This is What Democracy Really Looks Like
I want to share the most transformational experience I’ve had during my teaching career. It started in 2017 at the end of the school day when my students were given a letter to take home to their parents. This notice detailed how our school building tested positive for lead in its drinking water. Some of the fountains were so highly elevated that they tested over one thousand parts per billion (ppb) when the action limit set by the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) is 15 ppb. This “backpack letter” meant for school administrators and parents’ eyes, sent my students and I down a path of several years of service based learning and student led activism which transformed my role as a classroom teacher. We not only fought for student appropriated funding to install two new water fountains with filtration systems in our school, but we also analyzed our water quality at home with free New York State testing kits. From there, since one didn’t exist, we expanded our work by creating an interactive map of all the schools in NYC illustrating their water quality and used the information to lobby our elected officials to improve access to clean, lead free drinking water. You can learn more and see examples of my students’ activism including videos and speeches students developed to express their concerns about water quality with the President as part of inauguration events at my teaching website www.cagebustingclassrooms.com.
Perhaps this is the type of global education you want students to be engaged in as well but don’t know where to start? I am happy to share that my students’ activism and others like them across the country have been developed into an online curriculum to help other educators interested in this work. The U.S. Department of State has launched Solving Global Problems, a free, self-paced online course, funded by the U.S government and developed by IREX, to help educators prepare to ignite students’ critical thinking and creativity through a focus on tackling global problems.
During the course, participants hear from elementary, middle and high school teachers about how they successfully engaged students to apply knowledge and skills to complex problems and how it empowers students to make a difference in the world. Global competence equips students with the skills, knowledge, and attitudes to be successful in today’s interconnected world. Through the course educators will be equipped with an understanding of what problem-driven learning is and how to apply it in their classrooms, whether that is in person or virtually. Educators will explore how global problems can be introduced across content areas and grade levels.
One of the most challenging parts can be getting started. This course will provide practical ideas for connecting problem-driven learning to standards and resources to apply in your practice and is designed for busy professionals who are motivated to engage their students with real challenges. Educators who successfully complete the course will receive a U.S. Department of State Global Problem-Solving Educator badge and certificate noting 4.5 hours of independent professional learning and a great step towards becoming a Fulbright Teacher for Global Classrooms.
Almost four years later, during remote learning, my students and I have been parsing President Biden’s infrastructure bill and discussing his ambitious pledge to replace 100% of the water pipes and service lines across America. The New York State Constitution guarantees every student in the state the right to education defined in terms of preparation for civic participation yet far too many schools, particularly schools especially those that serve black and brown students, are ill equipped to provide this type of education. Let’s make sure all our students are @DemocracyReady by equipping teachers with the agency and experiences necessary to help young people recognize their civic roles and exercise their civic powers to work for meaningful social change.