I don’t think I have had a conversation, whether it be casual or academic, about any social issue or major problem in our world that didn’t bring up education as a necessary step or solution. Usually it seems like focusing on the youngest generations is the most optimistic option. Theoretically, I always agree with this point, but in practice working with kids is rough.
This week I taught a quick lesson on healthy soil as it relates to agriculture to about 30 K-5th graders. I was ridiculously nervous about this lesson. Kids are great, in small numbers, I just don’t know how to entertain that many of them for an hour and still impart some kind of knowledge about soil.
At first, I was standing in front of them by myself trying to explain what exactly soil is without boring or confusing them but I could feel myself already losing their attention. I started to mentally figure out how to cut the lesson really short and just let them do the activity I’d brought.
Fortunately, I got super lucky and one of my coworkers who happens to be an elementary and middle school teacher came to help me get through my lesson. I don’t know what she did it (I think it was magic) but she managed to wrangle some fidgety kids who were super excited about the surprise caterpillar into quiet, polite participation. Suddenly, the kids had all kinds of things to share with me, even the surly fifth graders in the back who were too cool to act like they cared. I got so excited when one kid answered my question “Do plants need to eat like we do?” with “No! Plants make their own food from sunlight and water!” An elementary school kid was just as excited about photosynthesis as I am on a regular basis.
At that point I was sold on these kids. We talked about nutrients in soil and what plants use them for, problems with soil and potential solutions and why healthy plants are so important for our food system. All the while they were thrilled with the mason jars of dirt I’d brought as examples and routinely threw their hands up to answer my questions and interrogate me about what kinds of plants we grow at Sow Much Good. And I remembered that teachers are awesome, and lucky.
Watching kids become interested in any topic is amazing, getting them there is deliriously hard. I still believe education is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal, it also happens to be a huge challenge for me.
This post, written by Amy Lamb, originally appeared in the 2014 Sustainability Scholars blog.