Note: I substitute teach in Lincoln County, Central Oregon, on a magnificent coast that is going downhill quickly: clear cuts up to the beach, more and more development blocking natural estuary systems, biohazards (solids) spread throughout the farming community, more people, more plastic, more crab pots, more whale and pinniped entanglements, no more sea stars, fish full of microplastics, and hot compounds floating from Fukushima nuke explosion.
There is a plastic grocery bag ban being proposed, and it’s not hard to believe many residents write into the local rags how banning toxic bags is akin to taking their .357 magnum away from their cold dead hands. I am writing a book on the PK12 education system in the USA, and, well, what better ground truthing than teaching it. The names of the students cited below are pseudonyms. Everything else is fact!
By Paul K.Haeder
Having fourth graders at Taft Elementary ask me how the children of Houston are doing as the petrochemical plant burns inspired me yet again to continue my substitute teaching for Lincoln County.
We’re looking at nine-year-olds who already want answers and are passionate about connections.
First, we went on a plastic treasure hunt in the classroom. Low hanging fruit were all the plastic bins, totes and folders. There were keyring gizmos on their backpacks. There were youth with lunches wrapped in holey Safeway bags.
We got creative, eventually agreeing that almost everything in the classroom has plastic, and everything inside and outside the classroom has fossil fuel markers on it. Children looked at the “contains 100% polyester” on clothing tags, then realized that anything with paint on it had polymers derived from oil, i.e. plastic. Desks and white boards and light protectors – plastic!
Then one of the students with his Chromebook (90 percent plastic) pulled up an article about plastic compounds in human feces. We got through that discussion okay, but the fourth graders were perplexed on how everyone on earth has plastic in their poop.
The study, which now will be replicated in almost every country, discovered subjects (humans) with microplastics in their feces – both polypropylene (PP) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET). All the volunteers had consumed food or beverages stored in plastic wrapping, bottles, or containers. More than 70 percent had eaten fish from the sea, not plastic fish but real fish.
The Taft class then did a poll – how many had food in plastic containers, and how many had eaten fish of any kind the past week. One hundred percent of the 25 students raised their hands, lifting up the plastic lined milk cartons and the Lucky Charms cereal containers they had just consumed.
Young people want real answers, and they understand that at 9 years of age, they have on average another 60 or 65 years left on the planet (we looked up life expectancies for Americans in different parts of the country).
They asked what affects do all the plastics have on their own personal health, both now and in the future. One student, Ronny, found the five-legged frogs and double-headed fish science story on the internet. We talked about hormones and PP, PET, and the other members of the dirty dozen chemicals – mostly come coming from petrochemical plants found in Houston, Texas. All are hormone disruptors so we had to talk about the endocrine system.
They asked why the government wasn’t looking after their health and safety. They wanted to know why scientists weren’t working on ways to reduce these chemicals, polymers, many of them plastics. They went onto the internet, ended up finding peer-reviewed journal sites, and lo and behold, in one student’s own words: “It’s like Frankenstein’s children they are making, on purpose.”
Tying that “everything is made up of plastic” to a simple single-use plastic bag ban proposed for Newport and then the state of Oregon was a no brainer.
“We shouldn’t have plastic in our bodies. Fish shouldn’t have plastic in their muscles that we then eat. Whales shouldn’t choke to death on all the plastic. Will I get cancer because my mom microwaves all the leftovers in plastic containers? Why are these companies doing this to us?”
Their words of frustration.
The beauty of teaching is a great facilitator can throw out a kernel of information and with some flair for engaging youth, the young people can teach themselves about the how, what, why, when, where, who of things they need to know to critically think about problems.
They wanted to know what dirty dozen were, so I listed the chemicals/ metals on the board (see below) and assigned pairs of students for each one to research. The principles I deployed in the science session included math (percentages, values), rhetoric (compare and contrast, formulating processes, cause and effect) and narrative (finding personal stories around each dirty dozen).
As a substitute, I started them to really think, and alas, we ran out of time, because school today is set by bells, breaks, snacks, shuffling from one end of the hallway, to the playground, and sometimes (which occurred the day I subbed), a drill of an active shooter in the school, a Code Red.
Runny eyes, sneezing, coughing, tightness in the chest, heart beating rapidly, fainting spells. The pairs listed many symptoms as a result of young and old breathing in the smoke from the Houston petrochemical fire.
They discovered that, yes, compounds for single use plastic bags are cooked and chemically leeched into the stretchy polymers that make those grocery bags what they are.
One student read off the lede from one story on the internet: “The latest blaze erupted just hours after a wall holding back almost a million gallons of toxic, flammable liquids collapsed, and just two days after the original conflagration was suppressed. Intercontinental, a unit of Japan’s Mitsui & Co., said three tanks and a drainage ditch were alight before firefighters suppressed the flames after more than an hour.”
