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Carla Marshall

INTERVIEWEE: Carla Marshall (CM)
INTERVIEWERS: David Todd (DT) and David Weisman (DW)
DATE: February 22, 2008
LOCATION: Austin, Texas
TRANSCRIBERS: Jennifer Gumpertz and Robin Johnson
REELS: 2398 and 2399

Please note that the recording includes roughly 60 seconds of color bars and sound tone for technical settings at the outset of the recordings. Boldfaced numbers mark the time codes for the VHS tape copy of the interview. “Misc.” refers to various off-camera conversation or background noise, unrelated to the interview.

DT: My name is David Todd. I’m here for the Conservation History Association of Texas. And it’s February 22nd, 2008. We’re in Austin at The Green Classroom, which is just across the street from Becker Elementary School. And we have the good fortune to be visiting with Carla Marshall, who is an environmental educator who has been teaching here in the—in the Austin area for a number of years. And we’re going to learn something about the many lessons that—that she’s taught, and maybe learn some lessons ourselves. Thank you for taking time.
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CM: I’m happy to be here.
DT: Carla, I was hoping that you might be able give us an idea of where you might have first gotten an inkling of an interest in the outdoors and in conservation. Was there somebody that you could point to, or some experience that might have touched you?
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CM: My grandmother had a garden. My mother was a modern woman after World War II, and she only cooked out of cans. But my grandmother, who I would visit every summer, had a textbook garden. You know, ev—there wasn’t a weed in her garden. It was just beautiful. And I would go out with her and work in the garden. She had chickens. And I still, today, if I smell a tomato vine, I always think of her. So that’s where my real touching the earth, being connected to the earth, began with her.
DT: Now, how old were you when you’d first go to see her?
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CM: Oh, young. Six—six years old. That’s—my first memories of it are around six years old.
DT: And when she would ask you to work in the garden, what would she have you do?
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CM: Just go vis—be with her. She wore the old fashioned bonnet, you know. She was the—the real granny type. And she had peach trees. I’d pi—I loved to pick peaches. I was scared of the chickens, but—but work in the garden, just—I learned about gardening, and I learned how it works, because I had no connection with food other than a can at my own house.
DT: Well, and—what would your grandmother have in her garden? You said the peach trees, the chickens.
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CM: She had these giant pole bean tepees out of sticks that beans grew up, and which were wonderful for children to get inside of and be under. That’s a real strong memory. And they were—it was so neat. It was just a perfect garden. It’s like someone drew it. It was so—so perfect.
DT: Well, was it mostly produce, or were—were there also flowers of different kinds, or…
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CM: Mostly produce. One big—I don’t remember that many—I remember picking flowers as children do without taking the stem. Coming in the house with a handful of flowers that had no stems on them, because children don’t know you need the stem, they just pick the flower off. So she taught me to pick the stem off, too.
DT: And—and where was this garden?
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CM: This was in Oklahoma.
DT: Oklahoma.
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CM: Right.
DT: And I guess you’d plant a—a spring garden and a fall garden?
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CM: Hm-mmm.
DT: She had…
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CM: Oh, yeah. Both
DT: …things for [talking over each other].
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CM: But I was only there in the summertime, so I got the full—you know, the peaches were ripe, and tomatoes were ripe, and…
DT: Would she talk to you, or would she mostly just show you?
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CM: She—we would talk. And she—we sh—we shared a love of okra. That was our big bond. And so we both loved okra, so—she was a wonderful woman. I really—got close to her.
DT: So you were—let’s see—living at that time where?
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CM: In San Antonio.
DT: San Antonio.
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CM: With my family.
DT: And then you—as you grew up you went away to school for college?
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CM: Hm-mmm.
DT: To Goddard?
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CM: Hm-mmm.
DT: And in the course of—of grade school and college, were there any teachers that you might have had who would have passed along [talking over each other]?
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CM: Yes. My advisor at Goddard was real influ—very influential. She—she understood my passion and really helped me find ways to explore what I might do with it.
DT: What was your passion at that time?
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CM: I—I knew I wanted to work with children, but I did not want to work in a regular classroom. And I couldn’t figure out how to do it. I couldn’t—I kept looking in the newspaper for this j—for this job. And it never would appear. And finally I figured out I was going to have to do it mys—I was going to have to create the job myself. So…
DT: You were telling me about the teacher you had at Goddard who realized you had a passion for something that might not exist yet. How did she encourage you to search for that thing that may not actually be discoverable, it’s something you’d have to invent?
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CM: Well, she loosened up all my ideas about education. That, you know, I knew—I knew I wanted to do something different than a traditional classroom, but I didn’t know what it was. And finally the marriage of the garden and the—and teaching came together in my mind. And the—the title The Green Classroom came to my mind long before this ever existed. I knew that would be the name of it, but I didn’t know quite what it would be. But…
DT: Well—we talked a little bit off-camera about the—the institutional classroom, that—that kind of model of teaching that’s pretty common now. What was it that—that you found was unappealing about that, and that you didn’t want to have any part of?
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CM: Well, every morning I got up to go to school I felt like I had to go to jail. I just couldn’t figure out why I had to do that. I ha—I really disliked school. I disliked every part of it. I thought it was just so limiting. There’s so many things I wanted to do, and so many things I wanted to learn, but what school eventually taught me, or I thought it taught me, was that I didn’t like learning. That’s what I thought I learned in school was that I hated learning. And so I wanted—my whole idea was to free children from that. It took me a long time to figure that out, that I loved learning, I just didn’t like being at school in that traditional classroom setting.
DT: Well, was there just too much of the…
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CM: It was too res…
DT: …Guffy Reader rote education?
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CM: Too restrictive. Totally. I—you know, I wanted—I would sit and look out the window. I wanted to be out there, not in that classroom. So this is in a—this is outside the window.
DT: Okay. Well, speaking of—of out there, and outside the—the window, I understand that—that one thing that really educated you was travel. And I was hoping that you could tell us about the seven or so years of travel that took you around the world.
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CM: It was a—really an accident. I wanted to go to Europe. I’d never been to Europe. And I—when I started to travel for the very first time in my life, I was dependent on myself and could turn any direction. So my personal growth was in—in sequence with every step I took. I felt like ev—every part of my traveling was a growth experience for me as a person. And it was really helpful to me to realize that I could do this and I could do that, I could do—go anywhere I wanted to go and do anything I wanted to do. And that was very freeing for me.
DT: Where did you go?
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CM: Well, I went to Greece, was one of the first places I really landed in Europe. And I met two French-Canadians who talked about India, talked about Asia, talked about India. So I got up one morning and said I think I’m going to go to India. And I took off, and I hitchhiked. Most of my traveling was hitchhiking. I didn’t have very much money at all, and I was very naive, very green. I always say the greenest traveler that ever hit the road. Just really oblivious to the dangers or anything that might be—that I shouldn’t be doing. And that’s what saved me. I was so naive that no one realized that I didn’t know what I was doing because I was—just do anything.
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So that’s—that was where I grew as a person. Much more than school, much more than even family, anything in my life. It—that was the—the real essential ingredient in my life, was that traveling.
DT: Well, were there c—certain experiences that you might say made you grow more than others, and…
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CM: Well, learning that there was a place other than United States. That there were people that ate different things, and lived different ways, and had different religions. You know, my world was the United States, and then all those other little places over there. So I realized—I got more perspective on—on who—the country I came from and what other people were doing. And people were incredibly kind to me. Everywhere I went, people would invite me into their homes. So it wasn’t traveling like staying in hotels and that type of traveling. I was really living with the people in the countries. So I was learning a lot about really how they did live.
DT: So you would stop for a bit and live and work in—in a town or country, and…
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CM: Usu—hm-mmm, hm-mmm. Hm-mmm.
DT: Did you have some jobs you recall as being educational?
