Sustainability in the Cirriculum

A class of third graders sit on the small carpet in front of the classroom. They listen attentively to the teacher, as she explains what words like “sustainability” and “local” mean. That night, one of the third graders, Mary, goes home, and begins to explain the new knowledge to her dad, and points out the the bell peppers they are having for dinner are all the way from North Carolina. Her dad takes note of this, and although does not immediately change his ways to buy more local food, he begins to look for farmer markets in the area. Because of the curriculum this Mary’s school has been beginning to implement, her classmates and her begin to make the transition from buying food that has been imported hundreds of miles, to locally grown food.

So many issues in society stem from ignorance. Ignorance about other races, religions, disabilities; and ignorance about the environment. How many people go out of their way to buy local food? Why should people need to go out of their way to do this? Without people who are educated about environmental issues, nothing is ever going to change. Organizations like the Green Schools Initiative are looking to put the environmental aspect of life into kid’s education.

There are many different environmental issues that directly affect kids and youth, which is why this is a children’s issue. Air pollution has similar effects on children to that of second hand smoking. In Iceland, during years with less air pollution children had fewer episodes of chronic cough, bronchitis, common cold, and conjunctivitis symptoms. Also, climate change affects all children’s future. With melting ice caps, rising ocean levels, and more extreme weather, everyone is at risk. So why are kids not knowledgeable about these issues?

Many times while writing this essay, I thought about what could solve the issue of food transportation; it causes air pollution and emits huge amounts of greenhouse gases, all resulting in climate change. Could we lobby the government for more support of local food growers? This would be difficult to do without the public’s support, and would not necessarily get to the root of the problem: the people. When masses of people are uneducated about climate change, they are much less likely to take an active stance against imported food, as well as generally maintaining a sustainable lifestyle. So, how would it be possible to convince people to buy local foods? Of course we could ask for Public Service Announcements that talk about how buying locally can support the local economy, the environment, and reduce general climate change affects. However, this still wouldn’t change much. An ad would just be another thing people have to worry about, instead of something built into people’s lives. We need a revolutionary system to change the way we think, to get at the root of the problem. We do not understand climate change. Sustainability is not built into our lives. It is an excess, not a necessity, or so we think.

Instead, what if humans had a system that got the root of the problem? Is there some way to make sustainability part of the system from the beginning of people’s life? Yes. The answer is education.  People need basic information on why purchasing local food is important. At a public school, from my experience, very few of the students had ever been to or even knew what a farmers market is. Lower and middle class families are often not educated about buying locally, which is why there needs to be a new system installed in schools. Sustainability should become part of the curriculum, and can be incorporated into every class, as it appears in all aspects of our lives. When students are given an understanding of the world around them in this way, they will become more likely to shop locally, and get the government to support the local food producers. They will also become more environmentally conscious in other aspects of their lives, another amazing effect that a simple lesson in class can have. In second grade, a group that educates kids about water usage came to my school, and talked about five minute showers. I don’t even remember the name of the group anymore, yet I still am influenced by that experience, and now am much more conscious about my water usage. Effects like this would have the opportunity to occur everywhere, building a better future. Schools need to involve the basis of the way the world functions in their curriculum, sustainability.

So what would this actually look like? Let’s go back to the example of Mary’s class. Instead of being a separate class, sustainability is incorporated into each lesson. Current events class can discuss the disastrous weather events and how they may be worsened by global warming, history can discuss the peak of CO2 after the industrial revolution. Vocabulary can include terms that relate to climate change. Everyone can multiply numbers in their head when calculating the tip on a meal, there is not reason we shouldn’t be able to choose the soup can with less packaging. Like math and writing, sustainability can be incorporated into our every day life, and this can start with education.

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