Violence, environmental violence, and pro-environmental action
Royal Roads University
hile there are many tasks on the plate of any educator, there are two that, to me at least, really seem essential and that are often overlooked; these tasks are for the educator to both reveal things that might be hidden to the student while being always open to revelation ones’ self, and to provide the student with tools for seeing hidden things.
A domain that seems to be hidden from environmental educators is that of environmental violence: the term ‘’violence’ never appears in the titles or abstracts of our major conferences, and virtually never appears in our published literature. Yet I would argue that environmental education, from its outset, grew out of a concern for the results of the violence our society inflicts on the natural world, a violence that both diminishes the ability of humans to fully function within society and diminishes the ability of the natural world to regenerate itself and thrive.
Thinking about violence
There are many definitions of violence; for example, the World Health Organization (WHO) states that violence is
the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation.
An important part of this definition, though, is the idea of intent; the implication is that if there is no intent, there is no violence. The peace scholar Johan Galtung offers another definition that avoids the necessity of an actor’s intent:
I see violence as any avoidable insult to basic human needs, and, more generally, to sentient life of any kind, defined as that which is capable of suffering pain and can enjoy well-being, lowering the real level of needs satisfaction below what is potentially possible. (Galtung & Fischer, 2013, p. 35, emphasis added)
Both of these definitions offer a set of lenses through which we can understand human violence, which always involve harm to someone or something, and that that harm reduces the ability of an individual to satisfy their needs.
While the world faces many violent settings and contexts, environmental violence in the 21st century puts not only humans, but a great deal of life on earth, at risk. Humans have long had powerful influences on environments, but these influences were primarily local or at the most regional. The historical record is replete with the local destruction of environments which result in societal collapse (Tainter, 1988), and some scholars tells us to not be sanguine about the potential of the future (e.g., Turner, 2012). Violence against the environment in this context is not a natural phenomenon, not something that happens as a natural process. Environmental violence is a direct outcome of human activity, with intent or not, that results in a diminishing of the potential for flourishing of both humans and all the other creatures that inhabit a particular environment.
Forms of violence
For Galtung, the simplest and most obvious form of violence is direct violence, the violence that we do, the intentional violence that we can see and we can directly inflict, violence that can be promulgated through words, knives, handguns, stealth missiles, pesticides and carbon dioxide. Environmental educators can easily imagine direct violence against nature: our textbooks and presentations, to say nothing about the Internet, are full of images of direct violence. In a western Canadian context, the expansion of the Alberta tar sands are an extraordinary form of direct violence causing landscape-level harms, biodiversity-level harms and human harms, both social and health-related (Finkel, 2018). Although our individual acts of direct violence (we would like to believe) may be few and small, it’s hard to get through the day in our contemporary world without some form of direct environmental violence.
But violence is not always done with a knife or gun; “neglect, inaction, gross inequality and unjust structures of society, including from lack of freedom and democracy” (Fischer, 2013, p. 12) can also be forms violence. Beyond direct violence, there is the structure of society, and not simply the words or actions of a particular person, that enact violence on people and planet. This is violence that seemingly just happens, with nobody particularly responsible for it. Galtung calls this structural violence. “There are two reasons for this: it is structural in the sense that no specific actors are indicated, and also in the sense that for the concrete actors that happen to be performing roles in the structure in question no specific motivation is necessary” (Galtung, 1980, p. 183). And not only are no specific actors involved nor does anyone have a particular desire to create environmental harm, any outcome (like a day’s worth of CO2 from driving to and from work) that results from either one’s direct or structural violence is not particularly large; the impacts of all of us that drove to work today cannot individually be detected in the carbon budget of the atmosphere, or be directly related to the reduction of global biodiversity. This is akin to what Kahn (1966) talked about when he spoke of the tyranny of small decisions:
It is an inherent characteristic of a consumer-sovereign, market economy that big changes occur as an accretion of moderate-sized steps, each of them the consequence of ‘small’ purchase decisions- small in their individual size, time perspective, and in relation to their total, combined, ultimate effect. (pp. 44-45)
Structural violence can create many victims without any obvious perpetrators and since the victims are often not seen or even noticed (e.g., people in distant lands, organisms in distant habitats), the violence can seem to be invisible or at least, ignorable. Structural violence is subtle, harder to see than direct violence; we need new lenses that allow us to more-readily see these structural causes that are now obscured by both our worldviews, and by various societal screens and curtains, from our everyday vision. Structural violence can be the necessary outcome of the way a society is structured and these structures, for most citizens, are just the way things are. Structural violence hides in the background, directing our attention away from it and towards examples of direct violence which then grabs our concern and outrage.
