Today was amazing for a number of reasons. We finished our decomposition lab this morning. It had been an enlightening few weeks of learning what becomes of a perishable food, halved and left in the open for three weeks. Some awesome things happen to rotting fruit after it starts to smell, not least of which are fluid loss and bacteria growth. This morning, the tomato had given birth to a new family of fruit flies, all of whom remained happily trapped under the wrapping as our young scientists whooped victoriously while pressing their faces to the creeping mass of molding vegetable.
As today was the last day of our lab, we were burying our specimens in dirt with plans to test soil content and plant growth in the New Year. Most students were happy to put an end to an experiment that was becoming increasingly hard on the stomach, however one group in particular stood out as they proceeded solemnly to the dirt pile with their specimen, chanting the name "Alfred" in melancholic tones. "Aaaaalfreeed, life won't be the same without your stink... Aaaaalfreeeed, you taught us a lot about mould.... Aaaaalreed, we are going to bury you so you can grow a plant..." Alfred was their cucumber.
When I think back to the things I remember from Grade 4, I struggle to recall anything memorable outside of field experiences, Christmas holidays and family trips to Ireland. I imagine however, that if I had spent two weeks watching Alfred shrink, stink, and give birth to fruit flies, that I would remember Alfred. As adults, we seem to spend a tremendous amount of time discussing, warning and lecturing without experiencing and we forget so easily that our most powerful inspirations to date will have almost exclusively resulted from actual emotional experiences.
After lunch we had a presenter come and talk about endangered species in North America, specifically wolves. She asked the kids a number of questions which they were eager to answer, one of which was about why maintaining the wolf population was of benefit to trees. Thirty plus hands went up.
"Because the nutrients in their poop help build rich soil for plant growth..."
"Because they eat animals which would destroy the trees in larger quantities..."
"Because they sometimes eat plants and poop the seeds which helps distribute the growth..."
Three months exploring the Weaselhead and connecting online in order to develop meaningful videos highlighting local natural waste and its place in our ecosystem had paid off. Natural organisms have a place in the wild, these kids had seen it. "Wow, you guys really get it" was our presenter's response. "I have this conversation all the time with adults and it is hard for them to understand how wolves are connected to the trees."
"EVERYthing is connected to the trees!" was one indignant reply. Followed by:
"..those adults, you have to explain a lot of things to them, there's so much they just don't understand..."
We learned a lot about native species in Alberta in 45 minutes. We learned a worrying amount about what our government says they're doing to protect them, as even to 9 year olds, many of their policies appear outdated and nonsensical. I gave the students sticky notes at the end of the presentation to jot ideas and questions about our current Endangered Species Act, what's working and what we should change. One student kept coming back for more notes... "Three's the limit right Mrs. Bailey? I can only have three ideas?" Who told this kid and at what point in his life that he could only have three ideas? He wants to write to the government on behalf of every one of the 13 male sage grouse left in our province. Then he wants to tell them that shooting wolves won't save cariboo, that Little Red Riding Hood was a liar, that wolves aren't the bad guys. He also wants to tell them to forget about the oil in the ground on the Blood Tribe land and just re-introduce the Swift Fox population the way they'd planned in 1973 and that they should be ashamed they've waited so long. He's got classmates on board.
Adults should remember that it's that simple. Kids are already curious and creative. They want to explore things and find out what's happening. Nothing about who they are is average, obedient or passive. All that is left to us, is to foster an awareness of the possibilities that surround them, to allow them to explore and then to get out of the way. Let them ask questions, make decisions, be different. There's more to their futures than resigned consumption and obedience.