Walking to the National Mall last week in Washington DC, I found myself looking both ways as I crossed Constitution Avenue—in the distance, I glimpsed the US Capitol Building to my left and the Washington Monument to my right. These iconic structures are spectacular in their design and in the powerful symbolism they evoke.
I felt a confusing jumble of emotions: first, almost reflexively, awe and pride; then, hope for the potential our country is still striving to fulfill. But I am distressed by the polarization we are facing as a nation and am moved by the struggles of so many Americans for the justice and freedom that should be everyone’s birthright. All these feelings washed over me in the time it took to cross the street, and I pondered them as I walked through the Mall on my way to the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
As I passed by the various Mall visitors and denizens—students, tourists, federal workers, joggers, musicians, religious observers—I reflected on the fact that despite whatever individual experiences each of us was having on our way through the Mall, we are all deeply interconnected, and we all share responsibility for the earth we inhabit. I wondered how we can reconcile our national identity with our global allegiances—for we must have global bonds if we want our world to thrive.
These are complicated times to be American, to understand the ways in which each of us relates to our national and global identities, especially when we consider the controversies certain to dominate the national discourse in this election year: gun control, health care, immigration, criminal justice and law enforcement reform, trade, income inequality, cyber-security, and—the one that I am focusing on here—climate change.
Many of these pressing issues cannot be limited to a national conversation; they are inextricably international concerns. Therefore, we have to broaden our scope of understanding and action. We who are raising the next generation of changemakers must regard them as global citizens or risk missing the mark when it comes to their education.
At Turning Point School, we have designed global curricula in order to prepare our children to be nimble, adaptable, analytical thinkers able to navigate myriad cultural encounters. These preparations will be helpful in the face of challenges related to many crises: war, refugees, immigration and its backlash, the rise of populism, food insecurity, and deepening inequalities among rich and poor. And, at the junction of all of these calamities is climate change.
The overwhelming state of climate change can shut us down in denial or despair, but we must find the courage to educate ourselves and our children about it, take action and inspire our children to take action, and support initiatives that will slow down or reverse the damage to our planet that is occurring with increased speed as each year passes.
We have laid a strong foundation at Turning Point with our sustainability program, science curricula, and youth advocacy initiatives. Our students learn the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) skills to understand and create complex systems and to solve problems. They learn to stand up for their beliefs and to support their ideas with irrefutable evidence. They practice empathy and resilience, develop active listening skills, and disagree respectfully. They question authority and confirm information to ensure its reliability.
This year our theme for our school-wide International Village will focus on Climate Change, Goal 13 of the United Nations Sustainable Goals, whose charge is to “take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.”
As an educator and parent, children are at the center of most of the decisions I make each day. Increasingly, looking out for our own children means looking out for all children. We cannot simply leave this problem for the next generation. It is up to us to make climate change a priority so that our children and grandchildren can grow up with clean water, diminished greenhouse gasses, and ways to ensure all families around the world can have what they need to thrive.
Head of School