We as teachers should be able to examine structural violence with our students as it is the one which leaves us feeling that nothing can be done and that no one is, themselves, actually doing anything particularly damaging. This is the kind of violence that was described by Hannah Arendt (1970, p. 38) when she spoke of the work of a bureaucracy as “an intricate system of bureaus in which no men, neither one nor the next, neither the few nor the many, can be held responsible, and which could be properly called rule by Nobody”. The system and institutions whose structures are causing havoc in the world weren’t intended to create havoc, and we can imagine that no one who actually is responsible for those systems wants such havoc to be occurring. Nonetheless, the unintended outcomes of many small yet significant decisions have led to a world structure that is in fact creating significant and long-lasting problems.
Galtung continued his study by revealing a final category, cultural violence:
The study of cultural violence highlights the way in which the act of direct violence and the fact of structural violence are legitimized and thus rendered acceptable in society. One way cultural violence works is to change the moral color of an act to green/right or at least to yellow/acceptable from red/wrong; an example being killing in the name of the country as right, in the name of oneself as wrong. Another way is by making reality opaque, permitting us not to see the act or the fact, or at least not as violent. (Galtung, 1990, p. 292)
While structural violence normalizes violence as being inescapable given the very construction of a particular society, cultural violence offers us the salve of justification, absolving us of responsibility for the violence. Justifying violence through cultural norms, we can avoid any sense of guilt that might result from the violent actions we engage or are complicit in.
How does it all come together? We drive fossil fuel-burning cars (direct violence) because there is no way to get from our suburban homes to work (structural violence) and since everyone does it, it’s really not too bad (cultural violence). Given these realities, we need to mine tar/oil sands, create tailings, build pipelines and ship product. And some citizens get angry when they can’t engage in economic activity that results in environmental violence, and then elect governments that promise that they will help shield our consciousness from the implications of our actions. “Voltaire put it well when he said, ‘Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities’” (Bandura, 2007, p. 193).
Environmental violence and environmental education
I have three approaches that educators can take with their students to confront the reality of environmental violence in all its forms: direct, structural and cultural.
We can confront environmental violence with environmental non-violence; in the domains we live, with the tools at our disposal, we can work to reduce our engagement in direct environmentally-violent actions. While we might not be able to completely “do no harm”, we all have the opportunity to do what we can and, both individually and collectively, develop a descent strategy to reduce our direct harms. My 30 km bike ride to and from work is a small act of environmental non-violence.
In our educational institutions, we can work to first identify and then reduce direct environmental violence. For example, since the transportation sector produces 24% of all GHG emissions in Canada (just behind the 26% produced by that oil and gas sector) (Environment and Climate Change Canada, 2017, p. 8), schools can look at ways to encourage low-carbon transportation. Walking, biking, skiing, skating, car-pooling, school bus and public transit are all ways of reducing the direct environmental violence of transportation associated with schooling (http://ontarioactiveschooltravel.ca/active-transportation-strategy-for-canada/) . Providing large parking lots at secondary schools for students and staff gives the wrong message if we are trying to reduce direct environmental violence; we should not be encouraging single-occupancy vehicle transportation.
Buildings and electricity combined account for nearly the same GHG emissions (23%) as transportation, so energy retrofits and building conservation efforts can help to reduce the direct violence in those schools that especially use heating oil or natural gas. For example, Destination Conservation (http://www.dcplanet.ca/index.html) is a long-running program that focuses on schools, helping them make significant reductions in their energy and water usage; DC is an exemplar in reducing the direct violence of school building operations.
When environmental educators deal with environmental issues in our schools and classrooms, we tend to focus on the outcomes of the visible forms of direct violence, and can respond with non-violent alternatives.
But at least as important, in terms of our practice, is finding ways to help reveal the cloak of invisibility that hides the structural environmental violence from our purview. Revelatory tools aren’t necessarily easy to find, and we are likely going to have to make some up ourselves. But there are some means at our disposal that can help us and our students come to a deeper understanding of why things are the way they are.
The roots of environmental violence can’t be looked for in the simple surface features of littering and pollution, but rather in the systems and structures that produce as a necessary outcome of their existence the environmental problems we are confronting. As environmental educators, we all need to gain skill and experience in systems analysis (Meadows, 2002, 2008). But it isn’t enough to simply do analysis of the structures in our institutions that result in environmental violence, we need to also look for ways of changing the structure (Meadows, 1999) of the system.
Changing structures involves politics, and this kind of pro-environmental activity is what I’ve come to call environmental anti-violence; the work we do to alter those structural features of our institutions or society that facilitate, or at least fail to stop, direct environmental violence. Students and teachers can work together to change structures, whether they are school board policies, or the actions of various levels of government. Analytical and political anti-violence work of students and teachers can involve things like working to mandate pro-environmental changes of school operations, making pro-environmental presentations to municipal governments, learning how to run for elected office, organizing boycotts and engaging in protests or civil disobedience. As the noted social psychologist Kurt Lewin said, “you cannot understand a system until you try to change it” (Schein, 1996, p. 6). Try to change a system and it reveals itself, and anti-violence work is about getting clarity as to the nature of the system.
But for many of us, students, teachers and parents alike, because of the structures of our systems, we can only do so much to reduce our direct environmental violence. And it might be difficult for us to engage in political action to change those structures creating violence. However, there is always something that we can do, and those things that we can do to try and reverse or even partially-undo our destructive acts are what I have called environmental contra-violence, actions that work to undo the actions that we are all complicit in and responsible for.
In some ways, this is the easiest and most approachable form of action in the face of environmental violence that any of us can take. Actions like recycling, cleaning up local pollution and litter, picking up refuse washed up on our beaches and shorelines, healing habitat loss, alteration and destruction through replanting and re-naturalizing, are all things that we can do. The field of ecological restoration (van Wieren, 2008) is, I feel, the work of contra-violence as its practitioners endeavour to make amends, doing in whatever small and seemingly insignificant ways they can, to undo even a tiny part of the damage are all complicit in as members of our society.
Contra-violence is the kind of work that we can and should do with our students in our communities, working to reduce our wastes (and even trying to not see them as wastes, but as resources), cleaning beaches (in what is truly a Sisyphsian task as each tide can deliver its own load of garbage!), restoring wetlands, bringing butterfly gardens into cities, creating rain gardens, anything and everything that can be contra/against the environmental violence that surrounds us all. Broadly speaking, the work of ecological restoration is a moral act and for some a spiritual act, a form of repentance, of apology, of stepping gently in and assisting natural processes in healing from our damaging actions.
We cannot put an enormous burden on the children to engage in actions that they may be unable to execute; they cannot be responsible for saving the rainforests, or protecting species in habitats far away. But perhaps most important is that as educators, we help to bring the pieces of the problem together, discerning along with our students the linkages between direct, structural and cultural violence. This process of revealing what is hidden, no matter the contexts we find ourselves in is, as I noted at the outset, one of the most important skills that we can offer. And with that revelation, we can work together and can support students and teachers working from their realities, to reduce violence through non-violent, anti- and contra-violent actions.
Rick Kool is founder of the MA in Environmental Education and Communication at Royal Roads University in British Columbia. He has published on the walking speed of dinosaurs, Northwest coast native whaling, museum exhibit design, ciliated protozoan development and the sex life of marine invertebrates. His current work relates to environmental education and how it confronts hope and despair, the potential role and place of religion in environmental education, and conceptions of change in environmental education and communication. Kool is active within the Victoria Holocaust Remembrance and Education Society and is a past president. He also plays the string bass.
Arendt, H. (1970). On Violence. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co.
Bandura, A. (2007). Impeding ecological sustainability through selective moral disengagement. International Journal of Innovation and Sustainable Development, 2(1), 8-35.
Environment and Climate Change Canada. (2017). Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators: Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Retrieved from Gatineau, QC: https://www.ec.gc.ca/indicateurs-indicators/default.asp?lang=En&n=FBF8455E-1.
Finkel, M. L. (2018). The impact of oil sands on the environment and health. Current Opinion in Environmental Science & Health, 3, 52-55. doi:10.1016/j.coesh.2018.05.002
Fischer, D. (2013). Johan Galtung, the Father of Peace Studies. In J. Galtung & D. Fischer (Eds.), Johan Galtung: Pioneer of Peace Research (Vol. 5). New York: Springer.
Galtung, J. (1980). A Structural Theory of Imperialism: Ten Years Later. Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 9(3).
Galtung, J. (1990). Cultural violence. Journal of Peace Research, 27(3), 291-305. Retrieved from http://www2.kobe-u.ac.jp/~alexroni/IPD%202014%20readings/IPD%202014_2/Cultural%20Violence%20(Galtung).pdf
Galtung, J., & Fischer, D. (Eds.). (2013). Johan Galtung: Pioneer of Peace Research (Vol. 5). New York: Springer.
Kahn, A. E. (1966). The tyranny of small decisions: Market failures, imperfections, and the limits of economics. Kyklos, 19(1), 23–47.
Meadows, D. H. (1999). Leverage points: Places to intervene in a system. Retrieved from Hartland, VT: http://donellameadows.org/archives/leverage-points-places-to-intervene-in-a-system/
Meadows, D. H. (2002). Dancing With Systems. Retrieved from http://www.sustainabilityinstitute.org/pubs/Dancing.html
Meadows, D. H. (2008). Thinking in systems: A primer. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing Company.