Students were upset that the following dirty twelve are in their cookware, storage containers, on their vegetables and fruits as pesticides, in their salmon, in their drinking water, in paint thinners, on their carpet and lawns.
They asked how this has happened, and, then, bam, the bell rang and it was recess. The day ended, and that fourth grade class asked me when I was coming back to Taft finish up the science section. They asked me if they could go to the City Council meeting in Newport in April to speak on why a simple single-use plastic bag ban is not even a baby step on the road to a healthy community.
“It’s at least a start,” Liliana said, after telling the class about her father who is on sick leave because he was exposed to pesticides at a Christmas tree farm. “His body aches all over all day and all night long.”
Sad news for her family but the class got the connection – David read out another Internet finding: “’Grocery bags are made from polyethylene, which consists of long chains of ethylene monomers. Ethylene is derived from natural gas and petroleum.’ The bags we use today come from the same place where those kids in Houston are being let out of school because of the toxic killer clouds.”
BPA – breast and other cancers, obesity, early puberty, heart disease
Doxin – carcinogen, affected immune and reproductive systems
Atrazine – breast tumors, delayed puberty, prostate cancer and turning male frogs into females
Phthalates – hormone changes, lower sperm count, obesis, diabetes, and thyroid irregularities
Perchlorate – thyuroid imbalances, impeded brain and organ development
Fire retardants – imitate thyroid hormones, lower IQ
Lead — permanent brain damage, lowered IQ, hearing loss, miscarriage, premature birth, increased blood pressure, kidney damage and nervous system problems
Arsenic — skin, bladder and lung cancer, death
Mercury — the metal is known to concentrate in the fetal brain and can interfere with brain development been shown to damage cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, which is critical for the body’s ability to metabolize sugar.
Perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) — decreased sperm quality, low birth weight, kidney disease, thyroid disease and high cholesterol, among other health issues
Organophosphate pesticides – disrupting brain development, behavior and fertility
Glycol Ethers — shrunken testicles, blood abnormalities and lower sperm counts. Children who were exposed to glycol ethers from paint in their bedrooms had substantially more asthma and allergies.
Note: Names of students have been changed to pseudonyms.
Second note: How many students’ parents and family friends would read me the riot act if I distributed this publication? Dirty Dozen: List of Endocrine Disruptors
Third note: The youth of today are being not only ripped off education-wise. They are not only being dumb-downed education-wise and within the home. They are being polluted, part of a huge chemical experiment perpetrated by the Fortune 500 chemical companies, industrial agriculture thugs, petrochemical heathens, auto and airline industry felons, and food purveyors. One giant human experiment around GMOS, hormone distruptors, cancer-causing compounds, pesticides, EMFs, you name it. I tell the climate “activists” who want carbon trading or the New Green Deal to shut up or put up: killing people in other countries with USA-made and lead military hardware; killing and maiming people worldwide and in this country with the chemicals and by-products and products of capitalism? If we can’t keep killer chemicals off the children’s veggies and fruit, how are we going to shift to a “green economy?” Or on personal products like shampoo?
Final note: I’ll be writing about the beach clean up, and about how the Mayor of Eugene is a big rah-rah for carbon trading, but that in itself is not any way out of mitigating climate change. Really. I also will be putting up my Op-ed in response to the Eugene Mayor’s, and I doubt very much it will get into the Register-Guard. The reason is that in America, for decades, speech at schools, in non-profits, within the movements like environmental or climate change, and on and on, it has all been gatekeeped into oblivion and mush hell. More and more people I meet who do beach clean ups know squat about ecosystems, whales, all the hormone distruptors in the foods they eat. They will come to a beach clean up with Starbucks coffee! Imagine that with local coffee shops struggling and we get Starbucks.
The framing in this country is so off kilter that it’s no wonder youth have no leaders, empty promises, idiotic City Councils and Mayors and State Reps. Imagine, Oregon on a highway building frenzy, and then we try and get a statewide plastic bag ban, and it’s the paper/timber companies who are lobbying against the ban citing paper bags being a huge waste and environmental problem. This is how these thugs work — timber-paper lobby working with the plastics lobby.
This final note is about people who are fearful that the column below, which discusses why we need to let children know why Exxon or petrochemical companies or Starbucks or any of the players out front of these outfits, or the actors selling the crap, or the baseball stars, all of them, HATE my students. Hate means a company will site chemical production companies near poor communities; hate is releasing toxic byproducts in the air at night. Hate is a governor of Texas approving these petrochemical companies to run roughshod over entire communities, across many county lines.
