Table of Contents

    Issue Theme
  • The Big One

    Teaching about climate change

    Authored By Bill Bigelow

    The environmental crisis requires a profound social and curricular rethinking.

  • Cover Story
  • Free A Pedagogy for Ecology

    Authored By Ann Pelo

    Helping students build an ecological identity and a conscious connection to place opens them to a broader bond with the earth.

  • The Wonder of Nature

    Authored By Bob Peterson

    A review of The Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, The Sense of Wonder, and A Sand County Almanac.

  • Rethinking Lunchtime

    Making lunch an integral part of education

    Authored By Michael Stone

    Lunch is too important to be thought of as the ritual pit stop between classroom and playground.

  • Educating Heather

    First-person narratives bring climate change closer to home

    Authored By Lauren G. McClanahan

    First-person narratives about climate change bridge the gap for students between theory and reality.

  • Teachable Moments Not Just for Kids

    Authored By Susan Naimark

    When parents avoid connecting, they model for children how not to talk about race and racism.

  • Beat It! Defeat It! Racist Cookies

    Promoting activism in teacher education

    Authored By Bree Picower

    How racist cookies spurred a teacher and her education students to take action.

  • "Bait and Switch"

    New report pushes voucher fans to fast-talk around problems

    Authored By Barbara Miner

    Voucher advocates are fast-talking their way around a new report that cast doubts on the value of the program.

  • America's Army Invades Our Classrooms

    The military’s stealth recruitment of children

    The Army's new high-tech strategy for winning recruits.

  • Teaching for Joy and Justice

    Authored By Linda Christensen

    An excerpt from Christensen's new book, Teaching for Joy and Justice: Re-imagining the Language Arts Classroom.

  • Boycott!

    Los Angeles Teachers Say NO to More Testing

    Authored By Sarah Knopp

    Los Angeles teachers take on LAUSD's mandated tests.

  • Free Connected to the Community

    An effective model for preparing and retaining teachers

    Authored By Marianne Smith, Jan Osborn

    A look inside I-Teach, an effective model for preparing and retaining teachers.

  • Izzit Capitalist Propaganda?

    Authored By Julie Knutson

    DVDs from follow a familiar free-market script.

  • "It Was So Much Fun! I Died of Massive Blood Loss!"

    The problem with Civil War reenactments for children

    Authored By Karen Park Koenig

    A mock battle highlights the line between role-playing and re-enactment.

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Preview of Article:

The Big One

Teaching about climate change
The Big One

I sat on the tall stool, facing the class of 9th graders. I put a cigarette between my lips and flicked on the lighter.

"Anyone mind if I smoke?"

Yes, they did mind: "That's disgusting." "It's against the law to smoke here." "There's secondhand smoke and it smells bad."

I hoped this opening to a unit on climate change would underscore the idea that—even if students don't have the vocabulary to express it—we are all familiar with the concept of the "commons." In this classroom, we shared a breathing commons, and I didn't have to convince students that no one had an individual right to pollute it with cigarette smoke. I hoped the cigarette-in-the-classroom stunt would work as a metaphor: the earth's atmosphere is just a bigger version of the classroom—a finite "commons" that none of us owns, but that each has a stake in.

I've become convinced that climate change—global warming, climate chaos; call it whatever you like—is the biggest issue facing humanity. As the renowned environmental activist Bill McKibben points out, we need to understand

that the question is of transcendent urgency, that it represents the one overarching global civilizational challenge that humans have ever faced.... The evidence gets worse by the day: already whole nations are evacuating, the Arctic is melting and we have begun to release the massive storehouse of carbon trapped under the polar ice. Scientists figure the "safe" level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is about 350 parts per million.... Go beyond it for very long and we will trigger "feedbacks" that will result in runaway warming spiraling out of any human control and resulting in a largely inhospitable planet.

Tim Swinehart, active in our Portland, Ore., Area Rethinking Schools "earth in crisis" curriculum workgroup, had invited me to co-teach a several-week unit on global warming to his 9th-grade global studies students at Lincoln High School. Tim and I teach social studies, not science. We knew that we were ill-equipped to offer the kind of hard scientific instruction that would help students grasp exactly how and why the climate is changing. But just as all of us are responsible for the atmospheric commons, climate change falls into a curricular commons; Tim and I were committed to explore the social impact of global warming as well as some of its social roots. How the six billion metric tons of CO2 we pump annually into the atmosphere affects the earth's natural systems may be a scientific question. Why we do this, who it affects, and, at least in part, how we can stop it—these are social questions.

We especially wanted students to appreciate the inequality at the heart of climate change: those who have the smallest carbon footprint are the ones most victimized by its consequences. We wanted students to probe beneath the glib "buy green" solutions to global warming. And Tim and I knew that in this unit we would toe a fine line between communicating the vast dangers of global warming and encouraging students to recognize their power to make a difference.

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