Charles Orgbon III, CEO of Greening Forward, is 20 seconds into his speech to an auditorium filled with architects, engineers, teachers and builders and it is clear that he is the brightest person in the room.
And the youngest—Charles Orgbon III is in high school.
So what do you do when the youngest person in the room is taking his elders to task for not giving real voice or decisions to children?
“I hear well-meaning and well intentioned adults say youth are the future, but the reality is youth are today. Youth are the leaders of today and youth can drive transformational, substantive change– if given the chance.”
Pacing the stage with a bright, wide smile, Orgbon is friendly, but insistent.
“I challenge adults to soften your hearts and let young people share decision making responsibility with you as an adult… So… how many of you have youth on your board of directors or as a part of your leadership team?…”
He smiles and waits in the silence.
“It’s obvious. Young people are uniquely qualified to say what works for young people, so if your program is serving young people, where are they?
Why aren’t they part of your evaluation committee?
Why aren’t they designing the schools that we get to go to school in?
Why aren’t we designing the curriculum that is taught to us?
The school boards that are led by grey haired adults–where are the students in that process that they are making decisions that affect our lives?”
Orgbon smiles to the crowd and continues.
“I believe that as adults we all have a powerful role in challenging young people to take that leadership role. Use your power to help a young person find his. Because when youth are challenged to create change in their communities we will rise to that challenge.”
“It’s a diversity issue; it’s a democracy issue..” Orgbon points out, looking into the crowd of mostly white adults at the USGBC Green School Summit in Washington DC.
They are listening intently and applaud his speech, enthusiastically.
Diversity, democracy and inclusion are themes that have echoed through every civil rights movement. But will the generations that recognized the rights of women and people of color now recognize the rights of youth to protect their future?
Climate change means that decisions on energy use will affect the world of our future–our youth–far more than the grey haired people who are making these decisions. Our youth will bear the brunt or fruits of these decisions, but have no voice or vote in making them. This is unjust. It is also poor planning. You don’t leave the safety decisions to the people that get off at the next stop or long term financial decisions to the people who are cashing out.
Orgbon is asking youth to rise up to claim their stake in their world and the adults to reach out to meet them. This can be a vibrant, peaceful revolution that empowers us and protects our world for our youth—for many generations to come. It doesn’t take a war, just an open door and outreached hand.
It’s a place that needs optimism.
The Bronx is a tough neighborhood with high unemployment and the rumble of food insecurity. The New York City Coalition Against Hunger reported in December, 2013 that nearly 49 percent of Bronx children lived in a household with an inconsistent food supply.
Equally alarming, children in the Bronx have little access to fresh food, often eating foods high in sugar and fat, but low in nutritional value.
“We have some of the greatest rates of juvenile diabetes and juvenile obesity in the nation,” Ritz says. “And we can change that. We absolutely have the power to change schools in this generation.”
So where does Ritz get this optimism?
He grows it—with his students.
“The excitement and joy that these little kids feel putting a seed in the ground and watching it blossom—OMG! “ Ritz exclaims. “It’s game changing! It’s empowering!”
“When they know that they can grow their own, they really start changing the way they see their relationship to the world and their place in it,” Ritz says. “They are growing, the plants are growing, and they are responsible for it.”
Vegetables are sprouting in trays, on walls, and from the sides of tower gardens. This growing infuses the classroom—and their lessons. Students learn the science of nutrition and growth. Names of vegetables teach consonant blends. The price of supplies and earnings help students learn math. Growing puts green in their wallets and trains students for jobs and business. With their learning aligned with their lives, students can create, taste and count real reasons to come to school. School attendance grew from 40 percent to 93 percent. Students are heading to college, not jail.
“For so many, food is the problem. Yet for all of us, food is a solution,” Ritz says.
In places adults didn’t think could grow plants, Ritz and his students are growing an answer to poor prenatal nutrition, the cause of 70 percent of learning disabilities. They are growing an answer to dropping out, unemployment and powerlessness with relevant learning, work and constant encouragement. “We are Ameri-CANS!, not Ameri-can’ts, “ Ritz proclaims.
“I’m not a farmer,” Ritz says, “But I’m planting. I’m planting seeds.”
Ritz has planted success in his students with this approach. But there is only one Stephen Ritz. How do we grow crops of transformative teachers and learning projects?
Solving for WHY: Finding the Right Angle to Teach Math with Meaning.
Poor Y. Every year, millions of students try to solve Y’s intractable problems. They furrow their brows and scratch out long formulas smudged with erasures, red ink and tears. But despite all the best efforts of the students, Y returns each year with its problems expanded and more complicated than the year before.
So year after year our children run the gauntlets of math to solve things for x without knowing why. Some students survive these battles; others are scarred as losers in a contest that appears both incomprehensible and meaningless.
This is more effective at sorting winners from losers than solving real problems or educating students for their work or their role as citizens. If math is a tool to empower our children, how is it that many of our students fear it and some of our A students can’t calculate how much seed they need for a garden plot, understand a financial statement or tell when the numbers or politicians are lying?
What if we flipped the equation? Instead of solving the problems of numbers and letters, what if we used them to help solve real problems that we have? What if we learned with and played with the math around us in ways that made our lives and world better?
Real math is going on all around the school. The building manager has to decide how much grass seed to buy for the athletic field, how much fuel oil and cleaning products to buy, how much money they could save with energy renovations, how much garbage the school produces. The janitors have to decide how to dilute chemicals, how to clean the floors efficiently, the best routes and schedules for delivering supplies and replacing light bulbs. The kitchen staff needs to create proper ratios for recipes, estimate food consumption and track food waste. The school nurse has to track absences and illnesses. Principals track student performance. The schools are built to design standards that include the rise of the stairs, width of doorways, air exchange rates, roof loads and energy efficiency. But the math which keeps us safe, healthy, saves money and solves real problems isn’t invited into math classes.
