Interview with Margherita Sboarina

A teacher, author of high school books and popular texts on sustainability issues aimed at children, Margherita Sboarina tells us how to tackle complex issues by addressing the youngest children. Happy reading! 

Your production of school books and narrative texts for children is very wide-ranging and also includes publications on Environmental Sustainability: what does it mean to tell such complex topics to a young audience? What do you have to watch out for? 

First of all, it must be said that it is always possible to talk about such complex topics to young children, just by using language that is suitable for them. There is no such thing as a theme that is not understandable… young people and children understand just fine. Of course, in order not to be boring, one must (the younger they are) avoid an abstract approach and rely on concreteness. There are two important keys to use: the first is storytelling, because youngsters like stories so much and it is only as they grow up that we partly forget about them. The other key is that of the example, be it one created by imagination (thus a fictional character making green choices) or a real character experiencing a challenge. For example, in Alma & Luna’s book (‘Guarda Lontano’, ed. Eli La Spiga) there are two real girls who tell their lives through real actions associated with the Sustainable Development Goals. The sense, therefore, is to bring concrete examples that generate emulation. 

Environmental sustainability, Human Rights, are issues that concern the present and the future of our communities: what is the perception that students and young people in general have of the urgency of certain issues? 

In my experience they feel these issues very much, the challenge is to turn them into concrete gestures and a lifestyle that is ongoing. Young people willingly demonstrate and participate in thematic meetings, the fact is that a continuous habitus is needed, that is, a long-term habit. This then connects to a broader discourse, linking environmental sustainability to all values, forming an ethic that goes beyond the environment. 

If you had a magic wand to make improvements in children’s publishing, what would be your first choices?

Children’s publishing is already very attentive, especially in the last few years many books have come out that deal with this topic. The Ministry has had good credit for this, because in all the reforms of the last few years in-depth – sometimes binding – studies on the topics of civic education and environmental sustainability have been required. School legislation in Italy, on this, is far ahead. Again, the challenge is to turn this into something lived, not just written on paper. 

The Greta Thunberg phenomenon has allowed many young people to identify with a model of a young citizen/citizenship that claims attention to environmental issues: in your opinion, can this narrative help the maturing of environmental and social issues in the new generations is a fad destined to pass?

Greta Thunberg has helped, helps and will continue to help, the identification of younger people with environmental issues. Besides her, there are many other examples of concrete people that young people look up to. Going back to the book “Guarda Lontano”, inside it associates each SDG with an under-18 testimonial who has distinguished himself or herself by acting responsibly on that specific issue. 

If you had to identify the hero, the antagonist, the helper, the prize (to follow Propp’s categories) of the ‘Sustainability’ fairy tale, who would they be?   

Well, the hero would be anyone who applies these themes every day in real life (moreover, once the habit is created, you don’t even notice it anymore). Now, these are the heroes of sustainability: those who actually live it. 

The antagonists (even if in words they are all in favour of sustainability) are those who – as institutions sometimes do – make it too complicated to choose in a green and ethical way; all those who make it difficult to live virtuously. Being sustainable should not be complicated! For example, the bread bag that requires the label printed with toxic ink to be peeled off the paper in order to be recycled … is the result of reasoning that makes virtuous behaviour difficult. Or tourists who go to the seaside and are not informed about the days of door-to-door rubbish collection…this too is the result of an antagonist. The helper is the one who testifies with facts their commitment and the one who helps the simplification of processes. Finally, the prize is the knowledge that a cleaner sea and a beach without rubbish are more beautiful. The very sense of what is beautiful and right is innate in the youngest… and this is where the value of the school comes in, which has a duty to extend this reasoning to everyone, even to children and young people who are not supported by their families in this awareness-raising process. School makes it possible to reach everyone with this reasoning and with these values, and since sustainability belongs to everyone and we all have to act, it means that school is really fundamental.

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