“Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.” - Oscar Wilde
Nearly two years ago I had the opportunity to help plan and attend an international conference at the Vatican on the global water crisis as a volunteer with the non-profit organization, Circle of Blue. I was working as a volunteer to engage the educational community in the dialogue and to create follow up action plans to address the value and values of water to our world. An important question arose, how do we align how we value water (economically) with our values regarding the importance of access to clean, healthy water for our world. This value vs. values juxtaposition got me to thinking about how it applies to other aspects of our lives in general, as there are so many aspects of economic priorities in our society that I believe are out of alignment, but for today I will remain focused on water.
Thanks to the generosity of several Roycemore families, we recently installed wide spectrum water filters in all of the water fountains at Roycemore to help us take further precautions to protect the health of our community. We are fortunate here in Evanston to be adjacent to one of the world's largest supplies of fresh water- the Great Lakes, when millions of people around the world lack access to safe, potable water. Even with access to water from the Great Lakes, sometimes communities can make decisions based on value versus values, such as when government officials from Flint, Michigan opted to try to save money by changing the city’s water source from Lake Huron and the Detroit River to the Flint River. A lack of sufficient testing was done as well as insufficient treatment of the water. Before long the Flint River water caused corrosion of pipes in the distribution system leading to the leaching of lead into the water system. Residents began getting sick and rather than responding appropriately to protect residents, officials dismissed the severity of the crisis. When blood tests determined there were seriously elevated lead levels in children, a State of Emergency was ultimately declared and legal action resulted in substantive changes.
How might our young people learn about value vs. values from a crisis like Flint, or from water issues on a more global level? Earlier this year our middle school students learned about the challenges many people around the world have with respect to water access in their integrated studies in Humanities. They read the book, The Long Walk to Water, visited the local water treatment plant and engaged in other water related studies. In our Upper School Sustainability class, students spent an entire unit on Water which included guest speakers from non-profit organizations that are addressing these issues globally, including the Founder of Circle of Blue. They learned about severe water shortages such as in Cape Town, South Africa that narrowly averted a “Day Zero”, where the city almost ran out of water. Sadly, Day Zero has only been postponed in Cape Town and there are many cities around the globe who could face similar crises.
Using the study of water as a theme provides opportunities for students to dive deep (pardon the pun) into one of the important challenges they may face in their lifetimes, to understand the complex nature of these challenges, and to apply critical thinking and problem solving skills to topics of great importance. This is just one of the ways we are providing students with important skill sets that will be needed to thrive long beyond their years at Roycemore and to serve as leaders to create a better future for all of us.