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Teaching for Turbulence: Notes Towards Day 3 (Tues, 1/27/15)

Anne Dalke's picture

I. disappointment re: no-snow day
...try to compensate w/ interesting conversation!
could have an interesting conversation about weather prediction and human response:
was is the ecologically responsible response to these unpredictable events?

let's see how we're doing on names--go 'round, introduce yourself and neighbor...then reverse!

II. coursekeeping
for class on Thursday,
several more short texts; the most important one is the 20-pp.
introduction to Timothy Morton's The Ecological Thought--read that one closely.
The others are commentary, extenders, questioners--do a hyper-reading of those, a quick looking for main ideas, links to Morton's argument:
Stephen Greenblatt's "Resonance and Wonder" is about museum display--lots of extraneous detail for our purposes; you only need read "extracts"
David Gessner's "Sick of Nature" is an article from the The Boston Globe;
I also linked to 2 paragraphs written by students in this course the last time 'round..
all will extend today's discussion about what it means to "think ecologically"--
which I think you may have seen from Susan Campbell's essay, is (or can be!) a pretty radical project.
So let's get to it!

III. we learned on Thursday
that ecological understanding is always raced, classed, gendered, encultured,
as Campbell says her essay for today, "our perceptions always subjective, and we are always involved";
"all readings are situated." Today we apply that insight to the particular question of pedagogy:
I want us to think-and-talk together about how this institution has historically been organized for our learning,
also how each uf us has been individually socialized to learn,
and  then--only then--how we want to be learning together this semester
--in particular, what is ecologically appropriate/necessary?

One piece of background (foreground?) here is your recent experiences outside,
exploring the physical and historical locations of HC & BMC. Turns out, from your Friday postings, that

we were happiest in…
Morris Woods 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 4 (Nature Trail 1, 1) =14
English House 2, 3, 3, 3, 3, 4, 4, 5 (Woodside Cottage 2, 3) =32
Glass staircase in Dalton 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 4, 4, 5 (Athletic Center 2, 3) =33
Campus center parking lot 2, 2, 4, 4, 5, 5, 5, 5 (South Lot 4, 4) =40
lab in Park 1, 2, 2, 2, 2, 4, 5, 5 (orgo lab in INSC 5, 5) = 43

& we thought plants would be happiest in…
Morris Woods 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1 (Nature Trail 1) = 7
Campus Center parking lot 2, 2, 2, 3, 4, 5 (South Lot 2) = 20
Dalton stairs 2, 2, 3, 3, 4, 5 (GIAC 3)= 22
English House  2, 3, 3, 3, 4, 5 (Woodside Cottage 4) = 24
science lab 4, 4, 5, 5, 5, 5 (INSC 5) =33

Simple summation: we and plants are happiest out of doors
(with some serious caveats: some felt the woods lonely, scary, unstable, esp. @ night)
plants are unhappiest in the science buildings
(because labs are not filled w/ light, are filled with chemicals).

Amid multiple delightful details (grateful for the energy w/ which you took up this task!)
we seemed to think that both we and the plants prefer what is familiar, and safe
(with light and space to grow; some of us also liked exciting spaces,
transitional spaces, where we could go somewhere,
spaces where we were in control ("regal"!).

I want you to use this very casual survey, small data set—but it is ours!--
as one orientation/directive as you think about ecological education:
If we are happiest out of doors, and plants are unhappiest in the science buildings:
should we be having more outside classes? be outside more?
if the goal is get folks to be more attentive to their environment?
are our indoor spaces (esp. science sites) not conducive to ecological learning?

These offer one particular dimension for today's larger organizing questions:
how we have been set up to learn, historically?
how we might learn together differently, in a new age?
(most illuminating moment in last Thursday's class:
your noticing your difficulty in speaking to one another-->
conventional dynamic of speaking to your prof while others watch,
not engaging w/ one another, not in relationship w/ one another--
which our readings say is a key term in ecological studies:
relationships, networks, what Morton will call the mesh of systems thinking...
spoke volumes about how education is generally performed here:
as distinguishing/setting yourselves off as what Campbell calls
"individual, authoritative centers of meaning."

So: what other gaps are there/might we work on closing,
between business as originally designed/as usual--
and the ecological imperative today?

III. get into 5 pairs (mix this up--seek out those you haven't talked with before):
group 1: tell one another what you learned from Monica Mercado's talk about
the establishment of east coast colleages and universities,  what questions/push-back you might have for her,
and/but also how might you strengthen her argument; what do you know that might add to or extend it?
groups 2&3: work your way through Susan Campbell's essay on "Desire and Longing"--what are her claims/implications for teaching-and-learning?
talk it through: do you understand her claims? what questions do you have? how well do these ideas apply here?
groups 4&5: ditto re: Michael Maniates' essay on "Teaching for Turbulence"--what sort of curriculum does he advocate?

