Ecojustice Camp principles and learning goals

(Handout for a workshop at Ferry Beach Religious Education Week)

ECOLOGY + JUSTICE = ECOJUSTICE
Ecology means making sure all living things are in balance
Justice means making sure humans treat each other, and other organisms, fairly

Learning category — Sample camp activity

8 Core Ecological Concepts
Diversity — Tide pool field trip to look at marine invertebrates and other organisms
Cycles
Energy Flow — Food Chain Game; “Energy from the Sun” song
Interdependence — Web of Life game; “Every Living Thing” song
Change — Lynxes Hares Plants game; “Ballad of Adobe Creek” song
Community — Field trips to 3 ecological communities: redwood forest, marshlands, beach
Adaptation — Bird Beak game; “The Adaptation Song”

Observation skills:
Sensory awareness activities — Wary Wolf; Cautious Coyote; One Fish Two Fish; listening to concert of bird song
Focusing or narrowing perception — Insect observation; Giant magnifier (water lens); binoculars
Recording observations — Field notebooks

Outdoors skills:
Group cooperation — various group building initiatives (Project Adventure games)
Ability to be alone — Alone Time Hike
Food — cooking on overnight; cooking with solar ovens, rocket stoves, open fires
Shelter — learn to set up tent; camping overnight
Travel — hiking; map and compass skills

For photos and more information, visit the Ecojustice Camp Web site.

Principles behind Sunday school Ecojustice class

Here are some of the principles behind the Ecojustice class taught at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto (UUCPA) for the past five years.

Ecojustice class is a Sunday school program for gr. 6-8. Ecojustice class is a learner-centered program, with a flexible curriculum that can follow the interests of the teens and the teachers. We have a firm commitment to making the class as hands-on as possible — an emphasis on doing, rather than discussion. Rather than just projects done by one individual and intended for themselves, our projects tend to be done as a group and intended for use by the class, congregation, or a wider community. Ecojustice class can best be described as a “emergent curriculum,” meaning we’re often making it up as we go along; nevertheless, we have evolved some pretty firm organizing principles which may be of use to others.

Our definition of “ecojustice”:
A sign is posted in the classroom which gives our definition of “ecojustice”:

Ecojustice =
— humans treating other humans with dignity & respect
AND
— humans treating other organisms & the whole ecosystem with dignity & respect

If teens ask: “Why can’t we just say ‘Ecojustice means humans treating each other and the rest of the ecosystem with respect’?” — we can explain that white environmentalists have been criticized because they worry more about non-human organisms than they worry about humans who have a different skin color. So we want to make sure we always remember that environmental action cannot be separated from human justice.

Basic class plan is the same every week:
I/ Attendance & chalice lighting (typically indoors)
II/ Check-in (typically indoors)
III/ Reading (typically indoors)
IV/ Project for the week (most often outdoors)
V/ Closing circle (often outdoors)

Reading: Each reading is related in some way to ecojustice. We adults can read the reading, or ask the teens if one of them would like to read it. Then maybe have a brief conversation about what the reading tells us about ecology, ecojustice, or the natural and human worlds.

Project for the week: Projects may last from 1-4 weeks. Teachers pick projects based on their interests and abilities. We try to include a conversation with each porject about why we are doing the project: “what does this project have to do with ecojustice?” This can take place while we’re working, or as part of the closing circle.

Closing circle: During closing circle, have the teens say one thing they learned, or one thing they’re taking away from this class. End with the UUCPA unison benediction (used in all classes); the unison benediction is posted in classrooms in 4 languages, reflecting languages spoken by people in our congregation (English, Spanish, German, Hindi; working on a Mandarin version).

Topic areas:
We relate any project that we develop to one of seven topic areas. Those topic areas are listed below, along with sample projects that we have either completed or plan to carry out (in parentheses).

1. Food
Tire Garden — based on the UUSC Haiti tire garden project
Ongoing Gardening — digging, planting, weeding, watering, etc.
Cooking projects — using, e.g., organic ingredients

2. Energy
Rocket Stoves — based on a design by Larry Winiarski
Solar Cooking — using various solar ovens (solar s’mores esp. popular)

3. Water
Rain Barrel — installed a rain barrel; use the water to irrigate the gardens
Clay Pot Irrigation — low-water use irrigation method
(Bucket Drip Irrigation — low-water method for irrigating garden)

4. Waste
Composting — assembled two composting bins; maintain them
(Build a composting toilet)

5. Habit and Shelter
Wildlife — “tracking pit”; invertebrate observation; building birdhouses
Native Plants — tour of church’s native plant garden
Habitat for native pollinators — making “bee houses”
Support local homeless shelter which stays at our church in Sept.
(Using Natural Herbs — planned visit from a local herbalist)
(Natural Dyes — tie-dye using redwood cones and fennel)

6. Earth and Air
Disaster Plans — making a personal “go-kit” in case of wildfire evacuation
(Global climate change project — but how to make it hands-on?)

7. Toxics in the Environment (new category added in 2018)
(E-waste)
(Phytoremediation — using plants to remove toxics from the soil)

More info about each of these topic areas is below. Continue reading “Principles behind Sunday school Ecojustice class”

Beams, Concord, Mass.

Carol and I went to the Robbins House, an early nineteenth century historic house at the Minuteman National Historic Park in Concord, Mass. The house was originally occupied by Susan and Peter Robbins, two grown children of Caesar Robbins, and perhaps by Caesar Robbins himself; I say perhaps, because the history and chronology of the house, as set forth on the Robbins House Web site, is not entirely clear to me. This is not surprising, given how poorly documented African American lives of the early nineteenth century were. What’s important to know is that Caesar was an African American man who won his freedom from slavery by serving in the American Revolution, and the house was occupied by his descendants and extended family until about 1870.