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CM: Well, very educational, all of them. But—one of my stories is in Greece, they came looking for men to work in the olive oil factory. And none of the men wanted to work. So I had a friend who—the French-Canadian friend I had, and we found a Greek man who spoke French. So there were two translators between me and the guy who was looking for men to work in the olive oil factory. So I would say something in English, he would translate it to French, and he would translate it to Greek. So he said, you know, I’m looking for men to work in the ol—I said, well, I—I’d like to try that. Ah, no. (?)—it—it goes back and forth, but it takes a long time. No, no. So finally I said okay. I told him I had done heavy work in the United States, I’d done things. I was strong and I could do it. No, he says. I said, okay,
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tell him that tomorrow I’ll come, and if he doesn’t like my work, he doesn’t have to pay me. Oh, he thought that was great. So the next morning I went to this next village, and the whole village was standing outside the olive oil factory to see if I was going to make it or not, because a woman had never worked there before. So…
DT: So some of the places that you visited were learning from you as much as you were learning from them.
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CM: Maybe.
DT: Were there some environmental lessons that you learned?
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CM: Well, watching how simply people lived, how little they took and how—how—you know, one of the things in Indonesia is they—they terrace the hillsides. And the person who’s in charge of it is the man at the bottom, which is very, very clever because the guy at the top’s going to use the water, and then it’s going to come down to the next guy. So this guy at the bottom’s going to make sure that that water gets down to his land. Yeah, it’s ver—it’s practical and it’s—it’s clever—to put the guy at the bottom in charge. If the guy at the top’s in charge, he might never get his water.
DT: So was that—I—I guess not only environmental lesson, but also one that was through the lens of gardening and agriculture.
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CM: Right.
DT: Were a lot of the lessons like that? That—that, you know, I guess when you were traveling, this is in the early ‘70s?
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CM: Ne—the whole s—the whole—almost the whole decade of the ‘70s.
DT: Uh-huh. So a lot of people’s lives, at least in smaller towns that have been agricultural.
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CM: Hm-mmm. Hm-mmm. Exactly.
DT: Any other stories that—not maybe so much from—from a third-world or southern countries, but maybe from some more developed countries that you could tell us?
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CM: No. I think the things that I remember are the simple, rural life of—of people. That’s what affected me the most. I didn’t really like the cities or the—the larger places. The more developed places weren’t a—as interesting to me. I really liked that—that really rural, simple life.
DT: Well, now, was part of the lesson that you were learning not just the lesson of being in a Greek town, but the contrast with what you knew in the United States?
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CM: Yes. Yes. It was…
DT: Maybe you could talk a little bit about the culture differences, and…
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CM: Well, how open people were. How they would invite me into their homes and then leave me in their homes and go to work. They didn’t know me. They didn’t know anything about me. They were so trusting and so generous. And I found that over and over and over again. And it always was a surprise, that people could be that—not—unattached to what they—what they owned, and so generous with what they had. India in particular is that way. That’s how they survive, is that if I haven’t—I remember specific instances where people hadn’t eaten for days. And people would hand that person a banana. He would immediately break it into the number of parts that whoever was sitting near him. He wouldn’t think of eating the whole banana, despite the fact that he hadn’t eaten for days. It’s just—it’s a whole different idea in a culture, that you share what you have no matter how little you have with everyone around you. And that’s how everyone survives.
DT: And it’s—it sounds like it’s more than manners, it’s cultural [talking over each other].
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CM: Oh, y—it’s just in—it’s inculturated. It’s part of the culture.
DT: And so I guess the implication is that—that just these little acts and gestures of how you eat and how you share the bananas, I guess you could (?) up to talk about how you share a watershed or a…
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CM: Exactly.
DT: …planet.
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CM: Or a planet. Exactly.
DT: Now after traveling for most of the ‘70s—seven years, you come back to the Untied States and you learn some…
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CM: Go through complete culture shock.
DT: What was the reentry like?
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CM: Oh, absolutely horrible. I couldn’t—this—this was the culture shock. Not India, not any place that you would think I’d have culture shock. But coming back to the United States was so sh—you have to imagine what it’s like after seven years. The place looks like it’s going ninety miles an hour. Everyone’s speeding. Everyone’s neurotic. Everyone’s going so fast and doing everything so quickly. I’d just try and get everybody to slow down a little bit. They’re going too fast for me. So—and my family was—they didn’t understand it. They didn’t understand traveling, or where I’d been, or what I’d done. And when I came home, they picked me up at the airport, and I came home, and they started watching television. And, you know, not where have you been, or what have you done, and—they just didn’t really have
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much interest in it. So I ended up kind of becoming a hermit after that. I moved to Alabama and built myself a little house by myself, and just lived away from everyone. I couldn’t take the pace. I just couldn’t handle it. So it was really slow reentry after that. Took me years to get back into the society. It was very difficult.
DT: Were there sort of tricks, or—or at least little crutches maybe of—of making that reentry where [talking over each other]?
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CM: Well, having to go to work, having to earn a living. I had to learn how to talk to people again, in English. Yeah. It was hard.
DT: And as you eased back into a life here in the states, you—you started to become a teacher. Is—is that fair to say? You…
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CM: Oh, I had other jobs along the way before I ever got to—as I said, I knew I wanted to teach, but I knew I didn’t want to teach in the public school system. And I couldn’t figure out how—how to do it. I just couldn’t figure it out.
DT: Well, what was the first teaching job that you had once you returned?
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CM: Well, it wasn’t until I got here to Austin. Yeah. I mean I did some things with a company educating adults, but that’s—wasn’t very appealing to me. I really wanted to work with children.
DT: And before we talk about teaching children, what was it about trying to teach adults that was disappointing or—or not appealing?
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CM: It’s just—it’s hard when people are already—have their habits developed. And—and we learn that—we know that every day. It’s hard to get people to—to drive slower, or do any recycle, all the things we—we try to get people to do. It’s difficult because they’ve always done it the other way. Many people. Austin’s a little bit different. But it’s very hard to change behavior. But if you get them when they’re s—three or four or six years old, you have a chance.
DT: Well, maybe we can talk about your—your coming to—to Austin. And—and as I understand, you—you went to work developing curriculum for the Austin Nature Center. Is that right?
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CM: Yeah, right.
DT: And—and then later for Austin Waldorf.
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CM: Right.
DT: And these were summer programs?
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CM: Summer programs where they needed a curriculum for the summer. So I created multi-level age groups, maybe three to twelve years old. So I had to have something for each age group. But I tried to do it thematically. So at the Nature Center it was all Native American studies. So we did all Native American things for the whole summer. It was all based on that. And then the Waldorf School we did wor—the world. Global—a global theme. So we had opportunities to bring people in from other countries, and so that was really interesting.
DT: Could you give us some examples of the Native American approach to education at the Nature Center, and…
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CM: Well…
DT: And this is—just to get a little context, this is 1986 or so…
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CM: Right. Right.
DT: …you were saying.
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CM: Well, the Native Americans had different ways of planting. We did some planting. The Three Sisters is what the Native Americans called it. They put a fish head in the ground, and then they planted beans and squash. And the squash leaves would keep the insects away. The fish was the fertilizer, and that protected the beans. And—oh, and I know, and grew around a stalk of corn. So they planted those three sisters, those three plants. They understood that kind of gardening long before we ever did. That that—that companion planting all have a purpose. The nitrogen from the beans, the protection from the insects from the squash would protect the corn for them to (?).
DT: And was there a—a sort of a larger Native American theme with this sort of seven generational way of looking at…
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CM: Right. Exactly.
DT: …the world?
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CM: And then—what we did was each age group was a—was a tribe. So they would study how that tribe ate, or how that tribe lived, what kind of dwellings they lived in, and if they were agricultural or nomadic, or—so each egg group—age group represented a different tribe.
DT: Well did—did you start this curriculum with the idea I want to teach them respect for future generations, or understanding of how interdependent plants can be, or—or life can be?
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CM: Oh, I think both.
DT: And then figure Native Americans is—is the vehicle? Or [talking over each other]?
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CM: Yeah, Native Americans was the vehicle to—to teach all those things. Yes. That was the idea.
DT: And—and in the—the second curriculum you were working on with Austin Waldorf was a wider span of ages? Or—or…
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CM: No, it was about the same.
DT: About the same?
CM: About the same.
DT: So through twelve years old.
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CM: Three—three to twelve, something like that.
DT: Okay. And that was using examples from around the world to have people from different cultures?
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CM: Right. Dancers and singers and—these is—mostly—well, a lot—you know, Austin’s so full of wonderful musicians that were able to bring a lot of people in to—to teach the kids. And—and they loved it. It was fun.
