Eli Newell ’20 Pushes for Climate Education Curriculum in Core Classes

Eli Newell ’20 modeled his climate curriculum proposal off of past implementations of race, class, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation curriculums at Andover.

Inspired by Andover’s past climate talks, Eli Newell ’20 organized a discussion for students on November 15 entitled “The Case for Climate Curriculum” to encourage the implementation of an environmentally conscious curriculum. Students gathered to engage in dialogue with the administration to develop future goals to integrate climate awareness into Andover education and programming.

“I think that we sometimes take our power for granted. As students here, as critically important members of this community, we have a lot of power, though. It is our job to ensure that the story we tell through our curriculum remains relevant to the context of the world in which we live and that it sets us up well to act on what we care about. This is how and why we’ve made so much progress in bringing discussion of race, class, and gender, for instance, across the [Andover] curriculum. We must harness our power again. It is time to advocate for significant shifts in our curriculum,” wrote Newell in a student-wide email.

In November, Newell chose to skip his Empathy, Balance, and Inclusion (E.B.I.) class to attend a talk by Nobel Prize-winning economist William Nordhaus ’59. The event was part of the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library’s (OWHL) Climate Cafe speaker series. These talks inspired Newell to work towards a curriculum that allows students to leave Andover with a basic understanding of the causes and effects of climate change.

Salvador Gomez ’21, a participant in the discussion, emphasized how students from various backgrounds engaged in the discussions regarding the potential of a climate curriculum. These meetings allow students to share their perspectives and voices, according to Gomez.

“It’s really important for at least our generation to take [action] and be properly educated to be able to respond to what’s actually happening. Eli’s mission to implement [a climate curriculum] in the school is essential because we need to get to a point where we can start thinking about this practically and actually start acknowledging [it],” said Gomez.

The forum focused on three questions: What can climate curriculum look like at Andover? How can it be implemented? What roles can students take on? Bearing in mind these questions, the discussion covered four possible models for implementation.

Newell said in an interview with The Phillipian, “One [possibility] is [using] campus as [a] lab, finding pedagogical value in how we manage the campus, natural resources around here. Another is [an] external curriculum like E.B.I.; another is new classes like electives like we’re seeing with a lot of interdisciplinary electives now; and another is following the race, class, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation model that was outlined in the 2014 strategic plan, committing to ‘embed intellectual inquiry regarding race, class, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation’ across the entire curriculum.”

The students established a consensus to prioritize the race, class, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation in the curriculum model. According to Newell, a thorough study of this model recognizes climate change and environmental justice as inherently related.

“Not a lot of people are too excited about making more graduation requirements, especially because the art department often ends up feeling targeted by that. I want to embed it into existing graduation requirements — so core classes. But there are classes like [these electives], “Natural Causes,” [but] they are electives and so a lot of people aren’t necessarily gonna be taking the class, most people won’t,” said Newell.

Newell continued to spearhead discussion in the Tang Institute on December 16 with students and the Education for Sustainability faculty committee about how climate curriculum could be implemented across all disciplines. The participants were divided into departments to discuss how the implementation would look in each respective department.

“I thought everyone would… go to talk about science as … an obvious environmental issue. But students concentrated in the humanities and English and History where they talked about storytelling, what narratives are we reading in English, whose voice are we seeing,” said Newell.

This students and faculty focused on several questions: What can climate curriculum look like in our department? How are current classes related? What needs to be added? How can we be effective ambassadors to our colleagues?

“There’s a core group of faculty who are also working with Eli and I and we are planning to go to faculty meetings and talk to departments about how to integrate it specifically in those classes. Bill McKibben is coming in February for [All-School Meeting]—he is a climate author. I think that will spark a lot of conversation hopefully, hopefully it will be productive,” said Claire Brady ’20, Co-head of Eco Action.

Gomez finds importance in discussing not only what needs to change, but also how change can be implemented. In addition, he looks forward to seeing climate curriculum in classes.

“There’s a lot of discussion [on campus]. [I] remember our parietal talk last year with the All-School Congress, [and] it was like, ‘this needs to change.’ There was a lot of talk about what needs to change but not a lot of talk about how we’re going to change it,” said Gomez.