Engaging with Environmental Justice Part 2: Continuing the Conversation
In my last list, I gave several ways to start the conversation on environmental justice. While researching that piece, I found so many good things out there that would help someone if they chose to develop a lesson plan or unit on environmental justice.
The best part is that it is never too early to start teaching environmental justice, so I found a wide range of resources for those in early childhood all the way to high school, with engaging ways to teach.
Hopefully at least one of these resources helps you continue the conversation. As a teacher, I think it would be awesome to not just do a single unit, but instead scatter some of these options throughout the year, so that it becomes a theme that students can build on.
Wangari’s Trees of Peace (Harcourt Children's Books) by Jeanette Winter
Premise: This book follows the story of Wangari Maathai as a forerunner of the environmental movement as she plants trees in Kenya. The book shows that you can make change as "just"one person, but also shows how change often takes patience.
Why it's great:Wangari’s Trees of Peace would be a good book to continue the conversation on how activism isn’t one big event, it is a marathon. The book is written creatively, with succinct, well-chosen words that accompany good artwork. There are many online resources on teaching the book as well.
Same Sun Here (Penguin/Random House) written by Silas House and Neela Vaswani
Premise: Meena, a young Indian girl who immigrated to the U.S., and River, a boy from rural Kentucky, become pen pals and find many similarities among differences. River, a coal miner’s son, ends up fighting a big company that wants to do a mountain-top removal for a coal mine.
Why it’s great: This book is engaging in its style and creation. It is in the format of letters, so there are no long chapters, and each voice is written by a different author. If you have students that relate better to fiction than non-fiction, this could be a great resource, and also a springboard for having student pairs write their own fictional letters explaining issues of environmental justice to each other.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: How to Find Joy in Climate Action TED Talk
Premise: Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson explains why and how we all can play a role in mitigating climate change in practical ways (not all TED Talks can do this). She explains how each individual is uniquely equipped to fight climate change–a message many middle and high schoolers can benefit from.
Why it’s great: Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson does an excellent job speaking on how activism comes from a place where passions are and encourages her audience to make a Venn diagram of how their lives intersect with climate action, which could be a great classroom activity with little prep. Dr. Johnson also has several more resources at ayanaelizabeth.com.
Photo Credit: Ryan Lash / TED
‘Environmental racism' leaves another majority Black city in Michigan with undrinkable water” from PBS News Hour
Premise: This article exposes a lead crisis that followed the Flint crisis in the majority black community of Benton Harbor. In Part I of this series, I wrote about the Watershed Workbook, which features photography around water crises. Some of the artwork used in that workbook could work well with this text/video from PBS.
Why it’s great: It offers a news video, as well as an article. It also is one of PBS’s “Daily News Lessons” so it comes with talking points. This would be an excellent online option, if need be.
Teaching Environmental Justice in Early Childhood from DC Area Educators for Social Justice
Premise: This is a compilation of resources put together by experienced educators for educators that encourages starting the conversation early on environmental justice. It offers suggestions for how to form the building blocks of knowledge in climate justice and highlights activists of color.
Why it’s great: This piece is clear and succinct with its resources. It gets straight to the point and quickly offers how to introduce students to environmental justice and climate change. It just seems “real”.
“Environmental Justice…What Does it Mean?” from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Premise: The NIEHS defines environmental justice in a clear way, so that educators and students alike can understand what it is. It breaks the concept down by defining what unhealthy environments people live in, and what solutions are possible.
Why it’s great: This piece offers a good explanation for kids that is probably best rephrased for an elementary classroom, but the talking points work. It also has additional coloring pages and activities that can help reinforce the ideas.