The world we inhabit today is vastly different from the one our parents and grandparents lived in. Technology and ease of travel give the illusion that the distance between countries is shorter, making the planet feel smaller. Our communities are a melting pot of cultures, with influences from around the world. Yet, the environmental and social issues of our time still loom larger than ever. Climate change, clean water access, extreme poverty, and civil unrest…these threaten our human and more than human communities. In a world that feels so small, these issues can feel downright overwhelming. To co-create a more sustainable future, we must start from a place of familiarity, a place we call home.
Taking action at a local level may seem counterintuitive, even counterproductive, considering the scale and complexity of issues such as climate change. But for young people, taking action in their communities is an empowering act that can help them develop a better understanding of the common ground we share as a global people and shape their ecological worldview. For example, engaging in a watershed restoration project teaches students about how clean water and a heathy ecosystem has multiple benefits for their community. When required by academic standards, this knowledge can be used to help students understand how communities around the world tackle the same set of issues, as well as how water connects us all.
Starting from what you know, the people, places, and things that define your community, can help students to develop empathy for people from other regions, states, and countries who faces the same challenges, whether they be lack of clean water; the racial, ethnic, or class divisions that define homelessness; or poverty. The lessons and strategies they apply to solve local problems can be extrapolated to address issues on a global scale. It is a classic example of the ripple effect: learning about the political, social, and economic dynamics of homelessness and working with a local housing project to build a tiny home to create acceptable, affordable, local housing can have the power to help students understand how to effect change in their community, city, region, or state, even globally.
This issue of GreenNotes highlights the myriad ways that schools and green school advocates are embracing local action to make a global difference. You will hear how the Vermont Energy Education Program and the Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council are engaging students through the Green School Energy Challenge and the Green Apple Day of Service, respectively. Cynthia Thomashow with IslandWood shares how the organization’s Graduate Program in Urban Environmental Education is preparing future educators to engage in urban place-based education. And Jaimie Cloud introduces us to a subsection of the Education for Sustainability Benchmarks on Higher Order Thinking Skills, an important skill set when tackling both local and global issues in the 21st century classroom.
As the beginning of a new school year approaches, I challenge you to take your students into the community, explore its issues, and find a local project worthy of engaging in. It does not need to be groundbreaking or innovative, but it should challenge your students to think more deeply about the community and world they inhabit. Because developing a healthy ecological worldview starts with caring for the people and places we call home.
Cheers to a new school year!