Schein, E. H. (1996). Kurt Lewin’s change theory in the field and in the classroom: Notes toward a model of managed learning. Reflections, 1(1), 59-74. Retrieved from http://forteza.sis.ucm.es/apto/alum0203/scheinlewin.pdf
Tainter, J. A. (1988). The Collapse of Complex Societies. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Turner, G. M. (2012). On the cusp of global collapse? Updated comparison of The Limits to Growth with historical data. GAiA – Ecological Perspectives for Science and Society, 21(2), 116-124.
van Wieren, G. (2008). Ecological restoration as public spiritual practice. Worldviews: Environment Culture Religion, 12(2/3), 237-254.
he thought of talking trees conjures up images of the fantastical. Tolkien’s ents patrol the forest, Baum’s forest of fighting trees throws apples at Dorothy, and Marvel’s Groot guards the galaxy. Or, perhaps, we think of those who speak for the trees that cannot speak for themselves: Dr. Seuss’s Lorax, or the dryads of ancient mythology. But I would argue that all trees have a lot to say, if we are willing to listen.
Like all great storytellers, trees have an impressive hook. Each species, a different author, has different tales to tell. Throughout time, some people have listened to those stories, and translated them to a language we can understand. And trees also give us the stories the trees may not even know they are telling, the way a worn and coffee-stained paperback can tell of a voracious and messy reader. Students, lovers of stories oral, written, and visual, can learn from these giants of the forest.
IslandWood, a residential environmental education school on Bainbridge Island, Washington, markets itself to students as “a school in the woods.” On its surface, this imparts expectations of students while on campus. It is not camp, but a school, with all the implications of learning. But what about the second part? The woods as a term indicate the outdoor status of some classrooms, but also plants the idea very early on of the ubiquity of trees. Wood comes from trees, and woods come from trees. This school is where we learn among the trees. Students should be aware of that upfront.
These trees have a long story to tell our students, and the students are ready to listen. When the glaciers retreated from the Puget Sound area 10,000-12,000 years ago, in moved trees from present-day California. The seeds following the glacier’s retreat met an incredibly moist environment that was perfect for the establishment of gargantuan specimens. Even students with individuals of these giants near their school are unlikely to see them in such abundance, or in such a relatively untamed state, covered in moss and lichen.
Students’ chatter while clambering from buses onto IslandWood property is a good clue in to what familiarity they may have with the woods. Students will disembark the bus and are unable to tear their eyes away from the treetops. Audible oohs and ahhs promise for a week of wonder and exploration. Recently, a student walked through the arrival shelter and turned to a friend to say, “so I guess this is what the woods are.” The trees are our ambassadors to these students, and the story they tell is one of upwards growth.
At IslandWood, we teach of the “Big Five:” western red cedar, red alder, western hemlock, bigleaf maple, and Douglas-fir.
The western red cedar is a favorite of many students. On species reference cards, some of the cultural uses are listed: canoe building and basket weaving feature prominently. This already provides a unique connection to place; on their website, the Suquamish tribe introduce themselves as “expert fisherman, canoe builders and basket weavers” (Suquamish Tribe, 2015). This is the identity they first relay to visitors, and one that many students have already been introduced to. To say “this is what the Suquamish used to make canoes and baskets” taps immediately into their understanding of native traditions.
The idea that people tended this land for livelihood before European settlers arrived is abstract for many students. While they may be taught the names of local tribes and heard some of the stories, touching a tree that contributed so heavily to their way of life provides a new experience. I taught a student that the Suquamish use the cedar bark for making clothing, and then heard them explain to a classmate that you can tell the bark is good for weaving because of the way it is stringy and long. The instructor provides one piece of information, and the student is able to gain a deeper understanding from interactions with the tree. The tree is telling the story of its cultural history by making itself so accessible to our young explorers.
A trend that students visiting IslandWood are quick to notice is that many of the red cedars are turning brown and losing leaves. This does not match well with what they have been taught about the definition of evergreen, and they struggle to reconcile reality and the trees. An investigation into why some red cedars are dying and others aren’t will lead students to the reality of climate change. The trees, so long-lived, cannot adapt the same way that other species can. When confronted with this reality, student groups come up with creative solutions, many offering to water the trees with their own drinking water. The trees, for those who listen, are sending out a plea and tell the story of human excess.
The red cedar also introduces students to the concept of sustainability and giving. Just as a dining hall might teach students to not waste food, the trees can show that wasting other resources is avoidable too. The roots, outer bark, inner bark, needles, and branches of trees all serve varied purposes, ensuring that none is discarded. The characteristic swooping lower branches of the tree, which resemble arms outstretched, relate to tradition. One Coast Salish tradition tells of the appearance of cedar tree at the spot when an incredibly selfless man died. IslandWood’s Great Hall has a cedar statue of Upper Skagit woman Vi Hilbert. The arms of the statue are similarly outstretched in welcome to those who enter the space for learning. The tree that gives its whole self to the people who need it sits with its branches outstretched as a welcome for more users.
When students learn the red cedar and later point it out on the trail, the swooping branches are most often cited as their point of identification. When asked what those branches remind them of, the first answer might be “the letter J,” but given some time, students arms will go out in an open gesture to mimic the tree. “It’s the tree of life,” they say, feeling connected to the history of that species.
