Sustainable Business Learning Community Conversations, January 2016 - February 2016

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Sustainable Business Conversation, Feb 2, 2017 Topic: Water and the City of Detroit Drainage Charges

A typical example of a permeable paver, allowing water to drain directly into the soil below

Storm water drainage charge:

  • The storm water drainage charges that the city is levying could be a good thing – it’s a way to get people to manage their property in a more sustainable way.
  • But is this change happening too fast? Many people will not be able to afford these new charges on their water bill.
    • The increase might be an additional $10 to $20 per month for a smaller house, or may be an additional $50 a month for a ¼ acre lot with a long driveway.
    • A large property, such as the old Cooley High School building, might have an additional drainage charge of $80,000 to $100,000 per year.
  • In older buildings (such as Cooley HS), roof drainage runs through plenums inside the building's walls to connect with storm drains. Re-routing that type of roof drainage is very complex and might involve re-engineering and rebuilding the roof and foundation.
  • In Korea, volcanic rock is used in parts of some roads to make a porous surface.
  • Lake Erie algae blooms: Algae blooms that made drinking water in Toledo toxic for some periods of time – we believe that at least part of the cause of the algae blooms is partly related to combined sewer overlows (CSOs). Someone estimated that about 20% of the problem is related to CSOs and about 80% of the problem is related to farming practices (fertilizer use, manure application to fields, confined animal feedlots). If lake water is too high in phosphorus, growth of seaweed and algae takes off like a rocket. Part of the watershed for Lake Erie is in Canada, so international regulations are involved.
  • Have we lost appreciation for things held in common – like our lakes? The whole community needs to be aware that the commons is valuable to us all. Today we seem to think in terms of competition and winning, instead of cooperation and taking care of the commons.

Sustainable Business Conversation, January 26, 2017 Topic: Food and Food Systems

The Harvest.png
  • There is a growing green economy in Detroit. Keep Growing Detroit has the goal of making Detroit a food sovereign city where more than half the fruits and vegetables used in the city are grown in Detroit. The group provides education, seeds and tools for growing food.
  • The city has family gardens, school gardens, community gardens and market gardens, but with hard winters, you cannot grow veggies year round without a heated greenhouse.
  • Detroit has changed zoning to allow farm stands and tree farms in some neighborhoods. Farm animals are not allowed.
  • What about soil contamination? Soil can be tested for lead and other common contaminates for $25 a sample. Someone estimated that about 1/3 of soil tested is contaminated. It’s very expensive to replace contaminated soil. Raised beds may help in some situations, but it's not always an easy solution.
  • Urban gardening is now cool but it used to be part of survival for everyone.
    • Many stores (Meijer, Kroger) are now selling local produce in season.
    • You can freeze or can food for the winter - many of us have lost that skill, but we can still learn how!
    • But lots of produce still comes from around the world. So what's the cost of moving blueberries from Chili or apples from New Zealand?
  • Is cheap food a good thing?
    • We are used to cheap meat – how is it that a hamburger can cost $1.00? Does that really reflect the cost of raising and processing beef?
    • Cheap food gives access to more low income people – but how much is big agriculture subsidized to produce all the cattle feed and use big feed lots? What about the environment?
  • In America, we waste too much food. One estimate is that half the food cooked goes into the garbage.
  • How many young people today are growing up not knowing how to cook? People get a box of produce from a community garden – and then have no idea what to do with veggies. Cooking involves passing on cultural traditions, community building and family connections. How many of us have Grandma’s recipes?
  • The younger generation is changing - many don't want to own a fast car or a big house anymore. They want to make a difference and care about environmental issues and social justice, yet they still have one foot in consumerism.

Sustainable Business Conversation, January 19, 2017 Topic: Education and Vocational Ed in Detroit, Part 2

Hey, whatever happened to Home Ec Class?

