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2007's Best: Education
Alex Steffen, 31 Dec 07

Elin Kelsey's Removing Our Kids from the Front Lines of Climate Change is a particularly worthwhile read:

For most of human history, people have lived lives that were not appreciably different from their parents. But over the past few centuries, and increasingly over the past generation, that pattern has changed: we are constantly dealing with change. Species extinction, logging of old-growth forests, elimination of wetlands and wild places, growth of the ozone hole: one essential response to these changes is a sense of loss. And we experience a sense of loss through, in part, the emotion of grief.

Yet, environmental education research is strangely silent about dealing with the emotional implications of the environmental crisis on kids. There is virtually nothing in the literature addressing appropriate ways to deal with the emotions associated with environmental degradation. words like grief, despair, or anger rarely appear in our writings. Do we have any ideas as to whether children grieve and mourn for the lost species, despair for us and the rest of the living world, and then take a stance of detachment or denial in response to the overwhelming-ness of the issue before them?

Envisioning One Planet Schools

The best way to get new ideas to take hold is to teach them to young people. School-age kids are impressionable and imaginitive, and pick up new perspectives readily. So it makes sense that a concept like "One Planet Living" -- which many of us find difficult to imagine -- would be natural to a kid. It's pretty simple, after all: we have just one planet; we have to learn to live as though we understand that.

Classroom education around environmental responsibility is much more complex today than it was ten or twenty years ago. When I was in grade school, "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" was as far as it went, augmented occasionally by a tree-planting ceremony on Earth Day. Now in addition to literacy, we have ecoliteracy; we're developing math lessons for calculating a school's carbon footprint, and health education that explains the nutritional benefits of local, organic food. Ideally, the engaging, hands-on way in which schools are now teaching these ideas will lead kids to more easily form good habits as they grow up.

South Africa's Free High School Science Texts

Five years ago, Mark Horner had just finished giving a talk on wave phenomena at a South African science fair when a group of young scholars from a poor rural high school came up to him, asking him to proof the notes they'd taken by hand in a notebook. Mark was stunned by the comprehensive diligence reflected in the notes, and asked why the students were so attentive. They explained that they had no science texts in their school and that this notebook would be the textbook for the rest of their schoolmates. In an era of nearly free information and collaborative content creation, such a knowledge gap seemed obscene, Mark told me, and he resolved to do something about it.

The result? Free High School Science Texts, a project the South African physicist founded that "aims to provide free science and mathematics textbooks for Grades 10 to 12 science learners in South Africa." The textbooks offered are free knowledge, in the sense of both openly sharable and affordable...

Using Bollywood to Teach Drip Irrigation

India's International Development Enterprises (IDEI) works to advance locally-appropriate, sustainable development by designing and marketing affordable products that can improve the lives of the rural poor and ease some of the burdens that keep them in dire poverty.

Their products are geared towards rural farmers, and primarily deal with water -- probably the most vital and burdensome resource to obtain and use efficiently. Their Affordable Drip Irrigation Technology Intervention program introduces a collection of ready-to-use, prepacked kits that can be selected according to the size and condition of the farmer's plot.

Surveying Student Activism for Sustainability and Social Change

Everybody knows that hope for the future starts with youth. There's a ton of activity on campuses from elementary through higher-ed related to sustainability, environmental responsibility and social justice. Here are a few highlights from current student projects and campaigns...


Kevin Shen, a senior at Irvington High School in Fremont, just released the first version of "SchoolNeutral," a carbon emissions calculator he designed to help fellow students learn about their school's energy use and calculate its carbon footprint.

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