Earth Day and the Word “Organic”

Jose Vilson Education, Jose

Earth Day 2010

Today, while walking to school, I noticed a huge group of volunteers who, after construction workers pulled out slabs of fresh concrete from the sidewalk, started to dig some earth and plant trees all around the school. Something about seeing earth and not dirt (note the difference) makes me think of the sorts of things our students in urban areas miss if they don’t get to go back to a “home country” like Dominican Republic or Mexico, or if they don’t get out to a countryside somewhere in Pennsylvania or Virginia. With all the majesty and acclivity of our multi-story high rises and intricate architecture, nothing can replace La Nature’s simplicity and textures.

While cooped up in my grey-colored school, some students from the school had the opportunity to help finish the work of the volunteers, getting a chance to touch earth for themselves, planting trees, and adding an accent to their neighborhoods. One of the teachers who went with them noticed how excited the students were to help, and be given the opportunity to do so, even as so many pundits and wonks ramble on about how lower-class urban students don’t even want to help (they do).

I bring this up because some of the discussion I’ve tried to start within whatever circle I can poke my opinion in has to do with this idea of organic. Everything’s going under the pretense of “natural,” and everyone’s thinking of going green. The processes we use to build schools and discuss students should come with that sentiment. Everything from our conversations with children to how we build curriculum should come with looking at our students’ needs, assessing our teachers’ strengths, and nurturing and growing these parts, not simply forcing these things on a population that may not feel like they need these so-called initiatives.

The plasticity of some educational components would make you think they’re indestructible. Rather, they’re just not bio-degradeable i.e. the school population, if it’s to remain healthy, won’t sustain itself with these components. Rather, they come from pieces that take time to grow. We plant them as seeds, watch them grow through careful observation and monitoring, and eventually let those plants give us new seeds from which to keep building. That takes time and dedication, and in the age of genetics, the human race finds new ways to take shortcuts on the natural.

And that’s what the seeds we teach and cultivate gravitate to the most. They want to feel like they’re growing positively, and that their experiences mean something. They want a little water. Unfortunately, not every seed grows well in the soil they’re placed in, but that’s part of farming. Every year, the planter gets better at cultivating.

Until then, we don’t want the toxins. Let the students feel the soil in their hands. Fresh, isn’t it?

Mr. Vilson, who always lets the work speak for themselves …