[T]he task is to articulate…an alternative worldview to rival the one at the heart of the ecological crisis -- embedded in interdependence rather than hyper-individualism, reciprocity rather than dominance, and cooperation rather than hierarchy. …Because in the hot and stormy future we have already made inevitable through our past emissions, an unshakeable belief in the equal rights of all people and a capacity for deep compassion will be the only things standing between civilization and barbarism. (This Changes Everything, page 462)
Naomi Klein may not have had our public education system in mind when she made this call to action in the final chapter of her book This Changes Everything but let's consider the possibility that our public schools could provide a place for the exploration and practice of an alternative worldview, one that could save civilization.
What if, to prepare our children for the complete restructuring of our political, economic and social systems necessitated by the climate change crisis, the dominant paradigm in schools was not competition for grades but instead collaboration to solve real problems?
What if, instead of preparing students to be careerists and consumers in an extractivist economy, schools focused instead on preparing our children to be global citizens, aware of how their choices and actions impacted the lives of all other global citizens?
What if, instead of only teaching our children the traditional literacies -- reading, writing, numeracy -- we also taught them ecological literacy, social literacy, emotional literacy, and other ways of "reading the world"?
And what if we did all this within the framework of ubuntu, the African philosophy that suggests that I am because we are, that my ongoing existence depends on the existence of others?
Could adopting the ubuntu worldview save us from a slide toward a state of barbarism that will inevitably exist should the climate change predictions of the Pentagon and the Intergovernmental Committee on Climate Change (IPCC) be allowed to come to fruition?
Imagine a school where students are competent not only in reading, writing and arithmetic, but are also able to "read" the land around the school, noticing when there are changes in the natural environment and what those changes mean for birds, for animals and also for people.
Imagine schools where diverse groups of students, guided by teacher-mentors, worked collaboratively on projects that solved actual problems, gaining valuable experiences while doing meaningful work.
Imagine schools where project-based learning and place-based education were not the exceptions that they are now but instead were part of a seamless connection between classrooms and the communities surrounding schools.
These innovative teaching practices are just a few of many that teachers have developed while simultaneously having to contend with multiple challenges in public schools brought about by a neoconservatist assault on public education everywhere.
Teachers are always keenly aware that they are midwives for their students' futures. Now, more than ever, they need to be supported in the work that they do to prepare students for a chaotic and challenging future.
Instead of defunding public schools and bashing teachers, wise politicians, guided by an enlightened public, should realize that teachers, not corporations, are critically important to our future.
There can be no economy without a viable environment.
Our children's future lives depend first on there being a habitable planet Earth.
In contrast, corporate profits depend on the denuding of our land, the pollution of our water and of our air.
The kind of world we will all live in by the time our kindergarteners graduate will depend on who and what we as a society choose to support on the road to the future.
The choice we collectively make will change everything.