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Questioning Wandering Learning

Shengjia-Ashley's picture

Questioning, Wandering, Learning

Why go to college? Why spent thousands of dollars and four years of youth for rigorous academic works? Conventional wisdom says attending colleges and universities is the key to a successful life. Young people can gain knowledge and skills they use for the rest of life. However, a recent survey by Pew Research Center show that 57% of Americans say colleges fail to provide students with good value for money spent. Herein is the problem I detected: when viewing higher education with narrow lens of cost effectiveness and monetary payoff, people are blinded from the real aim of higher education: to teach people to think ecologically, to see the conflicts within our ecosystem and to ponder the questions for the rest of their lives. I believe higher education is not limited to the several years of schooling but a life-long education, and higher education is not merely keys to successful lives but meaningful lives filled with curiosities, wanderings and new findings.

By higher education I do not mean the worthless classes where the instructors only dump the disconnected facts and skills into the clustering brains of the students, but education aimed to lead students in exploring the integral realities of the universe, examine the interconnections of the living beings and non-living beings on earth and discovering ways to create a future worthy of the larger universal community. To do so is to teach students to think ecologically – to concern the totality and the pattern of the interrelationship of organisms and their environments. To teach students to think ecologically is to first open students to the sea of different world views, then assist students in identifying the conflicts and concerns existing in the ecosystem, lead students to take a holistic examination of the identified problems, connect the backgrounds of the problem to the conflicts that is foregrounded and finally take approaches to mitigate the problems. Here I will continue to explain how my fellow classmates, the instructor Anne Dalke and I have developed to think ecologically through the Ecological Imaginings ESEM courses in Bryn Mawr College.

Mark Twain once said, “I never let my schooling interfere with my education.” Schooling is merely the act of attending an organized group activity of obtaining knowledge. Education, on the other hand, is not limited to time and space, but happens whenever one is open to all possibilities, whenever one’s mind is from the norms and constrains. That is, in order to be educated one must be lost in the chaos of ideas and viewpoints, as Solnit stated in twentieth-century philosopher-essayist Walter Benjamin’s terms, “to be lost is to be fully present, and to fully present is to be capable of being in uncertainty and mystery.” As part of the exercises, Anne asked us to take a Thoreauvian walk – a sauntering without a goal and a ruminating of the thinking - of the Bryn Mawr College campus and write a paper about it. Confounded about the expectations Anne’s had, most of us wrote in circles, typing and deleting, squeezing the words until the deadline made to the sentences to flow. As the melancholy and frustration had eventually came to an end, awareness finally raised: we cannot free our minds from the notion of a paper while rambling that we overlooked the climbable trees, the budding flowers and the ripples.  We did not how to get “lost”, so we discovered little about the strangeness of nature. Thoreau asserted, get lost in the whole world is to find your soul. As we failed to lost ourselves, we found no “soul” to base our paper on.

As we realized the importance of opening ourselves to “terra incognita” – areas of unknown and uncertainty, we shifted to re-think how we represent the world in languages. Soon, we come across the conflict that the languages we used are “anthropocentric” in the way people always use human as the subject of sentences. Then we looked at Andrew Goatly’s interesting proposal to “green writing” – nominalization, the approach to get rid of the anthropocentrism and to focus on interrelated processes and reciprocal actions by eliminating the human as the object in sentences. “Pens are rustling”, we jumped into writing our own nominalized poem orally. “Thought happens. Written words voiced in speech.” Pens and words are foregrounded in the poem. Clearly, ecologically thinking is developing.

We continued to look at essay stories that discussed the causes shaping action of humans in the environment: racial, gender, hierarchy… “Contrasting lawns and massed ornamental beds are a sign… that someone…has been humbled” (Kincaid) “I believe the fear I experience in the outdoors is shared by many African-American women that it limits the way we move through the world.” (Evelyn White) “They do not own their land, nor are they flourishing in this desolate urban habitat.” (Anthony and Soule)… The classical and cutting edge ecofeminism and ecoesthetic essay give us a deeper and more holistic view of the elements contributing to the current alienation between human and environment.

We have opened ourselves to the unknown through the Thoreavian walk. We have identified the anthropocentric problem through re-think how we use languages. We have gained a more comprehensive view of the problem by reading many works of ecologists. The finally step: how to raise ecological awareness? Ever tried a blind shuttle trip leaded by a blind man? Ever tried to play tag in a school library?  These are the approaches we attempted.

Thinking ecologically is being in a recurring circle of questioning, wandering and learning - find the existing question, wander about it and look at it contexts and backgrounds, learn new theories and perhaps discover solutions to the problems. To learn to think ecologically, one should attend in class like Ecological Imaginings ESEM I attended or activities similar to that. Many questions we discussed in class are still unanswered and are still loafing in the untamed air of our imaginations. Some of the questions may take us a life-time to explore and think. Yet, that is exactly how college makes our lives more meaningful, by keeping our curiosity.


Works Cited

Carl Anthony and Renée Soule, "The Multicultural Approach toEcopsychology."  The Ecopsychology Institute, 1997

College Graduation: Weighing the cost … and the Payoff, Pew Research Center Publications, May 17, 2012.

Kincaid, Jamaica "Alien Soil." The New Yorker

Our "environmentally-friendly" "poem" /exchange/our-environmentally-friendly-poem

Solnit, Rebecca. "Open Door" and from "The Blue of Distance." A Field Guide to Getting Lost. New York. Penguin, 2005

White, Evelyn. "Black Women and the Wilderness." Names We Call Home: Autobiography on Racial Identity. Ed. Becky Thompson and Sangeeta Tyagi. New York: Routledge, 1996.



Rochelle W.'s picture

I can see how you took the

I can see how you took the main point from your last paper and expanded upon it. That allowed the paper to be more open than it was previously. Are you useing our class as an example of how education can stop being so narrowly focused? 

Shengjia-Ashley's picture

Yes, exactly. I think I need

Yes, exactly. I think I need to make this connection more clear when I edit my paper.