Guidelines for Leaders, Gaylord Nelson Environmental Teach-Ins in relation to the play, “Happy and the River”
A “teach-in” can be defined by its key characteristics: “practical, participatory, oriented toward action,” to quote Wikipedia. The following is an outline for a method for making our discussions fit these criteria. You are, of course, free to modify these Guidelines according to the appropriateness to the moment, or the community, or the number of attendees.
Materials: Sign-in Sheets and a clip board and pen to circulate; Information handouts/porfoliios. If no blackboard/whiteboard available, big tear-off paper pad and tape for taping up the big sheets of paper; markers and post-it notes; coffee and cookies and trimmings; notepads and pens for recorders.
Before the meeting starts, if at all possible, write each of the topics highlighted in 2) below on the blackboard/whiteboard or at the top of a large page of paper, and tape the sheets around the room.
Meeting (approximately 2 hours total):
1) Sign-In. Make sure everyone signs the Sign-up Sheet (attached), for follow-ups. Depending on the size of the audience and the community, and how well people know one another, this might also be a good time to have each participant briefly introduce himself/herself, mentioning roles or activities or interests relevant to environmental discussion.
2) Introduction. Distribute the information sheets/portfolios on Gaylord Nelson, Earth Day, the Wild Rivers Act and the St. Croix and its tributaries, the play “Happy and the River”, sources for reading and researching and acting.
3) Distribute post-it notes and ask participants to write thoughts/ideas/information about each of the topics, and ask them to stick their post-its under the appropriate topic.
4) When everyone has done this, read the post-its and combine similar ones. Briefly discuss each list.
5) Assuming about an hour has passed, Break for coffee, cookies, bathrooms. Circulate during break and ask questions, or get people together, or include those who are too quiet, and so on.
6) Following the break, divide the large group into small groups based on some kind of community, or common characteristic. Start with those from the same village or township.
7) Ask the groups to do the following: select a leader/spokesperson for the group; select a recorder, to take notes from the group. Each group should then discuss and record some possible applications of the larger ideas and connect those ideas to practical actions that could be taken in their community, thinking of both environmental needs and goals. Divide the actions by long term, a year or more, and short term, three weeks or three months.
8) Defining our Assets: ask each person to consider his or her talents, contacts, resources, and to “take possession” of one of the goals, i.e. to serve as a leader in working toward that goal according to the time-line.
9) Ask each group to set up a meeting in three weeks to assess progress and problems and additions to the goals. Make sure each group leader has the sign-up sheet information for the people in his or her group.
10) Rejoin the full group together and ask each reporter to give a brief summary of the ideas and actions and time-lines coming out of his or her small group.
11) Set up a meeting time and place for the full group to get together again in three months.
12) Distribute Evaluation forms and collect
The following comments were shared following teach-ins held the St. Croix River Valley communities:
The value of learning history helps us to place ourselves in a continuum. Our place in time is among infinite others.
A history of a place is crucial to understanding how to avoid problems in the future.
We learn how small, seemingly inconsequential actions–good or bad—can have profound results.
History helps identify sacred places and provides context for the future.
Societal change is good if it empowers people. History teaches us that every generation has faced its own set of problems—many of which appeared insurmountable.
Change is good that respects the past and present and preserves the character that has come to define the place.
People don't like change because of its unpredictability. Making the “unknown” safe is helpful.
The human endeavor can be repeated or re-made, but a species, once lost, will never appear again. Why lose the pieces before we understand their place and role in an ecosystem?
The welfare of native species should be of utmost importance, and we should work toward “minimal” to “no” impact on our natural resources.
I have been thinking about what an urban planner said recently— that once you scour off topsoil and lay concrete—it's so hard to ever to go back and recover the soil and vegetation.
Land use (unwise sprawl development) is a creeping disease that exploits communities after it is often too late for us to stop.
Funding provided in part by
For more information about Gaylord Nelson’s environmental legacy and Earth Day see St. Croix Conservation Study Center-CONSERVATION.