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Notes Towards Day 13 (Tues, Oct. 23) : Pausing to evaluate "where" we are

Anne Dalke's picture

I. Welcome back!

any eco-stories from break?

invitation to e-forum 8 p.m. tonight

today's weather prediction:
65 degrees, 2 mph wind, 20% chance of rain

Claire is taking us
to the arbor in the Sunken Garden behind Wyndham; next Tuesday, Sara L will choose (and let us know ahead of time); you will both write about what it was like...

On Thursday, we'll Prof. Crawford will lead us on a geological exploration of campus. In preparation, please read two poems and Thomas Berry's exploration of/proposal for what "the American college in the ecological age" should look like....a long essay (which we won't get to discuss directly, but it will provide an important framework for your next writing assignment...)

By Friday @ 5 p.m.--writing assignment # 7, 3 pp. reflecting on the ways in which your understanding of the campus is shifting. (For example, how has your sense of Bryn Mawr expanded in space and/or time? In what ways has your understanding of the need for--or the practice of--ecological literacy begun to alter?)

II. today's agenda:
discuss our trip to Harriton House and
our mid-semester assessments; then
Rachel Carson's Silent Spring

Harriton House
what'd you learn? was it 'worth' it?
* "the dried flower arrangement"
* the slaves in "my" graveyard
* the question of sustainability

III. mid-semester assessments (missing Hannah?)
I won't be sending comments back to you this week;
a number of you made promises that are particular to your selves;
we'll discuss those individually in your conferences,
and focus now on what we can work on as a group; 
I've organized this around the topics that got the most attention

mtran: One of the best things about the course, to me, is Serendip’s online conversation. It is a wonderful way we have been using to share our thoughts….as I read others’ posts, I learn from them the way people observe and think...  However, I think our online conversation has not been what it is supposed to be. I realize that I myself as well as some of other students am still not using the advantages that the forum provides. One of the reasons might be that the online forum is a little hard to track as everyone’s post tends to be mingled. One can easily miss out some post. We can actually engage in the conversation more by commenting and interacting more with each other, on a regular basis.

Barbara: Online forum ... is not as interactive as in-class discussion. .. Enhancing the responsiveness of Serendip is something that I think we need to work on….

CMJ: We don't converse with each other online after we post, so it is a bit like speaking to an empty room with no listeners….what is the point of posting if nobody is going to respond? ……we do not need prompts. I am sure all of us, being the smart and creative women that we are, are perfectly able to come up with interesting and inquisitive ideas all on our own. After all, prompts aren't just readily available to pick out of a hat at will in the Real World. We should be learning to be creative ourselves. We have enough time.

Cahier: I should really use Serendip to continue the conversation in class … [when] I'd really like to talk about something, but we never quite get to it.

SarahC:  the (almost non-existent) on-line discussion, is a bit frustrating….The Serendip site is not completely easy to use


SarahC: For me the best part about the class has been the writing. In both the papers and the postings, I enjoy being forced to sit down and do it. It helps me, and forces me, to let my thoughts develop quite a few stages further than they otherwise would. I find that whatever the prompt, and whatever the structure, I find myself expressing thoughts and feelings that are important to me…. All in all I enjoy working my way from confusion to some kind of awareness I didn't have before.

mtran:  going back to the old spot every Sunday and writing about my experience is a ‘strange’ task. I often found myself … trying to notice something instead of fully “getting lost” in nature. I do not really want to force myself into thinking of something to write about (I would appreciate any help with dealing with this difficulty!). However, the exercise has been rewarding to me. I realize that I am beginning to pay more attention to the environment around me, which in some way shapes me who I am.

Rochelle: It was nice to start the class with a low pressure paper and work our way up from there. But at times I feel a bit bombarded with papers to write, and I feel like I am always writing something new. I  am not sure if this is necessarily a negative thing, but sometimes I feel a bit flooded.