DT: What would be some of the instruments that would come through your classroom?
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CM: Well, what I remember is Jimmy Turner—I don’t know if you know him. He’s a dancer. And he’s deaf. And he came in, and I thought h—h—how is going to control this class? How is he going to handle these children? What’s he going to do? Am I going to ha—you know, how will he ever get their attention? He can’t speak to them. Well, he walked in the room and they—they were glued to him from the second he walked in the room. It—it was just magic. And he would just start—do—do something, and then they would do it. And he would do something, and they would do it. And it was so interesting to me that, despite the fact that he couldn’t talk, and that he couldn’t hear, that the children had an instant connection with him, and just that—that wonderful eye contact and—and appreciation for who he was. He
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was such an individual, interesting person. So that—you know, the dancing’s really secondary to meeting someone like that, and meeting someone who’s different than you are, and understanding how they function.
DT: And so you—you were passing out some of these lessons not with your typical textbooks and writing on the blackboard, but other ways.
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CM: Right.
DT: Why did you think that was the way to teach?
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CM: Because that’s how I learn. I—I have to touch something. I ha—kinesthetic learning, and—and—and—and visual learning are how I learn. And that’s—there’s many, many studies that prove that if you hear it you would—you remember it ten percent. If you write it, you remember it twenty percent. If you do it, you remember ninety percent of it. So—and I believe it’s true. I think when children actually do something physically, it—it takes it to their memory for a much longer time.
DT: And it can be physical motions, small motor…
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CM: Uh-huh. Or big. It doesn’t matter.
DT: Yeah? And—and can give me another example just so I understand what you mean?
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CM: Well, when I—I teach a el—electricity program now. And I’m teaching them how electricity is made. So one child is digging coal out of the ground. One child has a steam pipe. One child has a turbine which turns a pinwheel around. The next child is the magnet, and the connecting rod, and the generator. They all play a part. And then the last children in the circle are houses. And at the ver—and we have a song we sing along with it. And as the—the m—the song continues around, the last thing, the lights come on in their house. And they remember it. I have seen children five, six years later who run up to me and say, oh, you’re the electricity lady. I remember—and they begin to tell me the whole lesson because they remember it, because they did it. If I had sat there and told them how electricity is made, or written it on the blackboard, I just don’t believe it would stick with them this long.
DT: And then you mentioned the Waldorf School as one place you were teaching then. And I’ve understood that Waldorf is in some ways like Montessori and that children teach children. Like you were saying the kid would come back and say you’re the electricity lady, and then regurgitate the lesson to you and teach you. Did—was that something that you’ve tried to…
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CM: Oh, I think children teaching children is…
DT: …to teach—teaching?
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CM: Yes. I—that’s one of my favorite ways to teach is have children teach children. Because when you teach, you have to learn it first. You have to know what you’re talking about before you can teach it. We’ve done that many times here at Becker, had older children teach younger children.
DT: Can you give me an example what you mean where a—you’d have one student teaching another?
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CM: Oh, we might have fifth grade students use these models and come down and—and tell the second graders or third graders this is what we’re learning, and when you’re in fifth grade, you’re going to get to learn this, too. And because the children are all older, because they really look up to the older children, they’re glued to them, and they—you know, they’re so fascinated by children who are older, and they have a respect for the older kids, that—and it empowers those older kids. They just start—their whole demeanor changes. And we’ve also worked with deaf and blind children. We’ve brought deaf and blind children here to the school, to the garden, and then we’ve gone to their facilities, too. And wonderful, wonderful, wonderful interactions. Our children at this school sometimes feel like they’re the
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lowest on the totem pole. When they get to teach someone else, their whole spirit rises because it—it empowers them. They’re—they’re helping someone else. We help landscape Habitat for Humanity houses with deaf children, with our children. So they were helping, they were partnering with them. So…
DT: Well, is one of the ways you try to teach is by giving them real work? I mean you s—talking about landscaping [talking over each other].
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CM: Hm-mmm. Absolutely. I’m a real believer in real work.
DT: Well, are there other cases besides the landscaping work that you mentioned where they—they’ve gotten their hands dirty and produced something?
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CM: Well, we do composting. We do a lot of composting. And then the children, for a long time, grew their vegetables and we sold them at Whole Foods in an outdoor market when they used to have a Farmer’s Market out in front of Whole Foods. And what we realized when those—when that happened, these children were very shy, wouldn’t look at you, they’d keep their head down. They had to be able to explain what the vegetable was, how much it cost. They had to write it down. They had to add it up. So there was a whole lot of learning going on. They’d never been in front of Whole Foods before. They never interacted with adults before. It was really powerful.
DT: So it—it sounds like part of what you’re teaching isn’t so much facts and figures, but also demeanor and s—self-esteem, and…
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CM: Yeah, it’s hard to learn if you’re…
DT: (?) communicate (?).
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CM: It’s hard to learn if your spirit is really low.
DT: One last thing I wanted to ask you while we’re talking about the Austin Waldorf School and the Nature Center is that you were s—trying to teach a span of many years, and from three years old to twelve years old. And that’s a huge range of, I guess, development, intelligence and all. How did you try to focus programs on the different ages?
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CM: Well, by using a thematic approach like the Native Americans, and like the fact that each tribe was different. So a four year old, when they’re dealing with a tribe, they might be playing with the rice, or making instruments, or something more—a simpler version. You just take it and expand it, and expand it as they get older. The more they can do with it, the more they can learn from it. So it’s f—it’s almost like taking a thread and then just embroidering more and more onto it.
DT: So it just gets a little more complex (?)…
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CM: Exactly. Hm-mmm.
DT: …each year. Well, that I think—sounds like a chapter between ’86 and ’89. And then you embarked on a whole new chapter with The Green Classroom. And I was hoping you could tell us how that got started, and what you (?).
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CM: It was not a smooth path. I went to a lot of schools, and I just would turn around and walk out, because the—that prison-like feeling that public schools often have. And then I walked into this school and the principal was so—we were just on the same wavelength. And she wanted me here, and she wanted the garden here, and said go for it.
DT: And this at Becker Elementary?
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CM: W—Ele—Becker Elementary School. And her name is Judy Taylor, and I’m still very good friends with her. And I give her a lot of credit, because if your principal at a school is not behind you, you can’t do anything. I—I found that out later after she left. But she was very instrumental in supporting me and helping me get it started. But I had to write a grant to have some money coming in to make it happen. And so I wrote a grant. I’d never written a grant before in my life. And we got the money. It was very exciting. And that was the first year. And then the second year I wrote another grant, and we got that, too. So I thought, oh, well, I can do this. But that was—second grant was from the State of Texas, and the Natural Energy—it wasn’t—Natural Resources—maybe you remember the name of it. Anyway, it had name. And they broke it apart and put ik—put it in the Texas Resources Commission. Anyway, in that breakup, in that bureaucratic breakup, my money disappeared. I had a contract with the State of Texas, and the money was
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gone. And when I’d call up, they’d say, well, there isn’t—that department doesn’t exist anymore. I was going well—so what happened is I worked for two years for nothing with no money coming at all. So that’s when I got really strong on going out and begging. All—everything you s—you’ll see in this garden was donated. And I used to say that I wore kneepads because all I did was go around and beg people for stuff.
DT: Well, and—when you were begging, first, when you were talking to the Becker Elementary principal, and then later for these grants and—and in kind gifts, what was your pitch? What would you try to tell these people who probably hadn’t had this kind of education as a child and maybe wouldn’t understand it.
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CM: You know, I don’t think it was anything specific that I said, I think I was so passionate about it that they just wanted to get rid of me. I wanted it so badly, I was so passionate about this, you couldn’t stop me. You couldn’t not give it to me, because I’d call you tomorrow. So it was—they say that—that when you have a dream and you have a real strong vision of it, that this kind of red carpet rolls out in front of you, and that’s how it felt. It felt like I just—it had to be. There was no choice. They had to give me the fence, they had to give me the s—concrete for the sidewalk, and they had to give me the dirt, and they had to give me this. It—I was irresistible because I was so passionate about it. I g—I think that’s what happened. I didn’t really have a pitch that I can remember, so…
DT: So it wasn’t the—the—what is it they call it—the elevator message, or you got thirty seconds before somebody gets distracted by something else, and you say this is what I’m trying to do. Hmm.
