On Eco-Literacy, Comic Books, and Journalism

“We are scientists, you are a journalist. We test, we prove, we report, that’s what we do,” (Barry Allen/The Flash, The Flash, “Flash of Two Worlds,” 2015).

I have so much on my mind as I come to the end of my first semester in my PhD program. I find myself contemplating all the ways that my research has changed this semester and all the ways I am more sure of what my future is as a researcher. While I began the semester wanting to build the Embedded Journalism for Social Justice Reporting project (which I remain committed to), my research question has since become far more developed. I am trying to understand the ways in which marginalized communities have used journalism as a tool to develop capacity and build power in social movement work. I want to understand how journalism fits into a transformative organizing framework. And I want to know what new financial models, and training models, can be developed to support that community journalism.

However, I just spent the semester amongst a group of scientists: my classmates, peers, and professors. I am so impressed and struck by the work they do and, even, the similarities in our work. And that work, and those relationships, are on my mind.

The quote above says it best.

The work of scientists and journalists is not truly that different, nor is the work of educators. That is something I have definitely learned this year. Our jobs are to make sense of the din around us and then translate it back to our communities so that they are better off for having that knowledge. Our jobs are to take action so that the things that are broken around us might be healed if only we can share the knowledge in our communities, take action, and then be better off for that.

You may or may not know this, but I am a bit of a comic book nerd and I am addicted to all things sci-fi. I have no allegiance to DC or Marvel or any other publisher, but I find myself enchanted by the stories. My most favorite comic book incarnation is the “The Flash” as it premiered last year and my favorite thing about “The Flash” is that he is a scientist. And science is core to every part of the story, every problem, every solution is meant to be science, fictional though the science may be. It is the same reason I love the “Iron Man” story and Doctor Who in all of its various incarnations. The science may be fictional, but it is still science, this thing that feels like it should be elusive, but actually is not.

We began this semester discussing environmental literacy and the lack of eco-literacy in the classroom. It reminded me of so many of my science classes growing up. Unfortunately, I would say that most of my science education was seriously lacking. I do not remember much from most of my science classes, but what I do remember is learning that I really appreciate.

My most powerful memories of science classes come from junior high. In 8th grade, whatever year that was (1999, I think), my junior high hired a science teacher who refused to teach us about evolution. He was fired after a month. I think it might have been “earth science” that he was meant to teaching. All I remember is that he was replaced with the most awesome science teacher I ever had, Mr. Z. At the time, we were losing our most awesome teachers every year in what seems to have been a precursor to the Hogwarts Defense Against the Dark Arts curse. So we all figured that whether or not we were graduating, we had less than one academic year with this awesome science teacher. Mr. Z managed to take “Earth Sciences” and turn this previously-dry content into something as alive and breathing as this universe. We found ourselves studying soil and collecting rocks, digging through trash when studying recycling, and looking at stars in our Astronomy elective. And we read comic books as assigned reading, debating all the fictional possibilities within. Our classroom was the Tardis as we transported ourselves across the multi-verse studying it. Yes, I just crossed over Doctor Who and The Flash in one sentence.

It was one of the best classes I have ever taken, even until this day. It was this phenomenon in experiential education. I remember everything I learned that year.

It was that class which inspired my simultaneous loves for both comic books and for science.

I was recently babysitting a younger cousin and we watched a few episodes of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood on Netflix. One episode dealt with the electric car. My cousin asked me “what happened with it?” I did not really have an answer. How do you explain the ways in which politics have held our world back as well as the ways in our world has been harmed because of those politics?

No matter what I have been studying, my natural inclination is write about it. My first college degree is an Associate of Arts in Assistant Teaching which I got from the former-College of St. Catherine in Minneapolis.  I only took two science classes in college: Psychology and Biology of Women. Looking back, I wish I had taken more classes, that science had been more of a priority within my program. If I had gone into education, if I had gone into teaching, I think I would have loved to be a science teacher, to get kids thrilled about it in the same ways comic books and “Earth Science” had hooked me on science all those years ago.

As I continue what both Mr. Rogers and Mr. Z taught me and my peers, I feel inclined and inspired to respond to those lessons. Though my primary focus as a journalist is politics and reporting on social movements, I try and set a goal for myself every year, often reporting on issues I would not feel inclined to report on without the challenge. However, though I love reading science news, I do not report on it, because it is something I feel outside of my wheelhouse. Thus my goal for 2016 is to write and publish 6 news packages related to science funding in schools, as well as 6 stories on scientific innovation. My hope in this is to continue developing as a journalist and to begin developing my capacity and ability to report on science news. Most importantly, however, I feel really called to muddling through the work of using journalism to think about eco-literacy (and other science literacy) and I am excited to put my time and energy into doing so (I tried very hard to think of at least one The Flash pun to end this blog. Alas, I could not think of one fast enough…).

***This article is part of my final creative project for Sustainability Education and Transformative Change (fall semester), a core class in my PhD in Sustainability Education program. When deciding to write this article, I challenged myself to discuss eco-literacy (and, even, science literacy) education, a topic I do not typically feel confident enough to speak about. I believe it is the role of the journalist to translate information we are not always comfortable discussing and this is my attempt to do that.

***This article is still in draft form and is likely to be edited (12/09/15).

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