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Looking back (and reflecting)

caleb.eckert's picture

This class has provided materials and time to challenge me in my own assumptions and perceptions of the world. At the same time, it has opened up my thoughts on the possibilities of pedagogy. There were times during the semester, where, for many reasons, I became increasingly frustrated with the institutionalized constraints of our liberal arts colleges. I know this frustration will continue in my time here. But I hope to harness it, as we did in the classroom, for something better than a wallowing in what we are told is “just the way things are.” There are other ways of tweaking academia to value other forms of engagement—through our site sits, open-ended web-events, and active democratic discussion.

Never have I been in any other classroom where students were so willing to discuss and question one another. This kind of playful and serious dynamic worked quite well for the classroom. I'm sad it has ended. Throughout the semester, I was being carried—literally lifted up by my classmates during the teach in—with so many hands supporting my not-quite-airborne body. That sensation reoccured in a number of instances throughout our time together, and I am so thankful for my classmates who have taken the time to hold each other in interactions and dialogue. It’s very strange to think that we all will break and disassociate, perhaps to bump into each other in a future course or on campus, away from the context that allowed us to push the boundaries of what it means to be a student.

Through critical reading and conversation, I have been challenged in my thoughts on representation, metaphor, action/reaction, and the very ordering and “natures” of our world. The class as a whole has begun to dig further in the continual process of my own becoming, and I know that my frustration with myself, my projects, and academia as a whole is, though sometimes paralyzing, a good sign. It’s a sign of growing pains as I am finding myself needing to be further connected in my own roots. Many of the authors we read—Terry Tempest Williams, Freya Mathews, Winona LaDuke, Amitav Ghosh, Donna Haraway, Gary Snyder, Joanna Macy—provoked some elements pointing towards the wild desire that lies at the center of my being. It is something I've realized that I so easily forget in the motions of life as a student, something which I know I so terribly need, something which I am driven to step into again and again even in the midst of a hectic schedule.

The classroom was a space where I spent much more time listening, trying to be active in that form of discussion, rather than speaking. I found that when I pulled myself back and kept myself attuned to the conversation (rather than organizing any form of argument), I spoke much more frankly and candidly. The practice of quiet attention, though sometimes difficult, is one I will continue to cultivate elsewhere. One of the days I felt that I spoke least—the day spent out in the cloisters discussing Terry Tempest Williams—I took away the most from and confronted my own perspective. I've found that trying to be as present as possible in the classroom discussion has made me more aware and attuned the insights and inquiries of others as well as myself.

I've come up to many cliff faces with my writing this year. I’ve struggled and fought with myself a number of times throughout the writing process, though much of it was due to falling into the conventional analytical essay form rather than exploring other forms of essay writing. It’s been an arduous journey, with much self-recognition and a process of reevaluating my own identity in the midst of all of it. Navigating my unmapped interior self which I am just beginning to open up continues to be an incredible and terrifying challenge for me, yet it has also led to some of the most cathartic and moving experiences with writing I have had. I felt like “Earthquake aftermath” was a culmination, but a culmination that seemed to come from someone else's hands rather than my own. I don't know how it happened, but after our troubling conversation about Terry Tempest Williams and our desire/disconnection from the earth, I woke up the next day and found words flowing through me. I need to open myself up and let the dam break to convey some ounce of truth through words. Trusting myself, my fear and passion, is the prerequisite for being more open and honest with others.

Isn't that the theme for much of this semester: rethinking the ways we speak about and represent the places we inhabit, starting first with ourselves and working our way outward? Engaging with identity, with complexity, with what being more “honest” means in the ecological thought? I feel that this class has allowed me to grow (outwards? inwards? both?) while providing platforms for tangible empowerment and a genuine contemplation. I'm so thankful for this kind of learning, and I’m hungry for more.