March 31, 2051
The laughter of my twin grandchildren echoes as I watch the rolling hills of Albert County from a comfortable chair. It is a crisp, beautiful late summer’s day, and this time next year the twins will be about to start kindergarten. They will enter the community-based education system that my colleagues and I envisioned long ago.
I am proud of the battles we fought and the impacts of the work we did.
You may be too young to remember, but when I grew up, New Brunswick was stuck in thinking about a resource-based economy. Our leaders could never imagine a New Brunswick different from what it always had been. The model was simple: extract resources, sell for profit, and repeat.
The problem? None of it was sustainable.
Even back then, it was clear the economic system had taken a toll. Hiking and walking, even as a child, I could see the hurt in the trees and forests, rivers and lakes, and plants and animals. I felt the toll on our communities. Our province had no money. Our health care system was strapped. We were mired in the debate of jobs versus the environment, which could never go anywhere.
Now, we have vibrant, innovative rural and urban communities. Our economy works in harmony with nature, not against it. Private and public investments support our young entrepreneurs. Social enterprises, co-operatives, and corporations are economic drivers.
When I think about what we have now, compared with what we had then, I see the change began because of changes to our education system. We knew at the time that we were planting seeds for the future. Now, we can see the fruits of that labour.
When we launched the Sustainability Education Alliance in 2006, we worked with many organizations and agencies to develop a new vision for education in the province. We designed an education system focused holistically on funding solutions to real-world problems. We fought for a focus not on teaching facts, but skills: critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration. We wanted to foster community engagement in teaching and learning so that each student could reach their potential.
It was no easy road to get where we are now.
I remember meeting an official from the Department of Education in May 2008 to discuss our vision for education. He was deaf to our ideas and lumped us in with other interest groups. “We can’t just change the curriculum for every Tom, Dick, and Harry from the Broccoli and Cauliflower Society that comes our way.” We had an uphill battle ahead of us.
But, we worked hard, and things started to change, slowly. Now the Sustainability Education Alliance takes a whole floor in the Green Shift NB building in downtown Moncton, alongside other organizations and agencies working to push green ideas forward.
One breakthrough came in 2014. The Conservation Council, Nature NB, Parks NB, the Groupe de développement durable du Pays de Cocagne, the Aster Group, and the NB Environmental Network imagined, planned, and launched a train-the-trainer service for environmental and outdoor education.
A few years later, the project became the Great Minds Think Outside program. The program secured funds for a few years, and it took off as teachers, principals, and parents began to see the value of outdoor learning. Students had improved mental and physical health; they worked better together; they could solve more complex problems; they had fewer behavioral issues in the classroom; they found a deeper connection with nature. The program found endowment funds from committed donors and has become a part of programming in every school, province wide.
Another breakthrough happened a few years later when the Minister of Education released his Green Paper on New Brunswick’s education system. Oh, my, how that paper caused quite a stir with some controversial outside-the-box thinking. Most importantly, it opened the door for new ideas to be brought forward and considered by the Department. People took up the opportunity.
Response to the Green Paper on the education system went way beyond the ideas it presented. People began to talk about how sustainability could be fostered in the school system—through community-based learning, outdoor learning, incorporating Indigenous knowledge, and teaching students to think critically about problems and solutions.
Eventually, things changed. Suddenly—or so it seemed—education became what we had envisioned so long ago.
My grandchildren, the twins, will enter a system where students graduate from a world-class education system, where students leave their mark on the province and the world. Bright and innovative, students put nature and their communities first. They create an inclusive New Brunswick, which meets everyone’s needs, which generates wealth, and which has the highest Gross Happiness Index in all of Canada. What a green shift in education in New Brunswick. What an accomplishment.
With all my love,
Raissa Marks is a proud New Brunswicker, born and raised in the hills of Albert County. She is currently the Executive Director of the New Brunswick Environmental Network. She lives in Riverview with her family. The Sustainability Education Alliance, coordinated by the New Brunswick Environmental Network, provides a platform for all interested organizations and agencies to work together towards a culture of sustainability education in the province. Great Minds Think Outside, also coordinated by the New Brunswick Environmental Network, is a bilingual hands-on, curriculum-linked, outdoor professional development program that gives educators the skills and resources they need to teach their students outside, whatever the subject matter. It does not currently have an endowment fund—but wouldn’t that be something. The Broccoli & Cauliflower Society is a fictional organization referred to in real life by a government official for the purpose of belittling stakeholders who came to discuss a bold and innovative new vision with him.
In the optimistic spirit of the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Message from the Future, this letter is a speculative and fictional look back from the future to imagine what New Brunswick could be like if we could meet our climate change obligations. It is fiction, but it need not stay fiction. Each letter offers a vision of what New Brunswick could be like in the future if the province is able to fight climate change and to achieve the IPCC climate goals.
Read the other Letters from New Brunswick’s Future here.
This series is sponsored by RAVEN, and edited by Daniel Tubb and Abram Lutes. Daniel is an environmental anthropologist at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton and a co-investigator with RAVEN. Abram Lutes is an environmental action reporter with the RAVEN project Summer Institute and a member of the NB Media Co-op Board of Directors. If you would like to contribute your own letter, read the Call for Letters from New Brunswick’s Future and send a short outline of your idea to Daniel Tubb at email@example.com and Abram Lutes at firstname.lastname@example.org.