Setting Free Our History
Getting the commons into school curriculum will help students understand climate change (and a lot more)
By Tim Swinehart
In the wake of superstorm Sandy and a presidential election in which both candidates essentially ignored climate change, it’s time that our schools began to play their part in creating climate literate citizens.
Hurricane Sandy, and the superstorms that will follow, are not just acts of nature—they are products of a massive theft of the atmospheric commons shared by all life on the planet. Every dollar of profit made by fossil fuel companies relies on polluting our shared atmosphere with harmful greenhouse gases, stealing what belongs to us all. But if we don’t teach students the history of the commons, they’ll have a hard time recognizing what—and who—is responsible for today’s climate crisis.
If the commons is taught at all in history classes, it’s likely as a passing reference to English enclosures—the process by which lands traditionally used in common by the poor for growing food, grazing animals, collecting firewood, and hunting game were fenced off and turned into private property. Some textbooks may mention the peasant riots that were a frequent response to enclosures, or specific groups like the Diggers that resisted enclosure by tearing down fences and reestablishing common areas. But they are buried in chapters that champion industrial capitalism’s “progress” and “innovation.”
Some texts, like McDougal Littell’s widely used Modern World History, skip the peasants’ resistance entirely, choosing instead to sing the praises of enterprising wealthy landowners: “In 1700, small farms covered England’s landscape. Wealthy landowners, however, began buying up much of the land that village farmers had once worked. The large landowners dramatically improved farming methods. These innovations amounted to an agricultural revolution.” .....................(more)