Monday, April 13, 2009

Earth Day is Coming! Earth Day is Coming!

I remember the first Earth Day. That is, I remember it on a local level - I think that it was the music teacher at our school , Mrs Rodgers, who organized field trips and a big 'happening' type thing for it. Or she might have just organized the 'happening'. The arcane workings of which teacher organized what were beyond me in those days.

First they loaded all of us in buses and drove us around Chicago to look at what I now would call 'point sources' of pollution. I only recall two of them. The first was a building by (I think) the Kennedy expressway fully painted with an ad. The second, which was supposed to be oh so shocking, was an industrial park in our very own suburb! Apparently industry alone qualified as pollution to suburbanites. Loading kids in buses and driving them around didn't qualify as pollution.

They also took us up on the roof of the school and we used binoculars to watch planes land into a cloud of exhaust at O'Hare airport. On the other hand, no one suggested cancelling the class trip to Washington DC as a way of NOT adding more pollution.

After all the outside stuff, it was into the multipurpose room for the 'happening'. Lots of music, lot of different slide shows and movies all going at once. Very psychedelic. All educational on the environment. All very hyperactive.

What amazes me looking back on it was that I was ALREADY cynical. I couldn't understand what made a really really ugly building any WORSE by being painted green and having an ad on it. I questioned the blanket condemnation of manufacturing - of creation! - as pollution. I noted that they didn't have any discussion of alternatives to air travel, and felt no problem with driving us around for ages in buses (yeah, I was motion sick, so it felt like we were driven around for EVER).

The passivity that public school promoted - sit and be fed 'knowledge' - was joined with the visual/audio overload of the 'happening' without invitation of work on creating solutions. It seemed a bad mix to me, even then.

It seems a bad mix to me even more so now - but I'll save the public school part of the equation for a future post.

I'm not putting down Earth Day in all this. I auditioned for Emeril Green for help in cooking the interesting but new stuff from the organic CSA I get my veggies from and the organic grass fed and WAY lower fat beef we get from a different farm but never heard back from them. A friend who works for a rival network (that was the mandatory 'source might have attitude' warning) says I was too dark green for Emeril Green.

Nor am I saying that we 6th, 7th, and 8th graders should have been given actions to take, like lobbying or not flying or whatever.

What I wanted, even then, was discussion and leadership.

Instead of the overload of the happening - entertaining and trendy as it was then - why didn't we discuss if the ugly building was any uglier for the paint? Why didn't we discuss how our metal desks were manufactured in businesses like the ones were we driven to - were they calling on us to give up desks, or for manufactures to not have their grounds be visibly doing manufacturing, or were they calling for something else? I don't recall bad smells, or polluted water pouring out of sites we were shown, or belching smokestacks, just 'visual pollution' at the manufactures. We could have discussed what the role of the government might be, and what the responsibility of individuals might be.

Why didn't the school, or the teachers who put the event together, identify what THEY were doing on a school or individual basis to reduce/reuse/recycle? Biking to work? Changes in the cafeteria? Investigation of the least polluting way to take the trip to Washington, DC? What ideas had the school/teachers looked at and rejected as being impractical, and why?

To be honest, maybe everything that grated was just because it was the first Earth Day. They didn't do anything in high school when I was there, and I homeschooled my spawn.

Some of you reading are younger than I am, or have had kids in middle school after I was there. Have Earth Day celebrations at schools changed since the first one? Tell me about how they have been since then!

Catch you later!

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