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Dr. Grauer's Column - The Thief of Childhood

The Thief of Childhood

This year I have been troubled by some of the toughest decision-making in my decades as an educator of teens. I have a lot to learn, so please write back to me…

Here is the situation:

I believe our local and global environments are in trouble. Facts like this: by 2050, scientists predict that the volume of plastic in our oceans will equal the volume of animal life in the ocean. Fact: Microplastics alone have filled into gigantic sinks in the sea and we have no idea what impact this will have on life—and this is set to triple in the next 10 years.

Plastic is just one of many environmental disasters queuing up, but this is not what has troubled me. Top scientists, not fringe scientists, but an overwhelming consensus of scientists whose work you can only disregard if you just plain ignore it or never even read it, are predicting that by the end of the century, 50% of the world’s species will be extinct. This is a devastating finding based upon the judicious use of the scientific method. [1] But this is not what is troubling me the most.

Grauer students Sarai, Karina, and Tahlia scatter seeds to grow more milkweed and attract butterflies to campus - September 3, 2019

What is worse, we have mostly sat around and watched this happen and done little or nothing, myself included. It feels like habitat loss, pollution, and overpopulation are videos we are passively watching from rooms where we sit. We find it entertaining. But, no, that’s also not the big trouble.

The real trouble I have stems from the fact that I have always treated my role as an educator as value-free: the teachers probe students, the students consider all perspectives on issues, the teachers create engaging environments, and the teachers probe more while students develop their own intellect and conscience. That worked for me for many years. I always felt that students need space to grow up, in their own time, and so the trouble is that I am aware of all these looming, undeniable facts about where our planet is heading and can no longer abide by the passive, nonjudgmental role as an educator. I can’t ignore climate change or pretend it is the purview of political squabbles that we endlessly debate, which is only easy to do if you have not studied climate change, extinction, or habitat loss. The only way to avoid all this is to ignore the overwhelming findings.

And so, my real trouble is not climate change, it is that I don’t want to steal childhood from our youth. I have been struggling with the prospect of weighing my students down with heavy, heavy global issues. They’re kids! I want them to have an innocent childhood. I don’t want to hit them with the truth of the earth we are leaving them, the devastated biomes, the extinctions, the hundreds of millions of refugees we will see in the coming decades, all of which my generation and those around it helped cause and have not yet done much to solve.  I don’t want to be the thief of childhood.  

I don’t want to be the thief of childhood.

Luckily, phenomenally, I am surrounded by contingencies of incredibly big-minded, compassionate, and resourceful people who are joining together in action. Yes, it is time for teachers to get out of the ivory tower, boards to get out of the board room, off our soap boxes, off the textbook standards, and to act. It is time for school trustees to think very long range and on a global level. And it is time for students to be empowered and student action to be welcomed as a fundamental aspect of coming of age and preparing to lead in the next generation.

Grauer 9th grade students enjoying an outside class on the roof of the Justice Center for the Performing Arts building - August 30, 2019

I asked our faculty about this, and everyone one of them agreed it was time for student empowerment. I took my trouble to our Board of Trustees, and in a farsighted, courageous governance move, every one of them agreed it was a time for action. Then I asked a junior class student about this, that is, were we going to steal her childhood. Could her generation handle this?

She looked right in my eye and said, easy as cake, “Yes. Sure.” I should not have been surprised. These are the same students who took to the streets in the aftermath of the Parkland shootings to advocate for their right to be safe in their schools.

Grauer Middle School students hiking on Annie's Canyon Trail in the San Elijo Lagoon Reserve - August 30, 2019

As Grauer Communications Officer Peggy Gardner says, “This is all surrounding them. They need to feel there is something they can do about all this, and not feel helpless.” We are surrounded by wisdom. To wit, our entire Faculty and Board of Trustees have unanimously taken one of the most momentous actions in our three decades of work on creating a new kind of school. The following courageous resolution will be upheld at The Grauer School this year, disseminated worldwide, and also held as a model for schools anywhere. We will be a beacon for this:

