What Odds Are You Up Against?

Greetings, dear reader, and welcome to a site focused on how we can provide the best life possible to all the children of the world. I invite you to share stories of your challenges and your resources. The magnificent and overwhelming problems we’re facing can be solved by our collective wisdom. I’ll share my ideas about and experiences with beating various odds and I’d like to hear yours.

There are no maps for navigating in this time.  For those of us who are focused on the well being of the younger generations, the odds can seem insurmountable.  The adults of the world have not committed  to use our resources to ensure that all children are well-fed, have medical care and are supported to use their gifts to be functional life long learners in a global society. At the same time, we are inundated with information about how fragile life is on the planet – a species going extinct every twenty minutes, spreading dead zones in the ocean, eco-systems that took millions of years to create being destroyed with one slash and burn season.  Some say we have four years until we reach a tipping point where human behavior will result in the earth no longer sustaining human life for the next 1000 years.  Others say we have a decade, while the governments of the world aim for 2050.
Of course, if we’d lived during the Black Plague or the flu epidemic of 1917, we would have been up against terrible odds, too. Humanity has always gone through trying times and the future always has unforeseen variables.  One thing we know for sure, however, is that the children we are teaching are walking into a world of unparalleled complexity. Never before have there been so many people on the planet.  Never before have we had so much information about the people who are here.  Never before have we understood the vast consequences of our actions to the planet that sustains us. Yes, we have a lot of odds to beat.

I’m going to start with one idea that makes a lot of sense to tackle the odds – harnessing the energy of children –  project-based learning. I’ve outlined why I think this approach is so useful. These ideas are elaborated upon in Step 5 of “Beating the Odds Now”:

I’m a teacher who would like to lighten the current negativity around education. With budget cuts, overwhelming demands and talk of the United States loosing its intellectual edge, there is a simple step we can take to beat the odds we are facing. That step is to meet academic standards by using project-based learning, where students make real products that come out of real interests that address real problems for a real audience.
For most of human history, children did meaningful work along side of their parents. They had a clear picture of the need for their daily activities. No hunting meant no meat. No planting meant no crops. The industrial revolution changed that. Young people lost the opportunity to do purposeful work with adults. Now our inquisitive younger generation often can’t see the logic of what is asked of them during the school day. We can address that questioning impulse by finding real life examples, applications and uses for the Standards of Learning that allow students to DO something that makes a difference.
There is a never-ending supply of problems to be solved: troubles with the soil, the plants, the animals, the air, the water, the elders, the teens, the immigrants, the economy, the use of illegal drugs– an on and on. All these challenges are here to teach problem-solving, meet standards and make the world a better place.
The youth of today have important work to do in bringing fresh hope and vision to beleaguered and weary adults. When I told my fourth grade class at Novato Charter School that many windmills, which generate needed electricity, are being placed in the migration paths of birds, they came up with 11 fascinating ideas in five minutes. One thought was to make barricades using discarded tires, solving two problems at once. This kind of imagination leads to new knowledge, as the children think through the results of each step
The marriage of adult intentional activity coupled with the learning process is a win-win proposition. Here are some examples – Tom Furrer of Casa Grande High School in Petaluma and his students have helped to restore salmon and steel-head trout to the Adobe River. Christian Gelleri’s Waldorf High School class in Prien, Germany, invented a currency to help with a lack luster local economy. Within six months, $50,000 worth of bills was in circulation. Kelydra Welcker, from Parkersburg, West Virginia, was honored by Intel in its high school Science Talent contest for her work isolating a contaminant in the Ohio River – a byproduct of a local Teflon plant.
Young people want to help. In every class I’ve ever taught – rural, urban, suburban, elementary, middle and high school – virtually every hand shoots up when I ask for volunteers. Let’s harness that positive energy, link it to standards, and unleash this bright intelligence to help solve our messy challenges. With a change of paradigm and clear will, the U.S. can once again become an educational leader.

6 Responses

  1. Oh Laurie you have been busy and I’m continually amazed at your love for all peoples of the world especially children. I live a different life and now feel I’m moving into the time of monkhood. And I will be spending two weeks in March helping Carl’s Shelley with her new baby. I think this means I will be trying to appease her 21/2 year old Mia who I’m sure will feel abandonned. So I’ll do my best to fill in the gaps with my love. Jeanne

  2. What I find remarkable about Laurie’s approach to life and in her teaching methods is the shift of focus from the current, seemingly bottomless pit of the fear response that so many people feel when facing the crisis of our times toward a mobilization of the inner will and the engagement of the imagination, thus harnessing the will into meaningful actions, and informing the motivational forces necessary to create the “soulutions” our moment in history requires. Thank you, Laurie, for the stewardship that your insights provide. Your friend, Margaret.

  3. Our magnet elementary school in Clermont, Florida, has an ongoing service learning project to create and auction student quilts with the proceeds purchasing new paperback books for schools damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Now receiving schools are adding quilts to help other schools. The quilt squares made by students at the first receiving school showed different memories of the hurricane – roof tops with angels hovering overhead were the most poignant in my eyes.
    Our students learn elements of artistic composition as well as geometry as they make the quilt squares. They learn more math skills as they count the receipts and graph which quilts had the most bidders. Then they learn to maximize the purchase of the new paperback books by figuring the discounts that different book stores are willing to offer our project.
    Some of the students even make oral and PowerPoint presentations to local service clubs to raise the seed money for the project.

  4. I love hearing this story, Karen. You describe the enormous healing power contained in every elementary school in the country, that can serve to teach math, collaboration and communication skills. It’s just brilliant and resourceful. Thank you for sharing how visionary adults are empowering young people to make the world a better place while learning the academic skills they need. So different than “drill and kill”. So much more effective. YAY!

  5. Thank you for seeing my work so clearly, Margaret. You gotta be one to see one. love…

  6. Dear Laurie – You never cease to amaze me. I shared your “beating the odds now” site with a former boss. To say the least, he was impressed, especially with your writing ability. “Laurie writes from the heart,” I said to him…so what else could this fine gentlemen say after that remark?

    I see that you will be in Baltimore, MD in April. Do you need lodging? I’m here if you do. Baltimore is only 60 miles from Vienna.

    Much love to you,