I have long believed that these bastions we erect will be our undoing. Like the hapless people inside a besieged fortress in the Dark Ages, we are gradually walling ourselves off from the sources that sustain us. Eventually our supplies will run out. Since we can’t see the walls that we build, we go on our merry way, inexorably depleting the the reserves that our descendants will need in order to survive. We don’t need plagues, nuclear bombs, or meteors from afar to end the world. We wage war against ourselves every day in millions and trillions of little ways. We are the creators of our own apocalypse.
We close our doors to the outside world and huddle inside our homes, burning energy to stay alive and “comfortable” –treating the air so we won’t be inconvenienced by minor rises or falls in temperature, turning our natural functions upside-down with artificial light, nuking our food, drawing entertainment from electronically fueled sources. Every time we venture out from our homes in sealed metal boxes with wheels or wings, we expand our carbon footprint. We wantonly strip the Earth of its trees, the lungs that make air breathable. We pollute our rain, our lakes and rivers, and our oceans. We reconstruct the food that nature gives us through processing and genetic modification to the point that it is already threatening our health. We kill every creature we don’t like or think is expendable, upsetting the preordained balance.
Many have turned a deaf ear to the warnings: if it works today, who cares about tomorrow? Some of us see parts of the picture; very few see all of it. It takes education. That’s where High Tech High stepped in.
High-Tech High is a charter high school in San Diego. It accepts students by lottery and 98% of them go on to college. My friend Tom Fehrenbacher (on the right in the photo), who taught humanities there until his recent retirement, teamed up with biology teacher Jay Vavra (on the left) in a six-year experiment that opened their students’ eyes to the importance and meaning of nature in their lives.
Their first project was to study the Boat Channel next to the school, but when they got outdoors “they didn’t feel at home in all the sunlight and air; they didn’t want to get their feet wet.” In short, they were suffering from symptoms of nature-deficit disorder, a term coined by author Robert Louv in 2005 in his best-selling book Last Child in the Woods that focuses on the problems that society inherits when children are deprived of contact with nature.
By the end of the first year, the students had moved beyond their comfort zone and produced a field guide, The Two Sides of the Boat Channel, with in-depth descriptions of its wildlife and reflections on nature. The interdisciplinary project grew over the next six years, producing a total of six ever-expanding field guides that reflected their growing understanding of the ecosystem in which they were living.
Tom has written an eye-opening report on the project’s history for the publication UnBoxed, a Journal of Adult Learning in Schools. It is one of the most interesting stories I have come across in a very long time. I urge you to read it and pass it on. http://www.hightechhigh.org/unboxed/issue13/logs_from_san_diego_bay/.