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Educators and Scholars Stress Collaboration, Urgency in Confronting Climate Change at HGSE Conference

The Harvard Graduate School of Education hosted a panel on Thursday with experts in education and sustainability.
The Harvard Graduate School of Education hosted a panel on Thursday with experts in education and sustainability. By Ryan N. Gajarawala
By Paton D. Roberts, Crimson Staff Writer

Education officials and sustainability experts discussed how students and educators can “engage creatively and intelligently” on climate change at a Harvard Graduate School of Education conference Thursday.

In a series of three panels, speakers at the event focused on how to shape curricula, collaborate between universities and school districts, and create a sense of urgency in addressing the climate crisis.

Three HGSE affiliates — professor Fernando M. Reimers, education researcher Tina Grotzer, and lecturer Laura A. Schifter — discussed how to include students in the effort to combat climate change during the event’s first panel.

Reimers said that Harvard needs to “partner with other institutions” including peer universities, K-12 schools, and other educational bodies to effectively address climate change.

“We are too small to actually make a dent on this issue unless we reach to the rest of society,” he said.

Grotzer said while individual educators can make a difference by introducing their students to climate data, changes to curricula are necessary to familiarize them with climate research done at institutions like Harvard.

“Teachers know their students,” Grotzer said. “They know their local environments. It is really the curriculum efforts that take those forms of expertise and put them in conversation with what we know from the research.”

Schifter said education on climate change needs to begin in high school, referencing polling that indicated few teenagers learn about solutions to climate change in the classroom. She added that all students should learn how to address “the greatest challenge of our time.”

The second panel featured three administrators from school districts across the country — representing Dallas, Denver, and Baltimore— who stressed the consequences of failing to address climate change with sufficient speed.

Ben Mackey, a Dallas school board trustee, said without a safe world to look forward to, the students’ educations will become irrelevant.

“We can have the best education system in the world, but if we don’t actually take care of the world, they’re not going to be able to do anything with that,” Mackey said. “We cannot abdicate our responsibility as school systems in this process.”

LeeAnn Kittle, director of sustainability for Denver Public Schools in Colorado, said her district hired grant writers to apply for federal grants funding sustainability efforts, among other initiatives.

Monica Goldson, CEO of Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland, said the push for action comes from both the students and the rapid turnover that occurs within school administrations.

“The sense of urgency does come from our students, but for them, it’s because they see their time in the school district as short, and they want to see change now.” Goldson said.

“I always have a sense of urgency,” she added. “I want to be able to make sure that there’s sustainability beyond me.”

A panel featuring Harvard Vice Provost for Climate and Sustainability James H. Stock, HGSE Dean Bridget T. Long, and Spencer Glendon, a senior fellow at the Woodwell Climate Research Center, concluded the day’s event.

Stock said Harvard graduates should use their education to bring about great change and find new climate solutions.

“I like to end with the phrase that I’m sure many are familiar with: To whom much has been given, much is expected,” Stock said. “I think that is a very apt phrase for our students, and indeed, it’s an expectation that they can live up to.”

Asked how leaders in the education sector can start to take climate action, Goldson, the Maryland educator, gave a concise answer: “Don’t hesitate.”

—Staff writer Paton D. Roberts can be reached at paton.roberts@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter at @paton_dr.

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Ed SchoolScienceHigher EducationGrad School of EducationSustainability