Ramapo College of New Jersey has taken an innovative approach to teaching about global climate change. Last fall, the liberal arts college in Mahwah, NJ directed all incoming students to take a course in World Sustainability. So it was that I found myself teaching one of several classrooms full of newcomers an expanded course that previously was provided to a much smaller cohort of students majoring in environmental studies.
This development came about because student leaders requested that every student have an opportunity to learn about what’s happening in today’s world. As one of my Fall 2019 students noted in the course evaluation, this class “gave me a better understanding of the things that are harming the world and the sustainability issues in different parts of the world.”
Having previously taught Environmental Writing for nearly a decade, after retiring as a newspaper reporter, I told the class at the beginning of the semester that this global topic was a stretch for me so we were going to be learning about world sustainability together. Employing an idea from a deeply experienced environmental studies professor, I directed my 35 students to break into study groups of five, by signing up for a continent or corner of the world. Each study group was assigned to develop a power point presentation on sustainability issues in a part of the world, with particular emphasis on selected countries that each student would study in depth.
One student wrote that this was a highlight of our class: “Having to research a certain country in a continent. By doing this it lets you understand the issues climate change has globally.” The study group presentations included photos and videos of environmental issues and projects in various countries. These included depressing scenes of overwhelming plastic pollution in the Middle East to an amazing turnaround story in Copenhagen, Denmark.
During the semester, the college hosted a Climate Conference that featured presentations by several Ramapo College environmental studies professors, students and guests. One of my students wrote of the event: “attending it was such an eye opening experience. Prior to attending, I never had the opportunity to feel so involved in such a significant topic.”
Another student spoke about what he was learning in the World Sustainability course with younger students in his mother’s fifth grade class. “I am glad I was able to talk about this major problem in 2019 to kids because it spreads awareness on something that will affect all of us if nothing is acted on,” he wrote.
I'm a poet, author and editor of several books, including A Citizen's Guide to Grassroots Campaigns, Earth Songs: New and Selected Poems, and Winning Hearts & Minds: War Poems by Vietnam Veterans. For more information: www.janbarry.net.