Connecting My Students to COP21 Through Oceans

2015-12-08-11-36-49-protest-2I am an educator from the United States, and I am proud of that. I am also excited about learning the cultures, languages, and viewpoints of other countries. I share the good and the bad with my students, and then we talk about it. I say “talk” because “discuss” has such a formal air to it; my students do anything but discuss. They are like sponges and cannot get the questions or comments out of their mouths before another one pops in, ready to erupt and be blurted out. It is gratifying to see their minds whirling and thinking and trying to take it all in.

So today, as I sat in on the session called “The Importance of Addressing Oceans and Coasts in an Ambitious Agreement at the UNFCCC COP21,” I thought about my students and all the questions that they ask about oceans. Now let, me back up a minute or two. We are in the Piedmont of North Carolina, which means at the best we are 4 hours and at the worst 8 hours away from the ocean coast. My students know of the recreational areas along the Atlantic coast of North Carolina, like Myrtle Beach or Emerald Isle. So they are fully aware of the ocean, but only in the context of beaches and places of recreation and relaxation. When we talk about oceans, the questions tumbled out just as if they were surf tossed from the seas. Their desire for ocean knowledge is inexhaustible. They would be encouraged to know that ocean health is a concern at COP21, and that the governing body at the negotiations is looking at this in addition to all of the other pieces that will make up an agreement to limit climate change.

2015-12-08-11-36-09-protest-1I know you might be saying,” Well, they’re only concerned because they like to swim and sunbathe and have fun.” But don’t we start to educate people by looking at the piece of the lesson to which they are drawn? Once you hook someone, you can pretty much teach them anything. So to engage my students in lessons around COP21, where should I start? They don’t care about the bickering over the wording of something; they care about the ocean: is it still going to be safe in the future and can I still go there?

If we begin to educate today’s students by engaging them with a good hook, we can move them from the pleasantries of ocean vacations to taking a harder look at the other important components that oceans contribute to life on Earth. We will then have created a solid group, with a vested and informed interest in the health of oceans and the planet. So, as I sat there and listened to the trivialities of changing this word or omitting this other one, I got very excited when one panelist mentioned that education was key to building the support needed to facilitate a change in the trend of ocean health and human security. I was so excited that before I knew it, I had raised my hand and was adding my comments to those of the high-level players in this COP. It felt good! I felt like they listened when I told them I was an educator and that my students were passionate about the ocean and that my students were the key to educating the older generations. I am proud to be the educator of these students. I hope that they would have been proud of me for standing up for what I knew to be true.

2015-12-08-11-35-37-ocean-panelBut I mentioned that sometimes we have to accept the bad things that come with the good. As we were leaving the conference, we passed by a protest against the United States. I was sad that people feel as they do towards us and I was a wee bit angry as I thought, “But they aren’t talking to the ‘everyman;’ they aren’t talking to teachers that work desperately to educate their students about the values that are important in life. They are basing all of their perceptions on our government officials, and they are going back a LONG way; I mean, they’re not even looking at the current administration totally.”

I wanted to reach out to them and say, come talk with my students – they are the future, they will be the governing leaders of tomorrow, and they care. As those thoughts rumbled through my brain, I thought, “now is the time to spur my students into action and see what great things they can do!” We need to trust that today’s students and young people can take the reins and drive a new order of thinking, but that starts with us!

This blog post was also published on the Huffington Post! View that version here.

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