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CM: I would say this is what I’m trying to do, but after that I just—it was all passion. It wasn’t—nothing very premeditated about it. I just really needed it and really wanted it. And I think that shows th—when people are passionate about what they love, it shows through, and—and people are more likely to do it, I guess. It was hard for me. I’d never done any—I’d never asked for anything like that. I’d never begged for stuff. I’d never wanted people to give me things for free. It was hard to do. I thought how am I going to do this? But all they can do is say no, and most of the time they said yes.
DT: Well, and—and when they did say yes, what did they provide you? Maybe talk a little bit about the house and the garden and [talking over each other].
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CM: Well, the house is actually AISD property, and it just happened to be available when I arrived. And—but it was a Bermuda grass yard. So my f—my first garden was a s—an old tire for each child to grow their vegetables in. And so I would haul in—and the neighbors were all very suspicious of this woman who would drive up everyday unloading old tires and leaves and c—and cardboard, and covering this whole yard with cardboard and leaves and tires. And they were like what is she doing? And—that was the quickest way to get each child a garden. So by the time they h—arrived in September, I worked all summer. Hot—oh, it was so hot. They had—each had luffa sponges growing in each tire. And then each child made their own nametag, and—that was the beginning of it, to give them each an individual
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garden with a tire. We—we passed on past the tires now. But, you know, you have to have stones. There was no sidewalk. I had volunteers come and build a sidewalk. That there was no fence. There were no plants. There was nothing. It was all from scratch. And I’m still fighting the Bermuda grass.
DT: Well, what—you—you mentioned this idea of the luffa. What—what were you trying to teach the kids with a luffa?
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CM: Well, it was something that—these children are very low-income, and they often don’t get—get a chance to give away something. So I wanted something concrete that they could take home to their mom, something that they could give. They love to give, but they don’t really have those resources. And so at Christmastime, we would grow the ornamental cabbages, and we’d put a little baby doll in the middle of it and put glitter all over it. And then they would take that home and that was their gift to their family for Christmas. You know? And it—it’s small, but it means so much to them to be able to give, because they don’t have that opportunity.
DT: Maybe you could talk a little about the students that you have, both where they come from and what age they are, and—and how you would interact with them and try to make their [talking over each other].
00:36:27 – 2398
CM: Well, the—I think eighty percent of our students come from housing proj—the local housing project, Meadowbrook. And I thought originally that I’d be able to get the parents to come and garden with their children, have the parents learned how to grow their own food, because they need—they needed to have food. And—and I was not successful with the parents—at all.
DT: What do you think happened there? Why were you not successful?
00:36:54 – 2398
CM: I don’t know. I—I—I couldn’t understand it, why they wouldn’t—why they wouldn’t at least want to support their child’s interest in it. But it has to do with the socioeconomic situation that they’re in. And I—I wasn’t able to cross that bridge. But the children, ha—that worked. But the parents, it didn’t work. Mostly m—are single mothers, and I guess they have a lot of burdens on their shoulders and they—they just couldn’t make that leap to growing their own food, or being interested in fresh food, you know. I don’t—I don’t know why it didn’t work, but it didn’t.
DT: And how old were the—the children?
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CM: I began with pre-K and kinder children first, the very youngest children. And I was able, because I started with those children, to follow them all the way through elementary school. So seven years. Some of those children I had for seven years. So they were master gardeners by the time they left. And that was real—I loved that part, of following a child from pre-K to fifth grade. That was really a—very rewarding.
DT: Well, and—and are there—there lessons you can teach at that age? I mean is—is there a—a window that you have with a—a kid in that range, that span of years?
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CM: I think it’s to love the earth, to touch the earth, to nurture something. Once again, they haven’t had an opportunity to nurture anything, to grow anything. And that connection I think lasts—stays with them forever. And if—and if they don’t have that connection, then they—they don’t understand the environment, they don’t understand their world. They don’t understand their part in the world and how they affect the world, and…
DT: Well, do you think that this instinct of—of nurturing is something that they are born with and you’re sort of catalyst for them to recognize that they’ve got that inside them? Or do you instill it in them? I mean is it something they’re born with, or…
00:38:52 – 2398
CM: Oh, I’m sure it’s—yeah. I’m sure it’s there. I’m sure it’s there, but it really gets dampened down by their—their life at home. (?) really, really difficult home lives. So they don’t get that (?)—they just don’t have the opportunity. I think it’s there, they just don’t have the opportunity to express it.
DT: Well, it sounds like that they—they gave you an opportunity to teach them. Were there some hurdles that you met with trying to teach these kids?
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CM: Not really, because they were just as excited about getting out of the classroom as I was, because to them they were out of school. So you can really sneak in a lot of stuff if they don’t think they’re learning. And—they’re wide open. They—they’re learning all the time. Go back in the classroom and shut down. So that’s—it was easy actually. But my concept was that I had to match, for the teach—the teachers wouldn’t bring them over here if they didn’t feel like they were learning the things that they were required to teach. If I had said this is environmental education, has nothing to do with anything you’re doing, they wouldn’t have let them come, because they’re so busy reaching these mandated tests, all that stuff that the teachers have to do. Have an incredible amount of pressure on them that Johnny’s got to be able to multiple by this date. You know, he has got to pass this test, and he’s got to do this and that. So I had to translate
00:40:23 – 2398
all the things that they’re required to learn and teach it here, and convince the teacher, and which was easy, actually—convince the teacher that they could learn it here, and they didn’t have to be sitting in a desk. They could learn math out here like crazy. It’s concrete. One of the things that’s wrong with school is we teach the abstract. We don’t teach concrete. So a child’s hav—having trouble with addition, or subtraction, or multiplication, come over here and pick four squash and divide them, or count them, or—it’s so m—it’s so concrete, they get it. Then you can go back to the abstract. But then—that part is missing in their education.
DT: Well, could you give a few more examples of how The Green Classroom gave some sort of concrete, or maybe organic examples of how you could pin down things they’re trying to teach in the abstract across the street?
00:41:24 – 2398
CM: I had a friend dress up as a pirate one time, and we buried a box of chocolate covered—gold-covered chocolates in a box. And he played it up big time. He had the whole pirate outfit. And we handed—and we gave them a map—pretended it was a—a map to the treasure chest. But they had yardsticks and rulers to f—to f—to foll—you know, it’s three feet to the right, and four inches to the left. And we immediately found that none of them could measure anything. They didn’t know what an inch was. They didn’t know what a foot—they didn’t know any—none of that abstract learning had—had made it to that yardstick or to that ruler. They—absolutely no idea. But by the end of it, they were teaching other children how to measure, because they wanted to get to that chocolate candy that was buried. It
00:42:26 – 2398
didn’t take long. It didn’t take long because it was real. It was really three feet to here. You could really—you know, and a foot is about as long as your foot, and an inch is about as long—so you can teach them the re—the real way of learning it, and the real way of measuring. And it’s there. It belongs to them then.
DT: Were there—that—I can see how that might be a way to teach geography or math. Or are there some examples of—of s—hydrology maybe, or—or science that you could…
00:43:02 – 2398
CM: I have something I could show you.
DT: That’d be great.
DT: When we were talking earlier, you were trying to explain to us how The Green Classroom offered tangible, concrete ways of teaching some abstract things. And I was hoping you could maybe give us some examples. And I think you’ve got a…
00:43:34 – 2398
CM: Yeah, I’ve got this…
DT: …little cheat sheet here that would help us.
00:43:37 – 2398
CM: Well, um, we’ve talked about math already. Language arts, I had a Un—UT student come and study children learning language, and they learned—she studied their learning language in the garden compared to learning in the classroom. And it was much better and because it was real, and it—it had to do with real things. One of my favorite examples is that the—the AISD curriculum says “Have a child hold up a picture of a butterfly and explain that it’s alive.” And of course, what my children did is become butterflies and run around the garden and pollinate the plants with those long blow—party favors that make the tou—long tongues. And they had wings and antenna. They had a song to sing. And they would literally run around and pollinate the plants, which is a little bit better than holding up a sign saying that a
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Butterfly is alive. And social studies, we talked about the Native Americans. That’s an example of the social studies learning. Physical part is obvious, and the science is obvious.