CMJ: writing the same essay every week (3 pages, due at 5 pm on Friday!) is getting to be monotonous--I don't feel like my writing is developing in a meaningful way. I think this course could do with a little more loosening--try two short essays one week, instead of one


Alex: I'd like to hear from more people during our discussions. I feel like it's always the same people contributing to the conversation, and additions tend to be "sugar-coated". I noted that many of the Serendip posts are much more honest, and raw.

CMJ: In discussions during class, I wish everybody would talk! It would be much more interesting.

Cahier: I wish that us students could have more say in where the conversation goes in class. Sometimes, I'd really like to talk about something, but we never quite get to it. …I should really …work on pulling the conversation in the way I'd like it to, which is a skill that I really need to develop!

Zoe: we do not really debate with one another. We usually just state our opinions and everyone sort of excepts them, no one really challenges them. I think that if we were to challenge one another to think on our feet and back ourselves up that would stimulate a more interesting conversation as well. Also if we push one another to our boundaries without hurting people's feelings our boundaries will expand and we will get more out of the class.

SarahC: The class discussions…are a bit frustrating. We don't seem to have time to really interact, or to get into any free-wheeling discussions: perhaps there is just too much material. Still, many people have interesting things to say, that I would not have thought of myself. I love the diversity of the class.


wanhong:  Our class and homework creates a cycle that could be described generally by three words--"creative, random and diverse". We gave creative ideas, pick sites randomly and then diversity emerge in our writings. After exchanging ideas with each other, we start a new cycle. The course is more like a creative project. I suggest that we could have more tangible experience in field trips, and share more essays…..

SaraL: you and my writing partners so far have given me some much appreciated constructive criticism …I like working with writing partners; not only do we get feedback from more than just the professor, but we also get to learn neat “tips and tricks” from each others’ writing that we might not have known or paid attention to before. Furthermore, I like that we have different writing partners each week. That, I think, gives us a different perspective/lens though which we can view our own writing and be critical of it.

Susan:  I think that I still need to learn how to take criticism from my peers.  I am so used to having what other students say not "matter", but now I think it does because I want to make my writing as good as possible, and an important factor in that is listening to what people think about it instead of just brushing it off because it doesn't "matter to my grade." 


SaraL: I want us to read more than just theories about making writing more “ecological;” we should read specific examples of those theories in practice so it is easier to utilize them in our own writing.

mbackus: I found some of the essays we read at the beginning of the semester to be a little bit of struggle…. I think it's good that we are challenged, but I especially think the essays pertaining to the rheomode and other ways of changing our grammar to be more "green" were frustrating. They were too theoretical to practically apply, and I still don't see myself incorporating them into my writing.

Rochelle: After many classes I end up wishing we could have spent more time talking about the readings that we did to prepare for class. I feel like I have missed something at the end of classes where we do not get to talk much about, the readings we did....

SarahC: The readings-- some of them really satisfying and stimulating-- and the general topics we have touched on, leave me a bit confused still about what we mean by ecology. But in another way the whole approach feels holistic, forcing us to integrate in  a non-linear kind of way which seems appropriate to the subject matter.


Shengjia: the class is too exploratory…my writing would progress more if the class were more guided. At first, I liked the grade less policy and thought it would relieve much stress from me and encourage me to write more freely. However, as time move on, I was more and more confused about whether I was working toward the right track … the vague comments…made me even more stressed and reluctant to try things.

Alex: I found the lack of traditional class structure surprisingly abrasive. I was “lost”…and  I’m still working on reorienting myself.…I readjusted my perspective to see the freedom I had in experimenting with literary style, and I began to see my experience in a whole new light.

SarahC: I feel that meeting outside, and in a different place each time, has added a lot of depth.

Zoe: I was more likely to remember our conversations that we had during class if it was in a different spot each time.

SaraL: I like that our ecological course actually explores a realm that is not the classroom—the great outdoors. However, sometimes it can be a bit distracting from the class discussion when it is raining or when it is too loud (birds/cicada/etc.). Also, I would like it if we include humans more in our discussions as a part of the ecosystems that we discuss…we need to include ourselves as a part of ecology

mbackus:  I enjoy when our class has the opportunity to meet outside, but I think it can be very distracting for the individual, and not necessarily the environment most conducive to learning. However …if we never went outside it would be a mistake. So I propose that …we try and focus less on how the environment is impacting us and more on how we are impacting it. I think it would be an interesting exercise to try and see ourselves from the perspective of the plant and animal life around us.

