I thought you might be interested in this last-ditch appeal I made to San Mateo County Office of Education Leaders. I requested that they add two lines to their inspirational Commitment to Environmental Sustainability Action Resolution. It's long, I know. But, it lays out some of the logic behind environmental educators and environmental literacy folks to include real-world non-partisan climate advocacy by adults and youth as part of their efforts. Finger's crossed.
Hello San Mateo County Education Leaders,
So great seeing your Commitment to Environmental Sustainability Action Resolution on Board Docs.
I'm hoping you might consider adding 1 or 2 lines:
(1) Congress should act quickly to enact common-sense climate policies to protect current and future students. (If you were just going to add one line, this would be the most important one to add).
(2) Climate change is a generational justice, human rights, and equity issue.
OR a slightly softer version that comes from the CA PTA 2015 resolution: Climate change is a children's issue.
I have a campout planned with my 6th grade class on Wednesday, otherwise I would try to attend your board meeting and make this appeal in person.
Here are 3 reasons for this request:
1. Help Move Congress to Act: If your resolution included a line calling directly on Congress to act on climate change, it would make it so much stronger as a tool to move Congress and also as an example to share with other school districts across the country. We are organizing youth-adult teams to hand deliver the school board and student council resolutions which call on Congress to act on climate in March of 2019. With just 15 teams we'll be able to hand-deliver them to all 435 Reps. and 100 Senators in a single day. This will help send a very clear signal about the educational sector's belief that Congress should act on climate change. Below is an overview sheet:
S4CA Congress, Act on Climate! Day 2019
I'm hoping school boards and student councils across San Mateo County will pass climate action resolutions and send some teams with us in March. We did a beta test in June and it was a very powerful and empowering experience for youth and adults involved.
2. Model High-Levels of Climate Literacy, "Scaffold" the Climate Problem, and Correct Possible Contradictory Subtexts:
SB 720 helps institutionalize climate literacy within the California school system. Scientists and climate policy experts suggest that we have a very short window to bend the national and world emissions curves---some say as soon as 2020 or 2025. While providing K-6 students robust climate literacy will help prepare them to address climate change, the science and policy experts seem to suggest that the timescale of this climate literacy initiative may be too slow to prevent the worst climate effects from harming our students and future generations. SB 720 is still an important and necessary piece of legislation and I am very grateful to the CA EE leaders and to Assemblymember Tony Thurmond for making it happen. However, school boards can extrapolate from the logic of SB 720 and speak up for national climate action now in a non-paritsan way. We do not have to wait for our climate literate students to do so in 5 or 10 or 15 years, after the window of safety has closed. Speaking up now would help school boards better model and therefore institutionalize climate literacy, as SB 720 encourages.
Pre-emptive scaffolding: By building non-partisan political will to start addressing climate change immediately, the educational sector can also make the climate problem (that requires climate literacy and SB 720 in the first place) a bit more manageable. Think of it as pre-emptive scaffolding. We know climate change will be a problem, that's why students need the climate literacy. We know the problem will be huge, that's why it is so important that climate literacy be institutionalized across all California schools. By the same logic, if there is anything we can do to manage the scale of the problem for which students will need the climate literacy, then we should do so. Calling directly on Congress to act is a clear, reasonable step which will help scaffold the already daunting task our students will have to manage climate change. Currently, without showing students a path to building will for national climate action, it seems likely that no amount of climate literacy will prepare and protect California school kids an overwhelming climate problem.
Model Highly Climate Literate Decisions: By modeling highly climate-literate behavior themselves school boards will better institutionalize climate education. Certainly, local, intradistrict sustainability initiatives are very, very important and display important climate literacy. But focussing strictly on those local efforts, without also making direct, non-partisan appeals for national climate action may undermine school district climate literacy efforts. Part of climate literacy is developing the ability to use climate science to influence human institutions at all scales (including Congress) to make climate-safe decisions. It would be a significant missed opportunity to model (and, therefore, teach) climate literacy if your resolution did not include a direct appeal to Congress. One most salient patterns in our nation's struggle to preserve a safe climate for young people is national inaction and the perpetuation of socio-politically transmitted, a-scientific worldviews and perceptual filters related to climate change and climate solutions. To model robust climate literacy, it is important not to sidestep or avoid responding directly to this pattern, but rather to speak in a non-partisan manner that builds will to break the dangerous pattern of inaction.
Correct Possible Contradictory Subtext: Omitting direct, clear mention of national climate action or Congress' need to act may cloud climate literacy efforts with unstated subtexts. An unstated subtext of your resolution without a clear appeal for national action might be that we can act effectively on climate as a community and a society without explicitly and directly building support for commonsense national climate action. This does not seem to be backed up by mainstream climate science and climate policy analysis. Given the timescale of action needed, it seems unlikely that we'll preserve a safe climate for our young people without moving Congress, in addition to expanding all of the very important local, county, and state efforts. This seems to be a very important message to include in all of our climate literacy efforts---that action on every scale is important and that actors at every scale can influence actions at every other scale in a positive manner. Local actors can influence local actions, but one necessary and important local action is to build will and help create socio-political norms for national scale actions.
