A People’s Curriculum for the Earth: Teaching Climate Change and the Environmental Crisis

Teaching Guide. Edited by Bill Bigelow and Tim Swinehart. 2014. 400 pages.
Articles, student readings, and teaching activities to understand environmental problems and imagine solutions.

  • Themes: Environment & Food, Science | Reading Levels: High School | Resource Types: Teaching Guides

peoples_curriculum_for_the_earthA People’s Curriculum for the Earth is a collection of articles, role plays, simulations, stories, poems, and graphics to help breathe life into teaching about the environmental crisis.

The book features some of the best articles from Rethinking Schools magazine alongside classroom-friendly readings on climate change, energy, water, food, and pollution—as well as on people who are working to make things better.

At a time when it’s becoming increasingly obvious that life on Earth is at risk, here is a resource that helps students see what’s wrong and imagine solutions.

Here is an excerpt from the introduction to the book:

Shorter Showers?

In our “Earth in Crisis” group, teachers kept returning to our students’ responses: They wanted to know what they could do personally. Early in our work, we concluded that we need to help students recognize the inadequacy of responding to the environmental crisis solely as individuals. As we mention in the teaching ideas for Chapter 3, “Facing Climate Chaos” (p. 174), there are entire books that urge students to consider their individual carbon footprints, suggesting that our personal patterns of consumption are a root cause of global warming. Students are urged to think about the frequency of their baths, their electricity use, the stuff they buy. Yes, of course, we want young people— and everyone—to be mindful of the Earth as we go through our daily lives. And we want students to recognize the power they have—collectively or individually—to make the world a better place. But it’s wrong to direct students primarily toward individual solutions to create change.

In his Chapter Five essay, “Forget Shorter Showers,” Derrick Jensen confronts this problematic celebration of individual action:

Consumer culture and the capitalist mindset have taught us to substitute acts of personal consumption (or enlightenment) for organized political resistance. Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth helped raise consciousness about global warming. But did you notice that all of the solutions presented had to do with personal consumption—changing light bulbs, inflating tires, driving half as much—and had nothing to do with shifting power away from corporations, or stopping the growth economy that is destroying the planet? As students’ awareness of the environmental crisis grows, this consciousness can be misdirected by social forces that have an interest in how young people respond. The energy industry would much prefer that our students change their light bulbs, recycle their soda cans, or even install solar panels than organize a demonstration at the state capitol to shut a coal-fired power plant, testify at a public hearing against fracking, or otherwise gum up their fossil fuel machinery.

And there is another way that this celebration of the individual needs to be questioned in a people’s curriculum for the Earth. Individual property “rights” have long been seen as synonymous with “liberty.” “Liberty! Property!” was a cry of the American Revolution. But there were other more democratic cries as well, like Benjamin Franklin’s famous assertion that “Private Property…is a Creature of Society, and is subject to the Calls of that Society, whenever its Necessities shall require it, even to its last Farthing.”

What happens to the Earth if we respect the “right” of the fossil fuel industry to manage their assets however they please? More and more, the headlines are filled with the answer to that question: superstorms, drought, heat waves, melting glaciers, ocean acidification, species extinction, floods, drowning islands. A curriculum on the climate, and the environmental crisis more broadly, needs to address patterns of ownership and decision making. Our curriculum needs to confront the myth that private property is, in fact, private. The fate of the Earth “belongs” to us all. Read full intro here.

ISBN: 9780942961577 | Published by Rethinking Schools.

More resources on the Zinn Education Project website for teaching about the environment and climate change.

Reviews

“To really confront the climate crisis, we need to think differently, build differently, and teach differently. A People’s Curriculum for the Earth is an educator’s toolkit for our times.” —Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine and This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate

“This volume is a marvelous example of justice in ALL facets of our lives—civil, social, educational, economic, and yes, environmental. Bravo to the Rethinking Schools team for pulling this collection together and making us think more holistically about what we mean when we talk about justice.” —Gloria Ladson-Billings, Kellner Family Chair in Urban Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison

“Bigelow and Swinehart have created a critical resource for today’s young people about humanity’s responsibility for the Earth. This book can engender the shift in perspective so needed at this point on the clock of the universe.” —Gregory Smith, Professor of Education, Lewis & Clark College, co-author with David Sobel of Place- and Community-based Education in Schools

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There is one comment:

  • I’m glad to see an enlightened approach to providing students with a better information base, no matter what age, to realize the depth and nuances involved in the real stories throughout history.
    I knew of the potato famine,because of a disease destroying this food staple the Irish peasants relied upon and the failure by those running the farms, mainly for disinterested absentee landlords. Who only wanted a high return on their investment. This tragic disregard to provide sustenance while all around was plenty Happened because of my love of books and a desire to be reasonably well informed. It is a great asset towards all future learning, for a child to have that desire, that thirst for understanding which must be fostered..

    Response shared by david west — March 17, 2016 @ 1:50 am

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