Soaked but Happy

August 26, 2012

When I arrived at Greenbelt yesterday morning I had a choice: were we talking wellies here or sturdy walking boots? The sun was shining and the site was still fairly fresh – how bad could it get I thought, as I opted for the boots. Bad move. A monsoon-like downpour at lunchtime (making my session with the young people in The Shed almost inaudible) turned the lovely Cheltenham Racecourse into a swamp. My next bad move was trying to get over to the Big Top for Goan Fish Curry (surely the highlight of Greenbelt each year?). As I sank shin-deep into the mud; felt my back soak through with rain and my boots fill up, I thought longingly of the wellies sitting smugly in my car…

But who cares? What’s a festival for after all? Sod the rain and the mud I say – Greenbelt was fantastic. Where else would you get Frank Skinner, Tom Wright, Peter Tatchell, Tony Campolo and Nitin Sawhney all in one place?

For me, one of the most overwhelming (and exhausting) things was constantly bumping into people I knew: from former to current work colleagues, from allotment friends to pig cooperative members, from my eldest daughter’s godmother to my doctoral Second Supervisor, from church friends to those I hadn’t seen for years and friends I’ve only met on FaceBook and Twitter… the list goes on. And overwhelming is the right word. At one point (I kid you not), I sat in a cubicle in the ladies’ toilets and thought, ‘good grief, at least here I won’t meet anyone I know’! It was simply wonderful seeing so many lovely people, all in the one place.

My session seemed really popular too – in fact it was crammed, with people sitting on the floor around me and even on the windowsills at the back. It’s interesting to me to see this because I’ve tweaked the brief that I speak on when events ask me to provide my own title. Up till recently I’ve made the seminars quite specifically environmental and, to be honest, they’re never very popular! But now, largely thanks to what my thoughts have been focusing on doing my doctoral thesis, I’ve changed the emphasis to focus more on how we live well as Christians in consumer society. Of course, much of the material is the same, but this different angle seems to be scratching where people are itching, at least if numbers at Greenbelt and New Horizons is anything to go by. Clearly there is a real need to think through and help people work out how we follow Jesus well in our contemporary society.

On a different note, the other thing that struck me was that person after person in the session I did with the young people said that they’d been put off the subject of climate change by their school, because it’s focused on so much (particularly in Geography) and is generally talked about by ‘boring people’ (ie teachers!). This really isn’t my area of expertise, but my heart grew gradually heavier as I encountered a bunch of young people, from year 9 upwards, who knew all the details about climate change but had been utterly turned off doing anything about it because of how it had been presented to them at school. Clearly there’s a challenge here.

So, I arrived back home late last night, wet but happy to have encountered the magic of Greenbelt once again. Today I hear they’re getting out the sunscreen. Me, envious?

(photo courtesy of Elaine Duigenan)

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  • Reply contemplativeactivist August 26, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    Good on you Ruth. Friar I may be yet getting soaked in muddy swamps to listen to talks is now beyond my ability. I think sitting here in my Friary here reciting the offices of the day and greeting neighbours and visiting my 86 year old mum to check she is doing OK just about does it for me. However, it stirred some sweet yet very distant memories from my youth.

    As for climate change, whilst I’m encouraged school is no less boring than when I went, it is that age old reality that one generation’s concerns are quickly rejected by the next. I remember my mum many years ago purchasing and introducing me to Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’, yet as this was a ‘mum generation’ thing I ignored it. And so it skips a generation and you pick up the baton. Life is strangely quixotic on these issues. Glad we can, as Voltaire consistently reminds us, each attend to our own garden. The answer is for me in the micro and not in the macro – a reversal of where I was in those long lost Greenbelt days of my youth; when indeed it was a music festival primarily.

    • Reply ruthvalerio August 27, 2012 at 6:50 pm

      Micha, the memories can’t be all that distant – I remember bumping into you and Jane at Greenbelt a couple of years ago didn’t I?

  • Reply Nick Sharp (@nlsharp) August 27, 2012 at 7:41 am

    Following up the boring Geography teachers line … my son has been so inspired by his school’s geography department that he wants to do the subject at uni. He’s searching for a sentence or two to put in his personal statement to sum it all up. Any thing good he could read?

    • Reply ruthvalerio August 27, 2012 at 6:50 pm

      Well that’s good to hear, Nick. What does the ‘sentence or two’ need to be on? What sort of thing is he needing to read?

      • Reply Nick Sharp (@nlsharp) August 31, 2012 at 8:33 pm

        He’s got a passion for the environment, he wants to spend his life making a difference. He understands the hockey stick and climate change, but where can he start in making his contribution?