Monica argued during November's Teach-In that colleges are not just neutral spaces, but political projects,
that who gets to learn, and what they learn there (I would add: how they learn there/how we learn here!) are deeply political questions;
she argued that the histories of elite institutions like the bi-co are histories of intense privilege and wealth,
and of the hierarchies they create and maintain; that they replicated privilege and status.

Campbell argues
that ecologists and post-structuralists share two basic tactics: overturning old hierarchies,
and questioning the concepts on which they are built, including a belief that human beings
are coherent, self-contained centers of value; we are not individual, authoritative centers of meaning,
but part of systems larger than ourselves, biocentric networks

Maniates proposes
a "curriculm for turbulence" that teaches competing theories of political and cultural change,
exposes students to more-contentious environments, helping you learn to take advantage of a politics of anger
or the anxiety that comes with insecure affluence, by providing classroom practice in rough water....

IV. talking it through
let's imagine these three folks Campbell imagined did the ecologists and post-structuralists "chatting over lunch" ;
let's perform Campbell chatting (without lunch), with Maniates and Mercado:
what do they have to say to one another? (speak "as" your author, and we'll use first names--
you are now now Monica, SueEllen, or Michael)

turn back into your partner and begin to design a "curriculum for turbulence"
(or if that doesn't work for you, as a description of our world, come up with another:
what kind of life/world are you designing a curriculum for?
Maniates' essay is very (too) abstract, so bring it down to the ground--what would
"white-water rafting: primed to expect the unknown, approaching it with humility and equinimity"
look like in this classroom? what proposals do you have for what we might do together--
and how we might do it-- here & NOW?

3:30-3:45: reporting out!
Monica Mercado, (A Short, Incomplete and Often Invisible) History of Race and Higher Ed
looking @ racism against blacks in elite higher ed--
connects w/ discrimination based on gender, class, etc:
movements related, interwoven
this will complicate the story Bryn Mawr tells about its history
colleges are not just neutral spaces, but political projects
colleges like BMC are elite spaces
stories of who is left out/denied access are needed: to correct those legacies
200 years before BMC was founded, white colonists founded universities as
spaces of privilege and nation-building, reflecting interest and power of white men of European descent
Dean Spade @ Teach In @ Barnard: “colleges and universities as political projects:
project of founding influential colleges and universities was a project of settling N Ams,
clearing land of people who lived there, replacing them w/ settlers--
founded universities for white men, not the enslaved or the replaced
who gets to learn, and what they learn there —these are deeply political questions
[cf. to NWSA construction of working in the mini-state….]
“Ebony and Ivy”: colleges part of the arsenal of European imperialism
all leading universities promoted/profited from slavery, racism, colonialism
earliest universities were playgrounds for wealthy boys,
where ideas about race were made and taught:
information about human difference/ biological supremacy
@ same time colleges were sites for anti-slavery political movements
other schools provided greater access: Oberlin first to admit AfAms from 1835, women in 1837;
first black women w/ BA in 1862: Patterson went on to work @ Phila Institute for Colored Youth-->
Cheyney University (expanded ideas of who could receive education)
100 Historically Blacks Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), most est. after Civil War;
90% black students before ’45 attended HBCUs
1880-1960s: 500 black women from 7 Sisters
era of their founding; skepticism re: higher learning of black people and white women;
7 Sisters bastions of white upper class women, denied same ed to AfAm women;
DuBois studying black college students: easier for black men than black women to enter: “strongly advised not to apply”
Joseph Taylor’s will: “young women and girls of higher classes of society”
histories of elite institutions like BMC are histories of intense privilege and wealth,
and of the hierarchies they create and maintain:
expanded access only to certain kind of women, replicating privilege and status
brief history leaves out many stories
emergence of student activism: movements protesting racism in late 20th c.
The Black Revolution on Campus: on 200 campuses in ’68-‘69
“@ stake was the very mission of higher education”:
Who should be permitted entry? What should be taught, and who should teach it?
demanded a role in production and dissemination of knowledge
energy, idealism inspired Latino, NAms to launch own crusades
Sisterhood, Perry House in ‘70s
why same conversations happen over and over
cf. stories we hear, which don’t reflect the entire story:
April 1988: all-college convocations on racism and classism on campus
colleges and universities continue to be challenged by difference
Further "Readings on Race and Elite Higher Education” on

Michael Maniates,  "Teaching for Turbulence":
Too many ESSE programs...."“suffer from muddled goals, disciplinary hodge-podge, and an educational smorgasbord of course offerings"....incoherence...
“multidisciplinary illiteracy”....the college student of today will graduate into a world that will be singularly defined by turbulence...
of climate instability, ecologic decline, and attendant economic and political dislocation, with winners,
losers, and persistent inequality. Merely sharpening the focus of programs built for placid waters will not be enough.

