It’s the first Friday of the school year, and I’m perched on my desk, screaming at the top of my lungs. My students’ jaws drop; has Mr. Rigonan lost it already?
“I AM THE LORAX AND I SPEAK FOR THE TREES,” I yell in my best Mario Salvio-exhorting-Berkeley-students voice. The teacher next door knocks to make sure everything is OK (“I thought you were in trouble already,” she told me after school). I hear giggles, and 37 sets of eyes are glued to my next move.
“Remember to take observations on this mythical creature,” I whisper, switching from Lorax mode back to Mr. Rigonan. After 15 minutes of this one-man Seussian show, my students recite the Lorax’s final words in a rousing chorus: “UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
Though reading a seemingly juvenile book to sixth graders who want so badly to grow up didn’t make sense to many of my friends and colleagues, I wanted to share my favorite piece of literature with my life science students. The Lorax introduces essential scientific concepts like note-taking, observation, systematic thinking, and the scientific method. More than that, I saw Dr. Seuss’s book as a foundation for the distinct culture I want to see in my classroom.
Photo by David Bjorgen via WikiCommons
The Land of the Lorax and its ever-so-interdependent critters illustrate symbiotic relationships. My students observed how the Bar-ba-loots live in harmony with the Lorax, the Swomee Swans, the Humming Fish, and the Truffula Trees. I steered my kids to discuss the dynamics of a system, including the idea that if a part of a system is missing, the system cannot function in the same way. I wanted them to realize that such relationships don’t just happen in fictional worlds. Maybe, I suggested, our classroom is a Land of the Lorax-like system: In order for us to be the best class possible, everyone must play a part.
In addition to this metaphorical advice, the little brown furry creature allowed me to introduce my students to the idea of activism. In many ways, the Lorax is an emblematic representation of an activist at work. The Lorax’s ability to speak for those without voices highlighted a central tenet of my classroom: to encourage my students to speak out about the problems they face in their community, at home, and ultimately, as citizens in our nation and world.
The key word comes directly from Dr. Seuss’s book: Unless. Unless my students care, it will be difficult for them to grow academically and personally. Unless they think critically about their community and make challenging issues known, nothing will get better. My classroom is a hub of critical thinking; I present my students with immensely arduous global problems that might seem impossible address. Despite this, I envision my students becoming global citizens who deconstruct issues, act locally, and take action in their communities. I hope that by the end of the year, each of my students will be a Lorax, seeking out and speaking for the Truffula Trees in their lives.