Our Relationship to the Earth
“African women in general need to know that it's OK for them to be the way they are - to see the way they are as a strength, and to be liberated from fear and from silence.”
Recently, students of Pamela O’Brien at Brentwood South and North Middle Schools in Long Island, New York wrote poetry in alignment with the new National Common Core Standards and the New York State ELA Assessment. The unit was about the environment including the story of the courageous Speak Truth to Power defender Wangari Maathai, environmentalist and creator of the Green Belt Movement. The poems are entitled, “Mottainai Means Maathai.” Mottainai is a Japanese term that means "a sense of regret concerning wastewhen the intrinsic value of an object or resource is not properly utilized.”
The unit integrated several non-fiction, interdisciplinary texts. Students began the unit by interpreting various critical lens quotes related to environmental concerns faced locally and globally. Students classified and organized topics relative to global warming and deforestation, biographical perspectives regarding courage, perseverance, and compassion, and inter-textual connections involving their role in protecting the Earth.
Students analyzed, evaluated, and answered ELA structured questions related to the various texts. Vocabulary was taken from the texts. Students generated definitions and created visual interpretations of words to facilitate a higher level of critical thinking, and the application of specific vocabulary within context.
Through an emotional, multisensory connection, students analyzed and created original poetic devices using the combination of abstract and concrete ideas with objects found in nature that were relevant to the abstract concepts found in the biography of Wangari Maathai related to courage, perseverance, compassion, and destiny.
Students synthesized the specific vocabulary, poetic devices, and non-fiction textual evidence into a sequential, free verse poem about Wangari Maathai. The students visually interpreted the figurative language of their original poems.
Through the story of Wangari Maathai, the students learned how the action or inaction of one individual has an effect on our planet- locally and globally. They understand how knowledge empowered the women of Kenya, and gave them the ability to help themselves. Students connected these themes to their own lives, realizing that their voice matters, and can make a change. Students realized that through the awakening and awareness of environmental sensibility, and the insight into the character traits of one who advocates, they could empower their own future, and the future of our common ground: Planet Earth.