The Douglas-fir tree, a mainstay of this ecosystem, is another favorite of students. While learning about the tree, students inevitably discover a cone on the ground, and pick it up, many questions having sprung forth in their minds. As trees that can grow over 300 feet tall with few lower branches, the opportunity to have a proxy for what goes on above our heads is incredible. The cones are unique to this tree, and tell a great story.
The cones have a two-tone property, as the seeds protrude beyond the scales of the cone. Tradition would tell that those lighter colored pieces are from a great fire that ravaged the land millennia ago. As the fire raged, animals fled, and the mouse ran to seek shelter. Unfortunately for the mouse, every tree it asked for help was worried for its own survival, unable to help the forest friend. When the mouse came upon the Douglas-fir, it opened up its cones and instructed entry; its lower branches would be above the heat of the fire, and its thick bark would protect it from the heat. The mouse and tree survived the fire, and the cones show a vestige of that encounter, as there appear to be little legs and a tail sticking out from every cone.
After hearing this story, students become experts on Douglas-fir identification. If their eyes are cast downwards, looking for signs of life on the trail, they see the cones and are reminded of the story they learned. If they are up, facing ahead and all around, they will see the thick bark that protected the tree. The stories reflect the nature again, and tree identification by means other than leaf recognition starts to be a possibility for students.
IslandWood property, once seized from the Suquamish, was the site of a major logging operation. Students see many trees and marvel at their size and age, but a hike to the harbor tells a different story of these trees. The trees that they have become familiar with are members of species that may live over one thousand years, but this space in particular is a reflection of its past. Blakely Harbor is the former site of what was “the largest, highest-producing sawmill in the world” (Bainbridge Historical Museum, n.d.).
The site at the harbor is unmistakably the vestiges of a former factory of some sort. Some students come in aware of the logging history of the area, and they are reminded of that history by the remnant logs that stick upright out of the harbor, former supports for the mill infrastructure. Some students surmise that the wood, decaying, waterlogged, and now home to aquatic plants, are a forest that has been cut down. When presented with the uniformity of the timber, especially as compared to the forests at main campus, they are eventually reminded of some man-made structures, and then the history of the logging operation can be explored.
To many of these students, IslandWood is the pinnacle of wild. Yet this adventure shows the proclivity of some humans to extract natural resources past their sustainable harvest. The trees that remind the students to be sustainable and giving are the same species that were extracted, sent into the mill and out to be shipped to other parts of the country and the world for human consumption. The Douglas-firs that protected the mice from the fire were cut down and extracted, providing little habitat for any animals.
The average age of street trees in Seattle is 3 years (Brinkley, 2018). Students may understand trees can live to be hundreds of years old, but learning that Douglas-firs can live to be over one thousand years old makes their eyes light up with wonder. Even the relatively young trees on campus have been present for decades, watching the landscape change with the inhabitants. Coming to an outdoor learning facility where the trees reach hundreds of feet in the sky can instill a feeling no book or photo could. Let the trees greet our students with arms and branches wide open.
Marlie Belle Somers is a graduate student in the Education for Environment and Community program at IslandWood, partnered with the University of Washington.
Remnants of the lumber mill docks at Blakely Harbor. Students use this as a clue while investigating what came before our campus stood on these grounds. Photo by Marlie Belle Somers.
Bainbridge Island Historical Museum. (n.d.). Port Blakely: Portrait of a Mill Town. Retrieved from http://bainbridgehistory.org/port-blakely-portrait-of-a-mill-town/
Brinkley, W. (2018, November 2). Urban Ecology. Lecture presented in Antioch University, Seattle.
Suquamish Tribe. (2015). History & Culture. Retrieved from https://suquamish.nsn.us/home/about-us/history-culture/
An Educator’s Guide to Stewardship
by Breanna Caruso
Click on the title to view PDF version of article.
Four Lessons in Global Education from the Beatles
By Sean Gaillard, June 19, 2017
Editor’s note: Sean Gaillard, principal of Lexington Middle School in Lexington, North Carolina, is a huge proponent of international collaboration for students in his school. In this essay he shares lessons in global education connections from an unlikely source: The Beatles.
The Beatles as Global Education Pioneers
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Sgt. Pepper Lonely Hearts Club Band album by the Beatles. Over the last few months, the album has been the subject of many celebrations in the media. Special edition re-releases have reached the top of album charts. Retrospective commentaries on the innovative nature of this game-changing album by the most successful musical group in history abound. In the midst of this commemoration, another important footnote in Beatles history has been overlooked. This is also the upcoming 50th anniversary of “All You Need Is Love.”
This song is essentially an early example of a global Skype conversation. In 1967, the BBC produced a television special entitled “Our World,” which was the first live global satellite link-up. It aired in 25 countries simultaneously, and each participating country produced a representative segment—Great Britain was represented by the Beatles. The “Our World” audience watched the Beatles in the studio recording “All You Need Is Love.” John Lennon, the song’s primary lyricist, used it to capture a simple, universal message.