DT: (?) give us an example. You (?)—I—I’m new to this.
00:44:50 – 2398
CM: Well, they’re actually doing something physical. They’re—they’re learning how to use tools, they’re learning not to hold a shovel up in the air and turn around and hit someone in the head with it. Learn how to handle tools and how to—how to respect tools, and take care of them. They learn about health. Many of them don’t know anything about nutrition, and so they’ve eaten things they’ve never eaten before, and probably, if they ever have the opportunity, would eat them again. We had chefs come and cook for the children. So that—and in their chef’s hats. And they would bring the stuff they had grown in and the chef would cook it in some wonderful way—pizza or whatever. Throw the pizza dough in the air and then they’d put their vegetables on the pizza. We would do ethnic Chinese meals in woks, all
00:45:38 – 2398
kinds of things. And that—you know, Austin is just a wonderful, wonderful place for people. There are so many people who are willing to come and do those things. These chefs would come and give hours and hours of their time to these children. And artists. And one of the things I was going to tell you was that music is on here. And Tina Marsh, a wonderful musician here in Austin, was the Artist in Residence at this school, and she created a Blues Garden. And she did the harmonic progression of The Blues in flowers, and taught the children to sing that harmonic progression by standing and reading it off the flowers.
DT: (inaudible.)
00:46:25 – 2398
CM: And we had jazz musicians come out and play that for them, and they learned the music from that. So there’s almost nothing that you cannot do in the garden. There’s—it’s all there.
DT: And—and I see there’s another path to the learning in the gardening project via art. Well, how would they learn art in a garden?
00:46:47 – 2398
CM: They would keep journals and they would draw—every time they would leave the garden they would take their journal back and draw and write about what they did that day. And they were really, really wonderful documents. I enjoy them so much. They’re—and it learned them—taught them to journal, taught them to keep track of what they’d done. And they were really proud of—of the journal by the end of the year. They had so many things in it.
DT: Well, you talked to about how these different paths teach the kids, and I’m curious how it might have reached the kids’ parents. Or—or the example you gave of other adults that were in these kids’ lives, the chefs, or the musician. Could you talk a little bit about how you were teaching a whole community?
00:47:37 – 2398
CM: Well, I think anytime you teach, you learn. And I think they were so—these people were always so generous with their time, and so generous with what they were doing. But then they would always tell me that they’re the ones that got the most out of it because of the children, and the response that they got from the children. It was always very meaningful to them. That—that’s the kind of people they were, and a generous people.
DT: And the—the parents, did they—did they welcome what you’re doing as something creative, or did they resent it as something kind of suspiciously strange, or…

00:48:14 – 2398
CM: Maybe suspicious, but mostly just couldn’t care less. They just didn’t have any inter—I mean children would run out with something they had—Mama, come see what I grew in the garden. Get in the car. You know? Not—which is why they’re struggling in school, because we don’t the parents involved in the school. We don’t have the parents showing them that education is important. There is no modeling for these children. So it’s a—it’s a real tough road.
DT: Any—any speculation about why? I mean—I mean they must realize that this school is important to them and something they’ll need down the road.
00:48:54 – 2398
CM: I don’t know. They’re—I can’t answer that. I don’t know the reasons why. If—if I was living in a housing project and I was a single mother, I’d want my child to have something different than that. But it seems to be cyclical, and it’s hard to break out of that cycle. And there are exceptions, of course.
DT: Let’s talk a little bit more about—about how you managed to spread the message that you were trying to bring to the students and the parents and the whole community through The Green Classroom. Maybe talk a little bit about what happened when Watersheds Department and Development Review got interested in what you were doing.
00:49:45 – 2398
CM: Right. This was always grant funded, and it was always a struggle. And after about ten years, I felt I just couldn’t do it anymore. I—it was just too hard. And getting grants became more difficult with the different administrations that came in. Government money became tighter. It—all money became tighter. And Nancy McClintock at the Watershed Dep—Protection Department called me and said that she really liked what I did and she’d like me to do it all over Austin. And so she made it possible for me to go out and do these programs on watershed protection. This is a watershed model that we use with fifth grade students. And this is an aquifer model that we use to really dynamically in—illustrate how pollution can come down a sinkhole, enter the Edwards Aquifer and end up in Barton Springs. But I—I’ll
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be forever grateful to her and to that department for their vision, that educating children in Austin about the environment is the way to make the change. That if we don’t touch those children with that knowledge, we’re—we’re going to miss that opportunity.
DT: So it’s partly schooling and education, but it’s also almost like a political effort to try to touch people…
00:51:09 – 2398
CM: Absolutely.
DT: …who will be voters.
00:51:11 – 2398
CM: Yeah.
DT: And this is called the Earth School.
00:51:15 – 2398
CM: Earth School. Yes.
DT: And can you tell me a little bit about the logistics of how you do this, and in so many schools as possible?
00:51:23 – 2398
CM: I go to every fifth grade class in Austin, every fifth—AISD fifth grade. Ah—except the ones that go to Earth Camp, which is just a handful. Earth Camp is a—a parallel program but it’s a weeklong, and they only serve about ten schools a year. So I do all the rest. There’s about seven—over seventy elementary schools. So every morning I get up, and my truck is loaded—really loaded. It couldn’t take one more thing. And I get to the school usually about six forty-five in the morning, and get into the school, and get it totally set up by seven forty-five when the children start. Often I teach the whole day without stopping. Sometimes I don’t have a break at all. And other schools that are smaller, I do teach s—smaller classes. It’s very intense. It’s very active and hands-on. It’s always hands-on. And—but it’s powerful that you can’t resist it.
DT: Well, now, what is in your truck when you’re—what’s the first thing you put in, and what’s the last thing?
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CM: I have about five large suitcases full of materials. I have five of these models which are in boxes. I have this and the stand to load, and buckets for water, and all the maps, and handouts, and materials for the teachers. And it’s a lot of stuff.
DT: So it sounds like you—you have models that you use a lot that—that are three-dimensional, and they—they move, and you [talking over each other].
00:53:01 – 2398
CM: Children—children really respond to that. They respond immediately to a model. They—you can—you can see it in their eyes. They just happen—they like models, like they like dollhouses or model trains. There’s just something appealing to children about models. And then they get to act on it. They get to change it, and they watch—see to—watch how it changes. This one, for example, they put pollution—well, first of all, I say Middle Creek is getting polluted. Which house do you think is polluting Middle Creek? And so they will pick this house, and they’ll drop two piece—two drops of pollution here. They’ll pour water on it, and watch that water go down. We take this stopper out. It goes down into the Colorado River. Okay. Now we’re in the recharge zone, so we take all these stoppers out. And then there’s a box underneath—that’s the aquifer. And then we do the same thing again.
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We put pollution over here. And it’s very interesting because I’ll say I want you to watch where the pollution goes this time. And sometimes they’ll say, well, it went over to East Creek. And I’ll say, well, but there’s nothing there. It takes them a while to realize that it’s gone down in the box below. Even though there’s a hole there for it to go through, it’s hard for them sometimes to—but then once they get it, they get, oh, then it goes down to the aquifer. Oh. And then this model is so dynamic, their eyes are like saucers. When they see that pollution start traveling through that limestone, and then they see it come up in Barton Springs, they’re fascinated by that. I’ve got them in the palm of my hand.
DT: What do—what do you think mostly catches their eye, and what leaves them cold?
00:55:04 – 2398
CM: I think it has to be active. I—they have to be participants instead of listeners in a desk. If they get to act on it, it really enfor—reinforces—makes them feel powerful. It makes them interested. And when it’s over they feel like they’ve done something. It’s satisfying to them.
DT: Another thing that—that strikes me about these models and—and the way they’re interactive is that they seem to be teaching about place and things that are local, and that they—maybe they identify with. Is that…
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CM: Yes. Yes. Oh, they—yeah, they’ll say, oh, I—and I have a large map and show—I teach them what—what watershed their school is in. And that’s interesting to them. They’ve never se—really noticed their school on a big map. It’s all—it’s very brightly colored and has all the watersheds, all forty watersheds. And—also, to start it out by showing them the percentage of water—fresh water we have on the earth. I have a big ball like this, and I’ve sliced the ball and made this one little piece that comes out. And I say this is all the fresh water we have in the world. And ninety percent of this water is under the ground. And then I tear off this tiny little piece. And this is all the water in the lakes and rivers of the world. And they—they can’t believe it. You know? So they reme—and they remember that.