Hate is a politician against universal health care, or another group of idiots who hate my students’ parents by putting them in termination harm’s way if they miss too many days of work because of their own illness or children’s illnesses.
Hate is the bank that forecloses on a family, or a property management company that evicts or raises rents to gentrify.
Bad hombres that the hateful Trump Klan talk about, well, that’s just hate speech, calling Mexicans rapists, murderers, terrorists, criminals. Now, fair play would allow me to say how Trump Klan and all those like him or those not like him but with him, that they are criminals, murderers, rapists, and criminals. I could easily cite factual story after story outlining just how criminal the big hombres are, and even with facts, I’d be called out on it, probably banned from teaching here.
Teaching young people to know why “they” hate them and their families is not teaching them to hate, but how to rebuff it, or fight it, or nip it in the bud. But again, fighting some fires with fire is the only way to put out the raging, homicidal, home-destroying wild fires. Billionaires and millionaires and police forces and military forces are the wild fires that have for centuries kept my students and their families down.
People do evil things because they are evil. Some people are evil in the way that some things are colored indigo. They commit their evil deeds not to achieve some goal, but just because of the sort of people they are.
— Terry Eagleton
Every empire, however, tells itself and the world that it is unlike all other empires, that its mission is not to plunder and control but to educate and liberate.
— Edward Said
The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born
— Antonio Gramsci
Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.
— Paulo Freire
Paul K. Haeder is a certified substitute for Lincoln County Schools living in Otis. He has been a newspaper reporter in Texas, Arizona, Washington. He was a faculty member for several colleges and universities. He completed a job as social worker for homeless veterans in Portland. His short story collection is coming out in 2019. He’s working on a book about US’s PK12 education system.
Below is related to my blogs on the environment and on teaching and learning. First, we have the mayor of Eugene writing a simplistic Op-Ed for the Eugene newspaper (sic), the Register-Guard. It’s pretty scary stuff considering this is 2019, and global warming will suck the rivers dry, even up here in old mossy Oregon. It’s a naive attempt at placating, and the bottom line, if Eugene wants to get serious about climate change, then all the governors have to get on board with region planning.
Instead, we see more and more highways expanding, and if you read the latest “hot” spots to move to, i.e., the fastest growing cities in the USA, many are in Florida, you know, that bastion of climate change mitigation and protection.
So, when you are a mayor, or congress person, or head of a governmental agency, or president, or anyone, how serious can we get about “climate change” when the fossil fuel/extraction industry is turbo charge, thanks to the felons and murderers in the banking/financial system:
A report published Wednesday names the banks that have played the biggest recent role in funding fossil fuel projects, finding that since 2016, immediately following the Paris Agreement’s adoption, 33 global banks have poured $1.9 trillion into financing climate-changing projects worldwide.
The top four banks that invested most heavily in fossil fuel projects are all based in the U.S., and include JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citi, and Bank of America. Royal Bank of Canada, Barclays in Europe, Japan’s MUFG, TD Bank, Scotiabank, and Mizuho make up the remainder of the top 10.
Ahh, the wet paper bag, and this mayor, as you can read here (Vinis: City is meeting urgent call to climate action), is saying nothing, which means she and her city politicians will do nothing, as well. Here, another point of view on just how green greenwashing is!
“Green New Deal” is a great slogan. Unfortunately, the campaign ignores inconvenient facts.
We are beyond the limits to growth of non-renewable fossil fuels and of “renewable” resources such as forests, fish, soil, fresh water and food. Find details about overconsumption, overpopulation and overshoot at peakchoice.org.
Using unprecedented levels of energy does not mean there are equally sized alternatives to power the American Way of Life (AWOL). I have used solar panels since 1990; they are great but not as concentrated. It takes fossil fuels and mineral ores to make, move and install them.
Claims we could have 100 percent of current consumption without fossil fuels don’t describe how to heat cold cities during a “polar vortex.”
We will live radically differently on the resource downslope, but the end of economic growth doesn’t poll well in Democratic Party focus groups. Greenwashing and wishful thinking are popular but unable to sustain social safety nets.
Democratic politicians profess concern for climate while promoting highway expansions, urbanization and industrial clearcutting.
As the fracking bubble subsides (due to geology) we will enter the new world of permanent energy rationing, which will collapse the exponential growth economy and fuel scapegoating of whom to blame.
We are damned if we drill because of toxic pollution and climate chaos.
We are damned if we don’t because fossil fuels power food supplies, keep cities warm in the winter, and run electric power grids.
Real Learning, Healthy Lunches, Safe Drinking Water and Hands-on Teaching Leads to Surviving Climate Change Chaos
By Paul Haeder
“Why can’t we have that school system you always talk about, Professor Pablo?”