Fortunately, sending a clear signal to Congress requires very little or no resources and it is not the least bit partisan. If it feels partisan, that's mostly an artifact of one specific political party's disassociation from mainstream climate science and not an objective interpretation of the signals or statements themselves.
3. Strengthen Coherence of the Educational Sector: There exists a "polite silence" about many aspects of climate change from across the educational sector. For example, in June, 2018, my fifteen-year-old son, Kai, and I met with a long-time staffer of the California School Boards Association (CSBA) in Sacramento. I asked him/her if the CSBA measured climate change impacts on California schools or California school kids. (As an educator from Sonoma County, it's easy for me to see the direct links between climate change, national climate inaction, and negative impacts on schools and students.) The CSBA staffer laughed ironically, clearly frustrated. He/she said something along the lines of, We don't and if we did, we would not be able to call it that. We'd have to call it 'air quality' or something like that. The words "climate change" are considered too controversial, too political around here.
I have spoken with other people connected with top-level educational organizations in California who were not the least bit surprised by this conversation. To them, the climate self-censorship and climate-semantic tiptoeing in the educational sector seems widespread. Based on conversations I have had with high level employees at the the National School Boards Association, it seems like the NSBA is also not yet ready to speak openly and clearly about climate change and the national climate inaction, even though this inaction contributes to conditions which expose hundreds of thousands or millions of American students to harm and risk of trauma each year. It seems safe to assume that if the CSBA and the NSBA cannot speak openly and directly about climate change, then nearly every other state school boards association also cannot. I have seen this same pattern of "polite climate silence" replicated over and over again across scales of the educational sector---classrooms, schools, school districts, school boards, Superintendents, in state and national education support organizations, independent schools, national independent schools associations, etc. Silence about the Congressional climate neglect which harms our students is the dominant social norm in the educational sector, among educational leaders at every scale. Fortunately, social norms can shift rapidly, especially when there is a pre-existing, shared, but private belief that may not be congruent with the social norm. This is the case with climate change and national climate inaction. Nearly all educational leaders, especially those with a background in environmental education share a pre-existing, but private belief that Congress should act on climate and that decades of national climate inaction has created an unfair burden for students. The social norm for climate silence could flip very quickly.
Likely, at its root, this climate silence in the educational sector is both highly partisan and a natural psychological defense mechanism to cushion the "traumatic" content of objective climate science. Without subtle or overt partisan influence and the secondary pattern of self-censorship and semantic tiptoeing, educators and educational institutions might have already spoken up at scale, in non-partisan ways, about the 3 decades of Congressional climate neglect which threatens our students. I suspect the majority of leaders of the CSBA and NSBA already believe climate change is a "children's issue" or a "generational justice and human rights issue". I believe that the majority of the leaders of the CSBA and the NSBA agree with the reasonable, mainstream, and non-partisan assertion that Congress should act quickly on climate to protect our students. The CSBA and the NSBA have an incredible opportunity to break silence and to move Congres to act on climate to protect students by simply making these existing shared, but private beliefs public and official in a climate action resolution.
If you added the proposed 1 or 2 lines to your resolution, your courage and your specificity would be contagious. It would contribute significantly to end the "polite climate silence" from within the educational sector which, in turn, would help Congress do the right thing by our students on climate.
As a collection of institutions grounded in mainstream science, we, the educational sector, know the harm from national climate inaction. Thanks to our focus on young people who will bear the greatest burden, we "see" and "feel" the harm more easily than any other sector. We know that national climate action can help prevent future harm to young people. Our institutional values and our frameworks of mainstream morality and justice (Ed. Code language---see below)* suggest that we, mandated reporters all of us, should not be silent if our voices will help prevent this future predicted harm to our students. You, like the board members of the Sonoma County Office of Education, the Albany Unified School District, the San Lorenzo Unified School District (and others) have tremendous power to help end three decades of climate neglect by Congress which threatens all of our students and future generations. You can do this simply by including a non-partisan appeal directly to Congress in your existing resolution. It won't cost anything.
Multiple Members of Congress and their staffers have explained to us that the voices of 90,000 school boards members from across the country can send a very powerful, effective signal to Congress. Right now, only about 140 school board members have sent clear, unambiguous signals that Congress should act on climate to protect their students. Certainly, tens of thousands more school board members already believe this and could quickly join with you. Your example would be very powerful in generating a groundswell.
Here's another document that also explains this line of thinking:
Three simple assertions
Thanks so much for reading and considering this request.
Thanks so much for all of your work creating great public schools for California kids and being such a leader in environmental education.
6th Grade Teacher
Co-founder and Lead Volunteer of the Schools for Climate Action Campaign
*California Education Code Section 233.5(a) lays the groundwork and calls upon educators to impress upon students the principles of character:
"Each teacher shall endeavor to impress upon the minds of the pupils the principles of morality, truth, justice, patriotism, and a true comprehension of the rights, duties, and dignity of American citizenship, and the meaning of equality and human dignity, including the promotion of harmonious relations, kindness toward domestic pets and the humane treatment of living creatures, to teach them to avoid idleness, profanity, and falsehood, and to instruct them in manners and morals and the principles of a free government..."
Kai Guthrie is a ninth grade student at Credo High in Rohnert Park, a Citizens' Climate Lobby volunteer, and one of the founders of Schools for Climate Action campaign.