In late June 1967, the 400 million global citizens who tuned into the “Our World” broadcast saw the Beatles bedecked in flowers and beads with a group of friends, including Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, and Marianne Faithful singing to the infectious chorus. Signs of “All You Need Is Love” written in several different languages were carried and flashed at the camera by various audience members.
Using technology to reach a global audience with the mindset to intentionally build community, empathy, and connection is a good example of taking action, one of the pillars of global competence. Educators, thought leaders, and organizations use this template on many levels to help students build global competence. Whether intentional or not, the Beatles served as global education pioneers with the example they set in this 1967 broadcast. Educators can glean many lessons from the Beatles and adapt them to support the needs of all students.
Lessons in Global Education from The Beatles
- Demonstrate a Positive Mindset: The message in “All You Need Is Love” is an anthem for the growth mindset expressed in the simplest of terms. Connecting with organizations with similar mindsets, like Teach SDGs, a United Nations-affiliated project to empower educators to teach about the sustainable development goals, provide resources for promoting a positive mindset and developing creative solutions for global challenges.
- Leverage and Integrate Technology: The Beatles understood the magnitude of what was then a new and innovative communication platform. They made sure that their message was simple, clear, and identifiable. Likewise today, there are numerous technology resources that can be leveraged to promote global awareness. Tools like Skype, Google Hangout, and Flipgrid are just a few of the tools breaking new ground in global communication among classrooms all over the world.
- Connect and Collaborate: Collaboration is the unsung element in the success of the Beatles. Global collaboration is more than just a simple “one and done” Skype session with another classroom or a token world map tossed on a bulletin board. Global collaboration is a sustained movement of inspired dialogue, vision building, and strategic planning. Twitter is one avenue for educators to build a network of global collaboration. Following Twitter hashtags like #GlobalEd, #GlobalEdChat, or #TeachSDGs will lead to an endless array of like-minded, inspiring educators who are ready to connect, support, and collaborate on global action projects.
- Take Global Action: The Beatles could have simply recorded “All You Need Is Love” and released it in the traditional manner. By agreeing to participate in a live broadcast for a global audience, they took global action in a daring way. Consider that the band had retired from live performance by that time but chose the “Our World” broadcast as a platform to perform and share a global message for unity, peace, and understanding. Organizations like the Global Oneness Project, Calliope Global, and Asia Society provide resources for educators to assist students in taking on global action projects to solve problems and create empathy.
As a principal, it is important for me to model ways to connect our students to enacting the incredible potential they all possess. Participating in Skype sessions with new international friends is a way to build the vision of preparing our students to be positive, future-ready innovators. Supporting global education projects in the schoolhouse is one way to build and sustain a positive school culture. The inspiring lessons of the Beatles is one of many musical riffs out there for educators to mine for global action.
by Gregory A. Smith
Review of Sarah Anderson’s, Bringing School to Life: Place-Based Education across the Curriculum (Lanham, Massachusetts: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017)
or the past two decades, books and articles written by place- and community-based advocates have been largely focused on defining and justifying an alternative approach to teaching and learning grounded in local knowledge and issues with the aim of inducting children into a sense of community participation and responsibility. This literature was largely exhortatory rather than prescriptive. It did not often provide interested teachers with detailed guidelines about how to move from a broad vision to the challenge of creating and enacting curriculum and instruction not limited by either textbooks or even classrooms. These advocates asked teachers to be courageous and take risks, trusting in their capacity to experiment and learn from their failures and successes. And many teachers across the United States and elsewhere became early adopters of this approach, willing to embrace those challenges and risks. As place- and community-based education enters its third decade, however, something more is needed to make its implementation appealing and understandable to a broader group of educators. Sarah Anderson’s Bringing School to Life: Place-Based Education across the Curriculum (2017) provides exactly the kind of guidance required to accomplish this end.
Anderson is a former student of David Sobel, one of the early advocates of this approach. For the past dozen years she has embraced what she learned while studying with him first as a middle-school teacher and now as the fieldwork coordinator at the Cottonwood School of Civics and Science in Portland, Oregon. Anderson’s work is especially powerful because of her concern about citizenship education and democratic practice. Place-based educators often focus primarily on providing students with immersive experiences in nature without necessarily engaging them in the cultural understandings, conflicts, problem-solving, and negotiation that accompany life in civil society. This is not to diminish the importance of those immersive experiences—which can be central to the development of a strong environmental ethic—but in themselves not enough to give young people the confidence or savvy required to become engaged community actors. Anderson’s work exemplifies how this can happen and how schools and communities can truly “get better together.”1
Her volume provides multiple examples of lessons and units she or the teachers she works with have developed and taught. Chapters describe ways that students can use maps to learn about their place, contribute to its human and environmental health through community science, learn directly about local history, partner with nearby agencies and organizations, explore the way different subject areas can be integrated to deepen knowledge and understanding, and develop a sense of connection with and empathy for one another and people beyond the school. The three chapters about mapping, citizen science, and local history provide detailed descriptions of units interested but uncertain teachers could profit from as they begin to incorporate local possibilities into their own work with students; they will be the focus of the remainder of this review.
