If you have 19 minutes of time, please watch this fabulous TED talk by Naomi Klein that she gave at the TEDWomen in December 2010.  Once you are finished, come back to my post for some reflections on how her ideas pertain to education.

Here are some questions that came to my mind after I finished the video.

  • What are we doing to our earth?
  • With regard to environmental stewardship, are we the type of  role models for our students that we need to be?
  • Does our curricula educate students to deeply consider these significant issues we face and develop the skills they will need to understand them and address them?
  • Are we helping to educate students about the politics of these difficult environmental  issues?
  • What are the gender issues that impact why men (“power of privilege”) have been at the forefront of creating these environmental problems?  

What questions came up for you after listening to Naomi Klein’s talk?

Think of some of the environmental disasters that we have experienced over the past 3-40 years.  My links to these disasters are mostly to Wikipedia as a common resource if you want to look them up.

This list shows only some of the disasters that have resulted from risks we have taken on our planet.   Are we sharing these disasters with our students as a way to explain how our hubris has gotten us into trouble, how we handled these situations, what the consequences of them were, and what we learned from them? 

It could be that unless students have a teacher interested in these topics or takes a course in environmental science,  they may leave school not learning anything about how we have treated our planet.  Isn’t is our responsibility to educate students to become good stewards of the planet?  How do we go about doing this in a comprehensive way such that students develop the skills needed to become a force for change?

At Westminster Schools, as part of our SAIS-SACS accreditation process in 2009, we developed four pillars of our Self-Study: 21st Century Student Learning and Life; Faculty Development, Marketing and Communications, and Sustainability.  The school’s goal over the next 4-5 years is to improve its sustainability initiatives, and most importantly, its environmental sustainability curriculum.   This is the action step for a major goal under sustainability:

Action 1: Develop a “sustainability curriculum,” both environmental and economic sustainability, that will be formally and informally woven into our current K-12 curriculum at each grade level and within each discipline.

It remains to be seen exactly how this goal and specific action step will be implemented and what impact it will have, but the school is extremely committed to making a difference and educating students to be good stewards of our planet.  (see the environmental stewardship site on Westminster’s webpage)

No doubt, other schools are developing similar initiatives to educate their students.  As we move into the second decade of the 21st Century, it will be important for schools to consider revamping traditional curricula to incorporate more environmental sustainability, global awareness, and thematically-based curricula that use these disasters as case studies (see this link for a book on environmental case studies).  In so doing, we can begin to build the skills students will need to lead us out of our hubris to a more environmentally responsible world.  A time when we will collaborate with each other to make the planet livable for our children’s children.

As Naomi Klein mentions at the end of her talk, “this is our only home, there is no escape hatch.”  She talks about us needing new stories, “circular stories, not linear stories.”  Let’s help our students learn to tell new stories that they create and that lead to a sustainability lifestyle.

2 comments on “Taking Risks in Education

  1. This really seems to resonate with Zoe Well’s TED talk that It’s About Learning Posted a week ago. How do we create solutionaires?

    There are a ton of wonderful resources out there for teaching sustainability, including David Orr and the Cloud Institute, but I think too many find sustainability to be too fuzzy and would prefer the “hard” standards of the AP. And I don’t think the AP will ever be able to give proper treatment to a subject as interdisciplinary in nature and as rich and complex as as sustainability.


    • John:

      Thanks for the resources on this topic. I think it is too late if we leave this up to high school teachers. We should be starting this redefinition of our curriculum to include environmental education and sustainability in the 4th and 5th grade. Instead of 6th grade earth science, 7th grade life science, and 8th grade physical science, why can’t we restructure the curriculum around an interdisciplinary, theme-based approach. In this approach, infuse much more environmental education. Some of the readings, social studies, and nonfiction literature could come from the environmental area. We are in love with the traditional way we look at the curriculum. I think we should reconsider. Otherwise, we run the risk of destroying our home because the children we educate will not understand or appreciate that this is our only home and there is no alternative for 7 billion people.



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