THE GRAUER SCHOOL JOINT FACULTY AND BOARD OF TRUSTEES CALL TO CLIMATE CHANGE ACTION, 2019

WHEREAS, The Grauer School Board of Trustees and Faculty recognize climate change as a generational justice and human rights issue, and to empower our students; and,
WHEREAS, The Grauer School Board of Trustees as a whole believes unity across all school constituencies is essential to our larger impact; and,
WHEREAS, the Grauer Faculty and Student Body have a long dedication to stewardship of the natural world; and,
WHEREAS, the Grauer Faculty have dedicated the 2019-20 academic year to this cause; and,
WHEREAS, there is a broad scientific consensus among climate scientists that human activities, contributing to increases in greenhouse gas emissions and habitat loss are a major cause of climate change and species extinction; and,
WHEREAS, we believe it is our moral imperative to advocate for climate action leading to climate restoration to curtail grave threats facing communities throughout the world; and,
WHEREAS, we believe that climate change is not a partisan issue and that local, state, and national policies must be guided by the best available science; and,
WHEREAS, children represent a particularly vulnerable group because greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere will continue to accumulate over the coming decades and will profoundly impact our current students throughout their lives, as well as the lives of future generations, as well as all species, many facing extinction; and,
WHEREAS, climate change is a social justice and equity issue (Climate change impacts all people and disproportionately impacts all young people and future generations; it disproportionately affects people of color and people in poverty, thereby exacerbating existing inequities and limiting equality of opportunity which is foundational to American democracy); and,
WHEREAS, youth claimants are currently asserting a constitutional right for a livable climate in in courts around the country (e.g., the Juliana v. U.S. case currently in federal courts and dozens of similar claims); and,
WHEREAS, the global impact, urgency, and magnitude of the challenge of addressing climate change calls for leadership in all sectors of society, all institutions and all elected leaders; and,
WHEREAS, The Grauer School Board of Trustees and Faculty recognizes and understands the significant negative impact that rapid and ongoing climate change has on schools across the United States and world, on students, and on their communities; and,
WHEREAS, in our pursuit of a sustainable future, The Grauer School seeks constant improvement by the sharing of knowledge, by holding long-term ecological sustainability as our highest ethical responsibility, and by upholding and protecting the integral relationship between natural ecosystems and human activity, on and off campus.


WHEREAS, The Grauer School Board of Trustees and Faculty commit to schoolwide sustainability principles that include:

  • Consciously looking for opportunities to extend the principles of social and emotional intelligence to include knowledge of and empathy for all living systems and embed these principles in our curriculum and Expeditionary Learning programming. 
  • Staff, faculty, and students exploring the natural world with which we are interconnected; encouraging and empowering students and faculty to observe and analyze how the choices we make impact the natural world (e.g., commitments on plastic use, recycling, waste management, composting, our carbon offsets, energy production). 
  • Empowering our student body to commit to climate action resolutions and sustainability principles, and to advocate publicly for a sustainable future.
  • Evaluating (along with our students) how our operating policies and daily acts reflect our commitment to sustainability, and making changes to those policies lacking in responsibility.
  • In classes and clubs, growing, gathering, and savoring organic food from our school garden, chickens, orchards, etc.
  • Learning where our food comes from and supporting farmers and producers in our foodshed who produce sustainably.
  • As with our Phase III architectural project, using green building principles, criteria, and strive to serve as a green building model in our community. These sustainability practices enrich our human and natural communities while preparing our students to be leaders in a dynamic world.


WHEREAS The Grauer School Faculty has presented this resolution to The Grauer School Board of Trustees.

LET IT THEREFORE BE RESOLVED THAT,

  1. The Grauer School Board of Trustees and Faculty declare climate change a generational justice and human rights issue.
  2. We commend our board, faculty and student body for furthering our stewardship of the natural world.
  3. The Grauer School Board of Trustees and Faculty call on U.S. Congress to swiftly enact national policies to restore the climate for the good of young people and of future generations.
  4. We thank the school boards and fellow independent schools and their faculties and student bodies who have already spoken up for climate justice by passing their own climate action resolutions. We encourage the independent school community and the National Association of Independent Schools to adopt similar climate change resolutions, calling on Congress to enact climate policies to protect current and future students.


BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that The Grauer School Board of Trustees and Faculty call on Congress to take swift and effective action on climate change. (Possible actions to protect current and future students include 100% clean energy plans, green infrastructure and technology investments, and investments in regenerative agriculture and forestry to draw down CO2 from the atmosphere and sequester in soils and biomass.) 

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that The Grauer School Board of Trustees and Faculty shall transmit official copies of this resolution to the following: The Grauer School Parent Association, the School public website, Encinitas City Council, National Association of Independent Schools, all California members of Congress and the Schools for Climate Action campaign.

Passed Unanimously on August 22, 2019 and signed by the Trustees of The Grauer Foundation for Education

 

[1] Hey, there, climate change deniers, I know you are there, and I apologize for putting you in a footnote, but The Grauer School cares about you. We care about all skeptics, as skeptics sometimes raise great questions. But, since we are a school, no questions will cause us to stray from the scientific method—only to study more deeply. Just know this: if the current prevailing scientific wisdom and consensus changes or turns out to be wrong, we will celebrate along with you if you let us. And our students will have benefited by knowing how to take better care of the earth, its soil, water, air, plants, and animals—no matter what our shared fate, being a better steward of earth is a universal goal we all share.

We all find it troubling that some people act like climate change is a political issue, as though paying attention to scientific consensus or not is sort of like joining one team or another …extremely troubling, but Grauer is a school and we neither ignore scientific consensus nor believe that scientists are always right.

 

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Grauer students Sarai, Karina, and Tahlia scatter seeds to grow more milkweed and attract butterflies to campus - September 3, 2019

Grauer Middle School students hiking on Annie's Canyon Trail in the San Elijo Lagoon Reserve - August 30, 2019

Grauer 9th grade students enjoying an outside class on the roof of the Justice Center for the Performing Arts building - August 30, 2019

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