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What to Do

I admit to serious angst accompanying this issue's editorial. Spinning through my head was Charles Dicken's opening lines of the Tale of Two Cities. "It was the best of times it the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair." Curiously, his words kept bumping into the slogan, "In chaos lies opportunity!"

The light leading from the cave of angst was lit during our June GOMI teacher workshop meeting – our first-ever zoom event. Courtesy of COVID-19, we replaced our annual three-day summer workshop with a series of zoom sessions dedicated to enhancing community-based stewardship (CBS)[1]. The goal of these sessions is to adapt appropriate and creative uses of distance learning technologies to CBS. We include schools from MA, ME, NH, and Nova Scotia and grade levels from elementary to university, representing rural, urban, suburban, and coastal settings. Each site has introduced a model CBS course into its school curriculum. These courses emphasize CBS field related projects that involve students working within their community on a climate change-related issue. Despite the apparent limitations social distancing and distance learning (DL) would seem to have on CBS, our June meeting exploded with energy, both positive and inspiring. We recognized the crises “our times” are facing require doers and not hand-wringers. There is serious work ahead to reorganize teaching and learning to fit better the social and environmental challenges of the 21st century. We believe we, and those who think as we do, have a critical role to play in helping that happen. Another hand-wringing editorial about the chaos of “our times" is a waste of words and time.[2]

Our role is to advocate for educational change that brings us into harmony with the natural world while promoting a concept of environmental justice that embraces the foundations of our democratic society. These are to be found in the Declaration of Independence and scrolled at the feet of Ms. Liberty. She stands on them, and we stand with her. These bedrock sources proclaim the right for ALL Americans to life, equality, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. As educators, we understand justice, so conceived, is a value-based and not a law-based construct that needs to be taught and practiced. As educators and environmentalists, we know our role in the context of "our times" to be redemptive and renewing to our students, communities, ourselves, and our first mother - Earth (see Ode to Two Mothers in the Arts, Poetry and Misc. section of this issue). Manifestos, such as this, are only as good as the definable, practical and pragmatic action they inspire. Achieving them is a long-term goal and sustaining them an everlasting dedication.

Short-term, over the summer and through the academic year, we plan to enhance our CBS curricula by applying an appropriate and creative use of DL technologies. DL technologies are tools available to enhance education. They cannot replace the social essence of teaching and learning a democratic society requires. It is too early in our planning to spell out specific details; however, they will be available by summer's end. Since some form of DL will be deployed in all three states, we will plan an overall teaching strategy that will adapt to either return to normal, a full DL approach, or a hybrid. Some form of the latter seems to be most likely. We see an adaptation of project-based learning to CBS as the most desirable path at present. A community- based project can be done on an individual basis and nested into a course theme. Structured properly, a student will learn the skills of identifying, investigating, analyzing, and drawing conclusions to a community-related climate change issue. Projects structured in this way will conclude by sharing results, class-wide zoom-type presentations, and in articles published in the GOMI Journal. There is a lot of room for creativity here, and very exciting are the interdisciplinary possibilities. We will also be investigating DL field trips. That strikes as an oxymoron at first, but a possibility unexplored is a potential opportunity lost.

Some general issues related to DL stem from the widespread inequity endemic in the society, so we need to be sure to:

  1. Teach the skills required to succeed in DL

  2. Present projects that are manageable, self-motivating and developmental

  3. Provide students with access to the technology needed to complete DL tasks.

More challenging will be the environmental variations of students’ lives outside the classroom. There is much work to be done to make this CBS approach effective and by August we will have more details to share. If you are interested in learning more about our CBS effort or wish to join the conversation or even become participating teacher or school please send an email to me at

[1] Community-based stewardship (CBS) promotes experiential learning, rooted in and with the community. CBS focuses on the uniqueness of a specific place and emphasizes civic engagement - the act(s) of doing something concrete and beneficial to understand, improve, remedy, or protect the natural and cultural environment.

[2] More about these may be accessed by going and clicking on the GOMI journal tab at the top of the home and researching the archives.



John P. Terry, founded the Gulf of Maine Institute in 1999. John was Editor-in-Chief, CYD (Community Youth Development) Journal from Aug. 1994 to Nov. 2002. John has broad teaching and administrative experience at the university level including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1969-1984, University of Massachusetts, Lowell, 1985-1992, and Union College, Schenectady, NY, 1964-1969. John received national recognition in 2006 when selected as Civic Ventures,’ Lead with Experience Program 2006 Purpose Prize Fellows. He is also a 2008 recipient of the Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment Visionary Award.

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