Comics in the Classroom, Environmental Lessons Made Fun

Stories shape us, our beliefs and our culture. Those seeking to create a better world must engage in self-reflection and explore the narratives that guide our lives. As we recently learned from Robin Grille, the time and place where our brains are most susceptible to influence is during youth. Positive and conscious effort put towards the healthy education of children’s developing minds is perhaps one of the best things we can do to create a better future. In an age where technology and media is everywhere, many education models are often boring for students. They want to engage, they want learning to be entertaining, colorful, interactive and some educators are embracing these growing possibilities to enhance education with all sorts of media, including comic books.

Teaching through story is universal across cultures since the beginning of time. Indigenous people sat around the fire through the winter learning stories and oral histories. Sacred texts like The Bhagavad Gita teach moral lessons through parable. Folk music around the world bring wisdom through ballads about love, war, and loss. Today we obsess about heroes and villains through movies, television, novels, and comics.

I wrote a piece called Comics Instead of Textbooks a few years back when I first learned that schools in South Africa were having great success teaching about the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela through comic books. In it I write:

A few years back I read an inspiring book by Valerie Kirschenbaum called Goodbye Gutenberg: How a Bronx Teacher Defied 500 Years of Traditions and Launched an Astonishing Renaissance. Valerie’s students had the worst reading scores in her district, so she began making the text more visually pleasing for her students. Changing the colors and font of text, enlarging important words, using forward and reverse italics and incorporating design flow into the reading assignments. Her students reading scores rose to the top of the district in no time!

Since that time the field of transmedia, which is the technique of telling a single story or story experience across multiple platforms and formats using current digital technologies, has continued to erupt across the planet. There are endless opportunities to use this technology consciously to shape a new narrative that includes social justice, environmental stewardship, and cross-cultural respect. Graphic artist, Charlie LaGreca is one individual who is leading the charge.

In a recent project in collaboration with the CUNY Center for Urban Environmental Reform (CUER) and the Environmental Protection Agency, a comic book was created called Mayah’s Lot. Written by LaGreca and Rebecca Bratspies this story is about a young girl who plants a garden in a vacant city lot but then learns that they want to use the lot for storing toxic waste. The story follows her on her journey of organizing people to become active in protecting their community. It teaches students the importance of getting involved, and the process of making positive change in their neighborhood. In true transmedia style, the comic book is accompanied with lesson plans for a range of grade levels that work with Core Curriculum and a video (animated by Norman Dillon) which is suitable for classroom adoption. You can download the comic here.

I had the pleasure of working on a similar project with famed illustrators, Bret Blevins and native artist Ryan Huna Smith that teaches the importance of following your dreams and honoring the interconnectedness of all life in nature. The story, called Giggle Bubble Dreams also encourages children to add color to other peoples dreams thus fostering a sense of cooperation and creative expression. Indian Super Hero, Frybread Man, shares historical wisdom about the origin of frybread, the deep cultural resilience of indigenous people in North America, and the importance of eating healthy food.

Stories and creative media are not just for children, but conscious attention should be directed at developing stories that positively influence their psychological and emotional development. What kinds of stories are you drawn to, and what does that say about your own deeply held belief systems? Together we can support each other to develop new stories and dream of a better future for all. The next step is to take action for the things we truly believe are possible and manifest them. We have never had access to so many tools and technology to create a better world, let’s do it!

***This post originally appeared on UPLIFT Connect***

A Love That’s Louder Than Rage: the Beautiful Revolution

At first I thought… The most powerful thing that you can do for your people, your future, your land, your air, your water is to fight and die for what you believe in. But it’s not true… you have to LIVE for what you believe in.

So begins the wise words of 13-year old Sliammon Native Youth, Ta’Kaiya Blaney in a recent video (below) by Indigenous Rising. If you are like me then you will be moved to tears by hearing what she has to say after that in the video, but you’ll have to watch it to find out. I recently had the pleasure of talking with Ta’Kaiya about the video while delving into the changing face of social engagement that is bringing healing for our communities and the environment.

We have to live for what we believe in.

 

Often when we look at anger, heartache, grief, that is all that we see, but the deeper truth is that these are expressions of love, of awakening. Whether we are seeing these tough emotions in ourselves, or others it is never easy but it is imperative for growth. Ta’Kaiya speaks from the perspective of being native, but the sentiments are universal, spanning cultures, continents and time:

When I first started attending rallies that were protesting the actions of large companies, I saw a lot of rage with very little focus on solutions, on what’s next. Sometimes you don’t have the luxury to be diplomatic when you are being oppressed, but it is still always important to show love whenever you can. Communities are wounded and in disrepair and that is common to all of us. By representing love and inclusivity other people will feel less threatened which makes it easier to find commonality.

