Educational Comic Series for CUNY / CUER in New York City
The roots of the Mayah’s Lot educational experiment go back more than a decade. In 2004, Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus sent shockwaves through environmental communities with their provocatively-titled essay “The Death of Environmentalism.”Claiming that environmentalists in the United States were like generals fighting the last war, the authors urged that tackling climate change requires a rethinking of the most basic assumptions about the nature of environmental problems, and the solutions needed to overcome those problems.
Nearly a decade into this Death of Environmentalism debate, what we are seeing may actually be the death of the environment itself. Once scorned as representing “an all-time low” in education, comic books have recently come into their own as educational tools. Rechristened “graphic novels,” many comic books now grapple with weighty social issues on a regular basis. In 2011, the United States Center for Disease Control released Preparation 101: Zombie Pandemic—a graphic novel targeting emergency preparedness.
It certainly helps that artist Charlie LaGreca created a visually-stunning book. Mayah’s Lot stands alone as a storybook, but it also provides valuable environmental justice lessons. It is an ideal tool for bringing environmental messages to a generation steeped in highly visual and interactive ways of learning. Students learn alongside Mayah, the young heroine, as she organizes her already environmentally over-burdened neighborhood to prevent the siting of a hazardous waste facility on a nearby vacant lot. To succeed, she must navigate administrative law hurdles, produce compelling advocacy grounded in fact-based reasoning (a big component of the new Common Core Learning Standards), and mobilize popular support.
The resulting story offers an environmental justice message that has won praise from state environmental protection agencies around the country (Mississippi and Illinois will be adopting the book in their community outreach efforts), has been featured in Colorlines and mentioned on NY Times Parenting blog. Better still, it resonates with children like my very urban daughter and her friends—many of whom tend to think of “the environment” as existing elsewhere, rather than where they live and learn.
Projects like Mayah’s Lot can help teachers and students think about learning in new ways, and by integrating science, art and civics with students’ lived experience bringing a new excitement to the classroom.
– Rebecca Bratspies, Writer & Editor