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Science Fiction may be a safe way to explore looming consequences of climate change

  • February 29, 2020 5:22 PM
    Message # 8784405
    Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Imminent drought?  Rising sea levels?  Impending food shortages?  Species nearing extinction?  How can a teacher or parent put these issues in context, and foster empathy—while managing anxiety?

    Consider asking your students (or children) to analyze a short story.  Fiction is a safe way to explore and make sense of abstract issues. Fiction helps students develop multiple perspectives and tolerance, giving students a framework for analysis, synthesis, and the ability to draw connections to the real world. 

     All Summer in a Day is a rich example.  Pulitzer Prize writer, Ray Bradbury (born in Illinois), wrote the story in 1954, but it is extremely relevant to the climate crisis.  Here’s a link (several exist) to the story:

    The story begins with elementary students in a classroom on Venus anticipating a summer day.  Sadly, summer (or sunshine) on Venus only occurs every seven years-- two hours on one unique day; the rest of the time, it rains on Venus.  One student, a girl named Margot, has memories of the Sun because she lived on Earth until she was four.  Her classmates have no memories of the Sun; they were toddlers the last time the Sun visited Venus and the only warmth they know is the light from a sun lamp.  The day before the Sun is set to appear, Margot previews their upcoming experience in a poem:

    I think the sun is a flower.  That blooms for just an hour.

    Margot’s peers resent the poem and her experiences on Earth; they bully her.

    Their resentment is part of a major conflict in the story.  I am trying hard not to be a spoiler…so now would be a good time to read All Summer in a Day!

    As you read it, enjoy the rich contrast between the characters.  Author Bradbury also does an amazing job describing the toll that living on Venus has taken on Margot:  “she was a very frail girl who looked as if she had been lost in the rain for years and the rain had washed out the blue from her eyes and the red from her mouth and the yellow from her hair,” drawing a symbolic comparison to a dusty, old “photo.”

    The setting is vivid—it impacts the characters and drives the conflict.  In a freakish way, it foreshadows the consequences of extreme changes in our weather, namely hurricanes.  Bradbury creates an atmosphere of relentless and pounding downpours: life on Venus was a cacophony of “crystal showers… a concussion of storms, and “forests”…”crushed under the rain.” 

    Compare that existence to the moment sunshine arrives on Venus and see how Bradley introduces thematic change.

    Change is at the very heart of our investigation and action on climate as well.

    After reading the story in class yesterday, my students drew some amazing connections:

      The story was most definitely a metaphor for our planet and the impact of climate change;

    • o The images of rainy Venus made us reflect how farmers or others feel (particularly their loss,) when they can no longer cultivate the land.  What changes will they experience?
    • o   Questioning authority—what did the teacher in the story actually know and why didn’t she act to protect a student?
    • o   Can environmental loss make people mean, i.e., the bullies in the story;
    • o   “What if” ideas emerged, i.e., what if we created a time machine to enable scientists to go back and fix things; how would that change our lens?
    • o   Thoughts on bullying and ideas to support those who are bullied; and
    • o   Wonder--can beautiful language positively inspire joy and action?

    The ending is ambiguous and for me, that always fuels optimism and possibilities.

    Hope you will dig in and enjoy!

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