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Indigenous activists, Ta’kaiya Blaney and Kandi Mossett at The People’s Climate March in NYC.

I remember in the early days of the Idle No More Movement being awe-struck by seeing natives take to the streets and public places with drums, singing and dancing. It was beautiful, cultural, positive, and yet it was bringing attention to some very painful truths. In Idle No More, Hints of a Global Super-Movement I write about this emerging phenomena and close with a video of Ta’Kaiya speaking at a rally when she was only 11. Together we have seen so much growth and evolution since then, it is a very exciting time to participate in our unfolding future.

Velcrow Ripper has made enormous contributions with films like Scared Sacred, and Occupy Love that encourage us to bring a spiritual perspective to our work for positive planetary change. Takaiya mentioned a sentiment that many activists often hold, “Spirituality is not a bypass for being active about things that matter in the world.” We reflected together how powerful it is when activists embody love and spiritual practitioners take action. The result is an all-inclusive beautiful revolution, and exactly what we need right now on planet earth.

Last year at this time Ta’Kaiya collaborated with Unify on the World Water Day Campaign, #lovewater. The result was a very powerful video that ended up making the rounds on Upworthy, Huffington Post and many other outlets. Since this years #lovewater campaign is about to launch for World Water Day on March 22nd- a collaboration between UPLIFT, Unify and some other amazing partners-  I asked her how she felt about working with Unify:

Working with Unify evoked a hopeful spirit in me. (it was) A really beautiful exercise in representing love. I hope to work with them again.

Rage can become addictive and it is sometimes exactly what is needed but we are here to remind ourselves to go deeper. Ta’Kaiya is doing that through her music and writings on her website, and also through her conservation efforts with other youth at Salish Sea Youth. She is poetic even when talking informally on the phone:

Like a plant that disrupts the soil making room for the roots to grow we have a lot to live for. Don’t react to the negative, instead make it a platform for something beautiful. We have a wonderful future waiting for us, I wish to know that I participated in that change.

I think we’d all like to feel that! So the question is, “What is your contribution to the Beautiful Revolution?” There is a growing community of people who want to support you in rising to the occasion. You can start by watching this videos above, as I have made sure not to tell you everything in this article, and share this with your friends and networks. Together we are loving louder, and that is something that will become more beautiful as it continues to grow.

**Post originally appeared on UPLIFT Connect**

We Dream The Future

It all starts with a dream. Speaking your dreams out loud and having someone listen and be interested is one of the most empowering things you can do for yourself and those around you. Have You ever heard an older person dis (bad talk) on younger people or say things like, “Kids these days are lost, they have nothing better to do than talk on their cell-phones, text and play video game”? Everyone has, and this disconnect across generations hurts all of us. I believe that much of this is the result of how quickly the technology has evolved.

Youth of today are the most media-empowered generation in the history of the planet. They have grown up bombarded with medias, with more information at their finger-tips than all the previous generations combined. It is all so overwhelming, and the temptation to slip away into a mindless video game  to avoid it all is so easy. Yet, like every other generation, young people dream about the future and about what is possible. It is their world and their future that is at stake when politicians and big business prioritizes profits over people and planet. It can be downright depressing to know so much about the problems of the world, that’s why it is more important now than ever to dream.

Do You dream of a better world? Would you like to let the world know that you have a dream and that you intend to make it happen? Are you open to hearing what the youth of today have to say about how adults are running the world? Can we have that dialogue across generations? I think so, and that is why we, at Culture Collective, have launched www.wedreamthefuture.com

The project was originally sponsored by Flip Cameras, and we were so excited for a big launch, but then Cisco was bought by Dell and The Flip line of video cameras discontinued. But now, most people have video cameras right on their phones, and the ability to shoot a video and upload it is easier than ever. Visit the website, learn about the project, and then add your voice!

Here’s how it works, just make a short video of yourself, or your friends, answering two very simple questions. First question is, “What is your dream for the future?”, second question is, “What are you going to do to make that dream happen?” You can change your mind a million times between now and the future, but this is about voicing your dreams and having them be heard by your piers and those that are older than you. The site is filled with links and inspirational videos too. So what are you waiting for? The world wants to hear your dream!

Interested in this project? Get involved!

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