Earth Saver Interview: Dr. Steven Frantz


Steven T. Frantz, PhD
Following graduation from Southern Illinois University, Steven Frantz served two years in Somalia as a Peace Corps Volunteer. During that time, he taught in an Intermediate School and worked on a variety of community development projects.

In 1966 Dr. Frantz began his forty-year career in the Scarsdale Public Schools. There he served as an elementary school teacher, Elementary Science Helping Teacher, Co-Director of Math-Science Center, and the Principal of the Fox Meadow Elementary School.

Also during that time, Dr. Frantz earned his Masters and PhD at New York University and served two years as President of the Scarsdale Teachers Association.Since his 2006 retirement, Dr. Frantz has consulted with the Scarsdale School District as Sustainability Education Coordinator.

He is a member of the Westchester County Task Force on Global Warming and the Sustainable Scarsdale Task Force.

MR: What does Global Warming mean to you?

DSF: Global Warming, to me, means that human endeavors are putting the entire world’s population and especially future generations at tremendous risk. Our actions today are imperiling the ability of future generations to enjoy and experience the resources our wonderful planet gives us like water, fresh food, and health. Global Warming will drastically infringe on the things we so easily take for granted.

MR: Do you see educators and children responding appropriately?     [more]

DSF: It’s hard… I almost know too much about the subject at this point and so I think I have a deeper understanding of the urgency we are facing. Although I want to force our teachers and kids to do everything right now, I know that an educator’s role is to teach, even though it can be the slower path. Sometimes I get frustrated at how long it takes to implement even the simplest tasks like recycling.

MR: What is the teacher’s role right now for kids?

DSF: Teachers and educators have an enormous responsibility right now to teach our children about conservation. When you teach you have to present fact, opinion, and bring these subjects into discussion. We need children and teachers to understand and embrace the movement. We encourage them to debate, apply, and to question. In order to get “buy-in,” they have to agree that there is a problem, and it is the teacher’s role to guide them in this process.

MR: And so this is taking more time than you think we have?

DSF: Well, because of my role in the school district, I have had the opportunity to meet and discuss things with folks who are on the front lines. One such gentleman was sitting beside me at an event who was Chief Council for the Environmental Defense Council. He really drove the point home to me that we have a finite period of time to act. He really disagreed with the educational “process” in this particular case, and he said that the situation was “too urgent to wait,” and “schools need to put policies and procedures in place immediately.” His philosophy was “act now, explain later.” I remember him saying “this is not your typical issue and this is so urgent we need to force compliance right NOW.” I agree with him, it is not going to make a bit of difference if kids can spell and subtract if the planet’s eco-system is failing……it becomes absurd. This was one of those conversations that keeps me up at night.

MR: So do you think it (change) is happening?

DSF: I know we will win the majority we need…….it’s growing like crazy already. Everyone really needs to be accountable and do their part in order to make sure we reach a tipping point. Globally we need regulations quickly in manufacturing, coal mining and oil refineries. It won’t make a hill of difference if we have all the school children and teachers educated on the subject only to have big manufacturers and coal companies polluting the landscape and the world.

MR: So what is your deepest fear on the subject?

DSF: For the people of the world, my concern is with the poor people of our country. The poor pay the higher price for global warming …they do not have the means to do the things to help avoid the consequences…….if the earth’s seas rise, these people will not be able to act. Their lands will flood and they will be displaced and their food sources destroyed. My deepest fear however, is that we are already too late. I know this is a dark thought, and I do not really believe it, but when I am honest about my fears… this is the one that really scares me.

MR: How can individuals do anything worthwhile that will really make a difference?

DSF: The truth is one person is not going to help at all. One person’s carbon footprint can’t make a difference- but several combined will make a difference. “Several” will grow a community and a society built around doing the right thing, and their knowledge, and practices will impact the following generations, starting at the elementary levels.

MR: So, where are the kids at in your opinion?

DSF: I think kids are beginning to get it. You cannot present the doom and gloom side of it to them because it is too much of a burden for them. You have to present the facts, and the alternatives. And you cannot base your curriculum on the death of polar bears, however it is important to present reality…..because it is the reality that compels individuals into action. We are working to make the lessons on conservation broader and more applicable on multiple levels. Ecology is a very interdisciplinary subject that can really be brought into so many lesson plans including geography, language arts, science, history, etc.

MR: So how are teachers getting the information they need to bring to children?

DSF: Through the summer institute programs we started last summer, we taught 30 teachers through a series of lectures that worked at bringing them up to speed about the urgency of the subject matter in our schools. This program grew to include over 60 teachers this summer and it has been very effective so far.

MR: So in your district, which is seven schools, you have managed to educate many teachers, but what about elsewhere? Do you think this is happening in other districts?

DSF: I know that it is fairly unique to be employed strictly for this focus on sustainability. We operate off of taxpayer money, and we are a wealthy district. The general public in my district was persuaded to accept a budget that included paying for my position. This is one community, among thousands, that needs to implement a strategy for getting this subject dealt with. I think for public schools we are way ahead of the curve, and for private and collegiate schools, we are likely behind the curve as they have already implemented programs in the past.

MR: Do you ever encounter resistance or opposition?

DSF: Any resistance that I encounter is based on the mentality that the environmental crisis is someone else’s problem. Teachers have so many other concerns – reading, writing, arithmetic… so what is important to enforce in this case is perspective. What good is reading going to do anyone in this situation? If they have these thoughts, then obviously at some level they do not believe the urgency. This in itself is disturbing.

MR: What kind of car do you drive?

DSF: Toyota Camry

MR: Where can you most likely be found on a Friday night?

DSF: At the movies. My wife loved Momma Mia, and I recently liked the Batman-Dark Night movie.

MR: What books or movies have resonated with you on the subject?

DSF: An Inconvenient Truth was very important to me. Also, the studies and reports of Yale Professor James Gustave Speth have been hugely helpful. There are many scientific economists that have influenced me, with whom I have sat on panels and boards. These people have brilliant minds and I have read the reports that document the state of decline we face, and it is very startling. I only started this journey two years ago and really had a steep learning curve and so I Googled a lot, and searched for documents, and read a ton of information. The Internet is a wonderful tool in this case.

MR: What would you say to our readers for a last word of advice or encouragement on the subject of Global Warming?

DSF: I would tell them that we each need to think over our responsibilities and do what it is we can do to make a difference. No one is going to be perfect. If you can afford a hybrid car…do it; if not, then do not. There are going to be some days when you buy that plastic bottle of water because you need to …but there are little things we can all do, including educating ourselves, conserving energy across the board, investing in green companies and green products. Start by doing the little things, and then work your way into the bigger things. Be involved. Lobby at local and national levels, and know what your leaders are doing and how they plan on dealing with this. This is such a big issue and so important. Please do not wait till tomorrow. If you are not going to be in action for yourself, then do it for our children. They need a world worth living in. Being cavalier is what got us into this mess in the first place.

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