      • Reply ruthvalerio September 1, 2012 at 6:49 pm

        Wouch, I have no idea! Has he read my ‘L is for Lifestyle’? And MIchael Northcott’s writings are also really good, I very much recommend him.

  • Reply Dave Evans August 28, 2012 at 7:59 am

    Ruth – being involved in the primary sector we are probably not the target of the comment about schools. However in their defence:

    1. School will never be cool – it is compulsory at an age when authority is, and should be, questioned.
    2. Secondary schools are so constrained by exams that sometimes leads to short cuts – how do I get this information across as quickly as possible.
    3. Schools are not meant to be persuasive or ideological. This is good in many ways but it means that ideas that need some sort of passion belief are not easily dealt with.
    4. Making lesson after lesson, day after day fascinating, interesting is very challenging. Arguably more so than doing the occasional one off.

    Ok – so I have done my defence of secondary schools on this. There are perhaps some things that schools can do to address the comments raised by those you spoke to. Will post late today.


  • Reply Dave Evans August 28, 2012 at 8:09 am

    Ruth – just re-read above and I am not suggesting in any way that you were having a dig at secondary schools or that you haven’t thought of all the above. It is just that when you work in the environment yourself the size of the challenges become so much more telling.

  • Reply Dave Evans August 28, 2012 at 11:56 am

    Ruth – I hope you don’t mind me writing a long reply but I think that this is a really interesting question and would like to explore it a little. So… just to comment on some of the ways in which schools could do more to equip students to face challenges in the future – like climate change.

    Giving students the chance to find out for themselves often engages them better than more didactic methods. However, many scientists are not keen on schools teaching the controversy as if all positions are equally valid, equally robust – a notion that is clearly rubbish. The wariness of the science advisors nationally is understandable – a similar debate surrounds creationism. Maybe the subject could be taught much more on the level of looking at which areas is there high agreement and where is there still genuine dispute – this may well engage especially the more able pupils. My guess is the very best teachers already do this sort of thing.

    Things I’d like secondary schools to know more about secondary teaching of the subject:
    1. I think it is often taught in Geography which is often taught by humanity teachers – where the methodology is subtly but significantly different to the physical sciences. There is less debate or emphasis on opinion when it comes down to the physical properties of CO2 molecule than in the area of say sociology. I wonder if its position in the curriculum might sometimes be misleading.

    2. Should more emphasis be put on science philosophy and methodology. The number of people of my age who think that the hockey stick was ‘broken’ because it had some ‘mistakes in it. As if some weaknesses suggest stupidity or dishonesty. The assumption seems to be that any subjective – or perhaps I should say interpretive element – somehow corrupts a pure science process. Yes pupils should know how to control variables but the whole idea that science isn’t science unless in can be repeated in a lab shows how badly many of my generation were let down by their science education. Again this should be in the curriculum, as far as I know, but exams may well sideline it.

    Perhaps I am just suggesting things that I would find fascinating and 14 year olds would hate, but I’d love to see other peoples’ thoughts on this issue.

    What do think Ruth?

    • Reply ruthvalerio August 30, 2012 at 7:28 pm

      Thanks for this, Dave, it’s really interesting. I’ve been hoping some of my teacher friends might respond, as they know more about this than I do!

  • Reply simoncross August 29, 2012 at 11:22 am

    A big issue for young people, and indeed all of us is scale, when you consider the issues of climate change it’s overwhelming. Small personal changes seem too little to make any kind of difference, knowing the ‘facts’ tends to just make it worse. Making lessons engaging only really serves to better get the facts across, teachers aren’t there to inspire children to combat climate change, it’s not in the curriculum.

  • Reply Claire Stranack August 31, 2012 at 11:27 pm

    This was my first Green belt and I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I was one of those sitting on the floor at the back of your session on “The Simple Life”. I found it very encouraging.
    You had a couple of your short study courses but I was straight off to another session. How can I purchase a copy to look at with a view to using either or both with my house group?
    I thoroughly enjoyed the weekend and hope to return next year – I never made it to the Big Top or The Jesus Arms because of the mud!

    • Reply ruthvalerio September 1, 2012 at 6:47 pm

      Hi Claire, thanks for your kind words. If you click on the ‘publications’ link in the menu at the top of this blog you’ll find details of all the different things I’ve written, and links to take you through to where you can get hold of them. Hopefully that’ll give you everything you need. If not do let me know. And I’d love to know if you use anything in your house group and how you get on with it! ATB.

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