Academic journal article English Education

Provocateur Piece *

Academic journal article English Education

Provocateur Piece *

Article excerpt

Devastating wildfires in the U.S. Northwest, drought and declining crop yields in the Midwest, and powerful hurricanes that have recently struck the Southeast and U.S. Caribbean can all be linked to climate change, according to the U.S. Global Change Program (2018). Moreover, we know that humans have consumed more natural resources in the past 50 years than in all our previous history (2020 Vision Workgroup, 2009), while the world's population continues to grow at a rate of approximately 77 million people per year (United Nations, 2017). Yet since Robert Yagelski's (2005) call to action, few English education scholars have taken up his invocation of ecological sustainability (but see Beach, Share, & Webb, 2017). One reason for this may be that large-scale, systemic problems related to the environment often seem too big and too daunting to face. In this Provocateur Piece, I offer to English educators, teachers, and students an approach to countenancing these problems as an often-ignored first step toward activism.

Stories of Our Ecology

The stories we tell about our world have the power to shape our lives. Rachel Carson's (1962) Silent Spring, perhaps the first and best-known example of environmental advocacy writing, captured the public's imagination not only because it revealed the disinformation spread by chemical industries, but also because it envisioned the future consequences of the indiscriminate use of pesticides on an interconnected ecosystem. The "silent spring" of the title is part of a "fable for tomorrow" (p. 10) that imagines the stillness of a season in which no birds sing, no chicks hatch, no bees buzz, and no fruit blooms.

As English educators, we know well that a single piece of writing can make a difference against impossible odds, precisely because of its ability to remind us of our interconnectedness. Yet a search of NCTE's journal archives yields only a handful of articles that address topics such as sustainability, environmental literacy, and ecological advocacy (e.g., Bruce, 2011; Collier, 2017; Saidy, 2017). One notable exception is Beach, Share, and Webb's (2017) book, Teaching Climate Change to Adolescents. Perhaps the biggest obstacle to action in this area is not our willingness to act, but a persistent way of thinking that props up a sense of our separateness from "the more-thanhuman world" (Abram, 1996). As Beach et al. (2017) assert, "Literacy and the imagination are critical tools for comprehending and addressing climate change. In contrast, by not teaching about climate change, we are allowing our silence to normalize unsustainable systems and ideologies with disastrous consequences for everyone and everything" (p. vii). Below, I draw from the work of Dr. Joanna Macy and her colleagues (Macy & Brown, 1989; Macy & Johnstone, 2012) on "The Work That Reconnects," a four-step, spiral approach developed through more than 30 years of global ecological activism, to offer suggestions for how we might encourage writers of all ages to begin the work of bearing witness to this overwhelming problem.

An eco-philosopher and environmental activist, Macy offers three stories, or ways of organizing our experiences, that describe possible reactions to our current ecological situation.

1.Business as Usual-"As long as I can continue to succeed, there is little need to change the way we live."

2. The Great Unraveling-"Our current ways are unsustainable, and it is already too late to save ourselves."

3. The Great Turning-"This is a pivotal moment: together, we can create a life-sustaining global society."

Who among us has not lived all three of these stories at some point? For my part, it wasn't until the eye-stinging, rotting smell of hundreds of thousands of dead fish affected my own community, disrupting "Business as Usual," that I began to learn about the effects of agricultural runoff on toxic red tides (e.g., Wei-Haas, 2018). Likewise, I have subscribed to "The Great Unraveling," turning off the car radio rather than listening to the painful news of another environmental disaster linked to climate change. …

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