Visions for our Education: Teach us to feel responsible and hopeful
I can remember the first time I learned about the concept of global warming. It was the fourth grade. I had finished my project early and decided to peruse the bookshelf in my science classroom. Tucked inside, there was a skinny book called The Down to Earth Guide to Global Warming. I skimmed through the pages. The book starts, “If you’ve ever eaten too many burritos, then you know what can happen afterward. But we’re not talking about that kind of gas.” The rest of the book is full of more of the same, childish metaphors about this thing called global warming. It had this aura of humor and nonchalance. How was I supposed to understand how urgent the climate crisis is if the adults I learn about it from don’t talk to me about it in a way that connotes urgency?
As I’ve gotten older, I have learned about climate change at school. Every biology class that I’ve been in has had a unit on it. We learn about the Green House Effect, hurricanes and threatened ecosystems. But we never talk about the people. The people in our lives and people who we don’t know who have been hurt. We don’t tell our stories. We never unpack the emotions that the climate crisis makes us feel. How can we feel an emotional responsibility toward climate justice if we are taught that climate change is cold and objective? How can we foster a responsibility toward our world and its inhabitants if we don’t see climate change as an issue of justice?
By middle school, I started learning in my free time. I would read articles in the newspaper, and listen to Greta Thunberg, the two ways I could see people talking about the climate crisis. I saw the horror stories, and so did everyone else. According to Scientific American, 43% of teenagers feel hopeless about climate change, and only 29% of teens feel optimistic about the future. It’s only natural that when we are taught the cold science, but see fires or storms we feel hopeless.
I myself have struggled with anxiety, not because of climate, starting in about 3rd grade. I have learned to manage it, but it was worse when I was in elementary school. My fears stemmed from my fear of my family dying. Although I felt like I was alone in my worries, I have since realized that basically everyone goes through the same thing. Almost every kid has that moment when they realized what death is, and that can understandably make you feel anxious. The climate crisis hits that nerve. It evokes the fear that those people you love, your family, your friends, could be taken from you by a fire or a hurricane. Kids are in a position to feel real fears about the climate crisis and if our teachers or parents don’t foster a healthy reaction to the climate crisis, one with solutions, with action, they allow us to feel climate anxiety.
But the best way to feel better is to do something. I have learned that getting involved in the movement for climate justice has made me feel heard and hopeful again. We can’t create what we can’t envision, so let’s envision a better world together.
[A day in the life of a student at OUR envisioned school]
It’s 8:00 and I’m about to leave my house to take the subway to school. I am wearing an old pair of sneakers because today I have gardening class. My first period is biology, and we’re learning about climate change. After learning about how hurricanes are getting stronger and more deadly, my teacher opens up a space to process emotions and tell stories. The boy sitting next to me tells the story of how his grandparents’ house and decades of memories were destroyed by a hurricane. My teacher makes space for fear and hurt and admits that she feels the same things too. Next, I head over to history class. In history, we learn a more complete history that isn’t whitewashed. In this class, we learn from each other, our experiences and our collective wisdom. I have learned that there is not one truth, but many different experiences and histories. After class, I head to the cafeteria and sit down at a table with my friends. Our lunch is made, in part, with produce from a local urban farm and our own school garden. Ever since I was in kindergarten I have appreciated where my food comes from because I help to grow it. After lunch I head outside to our small garden plot. In class we tend to beans and tomatoes and kale. We foster relationships with the soil and plants as well as each other. After school, rather than worrying about my grades, (there aren’t traditional grades at my school), I dive deep into my learning and can take my time. The students at my school get a complete education, one that values our mental health, fosters relationships with each other and the earth and values every student. We feel hopeful because we can see a path forward, though we know it will take work and grit. We see our future like our garden, we each play a small part by watering, weeding and harvesting so we can slowly build a better world and nourish our community.
Take a few minutes to write your vision for your community. Be imaginative, the sky is the limit! And we would love to hear your vision! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can fill out the submissions form on the website (fill out the form if you’re comfortable with us publishing your vision on our socials/site/newsletter).
Get involved in a movement for change. It feels really empowering to know that you are doing something. Here are some youth-lead climate justice movements with local chapters.
And as always: 1.5 Degrees