We got an excellent tour from one of the interpreters, who told us a great deal about the people who lived there, and about the social history surrounding the house. But I have to admit what interested me was the construction of the house. I was particularly interested in the exposed roof beams in one room, which included both hand-hewn beams and sawn joists. The sawn lumber was manufactured using a vertical saw, not a rotary saw. Why the mix of hand-hewn and sawn lumber? The hand-hewn beams could have been salvaged from an older structure, something that was often done in the early nineteenth century, or they could have been made for that house; the sawn lumber could have replaced older joists, or they could have been original, though sawn lumber would have been more expensive than hewing one’s own beams. When the house was being restored, there were archaeology, dendrochronology, and other architectural studies were carried out; I hope the non-profit organization that operates the house publishes the tests and tells us why there are two kinds of beams.

The Bible on immigrants

Rabbi Michael Feshbach of the Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, made a strong statement on June 29. In his opening words, he said:

“Bottom line: he was afraid of the immigrants. They looked different, they spoke another language, they carried on with strange customs, followed a different faith, had a totally new way of looking at the world. Even casual contact, even letting them pass through his country would bring change. And God knows, it might threaten the way things were. And so, we read, that Balak, the Moabite king for whom this week’s portion is name, ‘was alarmed.’ ‘Vayagar Mo’av.’ The root word for being ‘alarmed’ is related, is seems, to the word for ‘ger,’ ‘stranger.’ The ‘other.’ The very one which our Torah and our tradition teaches, time and again — 36 times in the Torah itself — who we are supposed to welcome, who we are to feel compassion towards, against whom we are forbidden to discriminate or persecute or oppress.

“That… that is the heart of Biblical values. No actual and honest reading of the Bible… none… could miss that point.”

In other words, those who are using the Bible to justify the forcible separation of children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border have misinterpreted the Bible.

This is a message that quite a few other religious progressives have been giving over the past couple of weeks: the Bible clearly states that we should welcome the “other,” not demonize them.

Dusk

The past couple of evenings, the wildfires north of here have given us sunsets that are more colorful than usual. Tonight I went out and walked around the cemetery at dusk; the light was rosy with a yellowish tinge. I went up to where you can look out at San Francisco Airport, and watched a couple of jetliners land. A bank of fog was stretched from the Golden Gate across the Bay towards Oakland; an avalanche of fog curled over the top of San Bruno Mountain; here in San Mateo, the fog was several hundred feet above me, pushed upwards as it moved up the Crystal Springs Gap. Then I happened to look up, and there was a pair of White-tailed Kites hovering overhead, silhouetted against the bright low clouds; they worked their way down the hill, and for a few minutes I watched them come to a hover every minute or so, until they disappeared farther down the hill behind some trees. The rosy glow from the sunset really was lovely, even with the realization that a good bit of that lovely redness came from wildfire smoke.

Bay Area Sacred Harp

Some Stanford University undergraduates made a brief documentary on the Bay Area Sacred Harp singing community. The students were in an ethnomusicology class, and their goal was to document a local musical community. Given their time constraints, I think they give a pretty good sense of how music and community are woven together in Sacred Harp.

Notes: No one is identified in the video, but this is who you’ll hear from, in order of appearance: Pat Coghlan, Gridley, Calif.; Lena Strayhorn, San Francisco; Jeannette Ralston, Half Moon Bay; Terry Moore, Palo Alto. (Jeannette is the senior singer who was interviewed; she has been singing Sacred Harp in the Bay Area since the 1970s.) The local singings shown are Berkeley (in the church with pews); Palo Alto (in the children’s art room); and San Francisco (in the living room). You’ll hear the Palo Alto singers on Nehemiah Shumway’s Ballstown (begins 0:05; cont. 0:27 and William Billings’s Easter Anthem (begins 1:58).

Couldn’t’ve said it better myself

From “Forget Shorter Showers” by Derrick Jensen (Orion Magazine, 2009), excerpted in the zine “Know Your Shit,” UC Santa Cruz, 2018:

Would any sane person think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday, or that chopping wood and carrying water would ahve gotten people out of Tsarist prisons, or that dancing naked around a fire would have helped put in place the Voting Rights Act of 1957 or the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Then why now, with all the world at stake, do so many people retreat into these entirely personal ‘solutions’?

“Part of the problem is that we’ve been victims of a campaign of systematic misdirection. Consumer culture and the capitalist mindset have taught us to substitute acts of personal consumption (or enlightenment) for organized political resistance. An Inconvenient Truth helped raise consciousness about global warming. But did you notice that all of the solutions presented had to do with personal comsumption — changing light bulbs, inflating tires, dirving half as much — and had nothing to do with shifting power away from corporations, or stopping the growth economy that is destroying the planet? Even if every person did everything the movie suggested, U.S. carbon emissions would fall by only 22 percent. Scientific consensus is that emissions must be reduced by at least 75 percent world wide….

“I want to be clear. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t live simply. I live reasonably simply myself, but I don’t pretend that not buying much (or not driving much, or not having kids) is a powerful political act, or that it’s deeply revolutionary. It’s not. Personal change doesn’t equal social change.”

Couldn’t’ve said it better myself.

Our personal consumption profiles are not going to stop all the global environmental justice crises. What is going to save us is a combination of political activism and change in the global economic structure; some moral technological innovation (as opposed to the now-dominant amoral technological innovation driven by the profit motive) may help, but only if coupled with political activism and economic change.