"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, March 05, 2007

Giving Students "The Whole Truth" on Climate Change

John f.Borowski, a public school teacher for 26 years, urges teachers to preface Al Gore's An Inconveninet Truth with Oil on Ice and explains why the two films can complement each other as a powerful educational tool to spark enivornmental activism.

This week, Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” won a much deserved Academy Award for his riveting documentary on climate change science. Many teachers, including myself, are obligated to use Mr. Gore’s carbon dioxide graphs and stunning visuals of glacial melting and climate change exacerbated hurricanes to educate the nation’s 55 million students. But know this, teachers and caring parents, if we want to move climate change knowledge from facts to action, I strongly suggest a “one-two punch strategy”: show “An Inconvenient truth” after showing the best environmental education film I have ever watched; “Oil on Ice.” This documentary not only outlines the folly of drilling for oil in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, it contains an incredible array of climate change solutions intertwined with the cultural need to create a “sustainable energy society” here in the United States. Couple this showing with a subsequent viewing of Mr. Gore’s work and you will have a populous of young adults questioning our insatiable addiction to fossil fuels and demanding that the adults who hold power right now implement realistic solutions that could reduce carbon dioxide by 80-90% immediately: not the preposterous and woefully inadequate calls for “reasonable” reductions many decades out.

Having taught for 26 years, I have only encountered a handful of “environmental education” films that have interwoven the needed ingredients that produces a visual that captures the attention and hearts of young adults. Oil on Ice has that rare recipe: spectacular wildlife scenes that tug at the heartstrings throughout, hard data-well explained and factual with a riveting narration. Today’s students, their attention spans conditioned by “MTV style” quick pace productions often lose interest in “talking heads,” and the “talk over” strategy in Oil on Ice employing memorable scenes kept my students attentive and in rapid fire order, asking numerous questions. Barely, over 40 minutes long, it took me three days to show the visual, stopping often to “take notes” and engage in lively debate (what teachers fondly refer to as that “teachable moment”). While “An Inconvenient Truth” depicts our climate dilemma in brilliant science, teachers must “massage” the film when it overstays long scenes of Al Gore and references to his political history. Some students asked why Mr. Gore talked so much about his own life and his loss in the 2000 election. It is crucial for good teachers to “connect those dots” for students without detracting from the science. Critics have claimed that Gore used this production as a vehicle to remain politically viable. Some decry no mention of the Clinton/Gore Administration’s environmental failures: from failure to implement the Kyoto Protocol to allowing “carbon storehouses” our national forests to be clear-cut at unconscionable rates. I defend the film for its scientific integrity, the beautifully illustrated graphs and excellent visuals on Arctic and Antarctic melting. What data that is left missing in Gore’s film, be it intentional or not, makes using Oil on Ice as a preface undeniably valuable. The union of the two films strengthens the message of “An Inconvenient Truth” and gives students the “whole truth.”

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