Sunday, May 25, 2008

Teaching Eco-Friendliness

Today I am working on some supplements for a textbook on Philosophy of Education. As usual, my brain is "cooking" the little tidbits I pick up as I work through the supplements. In the background, I have a television turned on. The show is a wandering feature that seems to have gone from eco-friendly architecture to elementary-level education on global warming (or climate change, if you prefer) and new eco-friendly technologies. The kids in the probably-Californian classroom seem very engaged.

I find myself remembering corresponding lessons from when I was a small child. The big topic then was, believe it or not, littering. We did talk about energy efficiency (turn off the lights when you're not using them), and we did talk about recycle-reuse (although that might have hit its stride later, when I was in high school), but littering stands out for me because in my mind, littering is what we've been doing all along, on a grand scale. The lessons on energy efficiency and the lessons on recycling and reusing, and now the lessons on global warming and all the new "green" technologies are just about finally cutting back on all the littering we've been doing.

In the Philosophy of Education supplements, I've been going through U.S. education history. Normal schools, common schools. The shift toward female teachers. Assimilation. Nationalism. Democracy. States rights.

And here's where I believe we're really running into problems with solving our littering problem:

We now see that we need to address the littering we've been doing as a society, versus just the littering of individuals. We now see that "littering" isn't just about the empty soda can thrown from the car window, but also about the exhaust fumes coming from the tailpipe. We are now beginning to see that our whole way of life rests on littering, from the waste and pollution generated by the vehicles so that we can live at great distances from where we work, to the waste and pollution generated on our farms so that we can get steak and potatoes even when we live nowhere near cows and potato fields.

But when I say "we" see this, I mean, "we, the educated." We, who understood that littering was bad 35 years ago, and are now able to extend that understanding to a wider, more far-reaching sensibility. And the trouble is... I just recently moved from an area where, it seems clear, the idea that throwing your empty soda-can out the window is bad... isn't being taught.

In middle Georgia, I'd have to say that most people haven't got that message that is now decades old. I've seen so many things thrown from car windows, I lost track in sheer amazement. Cigarette butts to cigarette packages to banana peels to partially-empty fried chicken buckets; tissues, newspapers, ashes, and peanut shells; fast-food wrappers; fast food. And this doesn't even count the stuff that comes flying out of the beds of pickup trucks, whose owners apparently use their trucks as refuse containers until a handy wind comes along at 70 mph to clean it all up for them.

So when I watch some keen, bright students enthusiastically exploring global warming concepts, and enthusiastically embracing eco-friendly technologies, with wide eyes and practiced mouse-clicking fingers, I can't help but think that it's all going to just remain some kind of "fad" until the less-than-enthusiastic kids of places like middle Georgia, with access to far older technologies and far poorer infrastructures, are at least taught that littering JUST CAN'T HAPPEN ANYMORE.

My Philosophy of Education, unfortunately, cannot reconcile itself with this states' rights thing, because the values I think a public education should instill are values that deal with long-term issues like climate change. And frankly, I can understand that a population that doesn't get that throwing shit out their car windows is bad... probably isn't going to wholeheartedly embrace the idea that they should stop driving cars because they're part of a lifestyle that's destroying our planet.

Not gonna happen. Not unless we develop a curriculum that applies equally to the students in northern and southern California and the students in middle Georgia and Alabama. Because it takes the whole society to adequately support long-term changes.

(In the meantime, while people continue to stick with habits and values that only recognize the short-term and the known and familiar, we have judicial systems that consider the larger context based on things like constitutions, and make decisions for us that appear to be against the popular consensus. And there you go, that's my comment about gay marriage -bravo!- in California, just as much as it is about efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change.)

No comments: