“There’s no such thing as a morality project, or an ethics project; everything is supposed to be moral and ethical.
Same thing with sustainability; everything is supposed to be sustainable.”
I want to highlight a workshop example chosen by students in Dryden, a rural town in Ontario best known for its Domtar paper and pulp mill.
The girl’s bathrooms and changeroom have mirrors that are warped, and it “makes them look ugly.” The students have always wanted to change them, and have even looked into how much it would cost: $250 per mirror. With a dozen mirrors replaced, it would be $250 x 12 = $3,000.
If they assume they can fundraise at 33% efficiency, they need to raise $9,000 at having a $6,000 cost of fundraiser activities, leaving $3,000 for the mirrors. From their perspective, $9,000 for mirrors to do their makeup seems to be too expensive. In my head, I agreed. But I kept following the community-organizing model. “What would need to happen for this project to be a wild success?” “12 mirror installed, maintain the mirrors well, upcycle the old mirrors, and get positive feedback from happy people,” they concluded.
“Why? Why do you want the mirrors installed?” I always ask them to ask themselves why they’re doing this project, and to keep asking ‘why’, until they get to a philosophical answer that is no longer a means to an end, but rather an end in and of itself. The final ‘why’ should be “because that’s what we want. That’s the future we want.”
“It’s to improve the morale of the girls. When you do your makeup and look in the warped mirror, it ruins your entire day.” “It’s about self-confidence and self-image.”
The vice principal chipped in: “Some get pride from academic success, some from body image, and some from athletic success. If your self-confidence and self-image improves, the chances of recreational drug use goes down and learning outcomes improve.” I was shocked. I had no idea that a warped mirror would have that much impact.
“Is $3,000 worth improving self-confidence and self-image of more than 200 girls every school day for at least the next 10 years?” The answer was a resounding and excited “yes!”
This is why it’s important to ask ourselves ‘why’ and how we measure success. The mirror installation project is not about building maintenance; it’s about empowerment of girls. What they measure should be different. For a building maintenance project, you measure the number of mirrors installed, and how well they are installed. For an empowerment of girls project, you measure improved self-confidence and self-image of the girls. Same activity, different objective, different measurement, different outcome.
There’s no such thing as a morality project, or an ethics project; everything is supposed to be moral and ethical. Same thing with sustainability; everything is supposed to be sustainable. We need sustainability integrated into the decision-making framework of every young person used both at work and at home. By identifying, analyzing, and developing sustainability-integrated solutions to their community’s challenge, students are exercising the muscle for sustainability problem-solving skills to make it a core competency of our generation.