Rochelle: I really do enjoy the outdoors, and I appreciate that our class is trying to be more attentive to it, but I am not sure that spending half of our class time outside adds more to the class than it takes away. But if it is alright for me to occasionally get distracted by the grass, and by the patterns the sunlight makes then I am alright with being outside. I also appreciate that we do spend half of our class time inside the classroom...


IV. Silent Spring

A. reviewer of Carson's biography:
"among the gloomiest books ever written," w/ a "depressingly timeless" message,
by a "biophiliac" and "superstar of narrative nonfiction," who "artfully linked radioactive fallout
with the indiscriminate use of pesticides" and whose book transformed the gentle movement of
"conservation" into the "bitter idea known as environmentalism" (which pits nature and science
against government and industry)-->I'm wondering if it struck us this way?

recent re-edition w/ introduction by Al Gore, calls it humbling for an elected official;
compares the reaction to the this to that which Darwin provoked w/ Origin of the Species, and
compares its influence on the environmental movement to that of Uncle Tom's Cabin on abolition

B. look over your notes--pull out a passage you would like to read aloud....
let's have a "read-around"....what did you hear? what is your response....?
what genre is she using? what is its effect on you? do you want to read the rest of the book?

how to teach env’l studies w/out leading to despair?
what sustainable practice, for concerns that are so pressing?
short term/long term thinking…

C. notes from Joni Seager’s Plenary @ FAHE this past June:
“Rachel is Still Right…50 yrs later”
bio: 1907-1964, died of breast cancer
Chatham College/Johns Hopkins/Woods Hole
taught @ UMaryland; bulk of career @ Fish & Wildlife Services (Bureau of Fisheries), 1936-1952—>
then left because writing brought financial security, but network there was important;
outsider in many ways--woman writing-science--yet insider re: F&WServices
Under the Sea Wind (1941), The Sea Around Us (1950), The Edge of the Sea (1955)
Silent Spring: serialized in New Yorker June 16, 23, 30, 1962
never married; romantic (?) relationship w/ Dorothy Freeman
(“spinsterhood” made an issue later)
Silent Spring among the best known unknown works: iconic status but unread
what it did: drew from her science background to synthesize vast amounts of science data;
no original data, but translated for the public

apocalyptic title: dystopic opening chapter w/out birds
main thrust to raise alarm about indiscriminate use of pesticides
contentious: not anti-pesticide, but only anti-indiscriminate use
credited/blamed for banning of DDT  a decade later, by Nixon),
catalyzed modern environmental movement
tried to position herself a-politically
not esp radical, but just-beneath-the-surface trenchant social analysis
before her, very little ‘social structure’ analysis in environmental domain:
prior wilderness appreciation movements (Muir, etc.) or
“conservation” (for human use—Teddy Roosevelt preserve animals to kill them)
nuclear programs promoted more critical inquiry, but otherwise
not much focus on humans as agents of environmental destruction
Silent Spring
changed the terms of discussion
leader in 3 domains
1) agency of humans: consequences of structures of control
2) raised question of role of military/militarism in development of pesticides
3) misogyny in response

challenges to
pesticide industry (w/out naming names)
unsustainable American agrarian structures
collective consciousness & ethics
anticipated today’s critical debates about power and ecology
(agrobusines/secretive industries/big money/
'ends justify means’ ecological approach)
paved the way for Merchant and McPhee on control of nature,
for Lappe on food business and food maldistribution,
for ecosystem analysis, for env’l ethics
called into question the paradigm of scientific ‘progress’ of post-WW2 use--
not just challenging pesticide, and her critics knew it

from Silent Spring:
“who would want to live in a world that is just not quite fatal?
and yet pressed on us…those who exercise ruthless power…
we are fed little tranquilizing pills of half-truths
truths are hidden from us intentionally…
also hidden by specialized division of knowledge
insecticides presented as “homey” and “cheerful”
government regulatory agencies understaffed…
systems of ‘tolerance’ setting flawed and unsound

cf. EPA website on pesticides—system she decried is the same system in place today

