Book: Ecoliterate: How Educators Are Cultivating Emotional, Social, and Ecological Intelligence
by: Center for Ecoliteracy Posted on: November 04, 2012
A Vision of Oil-Free Schools
By Daniel Goleman (author of Emotional Intelligence) and Lisa Bennett and Zenobia Barlow of the Center for Ecoliteracy.
When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, Dudley Grady Jr. was one of the many students who left his home city and discovered that schools in other places were quite a bit different.
“The bathrooms were the biggest things for me,” he says. “To see a clean restroom in school? I’d never seen that before. Toilet paper? Soap? Mirrors on the wall that were not broken? I’d never seen that.”
By the time Katrina had passed through, most school buildings were destroyed and half the residents had left New Orleans. To restore the community, residents and officials agreed, they would need to restore—and improve—the city’s schools, and a significant organization was put in place to achieve that.
But it was Jane Wholey’s insight that one group—until then unrepresented—should play a central role in reforming New Orleans schools: students. “We know the issues,” says Wholey, founder and former director of the student group, the Rethinkers. “There are not 200 of them. There are a dozen or so—in New Orleans and all over.” The issues include high quality teachers, healthy food—and, more recently, the use of energy.
The story of Jane Wholey and the Rethinkers are one of eight stories told in the new book, Ecoliterate: How Educators Are Cultivating Emotional, Social, and Ecological Intelligence, by psychologist Daniel Goleman (author of Emotional Intelligence) and Lisa Bennett and Zenobia Barlow of the Center for Ecoliteracy. The book portrays inspiring activists, educators, and young people creatively addressing water, food, and energy issues from the Arctic to Appalachia and New Mexico to New Orleans.
The Rethinkers have met regularly since 2006 with a goal of encouraging—even rewarding—innovation and experimentation. “We could invite the most significant engineers to come up with solutions,” Wholey explains. “But we’ve discovered kids almost always have things to say that are different from adults.”
Which brings us to the vision of oil-free schools.
When the Deepwater Horizon exploded off the coast of New Orleans in 2010, the 185-million-gallon spill continued for three months before being capped. More than 170 miles of shoreline from Louisiana to Florida were covered in oil—and the incident raised pressing questions about Americans’ dependence on oil.
For the Rethinkers, it also created a new focus: What could they do about it? Wholey helped organize a series of events to shed light on the issue. Betty Burkes, an educator and activist who has worked with the United Nations, led one of the first.
“As a teacher, one is always inquiring and looking for ways to make learning real,” says Burkes. “So I decided it would be a good idea for them to get out of their seats, walk around with a paper and pencil, notice what is in the room, and imagine where it is coming from. In doing that, they discovered how dependent their school life is on oil.”
Discussions about how schools might reduce their dependence soon followed. But since one of the guiding principles of the Rethinkers is to be constructive, the identification of this problem had to be followed by a proposed solution, which they presented at a news conference—coincidentally, on the same day the spill was finally capped.
“If we want to prevent another oil spill,” said ninth-grader Danny Do, “we need to start weaning ourselves off this product and begin searching for new ideas. Now is the perfect time to get moving, and schools are a great place to start!” New Orleans schools, the Rethinkers announced, should take steps toward becoming oil-free.
“We know that ‘oil-free schools’ sounds easy to dismiss, because it’s such a big vision,” says Mallory Falk, communications director for the Rethinkers. “That is why our focus now is to come up with realistic, practical ways for schools to move toward being oil-free.”
Whether the Rethinkers will succeed in the near future remains, of course, to be seen. But, in the end, it’s the effort itself that matters. As writer and farmer Wendell Berry says in another Ecoliterate story about fighting mountaintop removal coal mining, asking whether an effort will work is not even the right question. “The question is, ‘Is it right?’” That, he added, is a question that can be answered: “I know it’s right.”
Read more about Ecoliterate: http://tinyurl.com/8yopez7.
Adapted from Ecoliterate: How Educators Are Cultivating Emotional, Social, and Ecological Intelligence, by Daniel Goleman, Lisa Bennett and Zenobia Barlow, with permission of the publisher, Jossey-Bass, a Wiley imprint. Copyright © 2012 by the Center for Ecoliteracy.
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