DT: And now just looking at these models that you have out here, it—it seems like there’s a theme that goes through them that—that involves water. Is that just a—a s—small piece of what you’re trying to teach kids? Or is water a theme that runs [talking over each other]?
00:56:54 – 2398
CM: Water is the theme for the fifth grade program, and then electricity is the theme for the third grade program. They’re just two different.
DT: Well, I think you had mentioned that—that Austin Energy began a program with you in 1999 to help you teach electricity to kids. And could you talk a little about that (?)?
00:57:17 – 2398
CM: Right, and I—I—as I said, I use the same concept there. It’s a very active, very—the children have a—a wonderful model. I wish I had it here to show you. It’s a m—it’s a—a big model of the city of Austin. It has all the electric lines, it has the giant transmission towers. It has a power plant with a real steam turbine inside of it. It has a solar panel, it has a wind turbine. And so what I do is I bring the model out, they’re very fascinated by that, and then I say there’s many jobs you could have if you worked at Austin Energy. You could work in the power plant, you could work on the solar panel, and I’m going to give you each a job right now. So I hand them this card that has a job on it for each child. And then I’ve previously set the teacher up with a little play phone, and she calls me. My phone rings. I say, I wonder who this is. She says this is the mayor. The lights have gone out in Austin, and I want you to get those lights on immediately. And I say, Mayor, you’re so lucky. My best
00:58:19 – 2398
crew’s sitting right here ready to go. And they all giggle. And then I—I have a little microphone that sounds like a loudspeaker. I need the solar panel technicians to come to the office. So those kids come up and I put hard hats on them, which they just adore. And then they go over and fix the solar panel. Fix the wires, and we shine a light on it to show this little thing turning around. So all the way through, each child gets to participate by repairing the lines. And as they repair the lines, the lights come on on the models until they’re all on at the end. Then the mayor calls me and tells me what a great job they did.
DT: (?). Well, good explanation. Well, why don’t we stop this tape.
[End of Reel 2398]
00:01:05 – 2399
CM: And the teacher says, can I help you?
DT: Carla, we—we—we talked a little bit about your efforts with The Green Classroom that was very centered here next to Becker Elementary. But that over the last almost ten years now, you’ve been able to take this—this maybe just a small sample of what you teach at The Green Classroom, but you ma—been able to take it to thousands of kids across the city. And I’m curious how those experiences are different for you and for the kids between being here for a long period of time. You know, not only pre-K through fifth, but also through the course of the year versus visiting a school maybe for a day.
00:01:55 – 2399
CM: It’s very different. And I think if I had my druthers, I’d be out here in the garden, because I love gardening, number one. But I love that contact when a child discovers something and it’s—and you have that continuous contact with them, and you watch them grow and—and develop. I have an hour with these kids. But it’s still satisfying because I’m still imparting something new to them. I’m—I’m a break from the blackboard, I’m a break from the computer, I’m something real. And I’ve had them come up to me and beg me to come back the next day. So it’s—it ha—there’s a lot of satisfaction. I feel like I’m doing really good things, and I’m doing it with a lot more children than I could touch here. But my heart of hearts is in the garden with the children, where I really love to be. I miss it a lot.
DT: And can you see differences when you go from not just bringing The Green Classroom to a single school, and—and you’re going from a single place to many places. But among all those places, you know, among all those schools that you visit, do you see differences in how kids are learning and being taught?
00:03:10 – 2399
CM: Incredible differences. The background that many children have where they will immediately—if I mention the word cold, they say, well, what about global warming, which is—I’m glad. I’m really glad that they know that. Excuse me. But other places, it’s all new to them. They ha—they have no—that’s the difference. The difference between some schools and a school population is the children do not have that long background that many of us take for granted. That you’re tar—parents take you places and you learn things every day with your family. You have this rich, rich resource at your fingertips. There’s many children who have no resource. None. So they come to school pretty blank, so it’s very difficult. You’re having to teach them baby steps all the way. So for me to start talking about the aquifer, and
00:04:09 – 2399
saving the aquif—you know, all that stuff, you’ve got to get more—much more basic with them because they don’t have the background to lean on. That’s the huge difference I see.
DT: Well, is it—is it also beyond the—the kids and their families, but is it—does—do you also see differences among the schools, the kind of teachers or the kind of equipment (?)?
00:04:32 – 2399
CM: Well, there’s all—schools always have a culture, and you can almost feel it when you walk in the door. And I always say that I’m—I—if the custodian is friendly and kind and wants to help me, I can count on the teachers being the same, and the children being the same. There’s a culture. People are expected to be kind to each other, and to be nice to each, other and be watching out for each other. I’ve had custodians lock the door and not let me in on purpose. I’ve had custodians refuse to help me when I’ve had to lug all that stuff upstairs because there’s no elevator. And I’m telling you, it’s a very interesting thermometer, or—or test, because the—the culture of the school demands one thing or the other. And the principal is the key every time. The pri—the principal’s expectations of the teachers, and of the students, and of her staff are what make that school work or not work. I’ve seen it
00:05:34 – 2399
way d—I’ve seen it here at Becker when I lost that person who was so helpful to me. I had a principal here who refused to let children come over here. She also refused to let them come after school because they needed to study for the test. She didn’t believe in it. She didn’t believe out—you—you could learn anything outside. She thought it was a total waste of time. So you have all different kinds of principals, but it’s—that’s the key.
DT: The—the sort of culture atmosphere that they create in the school.
00:06:11 – 2399
CM: Just like any—like a business. You know, the person in charge creates the atmosphere that everyone works under. You either feel oppressed and unhappy, or you feel like you’re doing something good, and that that person above you wants you to do well, and is going to support you. That was the key with the person that helped me so much, Judy Taylor. The teachers all felt that she was supporting them. She wanted them to do well, instead of coming in and raking them over the coals and telling them they were doing a terrible job, and if their test scores weren’t this or that, they weren’t any good. So just a different way of treating people.
DT: Well, I guess a l—a l—a lot of this is—is—goes down to how one person treats another. But I—can—can you maybe try and help us s—summarize what you’ve learned about environmental education, and—and teaching environmental education through hands-on, whether it’s models like those you—you can take to Earth School, or—or the actual digging in the dirt in your Green—Green Classroom garden? What are—what are some of the take-home lessons that you’ve learned?
00:07:23 – 2399
CM: That anything that’s concrete is interesting to children. If they can touch it, if they can smell it, if they can play with it, if they can feel playful. That’s an—that’s another thing. It’s not that all that restriction of—you know, all schools in AISD have signs that say “Knees together, hands under the desk, looking forward, mouth closed.” And then we wonder why children can’t communicate. Somebody did a study that said that children get to talk twenty minutes a day at school. And then we wonder why they can’t express themselves. It’s so rigid. It’s so hard on them, particularly children who don’t have another life at home. So I’m—I’m all for releasing that and making them feel this is something we’re going to—and they’re always surprised. They say, oh, we had so much fun. You know? And there’s no
00:08:25 – 2399
reason you can’t have fun and learn at the same time. I guess that’s really the—the core of it, is that we don’t—we don’t have to sit with our knees together, and our mouths closed, and our hands in our lap to learn. There are other ways to learn.
DT: And beyond, I guess, education, and maybe looking at—at environmental education in particular, is—is there something that you’ve learned from—from doing it, teaching it for so long?
00:08:55 – 2399
CM: Well, w—I think we were really pioneers in integrating the curriculum. As I said before, there’s a lot of resistance to adding environmental education to the curriculum. We already have too much to do. We can’t do one more thing. I’d love to do it, but I can’t do it. I don’t have time, my kids don’t have time. But if you integrate it, and you teach that la—math lesson for them, they can check that off and go forward. So if it—having the teachers on board is really key. They have to feel it’s valuable to them, not necessarily to their children, but to them. If they feel it’s valuable to them, then they will allow their children environmental education, because it’s so mixed with the curriculum that they have to teach. I n—I don’t think this would ever have worked if I didn’t ha—if I hadn’t done that. And I went to a conference, a national conference, environmental educator, mostly gardening s—
00:09:56 – 2399
programs, and none of them were integrated into the curriculum. It was separate. It was something you thought of as a separate part, not part of math, not part of science, not part of anything. It was separate. So I think by marrying those two things together is—is really the key to making it—to giving me access to the children.
