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froggies315's picture

This class has been different than all the other classes I’ve taken in college.  Last week, when I started writing reflections about this semester, they were huge, sprawling, and unfocused.  My reflecting transported me all around my memory, and I realized as I wrote that all of my learning from this class happened inside of my head.  For me, this semester was characterized by introspection.  When my thoughts turned to this final teach-in, I couldn’t figure out how to make my learning interactive.  So I didn’t.  I decided to read some of my reflections.  I end with an invitation for interaction.

Community has been my buzzword since 2004.  That summer, I was 14--one of the oldest campers at this camp I’ve mentioned throughout this semester.  One of my many identities that summer was that of the “Social Barometer.”  It was my job to raise community issues every morning after Silent Meeting.  I led discussions about what was working and what wasn’t working; I tried to lead by example; I badgered the counselors when they isolated themselves in their super exclusive counselor cliques.  

Even though I was only 14, and even though I didn’t know lots of the big words that I’ve since learned as a college student, my brain still struggled to conceive of—to imagine—inclusive, sustainable community.  And just as it was this semester, it was hard.  When I applied to college, nearly all of my essays were about my efforts to create inclusive community.  In one, I compared the experience of being the Social Barometer during a difficult racialized event to my experience as a student in my schools.  This is part of the conclusion from that essay: dialogue is the easy part – it comes naturally when peopled feel trusted and respected. In communities that include people from really different backgrounds, the hard part is creating trust and respect. From my experience in the Pittsburgh Public Schools, I know that throwing privileged kids and poor kids together and hoping for the best doesn’t work. You need a structure that obliges people to work together to solve problems, like at F&W.  And the community has to really value inclusion, even when inclusion is painful...

What I wrote at 17 is deeply connected to all of the thinking I’ve done this semester at 22 in Ecological Imaginings.  Community is what my brain turns to when I’m outside; I just can’t help it.  Because I want to be outside, I think what this means is that community is what I’m going to make for the rest of my life.  

At the beginning of the semester, we drew maps of our lives.  This was a good exercise for me.  I drew representations of my communities, but strikingly, I did not connect them.  My drawing was not web of interconnected community, it was isolated pockets of separate communities.  My brain’s default mode is to compartmentalize everything.  I imagined that each of my communities were completely unique to each other.  Community with my family was about intellect, community at school about productivity and food.  Community at camp about moving bodies and skits.

Of course, this is not how it actually was or is.  Despite my denial, my communities are not that distinct.  They are united for two reasons.  First because I am a part of all of them.  And second because they are all iterations of the same thing.  They are all working to demonstrate their love.  In 1923, Kahlil Gibran wrote that “Work is Love Made Visible.”  He was right.  I compartmentalize because sometimes my communities harm me.  Even so, each of them is founded in love.  Every community is.

I extended my thinking about community this semester into the realm of sustainability.  I realized that none of my communities are inclusive in the way that will confer their longevity, and this scared me.  According to our oft referenced syllabus, imagining something is the most important part of making it a reality.  I decided that I needed to imagine sustainable community.  It was hard, and I did it.  Sustainable communities are the ones built on intellect and productivity and food and moving bodies and skits and all the ways of working, which is to say loving, that we know and have yet to learn.  

Sustainability is where my imagination took me this semester, but I can’t point to a specific reading or discussion and say that it was the watershed moment. Somehow though I have arrived where I am.  It is not where I was.  It is a great place to be.  

And now, an invitation to interact in the form of a shameless plug.  If you don’t already have plans for the summer, you should think about working at this awesome summer camp I love so much.  It’s called Farm and Wilderness.  It’s in Vermont and there are cows and goats, mountains and lakes, power tools and trucks, teenagers and children with “so many thoughts and feelings,” and lots and lots of singing and holding hands.  There are also daddy long legs.  But everyone wants to talk about why they are scary, and eventually, I promise, they stop being scary.  Then, I promise, there will be something else that is scary.  That’s the two sentence version of how summer camp works.  If you apply, tell me.  I’m good at nagging them to hire people who I like.