Dear future child: Here's how your education started

firebird
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A child's drawing of a firebird. As adults squander more of the planet's natural beauty every day, how do we teach our children to be curious and respectful of it?

Our SDGs Letter Project is a call to action. A little over a year ago, the U.N. adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which collectively represent millions of dreams and aspirations. GreenBiz, in partnership with the Yale Center for Business and the Environment, is publishing 17 letters by Yale University students that highlight the ideas of youth regarding the 2030 developmental agenda. This series seeks to drive forward the collective will to translate the SDGs into reality.

Dear future child,

I’ve been thinking about you. You’re everything — everything that your father and I learned in moments past, and everything that will be learned in the future, in this world we share.

I come from a time and place where education was sectioned off in school buildings and campuses far from the rest of "real" life, and where people lived in homes and communities that were the backdrop, not the center of education. I want you to look at yourself now, standing as a member of this place and time, and remember how you were raised.

Before you were born, the world made a promise: To "provide quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all." Under this Sustainable Development Goal 4, we came together as the United Nations to set specific goals for you and every child, for every nation and demographic, and for all stages of life from early childhood to adulthood. We hoped you would learn about our world and care for it as an individual and a member of community, and now we look to you.

In early childhood, you were introduced to the world of learning. In our home, we gave you love and wonder for the Earth — but we didn’t have everything. 

The people in our community did not always have the resources or the peace of mind to educate our children despite our best intentions. We did not always know how to care for the Earth. 

So we brought you to a childcare center in the center of town, led by our friends and neighbors, and you received books, stationary and art supplies. In the courtyard you took in the beauty of trees and the breath of sky, and through the gates our community members waved and smiled at you. The center supported you and your friends when you could barely stand.

When you were 5, you were strong enough to run and go far. We showed you to the schoolhouse in our neighborhood, and you met the people who would be living and learning with you — the teachers, counselors and administrators who were also your community members, mentors and loving guardians. They were also the protectors of this community and the Earth.

But you also surrounded yourself with people you knew. Your friends from early childhood were there, your father was there, and I was there, too.

You started to learn the concepts and skills that would take you far. We divided this knowledge into categories: reading; writing; math; and science.

You were lucky — you could ask why the sky was blue while standing in your outdoor classroom, read about the reflection of light in the books your teachers gave you and create representations of your knowledge using new technology. You shared what you learned with the class. You were assessed not in tests or rubrics but in the reactions of the people around you. You were learning out of love, and with the guidance of teachers, you developed the skills and found the resources that helped you forward year by year.

Your footsteps brought you not to the parking lot after school but to the spaces that had been created to sustain your love and learning. The art gallery had a painting that your father drew of the tree in our backyard, and the swimming pond was filled with water your neighbors had worked to clear. The little shop next to the schoolhouse offered you the daily newspaper your uncle had edited, the vegetables your friends had planted and harvested, and the purse your grandmother had sewn.

When you were older, you worked behind the shop counter and used your knowledge of numbers and words to interact with your customers. You spoke up at community meetings about how you wanted our economy and environment to flourish. You played the piano in the music studio and filled the air with music.

We listened. As your community members, we heard how you wanted to learn about the soil and sky, and we provided the materials for you to discover this stretch of Earth. We ran our businesses not to take from the land or the future we shared — but to give you what you wanted and needed.

We taught you, as we practiced ourselves, not to invest in the particular materials that would sustain us for a moment but to build the relationships with your community and Earth that would sustain us forever. We educated you not in subjects but as worthy subjects yourself. As your parents, we loved you, and we hoped you’d learn.

You did. You are so beautiful where you are, an embodiment of what sustainability, development and purpose mean in this world. You learned from childhood that the Earth is greater than you, your schoolhouse and your home community — but no greater than your love for it all. Congratulations. Your education is ongoing, and so too is ours.

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