Maps offer not only a good way to introduce children to their own place but to think about “What is where, why there, why care?”2 They naturally lead students to observe, collect data, and make inferences. At the Cottonwood School maps are integrated into the learning experiences of children at all grade levels. Early in the school year as a welcoming activity, everyone is invited to create and share personal maps of things special to them in their bedroom, home, neighborhood, or someplace away from home. Kindergarteners through second graders then create maps of their classroom and playground, sometimes using blocks and unix cubes to illustrate a space. Third graders map the school focusing on specific features such as sound. Fourth through sixth graders create maps to scale of neighborhood features such as parks and then compare and contrast in writing the data presented in their maps. Sixth graders map nearby features of their own choosing. They walk through the South Waterfront neighborhood and record the location of things like K9 restrooms (fire hydrants), bike racks, and food carts. They then create a formal illustrated map with compass roses and borders (and sometimes sea serpents in the Willamette River) to represent what they have found. Seventh and eighth graders go further afield and focus on the city and state. Given a map of the city’s boundaries and different districts, they identify major bodies of water, traffic routes, and one personally significant place in each district. This leads into a more extensive exercise in which they choose one data set to map. Possibilities include population, temperature levels during a heat wave, city parks, or the location of Starbucks coffee shops. They are encouraged to think about who has access to which resources by comparing demographic maps that focus on race and ethnicity. Maps offer a way to synthesize disparate but related information as well as integrate a variety of subject matter.
The school’s incorporation of community science offers similar opportunities to link lessons to students’ lives and create learning experiences that allow for observation, analysis, and curricular integration. Community science involves identifying local phenomena or issues worthy of study and action and linking these topics to the Next Generation Science Standards. One year, seventh- and eighth-graders identified the problem of animal waste in the neighborhood as an issue they wanted to explore and investigate. As they ventured beyond the school for a variety of learning activities, they found nearby sidewalks both hazardous and smelly. They decided to do something about it. Their teacher divided the class into teams who performed different tasks: one counted all of the pet waste in a six-block radius, another researched the environmental toxins found in dog poop, a third team investigated Portland laws regarding the regulation of pet waste, and a fourth researched similar laws in other cities. Once students had all of this information in hand, they analyzed what they had found and brainstormed possible solutions. They then wrote letters to public officials recommending that the city provide more public education about this problem and enact bigger fines for people who violated laws already on the books. Their letters resulted in a meeting with officials in city hall, and their ideas were incorporated into a “petiquette” campaign that the city had already begun planning. Extended units like these offers students a chance to systematically explore a topic, do so in ways that allow them to see its relevance to their own lives, and then make a contribution to the broader community. Such experiences match the call by framers of the NGSS to apply scientific concepts and practices to real life circumstances.
One of Anderson’s talents lies in her capacity to find ways to make the study of history local, as well. The third grade curriculum, for example, includes a focus on Native Americans. As part of that study, students visited the Oregon Historical Society, Portland State University’s Department of Archeology, and a traditional Chinook longhouse at Ridgefield, a National Wildlife Refuge in Washington State less than an hour from the city. Returning to the school, they transformed their classroom into a longhouse with a “fire pit” in the middle of the room. They also participated in PSU’s Archeology Roadshow where after having learned about the characteristics of meaningful exhibits at the Oregon Museum of Science Industry, they created a longhouse model and became the only K-12 students to share their work at an event otherwise populated with much older presenters. The opportunity to be involved with people beyond the school at PSU or City Hall demonstrates to children that they are as much citizens as anyone else in their community, lending them both a level of confidence and a sense of responsibility too absent in the education of this country’s future adults.
Learning experiences like these are deeply engaging for students. Furthermore, they demonstrate to community members the capacity of children to make genuine contributions to their common life. Anderson’s book offers a useful and inspiring roadmap for other educators interested in realizing this vision of place-based education themselves.
1 Tagline for the Rural School and Community Trust, an organization that grew out of the Annenberg Rural Challenge, the first national effort in the 1990s aimed at disseminating the possibilities of place-based education.
2 In Brian Baskerville’s 2013 article, “Becoming Geographers: An Interview about Geography with Geographer Dr. Charles Gritzner (http://geography.about.com/od/historyofgeographty/fl/Becoming-Geographers.htm).
Gregory Smith is a professor emeritus of the Graduate School of Education and Counseling at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon. He has written numerous articles and books about environmental and place- and community-based education. He is a fellow of the National Education Policy Center at UC-Boulder, a member of the education advisory committee of the Teton Science Schools, and a board member of the Cottonwood School of Civics and Science.
