Hey, Listen Up!

Digital technologies can link us across the globe, but for kids in South Central Los Angeles, the trip across the digital divide led to something deeper--an appreciation of their own place in the universe and the possibilities for their own neighborhood

If the world is becoming a technology–inspired global village, what it will look like in the future will depend, in large part, on who has access to that technology. Many in the African–American and Hispanic communities are concerned about whether the increased focus on technological expertise and computer literacy will further widen social and economic divides.

Hey, Listen Up! is an eco-literacy project piloted in South Central Los Angeles that showed how technology and environmental content could be taught in a culturally relevant and socially conscious context.

The curriculum for Hey, Listen Up! gave students the opportunity to explore who they are in the unfolding evolutionary context of family, community, bioregion, planet, solar system, and ultimately universe. The students contributed to the creation of a CD-ROM that included an interactive timeline tracing the history of the universe from the “Big Bang” to the current era. The same CD-ROM included interactive timelines of each of the students' individual lives. By viewing themselves in the context of the whole, the dialog and discussion shifted from a micro to a macro context, from the block to the planet.

When students viewed NASA photos of the Earth taken from outer space or from the moon, they were able to see that there were no artificially imposed boundaries separating nations and communities. In the context of the “big picture,” there were no visible ghettos or barrios. In fact, identity based solely on narrow definitions and geographic boundaries was discussed in an expanded context: “Where is Earth located in relation to our other neighbors in the solar system?” In other words, who are we, not just in the context of neighborhood, but who are we in the larger context of “solarhood”?

In a workshop segment entitled “Re-Envisioning Place,” students used professional graphic-design software to re-envision some of the brown fields and abandoned lots in their neighborhoods. Their computer-generated mock-ups replaced garbage, abandoned cars, and weeds with flowers, trees, birds, ponds, and park benches.

Using these re-envisioned computer images, they inspired Community Build, the local sponsoring organization, to help them turn their computer-generated vision into reality. They transformed an abandoned lot with weeds and garbage into a green space with grass, flowers, shrubbery, and a patio area. All of the students were involved in planning and implementing the transformation, and in the process, they learned invaluable planning, budgeting, and teamwork skills.

As a way of further sharing their learning experience with the larger community and demonstrating how technology could be used as a tool for empowerment, they developed two interactive computer games dealing with the environment and health. The games have been used as educational and organizing tools at school and community meetings.

African-American students who participated in the first phase of the pilot successfully mentored a second group consisting of Hispanic and African-American students. In addition, each student wrote and produced a one-minute videotaped public service announcement (PSA) aimed at their peers, dealing with a critical environmental issue that had impressed them during the course of the project. The PSAs covered recycling, the need to halt marine-life destruction, the health risks associated with toxic waste facilities in low-income communities, and other topics that sparked the students' interest.

One of the exciting results of the project is that these students have become active participants in an emerging global dialog about a re-envisioned planetary future. After learning how to look at an abandoned lot and see a flower garden, they are now able to see themselves as co-creators of the future. The most significant lesson that they learned, however, was that their vision matters. Their voices matter. They matter!

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