But what if it was? School staff could show students how math is part of their jobs and show them how to use it artfully to solve problems. Students could create new solutions at their schools, their homes and in their lives.
What if students calculated how much money could the school save if it turned off the lights and computers at night? Or how much food they could grow at their school? Or how they could reduce storm water runoff at their school?
What if students calculated the difference in their life span based on drug/alcohol use, exercise, occupation and zip code? Could they devise a formula to live longer and stronger?
What if students started examining the cost of global climate change vs the costs to avoid it?
These are the calculations that matter in the lives of our children.
Let’s put a real “why” back into the equations and help them solve the problems in their futures.
Will Science Kill Us Or Save Us?
The record so far is…Yes.
Nice invention, da Vinci, but if the plane flies, how would you shoot it down?
Great theory, Einstein, but how can we use it to make bombs that could destroy the world?
Nice process, Haber, it can help produce food to quadruple the world population.
So how can we use it for gas warfare and explosives?
Interesting demonstration, Edison. How many enemy soldiers did you say your machine could electrocute?
Even our vaunted Nobel peace prize, was established by Alfred Nobel who established over 90 armament factories in his lifetime.
So the jury is out on science and its getting more interesting by the moment.
Because it appears that we have been participating in man’s largest experiment– without noticing for the first 150 years.
This climate change experiment is particularly interesting for two reasons.
First, we are experimenting upon the entire world in ways that could have drastic consequences.
Second, we are trapped inside it.
Seems like this would create incentives for good outcomes and rapid results don’t it?
Once we experimenters realize that we are inside of the experiment we would immediately start altering the conditions to ensure that we and our planet live long and prosper, right?
Happy music plays, everyone hugs, movie ends. Goodnight, thanks for coming!
It is not quite going that way, is it?
You see this experiment involves a small zoo of lab animals. We have white mice, chickens, monkeys and sloths.
The white mice are wearing lab coats and pointing to charts of steadily dire temperature readings and photographs of melting ice sheets. They are standing on tip toe atop reams of data and squeaking as loud as they can to be heard . “It’s bad! Must change!”
The reaction among the rest of the animals is mixed.
The Big Chickens that own coal and oil companies are running around screaming “The sky isn’t falling! The sky isn’t falling! And the sea won’t rise!” They are very adamant that smoke from their products won’t harm us, just like the tobacco companies were very adamant that their cigarettes wouldn’t cause cancer.
The Scared Chickens with insurance companies have put money on the high water lines and they are squawking up a storm. With greenhouse emissions on the increase, insurance is becoming a very risky business. Payouts for flooding and extreme weather events endanger their golden nest eggs. These conservative guys are running the numbers and they do not like the odds.
The Monkeys have grabbed the car keys and are stepping on the gas. They like it fast and cheap and have their eye fixed on their bank account, the next quarterly return and their bucket list. They will fly across the world to view the melting of the last glaciers and put the images on flicker so their great grandchildren can have a glimpse of what was. But they won’t insulate their homes or put up a solar panel. Storms keep wiping out beachfront properties? Rebuild! Let’s Keep Dancing Until the World Ends!
The Sloths are hanging listlessly in the branches of government sending emergency aid to an increasing number of disaster areas, allowing oil pipelines and exports of oil, gas and coal. Money to improve energy efficiency or to switch to renewable energy is just a few inches from the sloths reach and he is pondering whether it’s worth the effort.
So with these animals running the zoo, things have not gone well.
Since the Kyoto Protocol world greenhouse gas emissions have risen by an average of two percent each year.
Of the ten hottest years recorded since 1880, nine have occurred in this decade.
The word from government isn’t “avoid” or “protect” any longer. It’s resilience.
Resilience is the new “Duck and Cover” from the Cold War where children were taught to hide under their desk in case of a nuclear exchange that would destroy life on earth. It means that we are willing to spend far more to try to patch a broken world than it would cost to protect it now.
If a foreign army or terrorist group attacked a square foot of American soil, we would sacrifice our lives and treasure to reclaim that soil and bring the invaders to justice. But what do we do when it is us attacking our planet with our needless carbon emissions? Who do we gas, bomb or electrocute then?
Scientists can no longer be patient, quiet or neutral as this war is waged upon our world.
Our future demands that we play a deep role in realigning human endeavor with our natural world.
Once we pretended to be the controllers of the world, somehow above and apart from nature.
But we now know that we are woven inexorably within the web of the living systems of our world.
Incentives that allow the few to profit as they poison our earth, our air and our bodies can no longer be tolerated.
The true costs of dirty energy should not be paid with the health of our citizens and the future of our world. Shifting the costs of pollution onto governments and citizens is not true capitalism or free enterprise but plunder and folly.
Scientists, health experts and economists must now join together to demonstrate the true costs of pollution and the economic viability of renewable energy.
And let’s join with some good lawyers.
As scientists we collect and analyze data using sound scientific principals and standards.
Lawyers call this evidence.
Just as tobacco companies had to pay for some of the health costs of their products, the coal and petroleum industries should pay for some of the damage they have done to our air and our health. They should carry insurance and bonds against future health and damage claims.
This will change the economics of pollution. No longer will those who pollute the air and water remain free of the health, economic and social costs that they create for others to bear. And the money from these payments will help develop and implement clean and truly cheap energy sources for our world.
At last, our free enterprise system will be able to choose energy, technology and industry that is truly efficient and sustainable.
In this experiment we are not chained and blindfolded like Houdini, but free to move inside the invisible box of our atmosphere like Marcel Marceau to create solutions that will protect us and our world. Let us not miss this critical moment to create a non-smoking planet.
It is time for science—for us– to save the world.