By coincidence, I happened to be talking to a green school coordinator in Maryland on the same day that I read a fascinating article about a green school in Asia. The green school coordinator told me how bureaucracy impeded an effort to use cut up tree stumps for outdoor seating at schools. Liability is on everyone’s mind it seems. She told me that many green proposals are turned down for similar reasons. I guess we shouldn’t expect to see an operating wind turbine on any of our school properties anytime soon.
Upon returning home after this conversation, I read a fascinating article in the Guardian about a school in Bali that is green in the greenest sense of the word. Green School in Bali offers a traditional curriculum but immerses students in sustainability projects. The structures and even the furniture at Green School are built solely from sustainable material such as bamboo and mud bricks. Green School generates its own power using renewable energy. The students learn extensive conservation principles so they will grow up knowing how to be stewards of the planet.
Although the students at Bali’s Green School are ages 3 to 14, their hands-on lessons in sustainability aren’t stifled by nannies, bureaucrats or lawyers. These kids have their own hydroelectric station to experiment with in science class. They grow their own lunches in an organic garden.
And the Bali Green School concept may catch on overseas. Similar schools are under consideration in other Asian countries.
Sadly, the standards for green schools and eco-schools in the USA lack the vision of the Asian Green School. Much of what determines green school status in the U.S. is the removal of environmental hazards and energy hogs. Take out the asbestos ceiling tile, install water filters, ditch the incandescent light bulbs, replace the old windows, upgrade the ventilation system and contract with an alternative power provider… Of course, there needs to be some environmental curriculum and a recycling program, but the American version of green schools pales when contrasted with a fully sustainable Bali-style green school.
Can you imagine the volume of red tape that would unroll and strangle an American public elementary school attempting to grow all of its own food, harvest it and serve it to the children for lunch?
What would the lawyers say if school children were going to co-exist in the same space with a hydroelectric station, let alone participate in operating it?
In Montgomery County, Md., food gardening in the public schools is banned. The banning took place despite USDA policy encouraging and providing grants to low-income public schools to build community gardens
Whither the American school greening movement. Or maybe that should read “wither” the American school greening movement.
It’s not only Asian countries who take an expansive view of environmental education. An innovative green concept adopted in some Sydney, Australia schools is the walking school bus. The walking bus concept uses unemployed youth as walking bus drivers to escort young children whose parents otherwise wouldn’t be comfortable allowing them to walk to school. This is a brilliant concept that could be replicated in many American communities struggling with budget cuts and rising fuel costs.
Don’t hold your breath.