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I Can Do Something

By Chick Moorman

If you happened to be downtown in a rural Michigan city not too long ago, you might have been handed a sheet of paper that read:

Your Life or Pollution

Your life or pollution, one of them is going to win. If you think that pollution will never take over, you are wrong.

Right now in 2005, chemicals could be eating up your liver, giving you cancer, or causing birth defects. There are a lot more pollution problems like this that are dangerous to your health.

If we don't start taking action now, we are going to wipe ourselves out.

If you are concerned about your own health, then get a piece of paper and pencil and write to your senator. See if he can get companies to STOP dumping chemicals into our lakes and rivers.

Rebecca Smithson

If you escaped the experience of having Rebecca hand you a copy of her position paper on pollution, chances are one of the other eighth graders gave you one of theirs. Their effort was the culminating class activity done under the direction of Social Studies/Language Arts teachers Brian Armstrong and William Hedler.

Brian and William team-teach government in a middle school. Their philosophy is not to " teach" government, but rather to let students " live" government. One of their objectives is to have students come to the conclusion that government works. They believe that middle-school students can learn that even thirteen-year-olds can take some action, have some input, and experience some degree of influence. In short, they want kids to feel, " I can do something."

Pollution became their vehicle--their delivery system--to help students see that government works. For the first few weeks of school, the eighth graders studied pollution. They watched videos, listened to tapes, heard lectures, participated in class discussions, searched the Internet, worked in groups, created projects, and took tests.

Once the students had learned about the issues of pollution, they were challenged to do something about it. As part of their " learn by doing" philosophy, Brian and William gave the students three action choices: write a letter to a representative, role-play a court case on pollution, or create a position paper to be handed out to the community. Students were required to choose two of the three activities.

Students choosing the position paper were to create a piece of literature that revealed an understanding of a current pollution problem. It must contain no grammatical or spelling errors. The first draft was checked by the teachers. Papers containing errors were rewritten as many times as was necessary to eliminate them. When rewrites were completed and final OK's given, 15 copies were made of each.

Before the students went downtown to share the literature with the community, they discussed situations that might develop. What do you do if someone gets angry and yells at you? How should you respond to indifference? Do's and don'ts were role-played. Courtesy was stressed.

The trip downtown required parental permission slips. Most students obtained them. Some did not.

During each class period during the day, students and their teachers walked the eight blocks from school to the downtown area. In groups of two and three, the students were assigned a distribution spot. The bank, the post office, and the stores were all covered. Students were to remain at their posts until the signal to return was given.

As community members approached a store, students would make a verbal contact and share the handout with them. They informed the adults that the literature was about pollution and asked that they read it later. Politeness reigned.

When the handouts were gone and the hour-and-a-half class period was about finished, the group began the walk back to the school. A park along the route served as a convenient spot to debrief the experience. Students and teachers sat on the picnic tables and discussed what happened during the exercise.

One student was excited about the discussion she had with a citizen, enabling her to explain fully the project and her position paper.

Another student stated that one person told him, " No, thanks, I don't need anymore trash."

Other reported comments from the community members included:

" If you're so concerned about pollution, why don't you pick up that can over there?"

" Yeah, I'm concerned about pollution, but I wish you'd clean it up instead of just passing out papers."

One storeowner questioned the students' right to use his sidewalk without permission. One citizen took the paper, flipped his cigarette butt into the street, and headed into the bank. Another person commented favorably and asked the student to come to school to share his views on pollution. A businessman approached one teacher and pointed out a spelling error. One woman wondered why the students weren't back in school learning something.

Citizen response and student experiences were varied. Yet commonalities existed. Each student had taken a stand. Each student had done something about a perceived problem. Each student had participated as an active, caring citizen.

Later that day, a group of Camp Fire Girls was observed picking up trash around the community. It was no coincidence that their leader was downtown earlier that day. She had received several position papers. She also received the message that was modeled by this group of eighth- graders. The youth leader was passing that message on to her Camp Fire Girls. One of the best ways to come to believe I CAN DO SOMETHING is simply to go out and do something.


Chick Moorman is the author of Spirit Whisperers: Teachers Who Nourish a Child's Spirit and co-author of The 10 Commitments: Parenting with Purpose(Personal Power Press, toll-free, 877-360-1477).