In Praise of Teachers…or, El’s Big Idea

Have I told the story of how it was we came to take a plastic free semester? Today seems like a fitting day to tell it, as it has a lot to do with a particular class of high school seniors I just had the pleasure of watching graduate.

They were my husband’s students. Last year he taught them American history, this year government/economics. At the end of each year the seniors do some kind of personal action project related to the issues they’ve been studying. It was with that in mind that E. announced last fall that he wouldn’t be buying any plastic for the entire spring semester.

I was a bit baffled at first. “But what are we going to eat?!” I shouted, waving my hands at the cupboards and fridge filled with…plastic packaging. “It’s not like quitting plastic will solve global warming or clean out the ocean!”

“No,” he answered calmly, as if what he had suggested was we eat more fiber. “But at least we won’t be contributing so wholeheartedly to them. Besides, you know as well as I do it’s the right thing to do.”


As you know, I came around. Quickly. I was intrigued by the challenge on a practical level and eager to learn the old-timey skills I’d have to learn if we wanted to, you know, eat. But more than that I wanted to experience what it felt like to live as if my actions actually made a difference. Just the idea of taking the fast changed my life almost immediately. Because for whatever reason, I was locked into my habits, my belief that buying organic and occasionally local was all I could do and therefore all I needed to do. Simple changes, small things like using cloth bulk bags and opting for glass bottles were fast in coming, and before long I felt like a revolution had taken place in my kitchen, my home, my life.

Thank goodness for good teachers, wherever you might encounter them.

I want to honor my husband’s conviction that the best way to teach is by example. For his belief in action as a cornerstone of a participatory democracy, and his dedication to encouraging young people to become creators and repairers rather than users. Somehow, I have a feeling that it is these lessons the kids will recall in ten years as opposed to his no doubt equally brilliant and inspired lectures on Supply and Demand or the Spanish American War.

Hopefully, they will remember these words from E’s commencement address at graduation tonight (as well as the virtues of a hot thermos of tea always at hand):

“…If you should despair about the hopelessness of the world, remember: the smallest steps you take may not solve the problem, but they will solve your hopelessness.”

I like that.

Congratulations Class of 2010. May your journey be one of discovery and constant revolutions of thought and action.

7 Replies to “In Praise of Teachers…or, El’s Big Idea”

  1. That is so awesome that your husband is an educator who really makes a difference. Not just teaches the students facts to pass their tests.
    I enjoyed reading the background to your plastic free semester.

  2. what a quote, holy shite-skee! it hit me like a sacka bricks. i’m immediately adopting it as my personal moto, if you don’t mind. i mean, really wow. a lot of times you find words well put together, or catchy ways to express stuff, but that in both word and concept really illuminates things for me. thank you to you and your wonderfully devoted teacher man.

  3. congratulations to your husband’s students and a huge pat on the back to him. i am so impressed. forgive me for generalizing, but I think many of the women who blog don’t have the 100% support of their husbands in all the convictions they strive to meet and live by. he rocks that he had to turn you onto the idea!

  4. Thanks for sharing – a great reminder that often our first reaction is “no!” and then eventually we come to a yes. And great quote!

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