Teaching through climate change: the power of storytelling

This article is based on a spontaneous insightful dialogue with Christian Wagley, Costal Organizer Florida-Alabama, working with Healthy Gulf and 350Pensacola. 

These thoughts are part of the reflection process as I listen to Christian and allow a deeper consideration of how we teach through climate change, the opportunity for fostering “Learning, Diversity and Urban Thinking”. Sustainable starts with the inner process of the teacher…. “bending the beam of attention toward oneself”, as Otto Scharmer says.

how we place people on land matters, Cbristian Wagley
as we dialogue, we are mirrored back by the amazing student artist, and here are her scribing and understanding our dialogue: 1. Pensacola being a connection point for Tallahassee and New Orleans, at a three-hour drive from both, connecting yet also strength of the climate plans in both nearby cities. 2. Spreading out the info to the teachers who then spread it to the students, who in turn shared it with their connections. 3. Building cities around people, not cars. In the past, everything was more accessible and efficient in order for things to be close. Now, things are at large distances with negative space and everyone needs cars to get around.

1, Teaching with megatrends and low-signals

 From a future foresight and anticipatory (UNESCO futures literacy agenda) perspective what kind of megatrends or low signal could we teach with?

Christin reflects on “cities built around cars instead of people, no spaces left for fair.” And as a low signal and positive action “ when building around people, allowing diversity, less use of energy, wonderful thing happens”. Christian invites to reflect on the feeling of safety, in the suburbs the design of urban around cars, you feel less safe than in say Paris which is 30 times more dense, yet you have a bit of everything. My mind runs to the City as Designer project we observed in Sept 2018 part of the Design Week Helsinki, with Lauri Jantti, project manager Tiia Niskanen class teacher and Noora Pyyry researcher, and the 6 graders students. The idea of the project was to observe the learning process of remapping urban spaces, and how our interactions with the urban spaces redefine and shape feelings of safety and belonging.

Megatrends continuing with ideas, Christian mentioned “more walkable and bikeable urban realities”, if we separate people from their needs ( to secure access to healthy food, schooling, health services, culture etc), that is not “good planning” If we consider “ how we put people on the land” ( I absolutely love this expression)  we then consume much less, far less environmental impact.  

The US approach to zoning has been benchmarked in different parts of the world. Thinking of the zoning as a story of the past that was a planning story of the industrial area and now the invitation is to rethink that, for example, “the swamp industrial zoning” and we got people into the megatrend of “struck in their cars”. 

Cities built around cars instead of people, no spaces left for fair
Megatrends and low signals as reflected back by scribing student artist Tea 1. Suburb house = needs more energy, less efficient. Housing diversity = less energy required, more efficient.2 Zoning 3 The price of house safety insurance tripled 4 People will do whatever, pay whatever, in order to be safe.
Florida is actually aware of the fact that climate change is a thing and is trying to do something. 5 Humans like nature.

2. Critical and scientific thinking, inquiry-based learning

The opportunity when it comes to teaching with and through climate change as facilitators, to balance between materialist ( pecuniary)  considerations and thinking processes and ethical implications as a thinking process and skill. Reimagining teaching with ethics as part of highly critical and scientific thinking if we consider “this generation will use science for everyday decision making, more than any generation in their everyday life choices”.And I am also once more returning to the idea that education is the space for envisioning citizens able to make democratic decisions with respect to humans and more than human rights”. Christian, invites a reflection on the biophiliahypothesis suggests that humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life”, a term proposed by Edward O. Wilson. Christian then self-inquires how “could we connect people to local, regional ecosystems? “Here, people interact a lot with fishing and hunting this is what they have been doing for generations”. So it is easy to see them, as good ecology students. Yet is there a way to connect the young people, if you were born in what is called a “defective baseline” if you do not have a memory of how amazing the coral reef that now is 98% dead was, or how this local fish used to be this big and now the impact on oneself when looking at “the downsizing” of the fish, if what is called the baseline system is degraded are you going to feel and raise to the urgency? Is this a barrier to learning? If “they do not know how beautiful nature (local regional ecosystem) was?”. There is also the opportunity to teach with social ecology, and to practice integrative leadership skills, “holding both the urgency and the patience” ( Dr. Linda Hill, Harvard University). Most of the issues will not be solved during a lifetime, and we have the opportunity to teach with humane muscle or what the UN agenda to teach with Sustainable Development Goals called Inner Goals. In an open dialogue with Prof. Andy Watts, organized by the James Lawson Institute for the Research and Study of Nonviolent Movements at Vanderbilt University, Christiana the host of the dialogue raises this question of finding the joy, and hope to learn and work with issues that will be solved in the future generations timeline.

