Like Leonard Cohen says, everybody knows. Everybody knows that the climate is on the verge of collapse and the public school system is failing students spectacularly. We have an immodest proposal that can bring these crises toward a joint resolution.
We propose to reorient the entire school system so that its main focus for everyone — students, teachers, and parents alike — is to study the earth and the climate crisis for the purpose of developing solutions.
We’ll start with one school, appropriately named Brookfield in Oakland, California. A few of us got the idea when the school board voted to close the school last year by the end of May 2023. We decided to create a Green Community School with an emphasis on climate change.
We intended to build support for this idea to persuade the district to keep the school open. However, we have just won a significant victory, electing on November 8 a progressive majority school board which will almost certainly vote to keep the school open.
It’s time to go on the offensive. We can get approval for whatever we do from the school board. We can bring back progressive education.
Nearly all public schools in the country are failing to deeply educate our children because they are mired in a 19th century factory model of schooling where the teacher funnels something like knowledge into the ears of thirty students.
Twentieth century education science has developed another model, variously called child centered, progressive, constructivist, humanist, hands-on education. The theorists of this approach go back the nineteen teens, with Dewey, Montessori, Piaget, Vigotsky, bell hooks leading the pack. This philosophy has been most successfully implemented in the Head Start program and the Early Childhood Centers which followed Head Start. This approach has three main components:
- Small ratio of students to adults (8:1 or smaller)
- Hands-on, constructivist curriculum (play is children’s work)
- Collegial, collaborative relations between teachers and parents.
Some inroads were made in bringing this approach into the K12 system in the 60s and 70s: Open classrooms, Learning stations, Organic Reading, portfolio assessment (as opposed to the racist standardized tests). The movement for more constructivist schooling was never provided with the support it needed from the system, in particular, a low ratio of students to adults. And then it was slammed by the back-to-basics movement, driven by the textbook and testing industry and conservative politicians, whose philosophy has evolved into attacking Critical Race Theory (another term for American history, IMHO).
One “experiment” that the federal government enacted in the late sixties was to pay parents to act as assistant teachers, one in every classroom. This would ensure the proper ratio needed for more hands-on activities, as well as address the economic development of the BIPOC communities.
Another progressive innovation, put forward by Lilian Katz, was called the Project Approach, where the curriculum would be centered around the students’ creation of projects that captured their interest.
We are proposing that Brookfield adopt the singular project of saving the planet.
A design team of teachers, parents, and community people will develop a Save the Earth curriculum, beginning with honoring the Ohlone people on whose land the school is located, studying their culture and their relationship to nature.
Children’s natural affinity for animals can be harnessed for them to understand what it means to lose 2000 species a year, according to scientists. They can plant gardens, cook and eat the vegetables. Measure the growth of their plants for math. Study such works as the Lorax, Watership Down, and On Walden Pond for language arts. Plant trees and study the forest as a cooperative community that should be emulated by humans.
We will need to develop an educational program for parents as well.
When we get Brookfield off the ground, we’ll go after the whole district, persuade it to adopt the study of climate change as its primary mission.