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Intergenerational Learning is Essential to Humane Environmental Education

Humane and environmental educators often speak of the need to educate today’s youth because “it is up to young people to fix all the problems that generations before them have created” or “young people will inherit the world we leave behind”. Both statements have grown into a mantra within humane and environmental education circles. Yes, today’s youth will inherit the world we leave behind, however it is not solely their responsibility to fix all of the world’s problems. Not only do such statements promote a discriminatory ageist attitude towards our senior elders, but it also ignores a knowledgeable, vital population residing in our communities wishing to make a positive difference in the world. Even more dangerously, such statements suggest that only the young are capable of solving the world problems. Further, it promotes an apathetic attitude for elders to follow. If it is up to the youth to fix the worlds problems, then why should our elders even bother trying to make a difference?  This seems to feed into the common argument heard about people “being long gone before climate change takes effect, so why bother to do anything about it at all?”   It also suggests that elder’s input is not wanted or needed. Oddly enough, I’ve even observed some of those making such statements to be 50+ themselves!

Living in the moment and being present means including those who are here now, not just the young or the inevitable future generations. Our communities include people of all ages; therefore our educational system should reflect this reality. Such shortsighted views of education are omitting a vital population of seniors with much to offer in the way of educational opportunities. Sustainable change for the future may be created by anyone of any age – not just the youth. After all, some of the worlds most celebrated minds were older and wiser adults at the time that they performed their greatest works.  Frank Lloyd Wright was 68 years old when he created his most renowned architectural design, Falling Water, with an active career spanning seventy years!  Today he is considered to be the greatest architect of all time.

Oftentimes seniors are looking for ways to connect to others and make a positive difference in the world. Take for example the recent movie, “The Intern”. The main character, played by Robert De Niro, is a recent widower looking to socialize and share his knowledge and skills with others.   In the film, he had in depth knowledge of the history of the community and a lifetime of valuable skills and information to benefit his coworkers, his boss, and the company he interns for. However, he interned for a progressive company that enabled such an opportunity to share this knowledge. From having run humane environmental education programs specifically designed for senior audiences, I can say that working with seniors has been among the most enjoyable and rewarding learning experiences as a professional educator.

Here is why seniors should be included in intergenerational learning programs:

Lifelong Learning: Learning can occur at any age. It doesn’t stop at grade twelve or with a college degree. Learning is not just for the young. What matters most is the desire to learn. This is how we evolve as human beings.

Seniors have a lifetime of valuable knowledge worthy of sharing. They have witnessed history and change in the making. In the last century, societal and technological developments have occurred at a faster rate than at any other time in the history of mankind. For example, today’s seniors were raised during a more sustainable time. During their childhoods, glass milk bottles were recycled and reused. Cloth napkins were used instead of disposable paper products. Plastic packaging and throw away consumerism was nonexistent. Who better to teach sustainable practices to young people than seniors who have witnessed societal change and lived the zero waste lifestyle firsthand? We live in a unique time where our elders who lived this lifestyle are present to teach the youth of today what they have experienced viewed through the eyes of retrospection. This is a valuable asset to anyone wishing to learn about sustainable practices.

Seniors serve as mentors and role models by inspiring younger generations who follow their lead.

Sustainability is not just about looking forward to new technologies to make a difference, it is also about looking to the past and how our ancestors lived by doing without all the wastefulness of today’s made for obsolescence consumer-based lifestyle.

Seniors are a part of our community. They are our neighbors, our coworkers, our volunteers, our friends and family. Self-segregating the youth from seniors contributes to a youth-centered society while diminishing the contributions and potential of senior learning audiences. Their stories are amazing. There is so much to be learned from our wiser elders. And there is so much elders may learn from youth as well. It is a symbiotic educational relationship.

Seniors care just as much about the world as the rest of us.  They have been omitted from the dialog by our youth oriented society and myopic view of education. It is time to become inclusive and bring our elders back to the table. As Thoreau once said, “All men want, not something to do with, but something to do, or rather something to be”.

Visit the following inspiring links to stories of seniors and intergenerational learning and suggestions for inclusion below.

Help Wanted: Seniors sought to monitor waterways, improve environment

The Preschool Inside a Nursing Home

How to combat ageism:  Make friends with an older person

Here are some ways to include seniors in the dialog at your school, learning institution, and community:

  • Have a Grandparents Day at school. If a student does not have a grandparent present, they may bring a neighbor, family friend or great-aunt or uncle. Have the guest share their stories, a favorite book, or a specific topic with the class.
  • Schools can partner with senior centers to engage in service learning project, much like a Big Sister or Big Brother program. It’s win-win for students and the seniors they visit.
  • Ask a senior neighbor or community member to join your family to a museum, botanical garden, musical performance or community event. Everyone can benefit from such a culturally rich experience.
  • Start a community garden in your neighborhood and ask senior neighbors to contribute. For those with physical limitations, consider including an enabling garden to encourage participation. Or volunteer to help a senior in need of assistance with their garden. It’s a great way to learn a new hobby and get outside in nature.
  • Start a community website or Facebook page and spread the word. Invite all the neighbors to contribute – especially the senior community members. Such pages help to encourage neighborhood communication, information sharing, neighborhood watch, and crime-free neighborhoods.
  • If there is a senior neighbor with a physical disability who could use some help around the house, create a team of neighbors who will volunteer to help clean the yard or help with household chores.
  • If you have a friendly companion animal, include them on an elder visit. Animals are healers and bring much needed cheer!
  • Share a meal.  Or better yet, create one together and then share it!

Anyone can make a difference in the world.  All that is needed is the desire to do so!

Liz Stanislav, MS Ed., MA Ed.

The communal narcissist

Have you ever experienced in-fighting when working for a cause? Or having someone take credit for your hard work?  Or had the misfortune of working with people who make the cause more about themselves rather than the cause itself?  It could be explained by this recently discovered personality type found in the workplace.

Visit the link below to learn more.

(Thanks for sharing Michele!)

via Psychology Today

The Communal Narcissist: Another Wolf Wearing a Sheep Outfit