DT: Well, in that sense, would you consider yourself an environmental educator, or are you…
00:10:26 – 2399
CM: Oh, yes. (?) yes.
DT: …more holistic than…
00:10:28 – 2399
CM: You know, that—no, that’s—that’s my—my goal, but I’m kind of d—m—meshing it with the other things, which is fine. That’s fine.
DT: What is your attitude about where education is generally going? What about the trends that you see?
00:10:48 – 2399
CM: I have a unique view because I go to a different school every day. I see things that no one else sees. If AISD was coming to a school, you know how everybody would put on their best show. Well, a lot of times they don’t care if I see the worst show. So I see really, really, really bad things. I see teachers who have no business in a classroom. They have no business being around children. I’m really, really down on the whole—I think—I think it—well, when I came in 1989, I thought it couldn’t get any worse than this. This is really bad. And I wouldn’t say that I’ve ever seen it get better. I’ve seen it get worse.
DT: What is it (?)…
00:11:37 – 2399
CM: Very, very negative about it.
DT: Is—is the problem pressure from outside, the—the TAKS [Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills] requirement, or is it…
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CM: That’s a big part of it.
DT: The kind of people who are drawn to—to teaching?
00:11:49 – 2399
CM: Who wants to do that? Who wants to make thirty thousand dollars a year, and have parents yell at you, have—be on this line about your—got to make this test score, pressure, pressure, pressure? Who wants that? Who would go for that? It’s—doesn’t draw—there’s some wonderful teachers, don’t get me wrong. There’s some wonderful people out there, but they’re slugging along in the trenches. They’re not getting any help to make their job easier. Need to have—a lot of things make their job a lot harder. It’s really—as I said, I just have this unique view. I’m kind of like this snake coming into the school everyday, and I see things that no one else really has the opportunity to see, particularly when I go to all the different school. I see every—every gra—gradation. But the majority of it is very sad.
DT: And how—how would you make it better. I mean I—I realize that there—in these schools it’s…
00:12:49 – 2399
CM: I’d burn the schools down. I’d get them all outside. I’d get—I would—I—my idea for education is community education. Kind of like—similar to apprenticeship where children went to and learned what someone did and how they did it. I don’t see any reason we couldn’t do that. Where children can be exposed to many, many people in their community, many, many things that are going on, so that they could spark their interest in something. Why would you learn math if you didn’t have a goal, if you didn’t have a reason to learn it, or a reason to do it? Social studies, why do I care? You know, you have to have a reason; you have to have a motivation. And we forget that. We just want you to learn it. But I think that whole idea of—of more community, this—these—this idea that you have to go to UT and get an
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education degree. You graduate from high school at eighteen, you graduate from UT, you’ve never had any life experiences to speak of, and you have no real world experience to share with the children. There’s—it just doesn’t work.
DW: Well, speaking of worlds, one that we hear, and we’ve heard this now, (inaudible) on—mostly from older people, but their greatest fear is that young people are too plugged into the imaginary world created by the video game. Now, maybe not so much with third graders, but by the fifth grade, I believe it might be possible, that they come to you at first with those ear buds plugged into their headphones, and some sort of electronic device. So for a lot of these people, they see that as the greatest threat to encouraging hands-on environmentalists. Now have you had to counter this electronic nemesis, and if so, how do you—how do you deal with it?
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CM: I—I haven’t had to—to deal with that because I’m in that school such a short time. I’m only there for an hour. These children are too poor to have those things, so they don’t have computers, they don’t have iPods, they don’t have those things. And they don’t allow them in schools now. They don’t let the kids bring that stuff to school. But—and I th—I have a stepson who’s actually totally dependent. I mean he—he’s unable to function in life. He’s totally crippled by it. He spends eight—sixteen—twenty-four hours a day playing games on the computer. He doesn’t live his life. He has no—he can’t so—he’s totally unsocial. He can’t speak to anyone, can’t hold a job, can’t do anything. He plays those games. And one—one time I—we were trying to—to cut him back, and I said, well, what if we go back, let you use the computer two hours a day? He said that’s impossible. That’s impossible. These
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games go on for six or eight hours. And pe—and they would be very mad if I got off after two hours. His world, completely his world. And that’s—I’m sure it’s true. I haven’t—I haven’t butted up against that because I have such a short time with them. But I know it’s true. It’s—it’s the future.
DT: This sort of second world of—a simulated virtual world.
00:16:14 – 2399
CM: Yeah. A virtual world. Yeah. And my understanding is now that teenagers, that is the sole way they communicate. There’s that—all that cyber-bullying. So instead of being by the locker and talking about Susie, you’re going to attack Susie on the computer. That’s a—makes me feel like an old fogy.
DT: Something else that we’ve heard from other teachers that we’ve talked to, and it’s—it’s kind of similar to what you’ve said, is that they found that because of liability reasons, or just shortage of fuel and bus drivers and buses, that kids don’t actually get to go on field trips, and to see real things that are outside of the classroom. And you’ve managed to get them come across the street at least, (?) there aren’t maybe those excuses. But do you see that as an issue as well in environmental education?
00:17:10 – 2399
CM: Oh, it’s absolutely an issue. That’s one of the things that another Nancy McClintock vision is that if she was going to do Earth Camp, and she was going to have these kids see the water d—waste treatment plant and come to the Green Classroom, and do all these things all over the city, that she was going to have to pay for the buses because the school district would absolutely not pay for the buses. So she takes that out of her pocket. She—and which is expensive. She pays for these buses to take these kids around because that’s the only way they can get there. We’ve—we’ve trapped them in this building, a—and pretended that that’s the only way you can learn.
DT: Well, I can see some—just to play the Devil’s advocate here, I can see some people saying, well, m—it’s sort of a mass production model. That, you know, we’ve got limited resources, limited time, we’re trying to do education in the most cost-effective way. We’re going to put them all through this same production line, and that this is a more efficient way to do things. What would you say to somebody like that?
00:18:14 – 2399
CM: It does—it doesn’t work. We’ve proven that it doesn’t work. When I see what a fifth grader writes, it’s not working. They don’t put a capital at the beginning of the sentence. There’s not one word spelled correctly. It’s inte—unintelligible. You can’t even tell what they’re trying to say. And they’re in the fifth grade. It doesn’t work.
DT: Did it ever work?
00:18:42 – 2399
CM: I don’t know. I know I hated school. But I did w—I made straight A’s. I did—and I can write and read. But…
DT: That it was in spite of education you’re (?)?
00:18:53 – 2399
CM: Well, because I had a grandmother, and because I had parents that took places, and—and gave me—I think that education outside of school is at least equally important, if not more important than what happens during the day at school. You’ve got to have that richness of your life. You’ve got to have something going on because if that’s all you have, you can’t write a sentence. And that cookie cutter idea that a child from a housing project whose father tried to kill his mother last night is going to be educated the same way that a Northside Austin’s child who’s been to Ireland and China and grandmother buys them all the things they need, and they have all these educational tools at home. And we’re going to say that those two kids are going to walk into the classroom and learn the same way. It’s absurd. Of
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course they’re not. You have to m—know your audience. You have to—to make it available to them. That’s why I was so drawn to this school because it—there’s—kids are so deprived of anything in their lives that’s rich. I just…
DT: Well, give me an example. Say you—you—you’ve (?)—had the chance to work with a child at Becker Elementary, or another school, and you’ve really been able to interact with them and spend a number of years, or at least some—some visits with them. And then ten years later they come back. Or maybe even twenty for some of these kids that were there when you first started. Is it apparent that—that you or somebody else had this kind of enrichment for them?
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CM: I—I don’t kno…
DT: Do you see differences down the line?
00:20:36 – 2399
CM: Well, I couldn’t—I couldn’t say that. I know that they come to me and say I always remember what we did here. You know, they—they have a real fondness for it. Whether I actually changed their—kept them from being in a gangster, I don’t—I don’t know. I don’t know that. I don’t have that data to have any idea. I hope. I hope so, but I couldn’t say that I did that.
