A Network Connecting School Leaders From Around The Globe
Children and the Environment, and How Our School System Can Help
by Hayley Scott
As report after report comes out about the inevitable demise of Earth’s finite resources, people around the world plead internally for change. Schools teach it, newscasts explain it and scientists research it. However, as positive as any awareness is, true change needs to be practiced for any actionable evolution to take place. One location that fosters an atmosphere where sustainable adjustment can be kick started is the American school system.
It’s a cliché, but movements start, and end, with our youth. In a highly influential country with a massive and intricate school system, anything is possible. This article is meant to explore ways that teachers across the nation can implement small changes in the classroom with the goal of fueling a transformation environmentally. Below are focal points that educators can deploy for sustainable advancement within American schools.
As a faculty member of a school, you should define recycling to your students. This is several steps further along the path than simply having a blue bin in the corner. People, particularly young people, need to be inspired for any change to occur. Rather than simply telling a class to recycle because it’s good for the environment, explain how products are made and why it’s neat that we are able to give that product back for someone else to use. Even if students are young, a good portion of them will find this interesting. There are resources out there that explain how to incorporate this type of learning into a classroom.
Even if your class isn’t science oriented, go off on a quick tangent and explain to your students that their water bottles are made from plastic. Go even deeper, and describe to them that plastic is usually made from petroleum based oils, which are derived from the Earth’s finite resources. Obviously the complexity of this process must be scaled to suit the age of the students, but it’s straight forward in principle.
Actionable: Take recycling from an option to a fad. It’s hard to make recycling fun, but if you are part of a school faculty you are most likely creative. Use your imagination and think of a way that you can not only explain recycling as a unique process, but also encourage our youth to act upon the knowledge we have uncovered as a society. Imagine the possibilities if this encouragement was widespread in this powerful of a country.
There are revolutions popping up all over America and the rest of the world, ranging from the small house movement to more sustainable diets. While this is not meant to be a plea for radical environmental action within the walls of American education, it is meant to inspire thought within young people. If you are a teacher, find a way to explain to children where our roots are. It’s important for children to understand that the average American home is large. Not everyone can afford a metropolis-size house, and not everyone needs one.
Find unique ways to influence them, but just enough where they begin to understand how to make their own decision. It’s important to note here that you are not a child’s parent, and any major changes go through them. However, that does not mean you can’t be a leader. No parent will doubt you for explaining to them how the world works from factual and sensitive perspectives.
Even more specifically with this conversation, explain the idea of simple living to your students. Present to them that more is not always better and less is not always worse. The materialism in this country is to the point where it would not only help parents’ credit card statements, but the Earth, if children wanted fewer things at Christmas. Again, these are just several ideas that are meant to serve a broad purpose. It’s possible to live simply, and I think some of us grew up in a culture that didn’t always seem that way.
Actionable: Explain through whichever means you decide that the size and amount of everything doesn’t always matter. In this society it takes initiative to get these ideas across, because our views on topics such as these are socially constructed to the status quo. We are taught that the goal is to have the longest Christmas list and aim for the biggest house. Simpler living is not for everyone, but it should be offered up as an option. Even on the small scale this can make a difference.
Make sure that if you are explaining something, you act upon the value of your argument. Even when you’re not at school with the students, take the time to ensure that you are exploring the issue within your own mind. If students are going to make any sort of effort, you need to as well. As adults it’s important for us to come to terms with the reality of our planet and population, and how we affect the Earth.
Little things, like using a reusable water bottle each day at work can show them that you believe in using the same container for your drink. You could go even more out on a limb and request that the school purchase personalized lunch bags with the school mascot and students’ names imprinted on them. This will make it ‘cool’ to bring a reusable container to school. The endless bins full of paper bags are excessive when a spotlight is put on it, as is a trash can chalk full of any beverage bottle that could be reused.
There are so many options, and as a teacher you are perfect person to initiate change. A classroom is a learning experience, and there isn’t a reason in the world that this type of information can’t be taught within the margins of traditional subjects.
Actionable: Make a bold move. Do what you did to get where you are, which is teach people how to be better and more intelligent. Teach your students how they can be more helpful to our precious planet, and let them decide how to act upon it. Sometimes all it takes is a little exposure.
American teachers have a very unique opportunity right now in 2013. Gradual change within the United States school system can have radical-type rewards in the push for sustainability and environmental conservation. It starts and ends with education and teaching, like most other situations in the world. The youth of our nation is a powerful and influential group, even if they don’t know it yet.
Hayley Scott is a writer and graphic design aficionado that loves Thai food, specifically green curry. When she's not sketching a new logo design she writes for HALO Branded Solutions, a leading promotional products distributor.