What are you doing, personally, to make living during the COVID pandemic better for others? Anything? Or, are you just complaining? Be honest here. Are you actively trying to make life livable during this crisis?
One of the debatable tenants of Environmental Education has become a guide for my life. It is that there MUST be action. Education alone is not enough. Knowledge, newly gained, or past ingrained, must be accompanied by action. Knowing is not doing, as we all learn as we mature.
Thus, it is not enough to just know about plastic pollution, what are you doing about it? Now would be a good time to start doing something, because we are accumulating more waste than ever as we retreat to single-use plastics to help prevent the spread of the COVID virus. I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot lately. Some of the changes I made recently that could be classified as actions are 1) the purchase of silicone straws, 2) not taking a plastic bag at a store when not needed – this includes the fabric store, the grocery store, the convenience store, or other big box stores that are still using single-use plastic bags, 3) decreasing the use of plastic wraps for food storage, and 4) taking water in a reusable bottle instead of single-use plastics. These are simple, yet effective ACTIONS to reduce my plastic consumption.
Have you been wearing a mask? I hope so. This ACTION should not be debatable at this point and it never should have been politicized. Other countries have shown that en masse mask regulation that was followed by the citizenry significantly reduced transmission of the virus. An article on the Bloomberg Opinion page states, “E xperiences in countries where the virus has remained relatively under control underline the power of clear policies over gentle nudging or relying on people’s common sense.”
Again, actions speak louder than words and are needed to affect change! However, this is a case where education must accompany or better, preceed, the action. It seems the more one knows and understands, the easier it is to comply with a subsequent directive action. That is if one opens themselves up to education in the first place.
As a former nurse, the course of the virus and actions of the populace have been interesting to witness from a public health standpoint. Sticking to the commitment I’ve made to action, I’ve not only worn masks since early April but made over three hundred of them for others in our community. This is an ACTION. The action makes me feel like I am doing something to help. Having to rebuff teasing from my family about the desire to make money off of my masks, they acknowledged that outweighing my desire to make a few dollars that would allow me to purchase more fabric, was my need to be a helper. They are very much correct in their assessment. Being a helper is taking ACTION.
I saw evidence this week of a discipline rushing to save itself. I’ve seen this before with the profession of nursing and the requirement of all nurse practitioners being required to possess a doctorate as university systems cranked out advanced practice nurses at an alarming rate in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s. I know, I was one of them! Do you need a doctorate to competently diagnose and treat a patient? No, absolutely not. And, I’ve even seen this with other professions as well. It is the need to establish their realm as essential and necessary by making some extremely competent professionals jump through hoops. You know what I am referring to don’t you?! Certifications and degrees! It shocks even me to admit this given the high value I place on education.
However, I see the bureaucratic wheels turning again in a field where I am currently active and apparently was before my time as I designed school gardens and held outside lessons over 16 years ago. In truth, my work was never valued by the “system” but now the “system” (read Department of Education) wants to instill the type of work I did into schools across our state. Really?! This makes me feel that I designed a table and now don’t want to sit at it.
Are these groups of professionals taking action? Absolutely. But, sometimes, actions are misguided. My gut has always shown me the way to proceed and for this reason, I will continue to ACT as an environmental educator without being part of the bureaucracy that seems to be forcing outdoor education into the schools. Is outdoor education valuable? Absolutely! I did it for 16 years within school systems for FREE! It is time to be formalized into all schools, communities, and situations? No.
When you force action, it tends not to work. I know this from experience. Those in charge of this push in Wisconsin are misguided, I feel. They are forcing EE and outdoor education upon teachers who are so overloaded that the EE will end up being just a band-aid or a break for the teachers, not a resolve to teach the students better. This will inhibit its success for some. I know, I know. The idea is to take some pressure off of the teachers, but this type of hard push can breed resentment. Again, I have done this and I have witnessed the resentment from some, even without it being forced upon the classroom teacher. Before making this push, I think building respect for those in the field of EE needs to an area of focus. After all, those who give away their talents for free or “low cost” tend not to have the respect of others. Again, I know this from personal experience.
So, last week, as I had initially signed up to be part of the conversation to work with schools across the state to in part to design and install emergency school gardens, I balked when the time came for the ZOOM meeting. Gardens are not emergency proposals. Learning in the garden should not be forced. It has to evolve and be tended and coaxed just like the plants and students who grow there. You have to have teachers (both formal and informal) who WANT to be there. Who have PASSION to be there! The passion and desire were the essential components that made my groups successful, not because someone deemed it “an emergency.”
I was left with a conundrum. This was an ACTION for a field that I’ve drawn myself into from years of doing exactly what those in charge now want from all environmental educators. I even educated myself in the field, obtaining yet a second graduate degree. However, I made the conscious decision that my actions, while supporting the student and the profession, will not support the bureaucracy that now claims outdoor learning is an emergency. Instead, my actions will be to continue educating school children and the community from my place in it as an act of love and concern, not because someone told me to. My actions will continue to help others learn to live well during this time of crisis in our history.
We all know the cliche, actions speak louder than words, but it is especially true today. What are you doing to help others during the COVID 19 pandemic? Hopefully, it’s more than complaining.