A New Earth Curriculum

Photo: iStockphoto.com/swilmor
Guy Dauncey's vision for Earth Literacy

Let me think aloud about our schools. I was told recently that when a group of children was shown ten vegetables, they could only identify one – a tomato. When they were shown ten corporate logos, they identified all ten. It makes you worried.

If we are to stop outstripping our planet’s resources, and navigate a way to a sustainable, low carbon world, it is critical that our children learn what it means to live on this crowded Earth, with its growing forests, vast oceans, and tiny creeks. So let me cast my thoughts ahead to the year 2015, and imagine that our teachers, parents, school boards, and staff at the Ministry of Education have realized the urgency of what’s needed.

Every school now has a garden where children learn to care for the soil, make compost, gather seeds, and cultivate the fruits and vegetables they later eat at their own table.

By the time they leave school, they have all learnt the harsh lessons of Easter Island, that when humans over-consume their resources, the result can be hunger, cultural collapse, and death.

Every school is instilling its students with a passion for solutions. There are solar systems on the roofs, hybrid electric vehicles being charged from the sun, and buildings are being refashioned to make them a model of clean air, daylight, comfort, and efficiency, with a green building budget to pay for the changes.

All children are learning about the Earth’s carbon cycle, what fossil fuels are, and why their use is causing Earth’s temperature to rise. Every spring they calculate their personal carbon footprints, and work with their schools to become carbon neutral.

Children are no longer ferried to school by their parents, learning lazy habits. Every student who lives within three kilometers or so of school either walks or cycles, using Safe Routes to School or a walking school bus, while the rest travel by biodiesel-powered school buses.

By the time they leave school, every student has spent a week in the wilderness, learning the rhythms of nature, the wisdom of the aboriginal elders, and the resilience to live without email, instant messaging, and cell phones.

They have also learnt to appreciate Earth’s oceans, and the fragility of life within its waters. We are the generation that is driving every commercial fish stock to extinction by 2050, and if our children do not learn otherwise, they will inherit a world without fish.

They are learning to appreciate water, how it cycles through the drains, into the ocean and back through the sky as rain. Schools are collecting rainwater, and using it to flush their toilets and irrigate their gardens.

By the time they leave school, every child has also visited a landfill where they have seen the mountains of garbage, connected it to their own behaviour, and learnt that there is no place called “away”.

The lessons of all this are being integrated into the curriculum as solar calculations in math, carbon cycles in geography, bicycle efficiency in physics, toxics reduction in chemistry.

How could we trigger this to happen? It could start with a contest in which one school challenged another to score more points for waste reduction, toxics reduction, trip reduction, energy efficiency, water efficiency, sustainable energy production, food production, and healthy catering. Will one school step forward to issue the challenge? There are many skilled people within the environmental movement who could help you design the contest.

Now imagine a college announcing that starting in September 2015, every entry student would be required to pass a test called Earth Literacy 101. This would require local schools to integrate eco-literacy into the curriculum, which would get the ball rolling. Reading and writing are fine, but if we lack Earth Literacy, we’ll have no civilization to practice them in.

Teachers – will you write to your Principals and school boards, and to the Ministry of Education, asking them to help you make this a reality? Together, we can build a movement for Earth Literacy that will change the face of education.

PS: Here are some useful resources - www.greenteacher.com, greenlearning.ca, www.bcsea.org/learn, www.walkingthetalk.bc.ca.

This article was first published in Common Ground Magazine, January 2007. It has been reprinted with permission of the author.

Guy Dauncey is a speaker, author and eco-futurist who works to develop a positive vision of a sustainable future, and to translate that vision into action. He is founder of the BC Sustainable Energy Association, and author or co-author of nine books, including the award-winning The Climate Challenge: 101 Solutions to Global Warming. He is currently completing a new book titled Earth’s Secret: A Journey to the Future, set in Vancouver in the year 2032, when it has become the greenest city in the world. His website is www.earthfuture.com.