An article published this week in the Guardian, "Heat: The Next Big Inequality Issue," provides opportunities to cultivate eco-literacy, and in particular how ecological concerns are at the root of social class in the 21st Century. I found "The Next Big Inequality Issue" to be a deceptive title though, because heat waves have been dangerous for poor people for a long time; at least since the dawning of the "development era." On to the article. Here are some important points:
- In a recent heat wave in Montreal, Quebec, the economic disparities between how people experience climate change became apparent. People with the economic means to access air conditioning stayed inside; people without died. “It was the poor and isolated who quietly suffered the most in the heat—a situation echoed in overheated cities across the world.”
- Because of climate change, researchers project that “the share of the world’s population exposed to deadly heat for at least 20 days a year will increase from 30% now to 74% by 2100.” If we make “drastic reductions,” we can cut that number to 48%.
- Cities (called “urban heat islands” in the article) are hotter than less-populated areas.
- By 2030, 60% of people will live in cities.
- High-rises (in places such as Egypt) have decreased green spaces, and electricity costs keep many poor in unbearable heat.
- Homeless people and prisoners suffer more in many places.
- The refugee crisis (itself a climate crisis, displaced farmers due to unprecedented drying in the Levant) is exacerbated during extreme heat waves.
- Finding potable water is a major challenge due to these intersecting crises.
- “Treating cities as a whole, ghettos and all, is a more effective way to tackle extreme urban heat.” (e.g., more trees, light-colored surface painting)
- Decreasing social isolation
- Special action during heat waves: e.g., in India officials unlock the public parks, distribute free water, paint the roofs in slum communities white. (Montreal has a similar “heat action plan,” but still suffered many heat-wave deaths)
In general, I felt the solutions suggested in the article were insufficient. Perhaps this is because the authors were trying to remain in the realm of what is already being done with our current globalized, capitalist, big-government, uprooting social system. What I found interesting was the discussion of traditional ways of life (what I call rooted culture in my book) that have been cultivated for centuries and millennia to keep people safe during the summer without air conditioning. Air conditioning is, and will remain, out of reach for most of the world, and exacerbates the ecological crises. (No, I don't feel particularly good sitting in my air-conditioned house this summer. I am, and if you're reading this blog, maybe you too, implicated in my work. I hope it motivates us to look for better ways to cool our homes during these increasingly hot summers). The "Heat" article uses the example of Egyptian towns that have traditionally “built low buildings close together, forming dense networks of shaded alleyways where people could keep cool during summer.” However, development means Egypt’s poor now live in the same type of sweltering high rises as the rest of the world, which were developed in the US in the mid-20th Century. “Development,” an idea rooted in centralized, big-government, multi-national corporations, globalized systems, is seldom even a little place-conscious.
To understand why I see these suggestions as insufficient, I suggest reading the chapter in “The Development Dictionary” by Gustavo Esteva, which traces the history of underdevelopment to the end of World War II. Redefined as underdeveloped, places, such as Egypt in the article, feel the need to develop in a certain way modeled after the US (in this case, unsafe, community-killing, and uprooting high-rises to replace traditional housing and familial ties). US President Harry Truman coined the word “underdevelopment” in 1949. Esteva writes, “Never before had a word been universally accepted on the very day of its political coinage. A new perception of one’s own self, and of the other, was suddenly created. Two hundred years of social construction of the historical—political meaning of the term ‘development’ were successfully usurped and transmogrified. A political and philosophical proposition of Marx, packaged American-style as struggle against communism and at the service of the hegemonic design of the United States, succeeded in permeating both the popular and the intellectual mind for the rest of the century.”
And Esteva continues, “Today, for two-thirds of the peoples of the world, underdevelopment is a threat that has already been carried out; a life experience of subordination and of being led astray, of discrimination and subjugation.” Without an understanding of the history of underdevelopment, attempts at fixing the current ecological disasters, including heat waves, caused by development, will only be, in the long run, more damaging to more people in more of the world, as fewer sit oblivious in air conditioned mansions.
All of this seems to take us pretty far away from music teaching and learning, and this is a pedagogical blog. So, lets return home. What does all of this mean for the music teacher who wants to teach for eco-literacy? The first thing we can do is open spaces for our students to understand the climate crisis and the dangers of heat waves, especially to the poor. Unless we're truly privileged teachers in super rich suburbs, and maybe even then since "development" failed for the US as well as the rest of the world, its likely many of our students already suffer during summer heat waves! So, songwriting activities (especially in rock, hip-hop, and other popular genres) can give students a voice to express their own experience, their own pain and suffering. And when the students' experience is different, to empathize with those who are suffering. Giving voice to pain not only helps alleviate suffering, but it can help re-connect those social bonds (what I call rerooting) that have been severed in a mobilized industrial-global society.
The Nation published a list, the "Top Ten Songs About Class," many of which can be used (modified for appropriateness, or re-arranged: how many of you are old enough to remember when half of the band music in our high school library was arranged by the band teacher? I do!), and can open room for conversation. For an example of conversation used in eco-literate music pedagogy see pp. 37-8; and on page 113 I connect the word conversation with conserving and the old Christian idea of converting (self-change). "In conversation, I convert to sense what to conserve. I want to conserve musical traditions that cannot and should not be ossified and petrified in universities. I want to conserve places and music that industry does not. I want to leave a viable, diverse, healthy planet for my child." This leads me back to the idea of a rooted music education pedagogy. That is, place-conscious and recommoning.
I cultivated my idea of rooted pedagogy using a number of music education thinkers who have been writing about place-conscious and place-based teaching for years: Vincent Bates, Sandra Stauffer, Anita Prest, and some others. Their participation in the MayDay Group is one reason I am active in that music education community. When I align their work with an educational philosopher who influenced me greatly at Penn State, Madhu Suri Prakash, (she discusses her Philosophy of Education course that influenced me so much in Yes! Magazine) I come to my idea of a rooted pedagogy. In rooted pedagogy, music teachers actively help students to reroot, that is rediscover their place, their histories, their traditions, their culture (not culture in a large sense, such as is corrupted in such modernist ideas as "Western Culture," "Global Culture," or "Youth Culture" ... there is no cultus that connects that big a body of people) and how it has allowed them to be where they are--to live well on the planet. Every person is part of a culture that has lived on this planet for 150,000 years. However, in our participation in the Industrial Revolution, which has wasted the planet in a short 150 years, we uproot ourselves, becoming mobile individuals rather than rooted community-members. A music teacher can begin by opening conversations with students, their family members, and other community elders, to start to break down the walls of this hyper-Industrial structure, the school. We have unique opportunities for it, since musics are such an important part of local culture. Maybe we can begin by asking our students to go to a village elder, a grandma or auntie, and asking her to teach a song from her childhood. Old songs often embed ways of living well in place.