Monday, February 1, 2010

The Tragedy of the Commons

Israel and Catlin Gabel have garbage in common.  Israelis keep their personal spaces, homes, and gardens meticulously clean.  Catlin Gabel teachers keep their classrooms tidy and neat.  The problem is common spaces.  I have been following a conversation among Catlin Gabel Middle School teachers about the messy state of common spaces.  This mirrors our observations of Israeli common spaces.  There is garbage everywhere.  Most of it plastic, much of it recyclable.  Every teacher at Catlin Gabel agrees the problem is severe.  Israelis understand the problem, too.  This weekend, an Israeli friend commented, "It's terrible, just terrible.  Nobody cleans up."  Both Catlin and Israel have placed recycling containers so that it is easy to recycle paper and plastic.  There are garbage cans readily available in both spots.  Perhaps schools can be part of Israel's solution as well as guide Catlin Gabel.  The Northwest School in Seattle has environmental teams which serve three distinct functions.  Students in grades 6-12 have an interest in keeping personal and common spaces clean since they have to clean messy common spaces.  The bond created by environmental teams helps the school create a sense of community since environmental teams are cross-graded, cross-divisional, and cross-everything-else.  A sense of pride in self, school, and common spaces is instilled because the Northwest School students have rolled up their sleeves, grabbed rags, and plugged in vacuum cleaners.  Next time I visit an Israeli school, I'll have to check out the cleanliness of the school in addition to the technology.  On a larger scale, is the tragedy of the commons a symptom of civic disengagement?  As fewer people vote or feel connected to their civic institutions, do they feel less responsible about littering and picking up after themselves?  While hiking down Masada, Pam and I walked past an empty potato chip bag blowing in the wind.  It stood out, a glaring purple against the golden desert soil.  After two steps, we both stopped and looked at each other.  We were tired.  We had just hiked up and down Masada.  I turned around and hiked the 5 steps up to the bag which had already blown another 5 steps up the mountain.  I retrieved it, crumpled it up and threw it away at the Visitor's Center.  The tragedy of the commons is solved one piece of litter at a time.

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