Behind the scenes of TBB Curriculum: #1 Environmental Unit

Thinking Beyond Borders curriculum offers units on three different areas of study throughout our gap year programs: Education, Public Health and the Environment.  The breadth of these subjects means that every single human being on earth will interact with them in some way over their lifetime, but that breadth also means they are vehicles through which we can examine the core components of civilization and how societal change happens.  Ultimately, these subjects allow TBB students to better understand the nuances and complexities of life in other parts of the world, to relate their personal lives back home to those of folks they meet while abroad, and to create humanizing relationships while doing so.

Each TBB seminar series is designed to mirror the progression in which successful movements for change typically go through: we begin by identifying the issues, tensions and complexities of a subject area, allow space for a variety of voices and opinions to be heard, discussed and reflected on, and then wrap up the unit by exploring different pathways of action needed on individual, community and societal levels in order to create change.  So what do each of these areas of study include? This blog series, Behind the scenes of TBB Curriculum, will take a deeper dive into each unit.

TBB’s first unit, Environmental Justice and Sustainability, focuses on a variety of local and international environmental issues to give students a holistic view with global context.  Students partner with local farmers each morning while going through this unit, so they have hands-on experiences to bring to seminar discussions in the afternoons.  These seminars contextualize what students are seeing every morning in their field work, as each session focuses on some of these essential questions:

  • How do societies impact the environment?
  • Where will the resources come from as the global economy continues to grow?
  • How does policy affect the sustainability of agricultural production?
  • What does it mean to consume sustainably?
  • Can farmers earn a living in a sustainable manner?

Seminars vary tremendously as our Program Leaders get creative with their lesson plans and tailor our curriculum to the needs and interests of their particular students.  Usually, each seminar will include some assigned readings relevant to the specific seminar topic, allowing students to have informed, small or large group discussion, a reflective journal question and an engaging activity which could range from watching a Ted Talk to bring in an outside voice, opportunities for creative expression such as creating campaign posters or short podcasts, simulation games or discussion of the readings.

So what are students actually taking away from this unit?  Below are some real takeaways from our 18/19 Global Gap Year cohort after they completed the unit:

  • “PLEASE go vegetarian for a while once you get home. Be better about eating locally-grown foods and using/eating organic foods and products. Vegan… maybe?”
  • “Why are we more comfortable with trash in a landfill than on the street?”
  • “Everything has an impact (whether we’re aware of it or not) and privilege often means that we aren’t (or don’t have to be) aware of that impact- but we should always try to keep our privilege in check.”
  • “I can’t believe I hadn’t even heard of environmental racism before, I’m going to do more research on it and environmental justice and what I can do about it.”

Are you interested in environmental science, food systems, sustainability movements, climate change or resource management?  This just might be the unit for you.  We all have pre-existing relationships to these subjects, as they are critical to our existence as human beings.  The question is, what is your role as an individual?  How will you develop an understanding of these issues and what do you need as a learner to become an agent of change in the future?