By:Brittany Noland Issue: Biennial of the Americas 2010 Section:The Nature of Things
Speaker Series Addresses a Growing Movement
The 2010 Biennial of the Americas hosted a speaker series that integrated innovators, artists, and leaders from across the Americas to address the pressing issues and ongoing innovations affecting the Western Hemisphere. Lauren Higgins, curator of The Nature of Things Speaker Series, described it as an opportunity to “learn from and reflect on, diverse perspectives and inspiring multi-sector interdisciplinary approaches to the future of our local and hemispheric communities.”
A presentation about green schooling fit perfectly with the Biennial themes. Smart by Nature: Schooling for Sustainability, a talk given by Dr. Michael K. Stone with the Center for Ecoliteracy, was based on the book he wrote by the same title. It focused on teaching today’s children sustainability as they move through our school systems. This movement, which may sound like a new idea to some, is growing in popularity in the United States and across the globe. Green schooling goes beyond the idea of sustainability, and fosters innovation and community awareness.
Dr. Stone described sustainability as being more than eco-friendly. He said it is, “More than just keeping the Earth going, it’s how people can improve their lives and live abundantly on this finite planet. It promotes a better way of living for our children and grandchildren.” He entertained and educated the audience on the many ways sustainability creates and enhances communities by giving specific examples of when and how schooling for sustainability has been successful.
In order to explain the way schooling for sustainability works, Dr. Stone used a metaphor. He said to think of a school as an ecosystem. The way it works is similar to the way nature works - it is part of a larger system. A school is part of a physical space, a community, a city, a nation and the world. It takes in goods from these other systems, such as building materials, office supplies, food for the cafeteria, even students and staff, and changes it in some way and then sends it back out into the world. This too, comes in various forms, like graduating students who have a “deeper connection to the Earth, their community and a commitment to make the world a better place. The school may also send other goods and products, and even waste, back into the larger systems. Each step of this process," he said, "can be an opportunity for learning."
The unspoken question of how this fits in with curriculum was adequately addressed. Stone said, “The answer is that it becomes part of the curriculum.” He gave an example of an elementary school that would have the teachers spend the last ten minutes of the lunch hour with the kids, overseeing and instructing them on recycling and compost habits. The teachers had it built into their union contracts that these ten minutes counted toward the academic day. This was a very real-world way for young kids to understand, not only the benefits of recycling and compost, but also how it can easily be executed at the end of a meal.
Dr. Stone included additional success stories from across the United States. For example, the city of Chicago mandated that all new city-built buildings be energy efficient. He described a school that created community and enhanced learning by priding itself on being the first “green” school in Illinois. Leaders used the building to teach the children about energy efficiency and what “green” means, while using it as model within the community for technology and energy efficient building models. Green schooling goes beyond the idea of sustainability and fosters innovation and community awareness.
Another anecdote focused on a vegetable garden at a middle school that taught students how to grow and harvest fresh food, as well as the reward of eating it. Dr. Stone shared that even the pickiest of eaters gained. As one teacher said, “He’s picking everything in the garden and eating it!” In fact, school gardens are one of the simplest and most cost-effective ways of teaching sustainability. Stone said, “Seeds don’t cost a lot and many schools have a patch of land that isn’t being used. A lot of times this also adds to the aesthetics of the school, which in turn pleases the community.”
The range of these sustainability projects can be as large as the building itself, as complex as wastewater filtering, as was done by an independent high school, or as simple as a garden. Schooling for sustainability has taken on many forms in many different school systems and climates.
There are many ways schooling for sustainability can be accomplished Administrators, teachers, parents and students have successfully started green school projects with proven results. Indeed research about green schooling is abundant and there are many organizations similar to the Center for Ecoliteracy that are trying to educate the world on this new educational process. For those who are interested in this movement – you are not alone.
For more information about the Center for Ecoliteracy, please visit www.ecoliteracy.org.