What We're Learning
A story by Colton Jones:
Several weeks ago, before we were facing the crude reality of just how fragile humanity is, Jilian and I got the privilege to discuss the importance of ecological balance to our son, Lincoln’s elementary student body.
The way the COVID-19 pandemic has put the stipulation of citizens depending on other citizens to battle something bigger, took me back to our experience of explaining similar concepts to young children.
The school is a Montessori for grades Pre-K through 6th and is a method of education that is based on self-directed activity, hands-on learning and group play. In Montessori classrooms, children make creative choices in their learning, while the classroom and the highly trained teacher offer age-appropriate activities to guide the process. The elementary student body is small and comprised of only about a dozen children, ranging from Kindergartners up to 6th graders.
Jilian and I were extremely excited about the opportunity. Although Lincoln won’t be attending kindergarten until next year, we were familiar with most of the kids in the elementary school as we’ve had them out to the ranch on multiple accounts. While Jilian and I have both been corralled into conducting our share of PowerPoint and Excel presentations, neither she nor I had ever had an audience that was a third of our age.
I knew from our experience with the kids out at the ranch that they were an inquisitive bunch. For only a group of 14, the diversity of personalities is as impressive as the grasslands themselves. This fact alone was enough to get us nervous about fielding an array of uncensored questions that have no regard to the idea that college graduation was a decade ago. Thus, I dusted off some of my old lower level biology textbooks and began refreshing the night before. Eventually, we had done the only thing we knew how to do and pieced together a comprehensive PowerPoint on basic ecology.
We started at the Biosphere level and worked our way down to micro-biology and carbon sequestration – putting many pictures of the prairie into the slide show hoping they would make some connections to their ranch visit. From the first slide to the last, questions came steady. Each one, initiated with a polite but eager “hand raise”. This kids were respectful of each other’s inquiries that sometimes turned into short, but meaningful stories and life events.
On one slide, we made a collage of pictures in which the subject in each picture had some form of ecological relationship with the other subjects. We explained how the relationships all tied together and the importance of those bonds. It was on this slide a second grader, notoriously quiet in comparison to her peers, shyly raised her hand from the back of the class. When called on, in a soft quiet voice, she gave an explanation as to why prairie dogs had been labeled a nuisance on her grandfather’s ranch. She described the vast areas of pasture that prairies dogs can sometimes inhabit, being ate down to dirt, and covered with potentially lethal holes to cattle.
It was at that moment I knew Jilian and I were experiencing first-hand the importance and power the youth of our world hold. Suddenly, I felt like a civilian that had been tossed into an unmanned cockpit of a flying plane. I glanced at the two veteran teachers and Jilian. All three of them gave me a look that said “opportunity awaits…”, so I started asking the kids what some of their favorite things about spring were. We made a list on a marker board.
Once our list was complete, we discussed how a disruption in certain ecosystems could affect some of the things we enjoy doing in everyday life. We were amazed at how sensible these eager learners were to concepts such as, climate change, species diversity and carbon sequestration.
It was then, Jilian pulled out a life size poster of “Little Bluestem” that demonstrated the extensiveness of native grass root networks. The kids took turns laying down beside it. One child took it upon himself to produce a ruler so that he could get a measurement of the grass’ anatomy.
I brought along a deer shed that had been chewed on by a field mouse. Without provocation, several children started a discussion about other commonly over looked relationships that exist in nature. We sat in awe while they applied their newly learned concepts to conversations with one another.
Jilian and I left that day with an admiration for the kids’ open-mindedness and sensibility. With our current global crisis, it is evident that these crucial qualities are being lost somewhere along the way.
The continuation of budget cuts to public education leaves teachers short on much needed resources to accommodate a curriculum that is detrimental to the future of humanity. Agribusiness at the industrial level spends big money on marketing schemes designed to create distance between producer and consumer.
This disconnect buries primal intuition and opens the door for negligence. I hope other children are lucky enough to have teachers such as the ones at the Montessori, who understand the vitality of producing a well-informed generation.