In 1968 I began my teaching career in a small basement classroom of Monmouth High School in the tiny town of Monmouth, Illinois. We had no xerox machines, 16-mm projectors, and opaque projectors that were so heavy I could hardly lift them. Before I retired, of course, we were using computers and smart boards; the latter were “the latest thing.” When I say times have changed, boy, have they changed! I know that technology is in use in much bigger and wealthier schools all over the country, but in our little economically distressed school in west central Illinois, we struggle. “Extras” that cost money are hard to finance.
Today I sat in that same room with high school students and watched and interacted with twenty-four schools all over the country as we heard–via live streaming–an eco-activist in Toronto, Canada, talk about ways young people can become activists to save the planet. I am not kidding when I say that every high school students’ eyes were fixed on that screen and listening intently to the talk. Just before it ended, one of the students in our classroom could directly ask a question of Emily Hunter.
Emily Hunter is an activist who is only 20 years old and she uses film and public speaking to address environmental problems, including climate change, the destruction of rain forests, and the plight of endangered species. Her parents were involved in Greenpeace and her father founded that organization. Now she is also an active participant in the Sea Shepherd group. She sees film and public speaking as tools for changing peoples’ minds and getting them to help.
During the hour we saw a video of the rain forests in Borneo, the damage that construction machinery is doing there, and why it is important to keep these rain forests intact. A second video clip was about the day the world came together to fight climate change. The groups in the demonstrations–which took place on October 10, 2010, protested all over the world about the importance of making a difference in climate change. On that day there were over 700 events in 188 countries. Hunter showed photos of other high school students who were activists in their countries and the emphasis was on making a difference in the world even if you are young.
Her message to students was five-fold: Find your passion; learn, because knowledge IS power; take action using your own talent; do one step at a time; and work with others. These steps could be applied to any type of activism.
Of the twenty-four schools watching the live feed, ten were chosen to ask questions. Some of the questions they asked were: If you could make one thing happen, what would it be? Is being young helpful to your message or does it work against you? What are ways to make our own school more environmentally friendly? Since the captain of the Sea Shepherd’s ship was arrested recently, how will that change the mission of that group? The last question was asked by a Monmouth-Roseville student. Ms. Hunter answered each question in turn and the other schools could see our classroom when it was our turn to ask a question.
Monmouth-Roseville High School students profit by using these presentations because the teacher in the classroom, Melissa, works with a company called Front Row. They make audio systems for classrooms and can, in presentations like these, connect classrooms with experts in various fields. So a small high school in a town of 10,000 people can be connected to experts with experience and information that teaches and inspires young people who would not otherwise have had this opportunity.
I guess the difference between 1968 and 2012 could be described as going from unplugged to plugged in.