DT: Well, let me ask you another question that’s sort of a long-term issue. Say you’re trying to pass on a message to the next generation. I mean you do this every day in—in class. But—but what if it was sort of a—the time capsule where you didn’t have a day, much less seven years. But you really wanted to distill—what would it be? What would you try to tell them about what’s important to you, and what you think should matter to the next generation, particularly about protecting this continuity between generation and (?) protecting the earth?
00:21:39 – 2399
CM: To me, it comes down to planting the seed. That whole idea of putting a seed in the ground and having it turn into something. The first year I was here, we did all this—we had clowns, we had all this stuff going on. And then I surveyed the pre-K kids. And, you know, children will—at that age will often tell you the last thing that happened. Whatever it was, that was their favorite thing, because that’s what they remember. Ninety percent of the pre-K children, when I asked them of all the things we did this year, what was your favorite thing, planting the seed in the ground and having it turn into something. It’s powerful. I mean they don’t have—they don’t have that power any other way. They—they can’t make anything. They can’t create anything at that age. The magic to them of putting the seed in the ground and
00:22:37 – 2399
having something come up is truly magic to them. Really, really touches them in a deep place. So for me, that’s—I would say planting the seed is—is the key. Touching the earth. Being near it. Understanding what it does. I don’t know if that answered your question (?).
DT: Well, I—no, it—I think it does, and it reminds of a poster that you have, or a little painting that you have at the doorway. H—How…
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CM: “To plant a seed is to believe in tomorrow.”
DT: What does that mean to you?
00:23:13 – 2399
CM: It means that we’re all—we all—it means responsibility, that we all need to plant a seed, and we are all responsible for tomorrow. And it means that how can we believe in the future if we don’t do what we need to do today. And that comes back to the whole environmental thing. We can’t leave it to—to the next generation. We’ve already waited way too long. We need to do as much as we can, and we need to—I think everyone needs to understand that they need to be responsible themselves. And that’s—that’s the biggest lesson of all.
DT: Here’s another question we often ask people. You—you created a very special place here, but you’ve also been to a lot of places around the world, and that great wandering that you had. Is there a place that you think of as being very special and—and distinctive and important to you, you know, that—that gives you solace?
00:24:20 – 2399
CM: You mean another country?
DT: Doesn’t have to be another country, it could be this little garden out here. Well, what—what—but that—that brings you back in touch with yourself and with the planet and makes it all [talking over each other]?
DW: When it all gets to be too much, where do you…
00:24:32 – 2399
CM: We ha—we are so fortunate. We have a house in Medina, Texas, which is a dead-end road at the end of a dead-end road. And it’s—when we drive up and get out of the car, we set down—we sit down in a chair outside, and this huge exhalation of air, it’s just total grounding. And it’s physical, it’s mental, it’s—it’s—it’s that release. And it—I—to me, it’s like—it’s just like touching the earth. There’s—if you’re ever agita—over-agitated, or over—really upset about something, if you literally go outside and put your palms on the ground, it will really, really settle you down.
DT: It just literally grounding [talking over each other].
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CM: Literally grounding yourself. And there’s something about the palms of your hands that—I—I—maybe it makes you feel part of the whole, and not such a separate, worried person.
DT: And what is this particular place where this ground is—is…
00:25:47 – 2399
CM: Well, it’s just—it’s—we have thirty acres in Medina, and there’s a beautiful hill, we have gorgeous oak trees, and it’s just peaceful. There’s three ten-thousand acres ranches around us, and we’ve got thirty acres in the middle of it. So just really totally—there’s not a sound. It’s completely quiet. And that’s—that’s my solace, is that quiet and away from noise, and away from everything else. So—(inaudible).
DT: Well, I imagine after a day in a—in the classroom, a little quiet would be very welcome.
00:26:21 – 2399
CM: Well, and living in three places is also very stressful, because we live in San Antonio, and I work here, and then we immediately run to Medina every weekend. So there’s a lot of—I said my tombstone’s going to say, “She moves stuff around.” Just about what I do.
DT: Well, between all of that hustling around, than you for taking time with us.
00:26:45 – 2399
CM: Oh, thank you. It’s a pleasure.
DT: I’m hoping we can…
DT: We’re continuing a interview with Carla Marshall. And we’re on the outskirts of The Green Classroom in the garden that surrounds the building. And Carla’s going to take us on a little quick tour of—of what the garden offers, what’s here and—and how she uses it to teach children.
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CM: This is an herb garden that was built in—with the American YouthWorks students and a wonderful artist named Talbot. And he designed this for us, and it’s really a great—great sculpture piece. Children love to climb on it. This is a rainwater catchment tank. We have two of them. And that—the children get to s—to understand how we catch rainwater from the roof, and why rainwater is good to catch. And we’ve had wonderful help on that. Once again, won—wonderful contributions and volunteers that make that all happen. This is another concept of putting pollution—adding pollution to different spots on this watershed. This is our local watershed, the East Bouldin Creek Watershed. So we introduce pollution, and we pour water on it, and then water comes down and goes into the creeks. This one over here, even though it doesn’t look great l—right now, that was built by third graders. They cut each piece out separately from a topo map, and then we glued
00:28:32 – 2399
them all together. And that was our very first watershed model that we built. And then this a plastic rendering of it. And these are—the children wro—after they have this experience, then they wrote about it. And I just took some of their writing and put it up on these posters. And then back here, we have our composting operation. So then the local neighbors bring leaves to us and drop them over the fence, and then we add scraps—food scraps to them, and we create mulch and compost for our garden. So that’s what we use here at The Green Classroom.
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And the vegetable gardens themselves are primarily used by the children at Becker, but also by students all over the district come to Earth Camp here once a week, and they also garden, and look for bu—learn about bugs and weeds, and they do a lot of caretaking for us. They take care of the garden and keep it going.
DW: Where are some other things we can see in this?
00:31:16 – 2399
CM: Well, right now they’re growing a lot of broccoli and cauliflower, which they’ve harvested most of it. We’ll have a lot of herbs, we have snow peas, cabbage, mustard, radishes, parsley, lots and lots of vegetables. It helps the children learn to like vegetables, because they grew them themselves.
DT: Carla, we’re next to this cistern. Can you explain what—what sort of value and lesson you see?
DT: Carla, we have this cistern here. I was hoping that you might be able to tell us how it works and—and what you think is important about having it to teach the kids.
00:32:34 – 2399
CM: Well, we love to use rainwater on our garden because it’s much better than the city water. And it just teaches children that you want to conserve the water that you have, and try to collect it instead of letting it go to waste. So it’s—it’s a good lesson on measuring, too. They can measure how much is in there, and how long it takes—how many drops of rain—how many inches of rain will fill up this tank. And…
DT: And how have they decorated the—the (?).
00:33:01 – 2399
CM: These are the scraps that they find in the bags of mulch. And for some reason they enjoy putting them up here on the—on the cistern.
DT: And it looks like they’ve made them into buildings and cars and bridges.
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CM: Always recycling.
00:36:10 – 2399
CM: We’re going to walk towards the fountain that the children built and designed. They went to UT and looked at the fountains there. They looked in books at fountains, and this is what they decided to build. And many, many people helped us with this, with the cost of it, and the—and the mechanisms that make it work. But the children did design it. And then we have these ti—we have these tiles along the garden that are thanking all the people who helped—have helped us over the years right behind you.
DW: Anything else?
00:38:05 – 2399
CM: I think that’s about it.
00:39:15 – 2399
CM: This is also a great model to show children how important it is to plant native plants in your yard. So what we do is we make it rain, and then we show how much of the soil is eroded by u—the turf grass, the street, construction sites, and then a native yard. And of course, in a native yard, there’s a lot—a lot less of the soil is lost. So that’s another dynamic way of showing soil erosion.
00:40:32 – 2399
CM: This is a wonderful model that shows how erosion occurs. When you have a construction site, or a street, when the water hits that, it’s going—a lot of the soil is going to be lost. We catch in a bucket. But when you have a native soil, native plants on your—in your yard, you’re going to lose a lot less of the soil when it rains. It’s going to hold in those roots and hold in those plants and protect the soil.
[End of Reel 2399]
[End of Interview with Carla Marshall]