Three patterns of teaching and learning emerge from today’s mélange of programs.
* The first is a general trend toward urgency and alarm, coupled with a focus on the inability of prevailing
systems of economic accounting and political decisionmaking to address looming environmental ills.
* ESS programs turn to applied research and hands-on problem solving. This second pattern of teaching and learning is perhaps
the most essential feature of ESS...the acquisition of problem-solving approaches and research skills....more than any other
higher-education field of study, ESS understands and justifies itself as a problem-solving discipline....The problem-solving
focus is typically local, with the hope that these small-scale interventions will scale up....
* By and large, though, this work occurs without any systematic assessment of how it fits into
a larger mosaic of political power, cultural transformation, and social change.

naive faith in change in the face of compelling crisis
small and easy is attractive, plausible, and dead wrong..

slow-motion crises risk evoking three dynamics that ESS graduates are poorly prepared for.
One is ...“insecure affluence”...
[another is] a politics of anger...
[and the third is] a desire...for greater government power and control.

A Curriculum for Turbulence (based on metaphor of white-water rafting: primed to expect the unknown, approach it with humility and equinimity)
First, ESS programs must stay true to their founding passions and intent...
Second, early courses in ESS programs might ask students to think critically and imaginatively about human nature and the nature of crisis, separately and together....
An important curricular a rigorous course or courses that interrogate overlapping and competing theories of political and cultural change.
The successful integration of this third curricular element will produce students whose thinking about social change will transcend the “small and easy” frame that is so unproductive to enlightened and empowering action...
To teach for turbulence, ESS programs could expose students to more-contentious environments and create classroom moments that foster strategic thinking about managing—
and even taking advantage of—a politics of anger or the anxiety that comes with insecure affluence. In advancing this fourth curricular element for turbulence,
ESS programs might also consider how to draw on campus resources around conflict management and resolution....
Finally, teaching for turbulence means providing students with the theoretical background and
classroom practice to explore how they can best pursue their passions in rough water....

[the essay is very abstract;  it describes the environment only as something that, collapsing, will cause human disaster. In talking about a unified theory of teaching ENVS, to prepare for this disaster, it also lacks the concreteness of talking about particular students. It's not very "quantum-like"--more like the city planning of a Robert Moses rather than, say, that of Jane Jacobs... the essay actually falls into some of the traps it names, such as that strong impulse to seek certainty in the midst of turbulence...]

SueEllen Campbell, "The Land and Language of Desire:
imagines deep ecologists and post-structuralists "chatting over lunch"--linked by desire
both @ core revolutionary: oppose traditional authority: feminist challenge to Western humanism
share two basic tactics: polemical one of overturning old hierarchies;
more subtle, radical one is to question the concepts on which the old hierarchies are built:
scrutinize, restructure all old oppositions (nature, culture; civilized, primitive, etc.)
most important challenge is concept of biocentrism: conviction that humans are simply equal
shared critique of objectivity; our perceptions always subjective, and we are always involved;
all readings are situated; a fact is only a fact inside an interpretation
for ecology: our actions reverbertate farther/longer than we can know (all actions->unexpected reactions)
for theory, to interpret is to act;
for ecologists, perception entails no consumption
classic opposition between idealism and realism:
post-structuralist thinks the world into being;
ecologist insists on different world out there
different attitude: theory sees liberation of taking control of our thinking, criticism as political
ecology sees our complicity as a call to caution and preservation
most important shared premise: we are part of systems larger than ourselves:
no authoritative center of meaning, but networks
(Saussure: meaning in language created in relationship;
Derrida: no text contains its own meaning; all intertextual;
human beings not coherent, self-contained, or center of value;
“knots in a field of intrinsic relations.”

for theorists, what we are depends on influences outside ourselves
for ecologists, the “systems of meaning that matter are ecosystems";
what shapes my desire? loss makes us what we are:
theory: we experienced ourselves as separate from our mothers;
ecology: we are separated from the natural world (desire goes beyond the human)
quantum mechanics, relativity theory, Zen, Taoism...
Theory helps us step back from ourselves,
to think about desire, while nature writing immerses us in it:
“the human is a participant…in the ancient continuum of bears and forests….
we are part of texts written by larger and stronger forces…
I recognize the shape and force of my own desire to be at home on the earth.”