Despair and Hope in C C Education

Jan 31, 2012 at 4:06 PM by Gordon Harrison

When you are teaching climate change and its consequences, do you find your students are disheartened and depressed? Aren’t young people —like all of us — motivated more by positive solutions and practical strategies than we are by dire warnings and predictions? How do you deal with this in your classroom, teaching about what’s really happening while at the same time, engaging your students in real solutions and in transformative change?

5 Replies

Camille Garewal
Feb 5, 2012 at 11:21 AM

You've just introduced a topic that I believe is to be the biggest challenge of curriculum across this country. You may be interested in the author David Sobel who discusses the concept of ecophobia (it has a name!), especially in children. We continually teach our children about all the problems the natural world is facing but what do they really know about nature? Yeah, we teach them about ecosystems, but how relevant are those ecosystems to them?

Firstly, Sobel is does not support teaching elementary kids about environmental problems. He has this saying "no tragedy before grade 4." Sobel advocates for place-based learning where students are continually exposed to natural environments. Students develop a love of nature and identify with it; really, they see themselves as a part of the natural system (in short, they develop an ecological identity). Children become empathetic learners and they are do not view the environment as a war zone but rather as a part of them. That is the hope anyways! I love this way of thinking and would love to see schools' soccer pitches be transformed into forests. Bee keeping is becoming popular with schools. I'm sure through this forum we could develop a whole swathe of ideas of connecting children with nature. Having such natural spaces would give hope to kids and to their teachers!

As an environmentalist myself, I often feel despair to the point where it becomes overwhelming. I really feel like the best solution is to be more connected with nature. So, if you ever feel like your kids are getting bogged down by issues, why not take them to a nature center? Or a park?

Also, if you haven't already, you should read Richard Louv's "Last Child in the Woods." It's an excellent read!
Mr. Dick Holland
Feb 7, 2012 at 9:21 PM
Definitely Richard Louv!! Last Child in the Woods is a great book. I have got his latest - The Nature Principle - from the library but haven't finished it yet.

The challenge I have with David Sobel's warning is that children see what is going on to the environment even if we don't teach it. I think Gordon's question is one that we have to be ready to answer at any time.

... dick
Nov 4, 2012 at 2:47 PM
Hi there,
I am new to COOL 2.0 and have just read the last few messages from this discussion. Very good question and ideas! I completed a Masters in Environmental Studies a few years ago and focused my major project on hope in environmentalism.

Here are a few authors that may point you, as an environmental educator, in the right direction:

Freire, P. (2006). Pedagogy of hope(R. R. Barr Trans.). New York: The Continuum Publishing Company.

Freire, P. (2004). Pedagogy of the oppressed (30th aniversary edition ed.). New York, NY: The Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd.

Macy, J., & Young Brown, M. (1998). Coming back to life: Practice to reconnect our lives, our world. Canada: New Society Publishers.

Macy, J. (1991). World As Lover, World as Self. Berkeley, California: Parallax Press.

Rogers, R. (1994). Nature and the crisis of modernity: A critique of contemporary discourse on managing the earth. Montreal: Black Rose Books.

Shepard, P. (1982). Nature and madness. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press.

Shiva, V. (2005). Earth Democracy: Justice, sustainability and peace. Massachusetts: South End Press.

Somerville, M. (2006). The Ethical Imagination. Journeys of the Human Spirit. Toronto: House of Anansi Press Inc.

Thomashow, M. (2002). Ecological identity: Becoming a reflective environmentalist. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Thoreau, H. D. (1947). Walden. In C. Bode (Ed.), The portable thoreau (pp. 258-572). Toronto: Penguin Books Cananda.

I would be happy to send you more in an email.

I completed my major project with another student. We also looked at two other themes: What is Environmentalism and Environmental Identity. The idea of an environmental identity, greater than any individual identity and capable of more ways of knowing than the objective scientific view of the world, gives us, as environmentalists, hope. Perhaps starting with what is environmentalism and finding your and your students’ sense of environmental identity may help guide you through feelings of despair.

You may also find Joanne Macy’s work on despair to be very useful in the classroom. She has many useful workshop activities to help people move through feelings of despair about the environment. Macy’s recent work entitled “The Work that Reconnects” aims to illuminate the interconnections of the web of life and encourages us, through group work, to find insight, solidarity, and courage to act for the earth (1998).

Joanna Macy says “despair cannot be banished by injections of optimism or sermons of “positive thinking.” Like grief, despair must be acknowledged and worked through. This means it must be named and validated as a healthy, normal human response to the situation we find ourselves in” (1991; p. 16). In World As Lover, World as Self, Joanna Macy explains:

The suppression of despair, like that of any deep recurrent response, produces a partial numbing of the psyche. Expressions of anger or terror are muted, deadened as if a nerve had been cut. The refusal to feel takes a heavy toll. Not only is there an impoverishment of our emotional and sensory life—flowers are dimmer and less fragrant, our loves less ecstatic—but this psychic numbing also impedes our capacity to process and respond to information (1991; p. 15).

Well, please let me know if you'd like more reading ideas. Keren
Mr. Dick Holland
Nov 6, 2012 at 10:03 AM
Hi Karen,

Thank you for all your references. You have reminded me of some work I did with high school students using Joanna Macy's suggestions for dealing with the nuclear war threat and its impact on students. I think that the psychological trauma it was causing in students was more of a focus and the psychological impact of our present threats to the environment has not received the same focus.

Maybe we can work together with some teachers to put together an activity that could be uased in classrooms.

This post was edited on: 2012-11-06 at 10:04 AM by: Mr. Dick Holland
Gordon Harrison
Nov 7, 2012 at 10:00 AM
Hi Keren and Dick:

Thank you, Keren for your very thoughtful post. And Dick, I like the idea of activities for students AND resources for teachers for both teaching hope and for how they (we all) can get to hope.

Green Teacher runs some great webinars, two of these relevant to this discussion:

“Sustainable Happiness, Hope & Resiliency” presented by Catherine O'Brien and Elin Kelsey. In the Summer 2011 issue of Green Teacher, Catherine and Elin introduced the concepts of sustainable happiness, hope and resiliency and why it's so important to move beyond "gloom and doom." In this webinar, they invite you to join them in a lively conversation about how these ideas are catching hold and causing ripples of optimism across the disciplines of environmental and sustainability education, health and well-being and conservation biology, and around the world.

The second could seem counter-intuitive (it says we're not doing a good job of CC education and need to help students dig deeper into the issues). "Deep Climate Change Education: Learning and Teaching for Personal and Social Transformation” presented by David Selby and Fumiyo Kagawa. They critique mainstream manifestations of climate change education as a shallow and insufficient response to the global and human condition. They will offer an elaboration of a 'deep climate change education' that examines values issues, explores the dynamics of climate change avoidance and denial, investigates the complicity of economic growth in fomenting climate change while cultivating intimacy with nature, an ethic of denizenship, and commitment to global climate justice.

I believe the need for "Hope" education is deep and again, would welcome collaborative work in COOL to develop resources for teachers and students.