Schools, and particularly PYP schools, are forever telling kids to care about and be responsible for everything. “Save water”, “save endangered species”, “reduce, reuse, recycle”, “save electricity”, “stop child labour” and so on…
However, it is becoming more and more apparent that we are going about things in a back-to-front way. Recent conversations with my wife, Kelli, and my Director of Academic Studies, Adrian Watts, have uncovered – at least for us – a real problem. We seem to be expecting students to care about things that they don’t actually have that much respect for, interest in, curiosity about or knowledge of. As a result, much of the action that emerges from learning is quite tokenistic, shallow and fleeting.
Asking them to care about the natural world before they fall in love with the natural world probably isn’t going to work. Telling them to conserve water before they see and understand how magical it is probably isn’t going to work. Expecting them to consider the habitats of endangered species before they are blown away by their uniqueness and beauty probably isn’t going to work. Encouraging them to take action to protect the interests of other people before they have truly connected with them probably isn’t going to work. Hoping they will strive for peace before they have been surrounded by it probably isn’t going to work.
Much of this thinking comes from the work of Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, and is based on the idea that you can’t truly care about something until you admire it, experience it and understand it.
The problem, of course, is that our students are increasingly living in bubbles, increasingly becoming separated not only from the natural world, but also from people. Our schools are trying to counteract all of this, trying to do our best to encourage them to care in the hope that they can reverse these trends we seem powerless to reverse. But, I think we need to change our focus.
Let’s remove the doom and gloom from our curriculum as it only makes students feel powerless. Let’s remove the preachiness from our curriculum as it will always feel like what it is, preachiness.
Let’s deliberately set out to breathe life back into our curriculum, to bring beauty back into our curriculum. To bring curiosity back into our curriculum. To bring admiration back into our curriculum. To bring wonder back into our curriculum.
Let’s try to design curriculum that makes students want to go out into the world and look at it, smell it, taste it, touch it, listen to it… experience and be a part of it.
Then, perhaps we can start to expect them to take an interest in it, or to respect it, or to care for it.