In my Foundations of Leadership in Sustainability class, students write their final papers in the form of letters to their great-grandchilden. They also reflect on their family histories back to their own great-grandparents. They are ruminations on family, on purpose, on our place in society and the web of life.
Some of these letters are so rich. One student wrote about her great-grandparents falling in love to “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling,” another talking about her grandparents having to memorize the dogma of Mao’s Little Red Book. Another wrote about how the fight for a more sustainable world is the logical extension of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s fight for civil rights. And there’s some dystopia too: worlds with many meters of sea level rise from melting glaciers and ice caps, corporate authoritarian regimes. Some of the dystopia thrives in our current economic and political systems–the carbon combustion complex, Donald Trump’s racism, and the unfettered spending by corporations that’s been called speech by Citizens United. Personal losses to come like our favorite islands where our families gathered, dragged under the waves by rising seas. There’s a sense that they’re taking stock and recognizing hard truths and deciding that we must act well together for a sustainable world given the lives we have.
These are gifts of hope to me. It’s not only because some of my students write beautifully. Well-crafted prose certainly draws in a yearning soul. But as their teacher who’s been guiding them through concepts of sustainability, ethics, and the social, political, biophysical, and existential challenges of climate change, it’s great to read student work rich in content. When those come together, something beautiful has happened in your life.
If you want to use this assignment, go for it. It’s linked here at The Field Guide to Teaching Sustainability, a resource I curate.