In elementary school, learning times tables was irrelevant and dull. I watched unphased as my peers were advancing to their twelve times tables while I was stuck on my sevens times table. I felt my brain wasn’t wired for math, so what was the point in even trying? Consequently, when I entered middle school, I was not equipped with the study skills needed to do well on math tests nor the mindset to learn from my failures. Already in sixth grade, after failing my first math test, I knew my study habits needed to change. I was fortunate enough to have just learned about the growth mindset in wellness class, and that my teacher, Ms. Rome, cared about my academic success. Each day, I went to her office hours and learned how to study. She cheered me on, urging me to keep pushing forward and after a few months, I received my first A on a math test.
One day Ms. Rome burst into the study hall with a smile. She jogged across the classroom, clinging onto a piece of paper, branded with a golden sticker. She stopped in front of me. “You did it!” she proclaimed. An “A” marked the paper. This was one of my most magical experiences in the growth mindset.
Growth mindsets are crucial for learning. The brain is constantly taking in and processing information. While various people may take in the same information, the mindset with which they process new information determines how much one learns. “In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work” (Dweck, 2014). However, a brain with a fixed mindset decides new information is not critical and the brain processing activity slows down. The growth mindset is crucial for learning healthy life long habits. In the dynamic world, having a fixed mindset hinders one’s success and the success of the global environment. In my observation, having a fixed mindset often leads to an attitude of environmental negligence.
Humans are accelerating the change in the earth’s climate with their daily habits. With each purchase and each lifestyle choice, one contributes to their carbon footprint. While only a handful of companies are responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas (Acciona,2015), these companies are merely responding to the demand of consumers. Additionally, The Foundation for Economic Profit finds “if a business wants to make a profit and survive, they have to respond to the needs and demands of their consumer base,” (2015). Paying for products entices companies to create more, whether or not they are environmentally stable.
Climate change is a worsening global crisis. With common human habits, we exacerbate the progressive decline of the environment: Ice caps melt, sea levels rise, oceans become more acidic, and rapid extinction occurs. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, Overview of Greenhouse Gases: Carbon Dioxide Emissions, “The specific type of CO2 that is increasing in the earth’s atmosphere can be directly connected to human activity,” (2018). Furthermore, some may argue the warming climate is natural, however, in prehistoric times, warming of the planet was due to the Milankovitch cycles: earth’s ‘wobble’ determining the ice ages and heat cycles. In fact, according to NASA, “the Milankovitch cycles predict our planet should be cooling, not warming.” We must be at fault for the changing climate. However, though these problems are challenging, all hope is not lost: climate change can be mitigated if people approach it with a growth mindset and are willing to change their lifestyles.
Millions of people fall into a fixed mindset even if they are shown viable environmentally-friendly lifestyle choices. People resign themselves to climate change as a given and resist changing their lifestyles –even as they lose hope for the future. People feel they are only a minuscule part of the problem or feel powerless to help. Ironically, environmentally hostile companies exist to feed consumer demands. People support environmentally unsustainable companies with their wallets and enable harmful companies to thrive economically. We must empower people to push past hopelessness and inspire them to actively be part of the solution. We can empower people by Instilling earth-friendly habits from a young age.
Habits develop when people are young. According to Narvaez, 2017, “The earlier we introduce healthy habits, the more likely these habits will stick for years to come.” We should take advantage of the prime habit-making time to teach kids how to live an earth-friendly lifestyle. To ensure green lifestyle choices reach the whole community, we must encourage habits via a standard science curriculum starting at a young age.
Starting in Kindergarten, my school taught kids the environmental consequences of their lifestyles in the standard science curriculum. Teachers also encouraged kids to become involved in community climate initiatives such as making signs to remind people to turn off the lights. Additionally, teachers practiced green behaviors in the classroom. As a young student, I strived to emulate my teacher’s behaviors. The lifestyle habits I learned have stuck with me since I was surrounded by positive role models from an early age. Positive role models are crucial for success when building new habits.
Changing the habits of the next generation is a community effort. Communities can push one down or pull one up in their habits and lifestyles. Unfortunately, here in Lincoln, Nebraska, the pressure to develop green habits is much less than in many parts of the country. Some people are even receiving negative reinforcement when establishing green habits. For instance, many families of Lincoln East High School students do not recycle, simply because it costs more. As a result, families are repelled from recycling. A fixed mindset and environmentally negligent attitude are both mirrored in our classrooms.
Many teachers don’t teach the growth mindset. In a class I took over the summer, I encountered a teacher who often made discouraging remarks. They called students “stupid,” and told students they “won’t get a job.” Their teaching style is problematic, as it leads students to believe they are incompetent learners. Furthermore, when the class started learning about climate change, the teacher fed the students scientifically inaccurate information regarding the cause and solution to climate change. They made them chant: “ so does climate change exist…yes…. But can we do anything about it?…no.”
Not only were they teaching a fixed mindset, but they also misinformed students. They taught that students’ future careers and future climate were hopeless. Furthermore, the teacher left out materials that were supposed to be covered in the class. As the teacher was flipping through premade slides, they stopped on the slide about the carbon tax. “Woah.. this on is far left so I’m not going to get into it that much but basically, the government is trying to take away your right to breathe” and they moved onto the next slide. In order for one to change their habits, they need to have accurate information so they can make informed decisions for themselves.
By leaving out material and misconstruing proposals, the teacher is being unjust. They are disempowering students to actively change their lifestyles and are doing an injustice by not delivering students the full message. I don’t want to single out a particular teacher. After discussing with my peers, I began to understand these issues are not uncommon in lincoln public school classrooms. Teachers in the classroom should give students enough information so that they may make an informed decision for themselves. Even if one’s decision conflicts with the teacher, students need to have the information in front of them to make an informed decision– instead of being spoon-fed what to think.
It’s astonishing how much a teacher’s mindset can impact students. One day, the class had a substitute teacher who treated the students with respect and kindness. The students responded better to the teacher because kids are highly receptive to positive, growth mindsets. Students did not have to be yelled at to put their phones away– asking politely was enough. Young people need to feel empowered in order to change. The substitute teacher observed a growth mindset by starting class with a clean slate and allowing students to show the substitute teacher what they are capable of, instead of assuming from the start that all the students were hopeless. Positive experiences lead to empowerment which leads to change. To make a change, we must empower the next generation to grow and collaborate with a growth mindset.
Students should be encouraged to engage in the community effort to mitigate climate change. These behaviors are easier established when they are incorporated into a standardized science curriculum starting at a young age when students are more receptive. With the help of a growth mindset, accurate information, and positive role models, we can equip students with the mental strength to lead a life full of learning and a toolbox of sustainable habits to make way for earth’s next inhabitants.
“If you would like to help change the science curriculum in the lincoln public schools, please email the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org”
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