Black ecologies are filled with possibilities as modes of inquiring into Black people’s liberatory relations with the more-than-human world, in particular spaces and places. Black ecologies attend to and resist the ways in which these relations have been and continue to be impacted by anti-Blackness, settler colonialism, racial capitalism, including their interconnections.
This talk seeks to illustrate possibilities for disrupting anti-Blackness in environmental early childhood education by thinking with Black ecologies. Drawing from research with Black families and young children in urban North American contexts, my focus is on the potentials of orientations towards Black relations with the more-than-human world that center more-than-human recuperation, relationality, reciprocity and kinship.
I gesture toward the otherwise worlds that are made possible by experimenting with place-attuned methods that listen for Black childhood futurity.
When Oil and Childhood Mix: Children’s Literature and (or as) Petroculture” considers the ways oil seeps into children’s literature. Oil energy undoubtedly shapes the narratives we tell young people and each other, even if, as Amitav Ghosh (1992) observes, authors are hesitant to explicitly address the subject of oil in fiction. As suggested in the forum “Literature in the Ages of Wood, Tallow, Coal, Whale Oil, Gasoline, Atomic Power, and Other Energy Sources,” published in the 2011 issue of PMLA, literature emerges from, is shaped by, and sometimes explicitly responds to contemporary energy regimes.
Certainly, oil industry actors have long apprehended children’s cultural forms as useful mediums for sharing narratives about petroleum, its byproducts, and its so-called wonders. Through a study of various petropedagogical materials produced by the fossil fuel industry, I show how children’s books, films, comics, and other cultural forms have been used to minimize and even deny the industry’s role in pollution, displacement, and climate catastrophe. Such propaganda also approaches young people as impressionable and malleable subjects who can be habituated into supporting the oil industry as robust consumers and even be trained as potential oil workers.
On the other hand, recent children’s titles about climate justice insist that young people can and already grasp both the spectacular and slow violences of oil. Climate justice narratives for (and by) young people put sharp focus on how oil, pumped by racism, capitalism, and colonialism, has especially disastrous consequences for Black, Indigenous, and global south communities. This presentation thus insists that oil is a necessary context for understanding the multiplicities, and, more important, the inequities of childhood around the world.
The dilemma that we face as actors in institutions of children’s literature is that much of our work is predicated on the steady consumption of oil and other petroleum byproducts. In what ways can we work together to address this dilemma? As young people confront climate catastrophe, it is essential that we pay close attention to the links between energy, childhood, and children’s cultural forms
Scott O’Dell’s novel Island of the Blue Dolphins, which fictionalizes the daily life of an indigenous Californian on San Nicolas Island between 1835-1853, has been translated into at least 17 languages, winning the American Library Association’s Newbery Medal (1960), the Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis (1963), and for O’Dell, the Hans Christian Andersen Award (1972). Internationally circulated and prized, this story of profound solitude—of ‘island survival’—is itself a tale of cross-cultural encounter. Yet both historically and today it has performed very particular settler colonial work within the U.S. context.
In the 1960s and 70s, Island of the Blue Dolphins was heralded for its environmental and feminist messages, its centering of an American Indian, and its masterful storytelling. Teachers and children marveled at the “truthfulness” of the tale—its origin in the experiences of a real historical actor who spent 18 years on her natal island bereft of community. In doing so, K-12 classrooms echoed generations of readers before them, who learned of the so-called Lone Woman’s story through popular periodical accounts and scientific reports.
In this lecture, I probe that idea of “truthfulness” by examining not only Island of the Blue Dolphins, but also Scott O’Dell’s source material and the continued desire to “understand” the Lone Woman’s story. I share a digital archive and web resource, created through a collaboration with the U.S. National Park Service, that both testifies to the novel’s legacy and seeks to transform the way the book and the history it fictionalizes are taught. Island of the Blue Dolphins, which neither emerges from nor reflects indigenous worldviews, in no way fulfills the pressing call for diverse books. Rather, it provides a window into centuries of white thought about “the Indian,” provoking consideration of the role narratives play in shaping social and political realities. A critical examination of the novel therefore helps scholars and young readers think historically about both the events depicted and the ideologies and discourses informing the novel’s creation, prizing, and curricular adoption
Over the last decades, environmental issues have become a prominent feature of civic education curricula in many countries. In both the Global North and Global South, curriculum designers have sought to promote children's 'eco-literacy' – an awareness and understanding of the relationships between people, other organisms, and the environments in which they live. At the same time, some educators and activists have argued that environmental education must go beyond the mere mediation of knowledge and instead empower children to instigate change towards an ecologically sustainable life. Such calls have frequently drawn on the normative and legal framework of the 1989 UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, which posits that children are entitled not only to 'protection' and 'provision' rights, but also to 'agency/ participation' rights. In recent years, the idea that children can and should play an active role in addressing climate crisis has received further impetus from the actions of Greta Thunberg which have inspired the global #fridaysforfuture movement.
These developments notwithstanding, the assumption that environmental education should foster children's agency remains disputed among policymakers and curriculum designers worldwide. Nor is there agreement on what children's 'agency' should entail precisely. In this talk I outline some of the complexities of the notion of children's 'ecological agency' while focusing on the case of China - a country that has undergone rapid industrialization in the late twentieth century, engendering increasingly serious ecological problems with implications far beyond China's borders. Since the 2000s, the Chinese government has sought to address these problems through the adoption of a swathe of policy and legislation measures, as well as through environmental education efforts targeting its population, including children. What are the goals and contents of China's current environmental education program? And how does the Chinese program engage with the international discourse of children's rights, in particular agency/participation rights? The talk addresses these issues while further considering how distinct understandings of the relationship between humans and the environment; citizenship and morality; and the nature of childhood itself currently shape the environmental education agenda of this influential global superpower.