My research with participants of Humanities I in Action revealed four elements of social conscience education: awareness, emotional engagement, action, and relatedness. These four elements can be easily detected in a recent half-day beach clean up undertaken by Humanities I in Action students.
Humanities I in Action includes approximately 10 out-0f-the-classroom service experiences. One of these 10 outings occurred on October 13 as all 6 classes (120 students) participated in a beach clean up. Before the outing, all students were first introduced to the problem of water pollution in the earth’s oceans through various video clips. We discussed the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which stretches across much of the Pacific Ocean. After detailing the problem, we watched Sylvia Earle’s inspirational TED talk in which she speaks of a lifetime of study and activism to preserve the world’s oceans. Following this hour-long preparation, we drove all the students to nearby Big Wave Bay where we cleaned the beach and noted the components of trash we collected over a two-hour period.
Students’ homework was to write a blog comment, focusing on their awareness, emotional engagement or action responses to the experience. One Chinese boy commented on all three:
1) Awareness: Today I learned we need to do EVERYTHING we can to save our planet. Watching the lady give her TED wish speech, made me think I am part of the human race and I am responsible for some fo this pollution. This made me feel ashamed of what I did because I actually got to see things I threw away like styrofoam or plastic bottles. I also learned we need to be careful of what we throw away… We should recycle everything we can, and keep sharp object away from being thrown out. About 12% of the planet’s land surface is conserved in some way, but little more than 1% of the 139.5 million sq. mi. of the oceans have any protection whatsoever. This statistic struck me the most because I did not expect these numbers to be so small. Another statistic that shocked me was: 70% of all coral reefs could be gone by midcentury. I don’t get how we as humans are able to destroy our beautiful surroundings. We need to take action now to stop it!
2) Emotional Engagement: The biggest emotion I felt was shame. I was ashamed of myself because most of the stuff described I had taken some part of it. For example: I eat sushi quite a lot, and I eat shark fin soup too. This made me feel extremely bad. During the beach clean up I felt like I contributed into cleaning our ocean partially but it wasn’t enough because our world is massive. From now on, I will think twice before buying a plastic bottle. If I do end up buying one then I will make sure i recycle it. I have hope for this world because our generation is the one who has to endure it and we want to make sure we live a happy life with a wonderful world that can be passed on from generations to generations.
3) Action: During the beach clean up I tried my best to help, I filled up 2 bags and was about to start my third before stepping on a sharp object. I was very proud of how much trash we cleaned. When we first got there the first thought that came in my mind was, this is gonna take a LONG time because of the amount of trash.
A Chinese girl also reflected upon what she learned today with following comment:
One line in the Sylvia Earle speech video that really stuck out for me and I thought was really cool was when she said that without blue, there is no green. It just caught my attention as being so simple, but so true. Again, everything is connected in one big life-support system and the fact that that is being destroyed is not only horrible or terrible but devastating… but I already knew that as it has been beaten into me throughout my whole life. What I didn’t realize was how close we are to the edge. In the video, Sylvia Earle tells us that the time to act is now, because the best and probably only time that we will have to correct our path is within the next ten years. This means that our generation must clean up our act and pull ourselves together in the greatest unified global effort in the history of mankind… and we only have a decade to do it. During the beach clean-up we all saw how much trash there was. If it had been only one or two students going on our own, it would have been overwhelmingly impossible, but with the whole In Action classes, we actually made a difference and had fun while doing it. Now looking at the amounts of trash scattered all over the world, I see the same thing. Though the amounts of plastic trash are going up in the ocean (the ratio of plankton to plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch are 1:6), so the levels of awareness of spreading as well.
The essence of social conscience education involves these four elements: awareness, emotional engagement, action, and relatedness. At the beginning of the day, videos and discussion alerted students to ocean pollution and the risks that this brings to the world. The videos included some disturbing pictures that certainly affected students on an emotional level, while Sylvia Earle’s presentation included stirring comments and stunning ocean cinematography. Having engaged students cognitively and affectively, we then provided an action response. Finally, this holistic learning experience fostered a new sense of relatedness between students and the environment and built new relationships among participants all taking purposeful action on behalf of the natural world. This combination of in-class preparation and out-of-class experiences is an example of how social conscience education is put into practice.