Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Home and Exile in the Eco-Literacy 360

Lisa Marie's picture

A few weeks ago, my classmates and I wrote essays on where “home” is and where we belong. After re-reading my own writing and looking at some of my classmates, it became clear that while home could be a specific place, many places, a person or people; it also is an intangible feeling of security, safety, and peace. One place that much of the 360 class mentioned as being home was Bryn Mawr, but no one brought up school or the classroom; a place where we spend a significant amount of our time growing our minds and developing our character. As a future teacher and an individual who is passionate about education, I believe it is incredibly important that people feel at home, that they belong in the classroom. It is in this space where we grow as people, learn more about ourselves, and somewhere we should feel safe in taking risks. What makes people feel safe in their classroom? Should the classroom be porous to the outside environment? To other classes & classrooms? Do people feel at home in the Bryn Mawr 360s? Do they feel at home in this Eco-Literacy 360? Are all of the three classes porous to one another? To the eco-system around us?

To fully understand how at home people are feeling in this 360, it’s key to first look at what being “at home” and the contrasting sentiment of feeling “in exile” mean. According to Eli Clare in the text Exile and Pride, the body can be home, “but only if it is understood that bodies are never singular, but rather haunted, strengthened, underscored by countless other bodies” (11).  Clare also articulates that he had “created chosen families and homes, not rooted in geography, but in shared passion, imagination, and values” (32). We cannot always choose who is in a class with us, but we should recognize that bodies coexist and can “haunt, strengthen, and underscore” one another. Additionally, to foster a classroom environment in which many feel “at home”; or a sense of safety, security, and peace in the classroom, the space needs to create nurturing bonds across its members rooted in “passion, imagination, and values”.

 Exile, on the other hand, “implies not only loss, but a sense of allegiance and connection […] to the place left behind, an attitude of mourning, rather than good riddance. It carries a sense of being pushed out, of being compelled to leave” (Clare 35). Clare also brings up the fact that “exile is one of the hardest” things to experience (33). Being exiled from a space is different that being an outsider; it is a deeply internalized experience that can isolate and alienate an individual from a community. Unfortunately, students do feel exiled in the classroom all too often; when they do not feel as if they are heard, supported, and believed in, this can come up.

 One educational theorist that writes significantly about creating a nurturing, safe classroom is Stephen Krashen. While Krashen’s work is primarily on second language acquisition, his ideas are still useful. One of his main arguments is for teachers to recognize the importance of positioning a student as an empowered learner and to foster a low-anxiety environment in which students are encouraged to take risks and are confident in their abilities. Fostering a sense of being at home entails an educator creating an environment in which students feel as if they belong, contribute positively to the classroom, and belong.

 So far, home, exile, and factors that a teacher as facilitator brings in to the classroom have been examined. According to Bryn Mawr, a 360 course is an “interdisciplinary experience that creates an opportunity to participate in a cluster of multiple courses connecting students and faculty in a single semester to focus on common problems, themes, and experiences for the purposes of research and scholarship” (Bryn Mawr College). The 360 courses are designed to bridge different subjects and to provide participants with an experience outside of the classroom, in other words, being porous to the outside community or world.

 The whole idea behind the 360 is conducive to making the course cluster a place of belonging to its students. By connecting students and family around a subject, something that they are passionate about or interested in, there will likely be many strong bonds established. In the Eco-Literacy 360, all of the students and faculty are encouraged to support and challenge one another, to make connections to each other’s work and across disciplines, to build relationships, and to grow together. 

While this Eco-Literacy cluster is composed of three different disciplines, the key to ultimate success and everyone feeling at “home” in the 360, is for none of the courses to be “siloed” from another; it is important that the courses are porous to one another and to the broader community, we are visiting on the field trips. In order for all of the students to feel confident in their abilities, and comfortable in taking risks in each of the classrooms, the subjects discussed and brought up in each class should not be too separate or foreign to one another. As one fluid, porous unit, the Eco-Literacy 360 can weave together the different disciplines, participants’ thoughts, ideas, and reflections.

 The Eco-Literacy 360 is a course cluster based on developing an understanding of the places we live affect us and how we impact the places we live in. According to Greenwood, Manteaw, and Smith “learning about the environment requires both a global awareness and knowledge of the home range—the neighborhood and the community, and the local eco-systems and bioregions in which people live their everyday lives” (88). The interdisciplinary course cluster is porous, along with the subject matter covered in each of the classes.  

 Even though being in exile can be a negative, challenging, lonely experience, Clare offers hope by sharing “the body as home, but only if it understood that the stolen body can be reclaimed. The bodies irrevocably taken from us: we can memorialize them in guilts; remember and mourn them; use their deaths to strengthen our will. […] we can transform [the lies and false images] creating something entirely new in their place, something that comes close and finally true to the bone, entering out bodies as liberation, joy, fury, hope, a will to refigure the world. The body as home” (Clare 13).  When we do feel as lost control and ownership of our bodies, our homes, our classrooms, we need to keep in mind that they can be reclaimed by creating something new in their place, something that does bring us joy and satisfaction.  Additionally, we can also look back to Paolo Freire who pointed out that “as I became familiar with my world, however, as I perceived an understood it better by reading it, my terrors diminished” (Freire 7). The Eco-Literacy 360, just like any classroom, should be encouraging all students to feel at home; to be heard, to feel respected, and to experience a sense of peace and security. As a porous unit, the Eco-Literacy together offers this sense of being at home and feeling as if one belongs by bringing students and faculty around a pressing issue, while creating an environment in which all those participating support and challenge one another in the process of learning, growth, and inquiry. 


Anne Dalke's picture

Making the Silo Porous…?

Lisa Marie--
I was so tickled, in class this week, when you called our attention to the role of Frank Perdue in All Over Creation, suggesting that he fulfills the important function of “student” in the novel—and in environmental education more generally. It’s Frank’s maddening qualities—his very cluelessness—which constitute his need to be educated, and which thereby make him so central to this novel that interrogates the practices of genetic engineering and pollution.

You also bring this central interest of yours in education—who are its subjects? what are its conditions? how best to make it happen?—to this essay, this time using Eli Clare’s Exile and Pride as a frame to re-think what it means to be in (and to create) classrooms that are not sites of exile, but rather homeplaces: “low-anxiety environments “in which students “feel they belong.” And you use the 360° program as an example of such an environment, in which none of the courses are “siloed” from another, but designed, rather, as a shared “place of belonging.”

So far,  so good. But where I get confused—and would like you to go on thinking some more—is where “homeplace” intersects with your other keyword, that of “porosity,” where “control and ownership of our bodies, our homes, our classrooms” opens up into spaces beyond, such as the off-campus communities where we travel. What enables “knowledge of the home range” to shade into “global awareness”? In what ways might “the body as home” prevent our going too far afield? Familiarity, you say Friere says, “diminishes terror.” But what about the other possibility (more than a possibility: an inevitability in environmental education!): that the more we know, the more frightened we become? What happens then to the “peace and security” you celebrate as central to the well-working classroom?

In my response to your last paper, I was prodding you to spend more time in the “cracks” of your description of home as a place of ease, comfort, and peace. It sounds as though I’m doing the same thing here, wanting you consider further the questions of the ways in which not being siloed, but rather porous, might make the classroom less secure, less safe, less peaceful. I look forward to hearing where you might take such questions, as we look more @ All Over Creation next month….