This generation will use science for everyday decision making, more than any generation in their everyday life choices
from student artist Tea scribing reflecting back 1. Students feel so much pressure with the climate change issue, that they can’t focus on whatever they’re supposed to be working on, instead thinking about how this activity is polluting the planet, how they should be doing more, and how they’re not doing enough. 2 Now/then. Ecosystems shrink over time. And some people don’t even realize that the watered-down world they see now isn’t ‘normal’, it’s only normal for them. 3 Normality is a changing opinion. A seventy-year-old person might think that a park is ruined when they see the stumps where trees had once been, the muddy water, the dying fish, the wilted plants, while all the kid ever knew was this, and this is what they consider their normal.
Field trip day: Taking elementary kids to coral reefs, showing them what the reef looked like, and then showing them what it looks like now, a ghost of what it had been before.

I (Andreea) would include Octavia Butler’s and the groundbreaking and paradigm-shifting book called “Lilith Brood” in all science and STEAM curricula. As my own takeaways, this story speaks to the above-mentioned concept of biophilia, this innate need to connect, co-regulate, and find oneself and others in nature. 

Is there a way to tell the stories with the 2% of the coral reef (here in Florida) alive, the story of a coral reef in Galapagos that is yet alive and well and yet we cannot go there all and see it with our own eyes? 

Once more, it is my perception the invitation is to place-based learning, biophilia being the invitation to connect with nature where you are. 

3. Teaching climate change opportunity of new Just economy paradigm

Just a seed here Christian is willing to nurture in all social and learning encounters, for future action and teaching, diversity of economic thinking; from the capitalist perspective, climate and environment being something of “damage control” that comes with endless economic growth based on consumption growth. My reflection as I listen is reimagining teaching with “Just Money, by Kaufer and Steponaitis” a model (like game-based learning in the class if you would like) “that money, if used intentionally and equitably, can be just money—a tool that serves nature, human development, and social justice”. Christian reflects back on the Donut Economy model proposed by British economist Kate Raworth, this innovative approach seeks to create a balance between the needs of people and the planet, and advance to new local models for restorative economics. In her research and book The Gig Economy, Juliet Schor Boston College attracts attention to multiple economical mindsets: 1. homo economicus 2. moral economy 3. financial satisficers. I reimagine teaching with journaling skills for thinking and learning skills to allow students to move through different financial and economic mindsets.

scribing from students artist Tea: 1.We want to grow, and in growing, we need resources. We won’t have them forever, and yet we keep pushing the limits. More. More. More. And when we run out, we won’t be able to accept it, thinking there is always more when there is no more.

4. Diversity as Redesigning Urban Places

“When you allow and combine different things in design, good things happen in terms of housing, shops, schools, flats, walking, biking, parks”, says Christian. I invite the pedagogy of powerful storytelling; the scarcity of storytelling of imaginal and imagination, of “stealing young people’s right to dream”and imagine futures, that we cannot all travel to Galapagos Islands, says Christian, to see and experience and allow the beauty of the coral reef to inform (shape) our learning. As we are working with teachers, and NGO representatives with the storytelling pedagogy and active dream pedagogy as tools for teaching with Sustainable Development Goals, we practice creating spaces for storytelling. “ We cannot teach what we do not have”, says prof Lonka, University of Helsinki, the teachers do not have to be climate change experts, they can facilitate a process with and for students being in different emotional places regarding the topic, sharing different values and yet moving collectively, co-learning, this is the opportunity and urgency of climate change. As I practiced with participants from France, Portugal, and India in the project called Oddience2030 the impactful tool from Joanna Macy called “The 4 voices and the 3 stories about climate change” we noticed that it felt difficult to listen to voice from the future. The takeaway is that we can and should create class spaces where we can meaningfully practice listen to all voices (perspectives) and that might really happen in many different ways. Some of our students will speak out loud, with no anxiety, yet some might need a more intimate space. Some will challange our values and we practice noticing and then suspending our own theater of emotions and patterns of thoughts to trully listen to the other one. Storytelling and listening skills are the opportunities to involve and practice highly critical thinking and metathinking process of learning to learn, what David Bohm called proprioception, we can learn to listen to the very different and multiple voices (perspectives) if we have in our classrooms spaces and ways for students to practice listening to their own pattern of thoughts first, notice their own values and beliefs stories we tell to our selves about who we are, and learn to suspend those just enough to intentionally listen “ to the other voice”. With multiple perspectives, creativity becomes possible, and 21st century education is the invitation to support knowledge creators not consummers.  

