By: Dain Kim
“NO MORE COAL, NO MORE OIL, KEEP YOUR CARBON IN THE SOIL!” shouted a 15-year-old-looking boy, the rest of the crowd including myself repeated what he said. The people driving by were honking at us on Colorado Blvd to show their support – both eastward and westward; pedestrians were moving away to let us through.
It was early Friday morning when around a hundred kids along with me came out and gathered to protest against the greedy, insensitive, and corporate-driven adults’ world – fighting for our rights to live in a sustainable world. My whole Environmental Science 1 class, including the professor, brought posters made out of used cardboard from boxes, tree-shaped posters, and scratch papers. “Mother Nature Knows Best, #climatestrike”, “Science-Based Policy Please”, “Don’t Be a Fossil Fool”, etc.
As I passed Garfield Ave, Colorado Blvd, and Marengo Ave I watched youths shouting their slogans against the adults. What do they know about the environment, though? I pondered this when I was in high school in Korea and said to myself that Korean kids would never come out on the street like these kids. Then a chill ran up my arm. What drives them? All of a sudden, I became ashamed thinking about how I hadn't done anything all these years as an adult and that I had only done things to make it worse for the environment. Even though I had started learning about the environment more and was actively involved in the preservation of Earth within my community, I wasn’t always like this. In fact, it wasn’t until earlier this year that I was forced to think critically about the environment. I used to be the “queen of convenience”, I regularly used plastic bottles and straws at home, drove for thirty seconds instead of five minutes of walking, and put on AC all day during the summer to keep my house cool. What was in the center of my head? What changed me so dramatically?
I remember the first time I was introduced to the topic of environmental crisis seriously. It was the first day of the 8-week environment-themed honors English course. I saw one familiar face – Aurora from the Writing Center – in our small classroom in the C building where all the tablet arm desks were placed next to one another. God, I hated these tiny chairs. When the instructor, Dr. Krista Walter showed up to class, she had this charisma that overwhelmed the class. She stood 5’10’’ tall, wearing white full rim glasses and layered clothes with a long skirt and a pair of leggings. She wore rubber sandals and didn’t look nerdy like a typical English professor would look at all. If anything, she looked like she worked in the fashion industry. How bad could it get? It was the last course of my English sequence; even though I had no knowledge of the environmental crises whatsoever and this was a condensed 8-week course, the instructor seemed cool, and people looked fine, so I told myself, there’s nothing to worry about.
How naive I was. How am I supposed to think critically about something when all I can think of is what I already know about it? My life basically revolved around this mere three-unit class. I thought of writing as soon as I woke up, when I brushed my teeth, showered, ate, on my way to school, even when I was writing after I finally got to the library -- I would still think of writing, this pressure that I needed to write more and more. I remember waking up in the middle of the night one time, trying to go back to sleep but I couldn’t simply because I failed miserably to hold back my tears. In order to learn how to “think critically” about the environmental crisis, I went to see my professor during her office hours located in the C building.
“Come on in.”
“Hi, how can I help.”
Her office was full of unique stuff; there were posters and tapestries on the wall; the orange color lighting from a mini lamp made me feel as if I were at a retro café or a psychic reading place. Then I started the conversation by asking how my writing looked. She said, “This looks good, but you need to write about what’s in your heart. You’re not asked to write a research paper.”
I responded, “What’s in my heart?! I ain’t got nothing in my heart for the environment. What do you want me to write when I have no thoughts on the environment?” Then I added, “I can’t just make up something I don’t believe, you know!” She didn’t look very comfortable. I don’t intend to be rude to people but, sometimes I just can’t keep the anger to myself. This anger was derived from frustration. Frustration from a failure to grasp the essay prompt. Calmly she explained, that is the key to critical thinking -- challenging your normal perspective and trying to apply a different lens to what you would think normal otherwise.
After weeks of forced critical thinking, I began to view the world as and act like an environmentalist. I adopted an eco-centric perspective which led me to think that humans do not own this planet. Furthermore, due to this change of mindset, I now know that I can be wrong at any time, so I try to always maintain a critical lens towards myself and the world. With this newly acquired mindset I constantly practiced proving my points through writing and so my communication skills have dramatically improved as well.
Becoming a critical thinker doesn’t simply mean that I became a better writer in the English language. I became a literate person with the critical lens that I had obtained through writing comprehension. I now know critical thinking is my responsibility to the world which not only applies to preservation of the environment but to every part of my life. Writing about the environment through a critical lens gave me a painful time because I was not used to it. However, through that process I gained both environmental awareness and great writing comprehension skills.
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