It has been over a year (I think) since I've spent any considerable time spreading tree hugger propaganda in our local institutions of elementary learning. I spoke to well over 1000 students last year about the proposed Marianas Trench Marine National Monument. Today I talked to over 150 about the basics of sustainable development and government decision making. And I inadvertently invented a really fun class activity in the first class, which Mr. Joe and I repeated with great success for five more periods.
I started the lesson off by asking the students, "Who runs our island?" The Mayor! Governor! The Legislature!
And how do they get that job? They get elected!
By who? Us!
You guys vote? Our parents!
And who is the governor's boss? The bishop! The president!
No, YOU are the governor's boss. Whoa...
Then I asked them, "How does a governor make a decision?" When there is an issue facing the islands and the governor has to decide how he is going to approach a solution, what are his thinking processes for doing so?
I eventually explain that a governor has to consider people, planet, and profit when making decisions and tried to generate a discussion on how that's not always so easy.
I start with People. I explain that the governor makes decisions by asking the people what they want, using the examples of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument (how Governor Fitial initially opposed it), marine protected areas (how they can be good for the environment, but opposed for certain reasons), fishing (and the importance of culture), and Managaha (a tangible protected area that the kids have visited). The students seemed to be agreeable to the statement that the governor should take into account the people when making decisions.
Then I point out that sometimes the governor also takes into account the Environment when making environmental decisions. This was not hard for the students to accept.
I also asked "why should we protect the environment?" These students have been getting the message for years that they need to protect it, but why? At first the students said because it's pretty, the animals are nice, and so that we can enjoy it, but eventually we got to the fact that every single thing that we eat was at one time living, that all of our food comes from the environment, and that we ourselves are in fact a part of the environment.
The first two periods had a hard time accepting that everything we eat comes from nature, which I found really funny. I think word must have spread by third period because the later classes accepted that statement with no questions.
There's also something else that is very important that a governor must consider when making decisions: the Economy. This one was also pretty easy to understand for the kids.
I then went on to explain how all these things are related, that they don't exist in a vacuum and that they can overlap.
As I did so I drew this chart explaining that each circle represents a possible decision that a governor can make. A decision can be purely environmental, purely economical, purely people, a mix of two, or all three.
And I then asked a student to volunteer as our next governor. Hands shot up, I picked a new governor, and I told him to put an X where on the chart he would make his decisions as governor. Would he be strong on the environment, the people, or the economy, or a mix?
Right before he made their X, I stopped he and said that Mr. Joe represented the Chamber of Commerce. He would pay the student $10 if they chose only economy. Then I picked a second student and said she represented the people and that she's got a lot of supporters. If the new governor promised to be a people only governor, the second student will make sure the governor gets re-elected. Then I say that I'm the smartest, best looking guy on the island and that my advice is to be an environment only governor. Come on, I'm the smartest, best looking guy on the island. I went to school, I'm a scientist, experienced and know what I'm talking about. You should really listen to me.
With that said, I ask the new governor to put his X on the chart. Oh wait, why not have the rest of the class pressure him for their preferred option, too?
It turned out great. The student would put his X somewhere on the chart as the rest of the kids pressured him to put the X where they wanted it. After the first governor I brought up three or four more governors and asked them what type of governor they'd be. The students put X's all over the chart, some getting the $10 by being economy only (I didn't really give them the money), some getting re-elected by being people only, and some listening to me, the smartest, best looking guy on the island. Some of the students also decided they'd combine two types of governor; a few said they'd be all three types at once.
Once there was an example in every part of the chart, I explained the ridiculousness of being a one issue governor.
Environment only? Let's end all fishing on Saipan. But we'll starve! What about the people!
Economy only? Let's kill every single fish and sell it to China, we'll make millions. But what about the people? And that will destroy our environment!
And so on and so on for each example, finally ending up by explaining that a good governor needs to balance all three.
The kids were really into it and got really excited. After the activity we had some great discussions about how all these things related with another and we discussed habitat loss, extinction, and what that means for local cultures.
Finally, I ended each class by asking the students what they could do as students to change the things they wanted to change. They unanimously screamed impeachment, with one kid recommending assassination. Those options are unlikely and illegal, respectively, so I recommended that they could also write letters, letters to the editor, letters to the governor, letters to the president or their principal. They could also pass around a petition, talk to their parents, or if it is something like getting toilet paper for their school, just hold a fundraiser and go buy it themselves.
Not that I'm campaigning, but I couldn't help but think that all these kids will be old enough to vote in the next election. The truth is that this will be my last class presentation to students on Saipan as I have made the decision to move to Florida after the holidays.