I have always been deeply disturbed by the fact that educational institutions across the nation “celebrate” President’s Day each February. I’ve never really understood what there was to celebrate. Are we really setting aside an entire day to pay homage to men who helped found this country on hypocrisy? Who, with one hand, held a document that proclaimed “all men are created equal,” while searching for Bible passages with the other hand to “justify” chattel slavery, erasing Black men (and women) of their right to even be human? Are we celebrating the men who “increased their wealth” by breading their female slaves in acts of sexual violation, willing to dehumanize even their own offspring? Are we celebrating men who founded and led a nation on principles that were unfair, unjust, and inhuman, resulting in a society that from its very start was not socially, environmentally, or economically sustainable?
Today, I choose not to focus on or celebrate our early presidents, but rather to think of men like Jarvious Cotton. In The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander writes of Cotton:
Jarvious Cotton cannot vote. Like his father, grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather, he has been denied the right to participate in our electoral democracy. Cotton’s family tree tells the story of several generations of black men who were born in the United States but who were denied the most basic freedom that democracy promises–the freedom to vote for those who will make the rules and laws that govern one’s life. Cotton’s great-great-grandfather could not vote as a slave. His great-grandfather was beaten to death by the Ku Klux Klan for attempting to vote. His grandfather was prevented from voting by Klan intimidation. His father was barred from voting by poll taxes and literacy tests. Today, Jarvious Cotton cannot vote because he, like many black men in the United States, has been labeled a felon and is currently on parole. (1)
Cotton is part of a long pattern of men who were and continue to be fundamentally disenfranchised, in part by the very men that we’re supposed to be celebrating today. As Alexander so eloquently states:
Cotton’s story illustrates, in many respects, the old adage “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” In each generation, new tactics have been used for achieving the same goals–goals shared by the Founding Fathers. Denying African Americans citizenship was deemed essential to the formation of the original union. Hundreds of years later, America is still not an egalitarian democracy. (1)
So what does all of this have to do with OER, you might be wondering?
Well, for me, as I design a new OER Writing course that is focused on sustainability, it has everything to do with the OER I’m currently gathering to share with my students. For me, sustainability isn’t just about the environment, recycling, and “going green,” but is rather a much broader issue that asks us to consider a wide variety of issues related to the environment as well as to social and economic justice for all. To create a truly sustainable society, we must create approaches to social, economic, and environmental systems and issues that will allow us to provide not only for this generation, but will also ensure that future generations can not just survive, but thrive on the planet they inherit and the social, economic, and environmental systems at work on that planet.
So, I’ve celebrated today by searching for OER that will help me teach this course, and take one tiny step in working with my students to “re-found” our nation and our world on more just and sustainable ideas. And in my celebratory research, I’ve discovered many wonderful, rich resources. I’d like to share a few of my favorites with you.
As many of you may already know, I have a slight addiction to TED.com because of the wealth of knowledge, perspectives, and ideas that can be found on this website. I’m especially fond of TED Talks for a long list of reasons, and would like to share with you some of my favorite TED Talk-finds related to sustainability of the environment, language, and architecture.
UpWorthy is another website that often offers creative, innovative ideas to create a more sustainable future. Today I found a piece on this site about a project called Urban Air, which seeks to re-create billboards in inner cities as bamboo gardens.
I also discovered a few new website resources that I think are exciting and useful in helping to create a sustainable planet. These included:
YES! Magazine, whose mission is to empower, ”people with the vision and tools to create a healthy planet and vibrant communities.”
Sustainable Man, a resource that “represents a new story about ourselves and the world. Using digital media storytelling, we produce a variety of multimedia content (videos, memes, blog) with the intent of offering a different story of the world.”
The Empathy Library, which describes itself as “a digital treasure house to share inspiring books and films to spark a global empathy revolution.”
Bioneers, which is “an innovative nonprofit educational organization that highlights breakthrough solutions for restoring people and planet.”
As I continue to build a list of resources for my students in WR122, I am continually re-imagining the depth and breadth of this new course. I’m also gaining a deeper grasp of the the ways in which students in this course might become active agents of change in a re-founding our current economic, social, and environmental policies, all thanks to the help of OER, which are playing their own important role in helping to ensure the sustainability of both knowledge and education in the 21st century and beyond.