The search for sea slugs
Linking non-divers to the excitement of ocean discovery
by Elise Pletcher
Citizen Science and Volunteer Coordinator
The Marine Science and Technology Center
The Dendronotus iris, a species of nudibranch recently found in one of the MaST Aquarium tanks.
he Nudibranch Team is a citizen science volunteer program at the Marine Science and Technology Center of Highline College. Volunteers work with Aquarium Staff to record populations of nudibranchs (colorful sea slugs). The MaST Center’s 3,000-gallon aquarium is operated on a “flow-through” model where 250 gallons of unfiltered Puget Sound water is pumped every minute through the tanks. This water brings with it several kinds of plankton, which are hard to identify and collect in the open waters of the Puget Sound, but within our tanks can be identified at the species level. Even once they are past their planktonic larval stage, many of the nudibranchs found in our aquarium are less than 1 cm in length!
This system offers the unique opportunity to record abundance of several nudibranch species throughout the year. Citizen scientists on our nudibranch team are trained to identify upwards of twenty nudibranch species, and use flashlights to track them down in our tanks. Why nudibranchs you may ask? They make an excellent species to study because each species is very distinct morphologically. Nudibranchs are the subject of a lot of macrophotography here in the Puget Sound; their bright colors and patterns make them a photogenic group of animals. Many of the animals in our aquarium are collected, but the nudibranchs come in naturally. When we see a nudibranch, it is exciting, because we get to discover them in the tanks! The thrill of not knowing what you are going to see is also a key part of what makes diving so exciting. The Nudibranch Team provides this thrill to non-divers.
The MaST’s Nudibranch Team hosts a diverse crowd with a wide range of abilities. Some are divers who already have a passion for filming nudibranchs, while others are just learning about these sea slugs for the first time. Our team is made up of mother-child duos, music teachers, retirees, and recent college graduates, all with one thing in common: their obsession with these peculiar sea slugs. You don’t need a SCUBA certification to get involved, just an interest in peering into a tank with a flashlight for an hour or two a week. Volunteers start with a 1.5 hour training in which they learn all about nudibranchs and how to identify them, including morphological traits. After the training, they’re given an identification guide, a data collection sheet, and set loose. Of all the MaST’s volunteer programs the Nudibranch Team demands the least amount of training time, it’s what helps make it so efficient.
The program originally started in 2013 when former Education Coordinator Eugene Disney and Manager Rus Higley started noticing certain nudibranchs were in the tanks in greater numbers depending on the time of year. They decided to round up a couple of volunteers to help count nudibranchs. Fast forward five years, and we are starting to see some interesting trends in nudibranch abundance emerge. Certain species are peaking in abundance at certain times of the year.
Of our most common species, each has a distinguished peak in annual abundance. Some tend to have high abundance throughout the year, but dip in the summer. While others peak in the summer months. This is interesting because nudibranchs are indicators of ocean health. If we see a huge spike in populations, something in ecosystem is likely influencing this spike. Since they occur naturally in our aquarium, we can use their abundance as a proxy for nudibranch abundance in the water at Redondo Beach. With the MaST’s four complete years’ of nudibranch population data, we have a strong baseline for tracking population changes. Nudibranch population changes can provide insight into the population health of their food sources: hydroids, sponges, and bryozoans.
We have shared this unique citizen science program at the Western Society of Naturalists Conference in 2017, Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference 2018, and the Northwest Aquatic and Marine Educators Conference this summer! Are you attending the Northwest Aquatic and Marine Educators Conference this summer? Check out our poster Tracking Temporal and Seasonal Changes in Nudibranch Populations from a Small Aquarium presented by the wonderful Vanessa Hunt, an Associate Professor at Central Washington University.
In the next few months, we hope to design a better classification system based on volunteer experience and expertise. This includes updating our identification keys to address species color variation. The ultimate goal for this program is to publish the data, and make it available for public use by others who wish to study invertebrate population trends in the South Puget Sound.
While the MaST is excited to have some quantitative data behind our sea slug populations, the best part of the team is still sharing in the excitement of discovering a new nudibranch –just recently, we found a Dendronotus iris, a beautifully branched nudibranch, mostly white and flecked with orange and purplish-brown. Staff and volunteers flocked to the aquarium to get a closer look at this nudibranch. It has been over a year and a half since the last time this species was spotted in one of our tanks!
The Marine Science and Technology Center is the marine laboratory of Highline College. Committed to increasing ocean literacy through community interaction, personal relations and exploration; the MaST strives to accomplish this through volunteer programs, formal college classes, and k-12 school programs.
Author: Elise Pletcher is the Citizen Science and Volunteer Coordinator at the MaST Center in Des Moines WA, where she works alongside volunteers on the Jelly, Nudibranch, Marine Mammal, and Discovery Day volunteer teams.