Citizen Scientist … So That’s What I Am

shoeI don’t know why, but I never liked math and science.

Reading and writing was my thing. I loved history and social studies. I just wasn’t into memorizing theories, planet gases and earth elements.

So why did it take 40 years to do an about face? I finally found a relevant way to learn it.

baderhouseI first heard the term citizen scientist when I started writing grants. Community people like to solve problems, so it’s perfectly fine to learn as you go.

Lots of people dislike it when you ask questions or investigate why problems keep happening again and again. The beauty is, there is always a message in all this.

Always continue asking questions until you have enough research to prove your point. I tell my students all the time they must learn to do this gently because I personally have learned this can be difficult at times, but you will get better at it. I promise!

This works at any age, really. If you don’t like someone’s approach to problem-solving, or the way they respond to your questions, you need to keep pressing on, and surround yourselves with people who nurture your inquiry. Put up with the people you have to deal with, but build your authentic relationships around the friend, mentor or teacher who treats you well.

litterOn the job and in my business, I get that. These days, I tend to defy authority when the situation seems right. But as a kid, my aptitude for learning “the real message” didn’t translate well in the classroom or on paper. Sometimes I was labeled the kid who needed a little extra help, or the kid who was scolded by Catholic nuns and teachers because I asked a lot of questions or didn’t move fast enough.

We see this issue everywhere we turn. Kids are anxious about taking tests. They are petrified of failing. We have heard it a million times that, “only the strong will survive,” or “Oh my gosh, how could you miss that??”

When you treat them like that, they are afraid to ask questions.

It’s OK to live your own life and not follow the pack. It’s OK to have a weakness. When people have an agenda, or they want to teach you to believe something that isn’t quite right, I think it’s perfectly fine to say “not worth it” and walk away.

This is what led me down the path of solving ecological problems, examining the War on Poverty, and creating projects that help communities. Follow it, dream it, do it. That’s all.

capceiling2xI recently returned from Austin, where I attended a youth gardening symposium sponsored by the American Horticultural Society. I met some amazing educators who taught me the importance of lifting kids up, and getting them outside to learn and inquire. I learned I can add a healthy dose of math and science to some mighty empowering lessons when I am open to it. And it was fun to share my own story when I presented my Lake Erie Shoreline Project during the conference.

I was accompanied by a seventh-grader from Cleveland who had attended a few of my integrative learning sessions. He had never heard about the value of composting zebra mussels before. He had never spoken to a group of educators either, so traveling to Austin with the support of Near West Intergenerational School was quite the honor.

mayplants14Oh, how I wish I had these kinds of opportunities forty-some years ago! I would have wanted to have a teacher who said, “You wanna go to Austin and present with me?”

The truth is, I learn just as much from Michael as Michael learns from me. And for that, it makes my life richer.

After the presentation, Michael wanted to know if I would be coming back to school in the fall. I told him I planned to visit a few times, but I would be making a move in less than a month. Sure, I will be leaving Cleveland, but he will always be a part of this very special community project! And if he wants to stay in touch, I will always be there for him.

This spring, I celebrated an important ten-year anniversary. In 2005, I left Clearwater, Florida and moved to northeast Ohio, so I could be closer to friends and family. Now I am leaving again in 2015.

I am sure that with this move, some will find my plan a little more unconventional, but a little more transformative, too. At this point, I don’t really care if people want to wonder, “Why??” or “What For??” My response will be, Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it.

bumperI found that quote from a theologian and thought it was appropriate for me, during another time of transition. So in leaving my city this time, I hope to return an even better educator, researcher and leader. I don’t believe I will ever stop asking questions. And I will certainly want to hear the responses from politicians, city workers and community leaders who keep jumping aboard that same, dizzying train.

I suppose the time is now, for everyone to listen, reflect and learn. The question is, “Will we want to?”