“When you allow and combine different things in designing, good things happen”

5. Science Communication, the invitation to Storytelling

As a new field of study– dialogue and participatory processes have proven to be effective in engaging people with climate change, dialogue (Narrative, Imagination, and Visualisation) truly makes possible INFORMING (connecting to people’s emotions & identities. Teachers could translate it for their own process as co-teaching, creative teaching, as “solo practices are insufficient to meet the challenges in our classrooms”, says Vera John-Steiner. Storytelling is a powerful STEAM approach. One example, the world-renowned practices like Dance your PHD ‘where scientists express their research through dance. The purpose is to educate by explaining complex theories through interpretive dance.

Solo practices are insufficient to meet the challenges in our classrooms, Vera John-Steiner

6 Teaching with the Right for “a positive image of life, a life worth living for”

 As  I listen and dialogue with Christian, it is not difficult at all to notice, the “light presence” and positive tone, climate change can be taught with hope. I  reflect back on bell hooks teaching community book, as she invites us to bring the problems in the room yet also bring the little actions “ what we do to address and resolve”, and that is plenty of what Christian was sharing by being present even. Yet let us go back a moment on this idea Hooks calls pedagogy of hope, if we only bring the problem into the (class)room and we leave no space no invitation for the actions, we bring in the class “the dominant voice of cynicism, lack of compassion” in the words of both Otto Scharmer and bell hooks,  and without the awareness of teachers and adults around we invite students and young people to mirror back the lack “ of a positive image of life worth having”. Without this inner process of building this image, in her book Phenomenal Learning from Finland, prof. Lonka shows we cannot teach 21st-century competencies. As students lose and mirror the loss of a positive image of life, a life worth having “indifferent to the conditions out there”, they lose the feeling of belonging, of community. What prof. Otto Scharmer refers to the 3 divides: the ecological (thinking and feeling nature is something different) the social divide and the self divide ( what we call here a positive image of life). To tap into the divides in our classroom is the opportunity to teach with and through climate change.

bring the problems in the room yet also bring what we do to address and resolve, bell hooks

Further References:

This dialogue and initiative is based on the Learning, Diversity and Urban Studies Program at Vanderbilt University, insightful and process-provoking Prof. Chris Da Silva https://peabody.vanderbilt.edu/academics/masters-programs/learning-diversity-and-urban-studies-med/

Teaching Community-Pedagogy of Hope, Bell Hooks

Just Money, Katrin Kaufer

Dance your PhD https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dance_Your_Ph.D.

Lilith’ Brood, Octavia Butler trilogy 1987-1989

Megatrends https://www.un.org/en/desa/unen/report and using megatrends in teaching https://www.sitra.fi/en/topics/megatrends/ 

Teaching with storytelling and listening to all voices, tool adapted from “Coming back to life” Molly Young Brown, Joanna Macy, 1998

After the Gig, Juliet B. Schor

Inner Development Goals https://www.innerdevelopmentgoals.org/

Coming Back to Life: The Updated Guide to the Work That Reconnects, Joanna Macy (Author), Molly Young Brown (Author), 2014

Invitation to follow up on the activities of Oddience 2030 project financed via Erasmus KA2 program at https://oddience2030.com/en/bienvenue-english/

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