Community Voices - Ron Bier

 

Ron BierRon Bier is a Chemistry and Environmental Science teacher at Oberlin Senior High School. While he hails originally from the east side of Cleveland, he and his family currently live in Amherst, Ohio.

 

Q: What words or images would you use to describe Oberlin, and why would you choose those words or images?

 

A: In terms of the community as a whole, it’s a very progressive city as a whole. It’s very well educated, very open-minded. I’d say it is quite liberal-thinking, which to me is always the way to go, and willing to think about tomorrow, which is what all of this environmentalism should be about. It should be about thinking about tomorrow more than we have in the past, when we didn’t think about the future much, and not thinking about it got us into some of the problems we’re having today. Oberlin wants to try new things and make things better for future generations, all of those kinds of feel-good stories.

 

Q: A lot of people have different ways of defining sustainability, like using the term “sustainability” to mean actions that enhance or maintain the economic, environmental and social wellbeing of the Oberlin community.” What does sustainability mean to you, both as a community member and as a teacher?

 

A: Sustainability in general forces us to look in the mirror and ask “are we doing what we’re doing now in ways that will carry us into the future without using too much energy, using too much water, eating too much food, if our houses are too big, what can we maintain?” I teach environmental science and I did a bit on our ecological footprint, looking at how much stuff Americans use compared to someone in Europe, compared to someone in Africa, or in South America. What it comes down to is that Americans just use—or consume—way too much of everything. We use too much energy, too much of our resources, too much food, too much water, we have a lot of waste, of course, going in and we don’t recycle. In those regards, we talk about sustainability a lot. We want to figure out how we can help to reduce our consumption—whatever it is—to make things more sustainable for the future. We want to see if we can reduce our usage. It forces us to look at our lives—we may not want to change much, but we’re going to have to.

 

Q: When you teach students about their ecological footprint, how do they react to it? Are they surprised by the size of their footprint?

 

A: They were interested. You could tell it was kind of sparking their brains. We get into these big, healthy discussions in class and people would say things like ‘if I’ve got to use my car less, how am I supposed to get to Wal-Mart and carry my stuff home?” or “if I want to go to the mall and buy school clothes, I can’t walk to Elyria and come back with all that stuff.” I could tell there were some heavy thoughts going on in their heads about taking shorter showers and turning lights off when they leave the room, and about recycling, with both organic and inorganic recycling. It really opened their eyes up—we asked them how many pairs of shoes they have, and it goes to show, everyone thinks that girls have more shoes but some of the boys had like thirty pairs. The conversation went off in all sorts of directions but it was a really good discussion about ecological footprints and how we can reduce it.

 

Q: Is there anything you want to tell your fellow community members—teachers, residents of Oberlin, etcetera—regarding the way that they care for the environment and about respecting nature?

 

A: Wow, that’s a good one. I think maybe the biggest way, for me, as a teacher, to influence the way people respect nature is to spread the word. I say ‘dinner table talk’, but talk within the house when the kid goes home about what they learned in school that day or what they talked about in school that day, all these different things over a course of a year, or four years, if the kid is in my Environmental Science class or in any class about environmental issues, they take those thoughts and lessons home and share it with their mom and dad—or whoever they’re staying with, it could be a relative. They’ll ask, “hey, why aren’t we recycling in our house?” or, “hey, I learned in school today that if we turn off the lights in the basement when no one is down there, we could save $20 a year on electricity.” We talk about the next generation: kids eventually become adults and their decisions are often formed as kids, through things they learned at school and things that they begin to understand about the environment and the community. It’s even the small things that make a difference, like not littering. It’s as simple as that. Recycling, of course, as well. What they take with them from school can affect the rest of their lives, and it can be what they take to educate people at home. Everything starts to build up. The teachers here support the kids well, and even if there’s a kid that’s saying, “Okay, I’m keeping my distance,” the teachers stay patient. Education is ongoing, you know; it never ends. I’m fifty-one years old and I like to think that I’m educated every day.

 

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Melissa Cabat is a first year Environmental Studies major from New York City. She is also a member of the Oberlin Student Theater Association and a DJ for WOBC 91.5 FM.

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Guest March 15, 2017

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Melissa Cabat
Melissa Cabat is a first year Environmental Studies major from New York City. Sh
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