Milton students in several humanities classes will join those from six other Massachusetts schools in studying climate change and climate justice through the humanities during this year’s Humanities Workshop.
Teachers from the participating schools decided to focus on climate issues because they permeate many different aspects of life, including economic and racial inequality, human migration, and public health.
“There is a sense that climate change is just a science problem, which of course is not the case—it’s a human problem,” said Milton faculty member Alisa Braithwaite. “If our climate dies, so do we. We wanted to bring the concepts of humanities disciplines together to create a narrative that helps people to see that climate change is an urgent, human problem, one that we should be learning about and fighting for from every corner of our world.”
The Humanities Workshop is an academic year-long project conducted by a consortium of Boston-area public, charter, and private schools. Braithwaite and Lisa Baker, both Milton English teachers, founded the workshop in 2017 as a way to affirm the humanities’ role in tackling urgent social issues. This is the second cycle; the first in the 2018–2019 academic year centered issues of economic inequality.
Focusing on climate issues gives teachers “a lot of mobility” in determining how to guide student work, said Baker. Braithwaite’s Contemporary World Literature students, for example, will study texts that focus on global climate change or the environment in some way.
“Under the umbrella of climate, students can tackle so many different topics, from how climate change relates to inequality, to public health issues like the pandemic, to migration as a result of climate change,” Baker said. “You can look back at the history of how these issues have been addressed or not addressed; there have been really profound messages around the climate. Who controls the narrative, and who changes that narrative, are really interesting questions to explore within the context of the humanities.”
Each school and its participating teachers in the humanities—including literature, modern languages, history, social sciences, and the arts—can explore the topic of climate change/climate justice with students however they want. Beginning with five schools, the Humanities Workshop’s participants have expanded to seven: Boston Latin School (public), Boston International Newcomers Academy (public), Boston Collegiate Charter School, Academy of the Pacific Rim (charter), Boston College High School (private Catholic), Phillips Andover Academy (private), and Milton.
This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, events will be virtual, including a forum in January with expert panelists and the presentation of student work in May. Braithwaite and Baker hope that participating students will be inspired by their studies to get involved in climate action.