Teach the Earth > Affective Domain > Workshop 07 > Participants and their Essays > Tait Chirenje

Tait Chirenje

Department of Environmental Studies, Richard Stockton College of New Jersey

Tait Chirenje

What are the key issues related to the role of the affective domain in teaching geoscience that you would like to engage at the workshop?

I teach acourse called "Environmental Issues" and we deal with issues such as 1. Population growth 2. Biodiversity 3. Climate change 4. Ozone 5. Urbanization 6. Environmental Quality and Sustainability, and 7. International Environmental Treaties

What expertise or experience (in study of the affective domain or teaching of geoscience) will you bring to the workshop? How would you like to contribute to the workshop?

I have a lot of experience after having taught thsi class at least twice, although it may be in the form of what not to do!

Essay: Issue Brief on the Environment

In my Environmental Issues class (sophomore level) I have a section where I try to cultivate student political involvement by assigning an Issue Brief on an environmental issue that concerns (or gets to) them and submit it to the school paper and/or a local paper for publication. This activity entails students researching an environmental issue and writing a two page brief in which they discuss the origin of the problem, its impacts, and propose solutions. This exercise prepares them to present their thoughts and arguments in a concise manner and to convey information in different forms of media to different people, including politicians at the local, state and federal levels. They are supposed to work on up to three briefs a semester although only one will be selected for submission.

The second part entails presentations of their favorite brief and defending their opinions in class. This is the part where the affective domain dominates. Oftentimes our debate boils down to whether we have more power if we work on an individual level (individualization) or we try to group together with "like" minded people to bring about far reaching changes on a broader scale. The class is then polled on an issue (e.g. pay as you throw system for garbage collection as a means to reduce waste generation) and students are assigned groups with people who do not share the same viewpoints and asked to reach a consensus. The class has a cap of 20 students, so we usually end up with four groups of five. The resulting chaos is what led me to sit in a Moral Theories class because I just could not navigate the complex landscape that we weave by creating these teams.

The topic I have consistently had success with is "Should families with more than two children pay more local taxes since two thirds of our taxes go towards schools?". I often get one group member who ends up writing a dissenting paper even after the group has reached "consensus" (they are allowed to do this). This brings out other questions on what we should do with individuals who may have very valid concerns about something in the society but who are, unfortunately, always outvoted.

I like this exercise because students are able to see why seemingly simple problems take a very long time to solve in municipal governments and also why we have provisions to protect the interests of minority groups, racial, ethnic or otherwise. It also makes it easier for me to extrapolate concepts on special provisions needed for consensus building in state and federal bills (e.g. earmarks) and international treaties or laws (e.g. different targets for developed and developing nations in the Montreal Protocol).