Two trucks passed our school buses yesterday going in the opposite direction. Loaded with white chickens locked into stacked cages, you could just barely make out their red combs and sad faces. Feathers from the slipstream were lofted into the air like loose straw from a hay truck.
In one bus some of the 8th graders laughed--"if I'm going to have to eat them, I'd rather see them in McNugget form"; in the other bus the students went silent and someone said, "ah, that's sad."
So there we have the human dilemma. Lovely people face a complicated world and respond differently at different times--context, mood, the dynamic of a group.
That same day we stopped at Dos Santos church. An older gentleman of measured and slow-stepping delivery gave a longish presentation on a history that began in the 17th century and brought us up to the present moment. At some point an utter, almost profound silence fell over the 71 students. When he finished, without a word of prompting, the entire 8th grade applauded in a graceful gesture of respect. They caught his intent, his sincerity, his effort to reach them.
Our 8th graders are far from sainthood. They can be insufferably loud on a bus, fail to go to sleep when encouraged to do so and move at lugubrious pace when tired like Napoleon's army in retreat from Moscow. Yet they have depth upon depth, and even as we have occasionally fumbled as adults with the schedule and pacing in a pilot program, they have given generously with their attention and energy because the trust goes in both directions. We have learned so much about each other.
But it is more than chickens that are locked in cages. Driving past Tyson poultry farms, we pass long aluminum-sided chicken houses--no windows and no doors that are ever open. We are not welcome into those places. And we heard from one worker today at the vineyard reflect on his experience working in such a place. He said, in Spanish: "The noise was endless, and we workers crowded together. It was like being locked in a cage."
So it is more than workers and chickens locked in cages. The Eastern shore in a sense is locked in a cage of circumstances as climate change and the consequences of massive agricultural enterprises. How do we raise students to observe, analyze and solve the dilemmas that encroach. Soon enough the solutions become their challenge. To unlock the causation that locks us tightly in the cages of circumstance will not be easy.
To this we heard from two farmers today.
A vintner said: "It is we who must adapt to the timing of nature."
And the founder of Copper Cricket Farm told our 13 and 14- year olds: "We don't inherit the land from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children."
Thus the challenges of sustainability, of equity and justice for the world of humans, oysters, water, marshes and pollinators. We have yet a world to grow and to tend.