I have the luxury of being a substitute teacher, here in Lincoln County, parachuting into classes, from 1st grade to high school, from special education to science, and everything in between.
I use the shallow and not well-developed ideas, such as that of the Eugene Mayor’s who doesn’t say much in her March 19 Op-ed for the Register Guard. (“City is meeting urgent call to climate action”)
The bottom line, for youth, is we need to build resiliency in the PK12 system. Now. These youth want to learn how food is grown, how it’s preserved, and how it’s cooked. These students want to have a school system that teaches them about solar power, micro-home building, xeriscaping, permaculture, and how to build a life tied to durable goods and the Indian way.
Now, at school, with the parking lots ripped up and playgrounds transformed into hands-on learning environments for all the community to learn from and help sustain.
How many times have I taught here in Lincoln County, then up in Vancouver, and elsewhere, to include Seattle and Spokane and El Paso, and felt the heavy pall of housing youth in prison-like schools? Then there’s this image: Here in Lincoln County the children are served pretzels, French fries, ranch dressing, canned peaches and slabs of meat on puffed up buns washed down with chocolate milk. This is one lunch session.
Any talk about mitigating through a capitalist framework — which includes business as usual, planning for what, three, five, seven percent annual growth – to work on collapsing marine systems, desertification of arable lands, the shrinking of aquifers and draw-down of rivers is letting that proverbial big old fox guard the hen house.
Oh yeah, these PK12 students also want to know how to build ponds and raise catfish and grow corn alongside hen houses and how to construct corrals holding goats for milking and cheese making.
They want to learn how to become wise by holding talking circles around fires, and they want to know how to live like a mountain and learn from our Indigenous people who are the only true experts in so-called sustainability on Turtle Island.
Global warming will only be mitigated with youth who can live well with less and in a world of retrenchment.
The mayor and cronies working cap and trade are part of the greenwashing shell game embedded in colonized minds who can’t recognize their positions of power and status in the communities are based on protecting their own special interests.
Students want the power to grow – personally, learning construction, learning how to collect rainwater, how to do passive solar and how to create the arts that count. Learning how to make marketable craftwork out of cedar or discarded but still usable scraps of building materials.
Students need enterprises, like building hoop gardens and growing tomatoes, herbs and flowers: to sell to local businesses. They want leaders and mentors to show them the way of pedicabs, and how to learn sharing, communitarianism.
Students want learning but not Google Chromebooks, nor the constant dumb-downing of common core and standardized testing. Students wonder how an education system at the national level, under a billionaire extremist like Betsy DeVos with zero classroom time, allows such hateful and anti-teacher and anti-student people to hold such an office.
Students wonder why their schools are run down versus those in rich neighborhoods which look lie private colleges.
Students want to know why a high GPA is even necessary in a time of extinctions and an earth with no ice.
We read Lucy Vinis’ shallow Op-ed and parsed her conclusion: “The challenges of climate change are opportunities to make our community more resilient — to provide better housing for our more vulnerable citizens, cleaner energy, better parks and a stronger economy. Daunting? Yes. Promising? You bet! This is an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ moment in human history and I am confident we will meet this urgent call to action.”
The students know this is all smoke and mirrors, that having even little things of great harm stopped is what counts: Like recent findings that show 70 percent of all vegetables and fruit kids consume in the USA are spiked with heavy traces and residuals of pesticides and, in some cases, polluted with 18 Capitalist Approved Compounds.
They know that parents working three jobs and one paycheck away from eviction is nowhere near where their own student universe should be. “How can we keep growing and building roads and pipelines in Oregon and then stop global warming?”
Think about generational changes, more and more graduating classes of youth who can not only conceptualize the entire system of growing food, producing products and sustaining life in their community but who are actively part of their communities helping everyone learn how to take care of their neighbors and elders.
They know what an offset is, whether it is carbon offset or the offsets they pay for dearly in the form of their own mental and physical health degraded due to the true definition of offset – trade-offs and externalities. They know nothing around climate change talk, this “all hands on deck” rah-rah, will even get out of the dock when children in Houston suffer for days as refineries and chemical processing plants burn and burn and burn.
Children see through all of this, and if we allow for collective learning and calling a spade a spade instruction, then just maybe hands on learning with bring us to hands-together resiliency.
Paul is working for Lincoln County Schools as a substitute teacher after being a college English faculty in several states, social worker in Portland and Beaverton, newspaper reporter in El Paso, Bisbee, Spokane and Seattle. He’s working on several books, including one on the US public school debate: Conjugating the World: Lessons from a Freeway Flyer Who Taught Himself How to Learn with Studen