climate change
February 25, 2021

The Milton Humanities Workshop: Education in the Age of Climate Crisis

Andover's involvement in the Humanities Workshop strengthens climate initiatives and learning on campus.
by Corrie Martin

In 2016, novelist Amitav Ghosh published The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, reproaching our massive failure to come to grips with—much less muster serious interest in—the global climate crisis. Organizing the book as a critique of three spheres of social and cultural influence that he names, “Stories, History, Politics,” Ghosh argues that dominant trends in literary fiction, socio-historical scholarship, and governmental action speak to “the broader imaginative and cultural failure that lies at the heart of the climate crisis.”

At Andover, student- and faculty-led sustainability efforts have been underway for some time to inspire imagination, action, and reflection. The Education for Sustainability working group, led by Sustainability Coordinator, Allison Guerette, has organized efforts outside of the classroom and off the syllabus, including campus events, meetings, book clubs, talks, film screenings, and more. We also have a rich tradition of student-led activism as part of the Phillips Academy Sustainability Coalition.

In addition to these efforts, Phillips Academy faculty and students are now joining the Milton Humanities Workshop (MHW), a consortium of Boston-area schools committed to centering questions of climate change and climate justice in their curricula. Our involvement in this network of schools provides further resources, support, and connections for building on campus efforts and transforming Andover courses. For example, just this month, students and teachers in the MHW had live sessions with filmmaker David Abel about his new documentary, Entangled, and with acclaimed climate fiction author Lauren Groff.

MHW brings educators in the Boston area together to explore climate issues.

These activities have galvanized students and inspired them to think about how to engage with climate change beyond the classroom. Reflecting on his time with Abel, Frank Zhou ‘22 said:

“During the Q&A with Mr. Abel, I was texting with Alice Fan ’23, the architect of PA’s Sustainability’s Instagram account @agreenerblue. Mr. Abel mentioned S.2995, the next-generation roadmap for Massachusetts’ climate policy, and explained that the bill was at that very moment on Governor Baker’s desk needing his signature for approval. We decided that Alice should post on Instagram why and how to contact Governor Baker and express support for the bill. By the end of the event, our iMessage thread started to blow up as students voiced support and took action on the bill right on the spot. Even though Governor Baker ultimately pocket-vetoed the bill, the event and our collective action that night deepened our commitment and strengthened our resolve.”

Faculty members involved with the MHW have similarly found their participation in the consortium to be inspiring. Says MJ Engel, PA class of 2013 and current Teaching Fellow, “I have so enjoyed participating in MHW! In our atomized pandemic conditions, this community of collaboration has been so energizing and inspiring. I also always savor any opportunity to bring the Humanities into the world. Especially with the theme of climate justice, there is a greater sense of urgency and higher purpose in the work.”

Instructor in English Jessie Robie was drawn to the MHW collaboration by a search for a deeper sense of purpose. “I keep coming back to the idea of relevancy,” Robie says. “The issue of climate change feels so relevant, and it feels that way to our students, but I hadn't addressed it yet in my classroom. In combination with everything going on this term, it just has me asking if what I'm teaching is actually important right now and if it's not important at this moment, was it ever really important? How can I adjust my practices so that the literature I'm sharing and the topics I'm bringing up are relevant to students and the wider world?”

How can I adjust my practices so that the literature I'm sharing and the topics I'm bringing up are relevant to students and the wider world?

Jessie Robie Instructor in English, Phillips Academy

Robie adds, “I love the idea of multiple schools working together to address complex and relevant issues. My alma mater, Hampshire College, took a lot of nontraditional approaches (most recently blowing up departments entirely in order to focus on big questions from a variety of perspectives and disciplines), so the Milton Humanities Workshop feels like the type of exciting and innovative approach that can help me as a teacher continue to think outside the box that our classrooms sometimes become.”

At the end of May, the consortium will host a public, day-long virtual summit showcasing student work from participating schools. This event will allow educators from around Boston to take stock of these preliminary efforts to integrate questions of climate justice into their curricula and to begin to think about next steps for further pedagogical refinement and growth.

But we need not wait until spring to see the positive effects of our work with the MHW. Engel offers these thoughts: “The Milton Humanities Workshop has helped me shift my focus and take into account student voices while shaping the curriculum. It’s made me a better teacher in terms of climate change, but also a better teacher beyond that.”

Stay tuned for an update this spring to catch the MHW virtual summit and more news about how Andover is heeding Ghosh’s call by expanding its teaching and learning about climate change and climate justice. More information about the Milton Humanities Workshop can be found at

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