Wildfires in Alberta spark urgent school discussions about terrors of global climate futures
This decision reflects a legacy of faltering efforts to reform Alberta’s kindergarten to Grade 12 currriculum and assessment programs.
- This decision reflects a legacy of faltering efforts to reform Alberta’s kindergarten to Grade 12 currriculum and assessment programs.
- To offer students something vitally relevant to their lives, we can’t view curricula as just content to be consumed (and tested on).
- As education scholar Kent den Heyer has underscored, the “content,” of learning exists in the daily encounters between the student, the school subject and society.
Complicated conversations needed
- One of the authors of this story, Melissa, teaches secondary school in Drayton Valley, one of the hubs of Alberta’s energy sector, about an hour’s drive south-west of Edmonton.
- Students in her class reflected sombrely on their fire evacuation experiences.
Talking about terror
- The research of Cathryn van Kessel, Kent den Heyer and Jeff Schimel, which draws on their combined expertise in education and psychology, can help teachers to guide classroom discussions through practising what’s known as terror management theory.
- Terror management theory offers insight and strategies to understand cataclysmic events and the ways that death and reminders of our mortality affect people’s sense of self-esteem in relation to their cultural worldviews.
Terror management theory in the classroom
- Applying terror management theory in the classroom provided Melissa with language to engage the most intense emotions triggered by the immediate and larger climate change crises presented by the wildfires and the threat climate change poses to our “business as usual” worldviews.
- The existential cracks triggered by the global environmental crisis for Canadian young people was highlighted in a recent survey documenting growing emotional and psychological impacts: 39 per cent of 1,000 surveyed people across the country, aged 16-25, considered their probable future world so bleak they would hesitate to have children.
- She offered this question to students:
To what extent has the wildfire not interrupted — but instead enriched — your learning about what it means to be a citizen?
- To what extent has the wildfire not interrupted — but instead enriched — your learning about what it means to be a citizen?
- Many students were frustrated and troubled by disinformation on social media and confusion it generated.
Looming threats and time for students
- With a provincial election looming and with a divided electorate, it remains unclear how any provincial government might navigate the highly controversial and contested curriculum rewriting process.
- We need a curriculum that has time for students — time to engage their questions and the sources of their imagined futures.