An Audience Beyond the Teacher, The Inspiring Youth, and an Appeal to the World
One of my students, who was addressing climate justice, approached me and asked why the school wasted so many plastic bags in the classroom’s trash cans. They pointed out that even if the trash can only has one item in it, at the end of the day the janitor still takes the entire plastic bag out, throws it in the trash, and replaces it with a new one. We discussed the problem at length. I shop at a grocery store, which bags the groceries in paper bags. I offered to start bringing the paper bags up to school and put them in the trash can in place of the plastic bags. The student made a sign in Spanish asking the janitor to only empty the trash on Fridays. I made special arrangements for the student to explain to each class period about the change in the trash and why the change was made. After the initial changes were made, I told the student, “Thank you for taking the initiative and bringing this problem to my attention. You are going to save so many plastic bags from going into the landfill. You have inspired me to eliminate the plastic trash bags at my house also.” The student was glowing from head to toe.
Giving one student permission to change something and make a difference cascaded into other students being inspired to take all the ideas they had been reading and writing about and apply them to solving real world problems. This transformed the learning environment from theory and “ya cool we are working on something we are interested in” to authentic ownership and truly making a difference in their community. Knowing they were making a difference was the key motivation for them wanting to learn how to better communicate through reading, writing, speaking, and listening.
For Authentic Learning Acknowledge the Audience Beyond the Teacher
To get students out of the rut and actually learning, assignments need to have an audience beyond the teachers and the school. Literacy education is all about learning to effectively create and receive messages. We live in the era of globalization and technology. The world is the audience on social media.
At the beginning of each project, I ask my students two important questions: “What message do you want to send?” and “Who is your audience?” The answer to the what message question evolves as the project is completed. However, the audience question is more difficult for the students, especially in the beginning. The standard answer often given by students is “the teacher” is the audience. The students and I end up having a discussion about I am not the audience. I am the one here to help them effectively convey their messages.
If students have never been exposed to writing, public speaking, or creating art, it is very difficult for them to grasp that anyone would listen to them. It is even more difficult for them to envision their message having the potential to impact and inspire other people, especially people who are older. This is where the book Our Only Home: A Climate Appeal to the World by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Franz Alt comes into play.
An Unlikely Audience Inspired by Youth Climate Change Activists
An Easy to Read Message from His Holiness the Dalai Lama
There are ten chapters, which are 8-15 pages long. Each chapter has explicit subtitles, which makes it reader friendly. The first two chapters are Franz Alt setting up the problem of climate change, or as he refers to it “The Third World War against Nature” (2020, p. 23). The last eight chapters are a mixture of His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaking and Franz Alt and His Holiness conversing. His Holiness the Dalai Lama discusses how Buddhism corresponds to climate change, but he always brings the conversation back to how the youth climate justice activists throughout the world are making a difference. The act of coming back to the youth activists shows the connection between Buddhism and the youth activists, helping to humanize Buddhists, which for us in the United States can seem like a very foreign religion and culture.
But That’s Greta’s Impact Not Mine
Finding Their Own Groove
To help students find their own groove, we research and learn about other teens and young adults who have found their groove already. As a starting point, for my students who are interested in climate justice, I give them this list of youth activists, how old they are, their topic of expertise, and a book that is related to their topic of expertise (Figure 1). Students do not have to do their research project based on any of these activists. They are free to choose other teen activists.
For the project students have to pick one teen activist in their area of interest. There are four sections of the project.
- Me as an Activist Spotlight - The students write down the specific topic they are interested in plus five important facts about themselves. (These can also be goals.)
- Teen Activist Spotlight - The students read articles and the activist’s social media and highlight five important facts about the activist.
- Collaboration - The students create a plan about how they would collaborate with the teen activist, why it is important that they collaborate, and how collaborating would help solve both important issues.
- Book Highlight - A student has to pick a book which connects with the issues that are important to both them and the teen activist. Using the 3, 2, 1 technique, they write about three ways the books connect to their issue and the teen activist’s issue, two important facts everyone should know from the book, and one question they still have. (Modifications and accommodations can be made by using picture books.)
The Message of Our Youth is Important
Greta Thunberg: 17, Global Environmental Diplomacy, No One is Too Small to Make a Difference
Felix Finkbeiner: 23, Tree Planting, Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever to Reverse Global Warming Edited by Paul Hawken
Gitanjali Rao: 15,Testing Water for Contaminants, Poisoned Water: How the Citizens of Flint, Michigan, Fought for Their Lives and Warned the Nation by Candy J. Cooper and Marc Aronson
Irsa Hirsi: 17 Diversification Within the Climate Justice Movement, One Earth: People of Color Protecting Our Planet by Anuradha Rao
Xiuhtezcatl Martinez: 20, Ecomusicology, We Rise: The Earth Guardians Guide to Building a Movement that Restores the Planet
Helena Gualinga: 18, The Amazon Rainforest and its Indigenous People, Tree of Rivers: The Story of the Amazon by John Hemming
Leah Namugerwa: 16, Climate Change Awareness and Plastic Pollution in Uganda, Plastic: A Toxic Love Story by Susan Freinkel
Daphne Frias: 22, Effects of Climate Change on the Disabled Community and Public Health, Changing Planet, Changing Health: How the Climate Crisis Threatens Our Health and What We Can Do About It by Paul R. Epstein and Dan Ferber
Jurwaria Jama: 15, Carbon Emission, The Carbon Code: How You Can Become a Climate Change Hero by Brett Favaro
Quannah Chasinghorse: 18, Protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Silent Snow: The Slow Poisoning of the Arctic by Marla Cone
- Cast Away: Poems for Our Time by Naomi Shihab Nye
- Green Nation Revolution: Use Your Future to Change the World by Valentina Gianella and Lucia Ester Marazzi
- We Are the Weather Makers: The History of Climate Change by Sally M Walker and Tim Flannery
- Eyes Wide Open: Going Behind the Environmental Headlines by Paul Fleischman
- You Can Change the World: The Kids’ Guide to a Better Planet by Lucy Bell
- Engage, Connect, Protect: Empowering Diverse Youth as Environmental Leaders by Angelou Ezeilo
- Climate Change From the Streets by Michael Mendez
- Indigenous Environmental Justice edited by Karen Jarratt-Snider and Marianne O. Nielsen
- A Terrible Thing to Waste: Environmental Racism and Its Assault on the American Mind by Harriet A. Washington
- Writers on Earth: New Visions for Our Planet (Young Voices Across the Globe) edited by Elizabeth Kolbert and Write the World
- Going Blue: A Teen Guide to Saving Our Oceans, Lakes, Rivers, and Wetlands by Cathryn Berger Kaye M.A. and Philippe Cousteau
- Here: Poems for the Planet edited by Elizabeth J. Coleman
- No One is Too Small to Make A Difference by Greta Thunberg