“ A system of deliberately poisoning our food and then policing the results”  is reminiscent of Louis Carroll

naïve/core idea: an optimist,
believing that ethical behavior would follow knowledge;
"future generations unlikely to condone…”
we must take the “other road”…natural controls to pests

single greatest problem: hubris of controlling nature
“as man proceeds towards his announced goal of the conquest of nature”…”the habit of killing”
“who has made the decision that sets in motion these chains of poisonings”
(decision of authoritarian entrusted w/ power…in a moment of [our] inattention)
“control of nature”: a phrase conceived in arrogance and born of the Stone Age

military origins of pesticide development: as matter of historical record
among the first to raise critique of militarized responsibility for environmental destruction
German weapons program (nerve agents)
Rocky Flats
Importance of DDT in WW2 Pacific
transitioned quickly to civilian uses: first synthetic pesticide
taken firmly to task by her critics

military ethos of pesticide use remains strong (Vietnam, Iraq syndromes….)
embedded in pesticide use are
manly, vanquishing names such as ambush/ammo/arsenal/avenge/barrage/barricade/bravo/volley warrior
military effect on the environment in the Middle East
bigger picture of militarism and environment:
military single-largest environmental agent—global wilding/wars
ordinary business toxic materials
skew of priorities/protection racket
National Security trope closed circle: keeps out queries
images of military-caused environmental devastaton
globally, every weapons production/storage site is also an environmental disaster site

forging the template for response
response to Silent Spring modeled subsequent industry attacks:
question the author’s credentials/find dissident scientists/sow seeds of doubt/distort what author says /launch media campaign/launch think-tank/enlist sympathetic political leaders

Threat because her challenge was carefully crafted, well-documented--and by a woman
misogyny first/last resort for undermining women in environmental area
called amateur/scientific journalist/unpatriotic/communist
“We can live w/out birds and animals, but we cannot live w/out business"
additional charges: spinster/hysterical/emotional-laden

hid her breast cancer (to deflect attacks that she had a
personal, vested interest in attacking pesticides as carcinogenic)
spinsterness also a mark of dubiousness

template for attacks on women who challenge science
RNC 2012: “war on women is as fictitious as a war on caterpillars”
efforts to control women’s reproduction/silencing of women legislators
attacks on Carson revived today: “Rachel is Wrong” website,
blaming her for millions of malaria deaths

 great accomplishments and disappointments of her work:
we have not become “the future generation unlikely to condone…
the lack of prudent concern for the integrity of the natural world that supports all life”

Cape Code tunnel = another planet to retreat to?

Her enduring challenge:
“I think we are challenged as mankind has never been challenged before,
to prove our maturity and our mastery, not of nature, but of ourselves” (1963 CBS “Reports”)

why we still have this problem
meatless Monday regimes (w/ hysterical reactions) @ various schools
env’l concern seen as feminine, “anxious”—treated as soft/not serious issue
on teaching @ MIT/belly of the beast
Carson a model for how to tell an inconvenient truth
she knew they were going to take her down…
passion w/out disabling fury—writing/re-writing that prose
we live in a different culture--
which causes problems in our ability to change the world
according to most polls, the majority of Ams believe that
climate change is real/should be addressed;
yet most oppose intrusive gov’t regulation:
how to approach these enormous inconsistencies?
what discourse recognizes living in the world?
challenge to us in our bubbles: how to bridge the divide?
what might change your mind?
Canadian phrase to describe gap between French and Anglican: “the two solitudes”
need to bring complicated scientific analysis to popular domain

effective teaching technique used by field biologist:
monitor 3 yards of grass: come to know it/write down what’s going on…
you will see much more than the grass…look @ all that’s going on…dynamic!
small experimental station can be powerful approach…