachers try to give constant, daily feedback. I find such sentences stressful to read! I am getting around my classroom, trying to speak with every student every day (at least that is the goal) but I can’t say I am giving them all feedback. I begin most classes with documents on Google Classroom, asking my students how long the homework took and one or two other questions. It’s hard to read all of these, let alone respond to them all. So, I still wonder, how can I give more meaningful formative feedback while getting six or seven hours of sleep.
* * * * * *
Part of me wonders if the solution is, in part, to keep stepping back and thinking about what content they will remember in two, five, or ten years. Good, meaty projects, thick questions, and active learning. This is what they remember. I have to hook the content to those times of fun and engagement. It seems ever more clear that active learning of any kind–any learning-by-doing–leads to better retention for more students than the read-and-discuss model.
At my independent school in Oregon, we are launching an institutional response to climate change. At Catlin Gabel School, we are looking at divesting our endowment from fossil fuels, developing a climate literacy curriculum for students ages 4-18, and working on a model to measure and then reduce our Greenhouse Gas emissions.
I am writing to ask if a) your school is on a similar track and/or b) you’d like to share your experience with me, my students, and my school. I am especially curious about schools outside the USA.
Closer to home, my colleagues and I are inviting educators from other independent schools in the region to share resources–curricula, carbon counters–as we embark on this work. Our Head of School is exploring the possibility of a regional meeting of interested educators and administrators sometime next spring.
I understand that this isn’t a substitute for federal and international action on climate change, but I feel that there is real good in institutions lowering their use of resources. There is also an educational value, one perhaps greater than the direct environmental impact.
For the moment, however, few at my school appear moved to action. Many cars idle in the parking lot; there is little carpooling. Students notice this, of course. Teens can sense hypocrisy a mile away and I don’t think the adults at my school have done enough to stop their BS sensors from going off. Granted, our wonderful facilities staff records the school’s usage of oil, gas, and so on, and this info will serve us well when we begin looking for strategies for conservation. But we’ve just let the data accumulate for years. The grounds crew does an amazing job making the school look beautiful–every visitor remarks on it.The staff has done much to switch to more earth-friendly cleaning supplies and they’ve grabbed the low-hanging fruit for the rest of us. Yet without any school-wide action plan right now to lower our use of energy, it’s hard for us to convince our students climate change is an issue that will mark their lives. I fear we are making some of the older students cynical.
Recently, two colleagues and I attended the annual conference of the Northwest Association of Independent Schools at the Charles Wright School in Tacoma to share our process. We are really at the beginning of our journey as a school, despite the late date. I have taught about climate change for a decade, so have a few of my colleagues, but only now are we moving toward a coordinated effort. It feels late, but it also feels good. At the conference, our session was not well attended, but those who did come were energized and ready to collaborate on curriculum and planning.
MY web searches suggest that similar processes are happening all over the United States. But, as far as I can tell, the Department of Education doesn’t offer coordination on how schools can respond to, or teach, climate change. Perhaps I am missing something, but could it be the US federal government doesn’t have a plan for transforming schools to meet this enormous challenge? There is a program through which schools may apply for an award for their environmental work, but this is for outliers, not for everyone.
The Environmental Protection Agency has a nice website for younger students but its a decade out of date. Encouraging students to turn off lights at home (a good practice to be sure) isn’t going to do it. They get this. Students need to be tasked with more. Even grammar-school students can understand the fact that governments set policies around energy consumption. They need to gain experience working together on broader solutions. Otherwise we are teaching them to do something we admit in the next breath to be meaningless–we are thereby telling our students that it’s hopeless.
So, I am going to see if over the next few years, I can find schools that are helping students learn about climate change in a more meaningful and empowering way. I am going to work with my students on measuring and then working to reduce our school’s footprint in a meaningful way. And I will lend my voice to the call for divestment. Lucky for me, I have a Head of School who shares my concerns.
I would love to hear from educators about how their schools, schools districts, and governments are working on climate change education. Does anyone know of groups that are sharing knowledge about student-centered ways of making schools greener and about teaching climate change in an age-appropriate manner? Please feel free to comment below or send me an email to email@example.com.