College track vs. life skills/trades:

  • Today it seems that most schools are focused on college and not on ordinary life skills. A lot of kids get out of high school and are completely lost.
  • All students benefit from electives and vocational training.
  • It used to be that the options started in Junior High when you could take music, shop or cooking. Now if a student wants a cooking curriculum, for example, there’s only one school in Detroit that offers it and it may be impossible for most students to get there.
  • Wayne County Community College (WCCC) is concerned about those who are not headed to college. In some cases dual enrollment is available to high school students.
  • Why is there money to build expensive sports stadiums but vocational education is being de-funded?

Teachers matter!: A teacher/mentor encouraged Kimberly's husband to go into architectural drafting when he was in high school. This led him to getting a college degree in architecture – and a career that wouldn’t have happened without the encouragement of that teacher.

We have to look at learning holistically - education must serve the entire person:

  • Children bring issues related to poverty and unstable home life into the classroom - these issues need to be addressed in order for them to learn.
  • Many young people today are not used to delaying gratification. They need help to think through problems and examine the consequences of their actions.
  • First generation college students need extra help with the college hunt/application process as well as financial aid. They also need extra support once they get to their college or university. The media often portrays college life as a big party, downplaying the actual hard work and dedication that is required to obtain a college degree.

Charter schools get way less money than regular public schools. A study by a group at the University of Arkansas found that in general the total per pupil funding for public charter schools in the US was about 55% of the per pupil funding for public schools in 2014. The study notes that the discrepancy has been getting worse over time. Spending less money on education seems like the wrong way to go.

How can we do something productive to help in education?

  • Volunteer at your local school.
  • Help fund a scholarship.
  • Join a tutoring program
  • Help students with the college search and application process
  • Is there a way to help connect students with vocational training opportunities?
  • Talk to your state representative about education policy in the state. If the system isn't working, we need to be vocal about improving it.

Teachers need support:

  • One school administrator noted that many of his best teachers had not been at the top of their class when they were in school, but were more likely in the middle.
  • It’s the job of school leadership to provide support and help them become good teachers. Education should be about helping people grow.
  • We are losing a lot of talented college graduates to business and finance. Even those who wish to teach find the school environment difficult and the pay too low. Once we lose these people from education, they find it hard to walk away from a job they may not like because the pay is too good compared to teaching.

Sustainable Business Conversation, January 12, 2017 Topic: Education/Vocational Ed in Detroit

What are we teaching the next generation?

How do we prepare the next generation to be thoughtful?

Schools should teach us to think and ask questions, but it seems that education frequently just promotes lowest price and immediate utility.

Education should make people think about their purchasing choices. Is it profitable to educate people to think deeply about consumer choices? Some of us have been dismayed to visit Walmart and find hardly anything that’s made in the US. There can be issues with pollution and human rights in manufacturing plants in other countries.

We need to look deeply at what the purpose of education is:

  • What would schools look like if they were designed to promote critical thinking skills and problem solving skills?
  • Education now focuses on standardized tests and not on encouraging critical thinking.
  • Sometimes we seem to be creating robotic thinkers.
  • Students should learn how to recognize and name a problem.

The ideal school would be both local and global. Culture strongly affects education.

  • Japanese students are very different from American students, some differences are good (focus and discipline) and some differences are bad (high stress cram exams).
  • In the US our kids do exactly what we tell them to do: look for instant gratification and upward mobility, be a consumer and think more of the individual rather than themselves as part of a wider society.

There were once a number of Detroit high schools with strong vocational education programs; Chadsey, Cass Tech. Now we try to put everyone on a path to college- but that may not be right for everyone.

Boggs School is thinking about having a vocational place for high school students after school. There could be programs in green construction, agriculture, cooking and sewing. The goal is to provide tools to reach ambitious goals and live meaningful lives.

Every option should be open and valued – not just college education.

Are students being educated to the reality of their lives – or about how to do well on tests?

Working on your passion creates flow – the work needs to be not too easy but not too hard. Kids at Boggs School love their passion projects every Friday and work hard across grade levels.

Teachers can measure growth in their students – it’s not necessary to have grades and test scores.

Too many teachers have become drained and are leaving the profession. Students in teacher training programs are way down.

Every child innately wants to learn. What’s wrong with the bureaucracy that’s changing education?