"I am a Minnesotan by birth and a traveler in wild places by vocation and compulsion." -Paul Gruchow

Monday, March 26, 2012

Post-Spring Break

It's gorgeous (albeit windy) out there in Lincoln today and I've spent most of my day inside, unfortunately. But it's been a really good day, even the first day after Spring Break. It was good enough that I came home, bubbling with energy and thrill when I knew I didn't have any energy to back it up with. I love my job, I love my classes, I love my students.

Two major things happened today: we started the third and final writing project in my English 150 class. I'm almost done grading their second WP, which are turning out to be really good. The first was on Jonis Agee's novel The River Wife and they wrote about how a character (an individual person) can be shaped by a natural disaster, even a hundred years or more after it happened. Then in the second project, we moved out a little and considered how the student's own community was shaped by a natural disaster. As they moved through this project, they started to ask--without any prompting from me--what do we do about this? It made my little heart go pitty-pat. Unbeknownst to them, the third project is designed to address exactly that question.

This third project is about human-caused disasters (yet another cheerful topic in a semester of cheerful topics) and we're reading Erik Reece's The Lost Mountain, about radical strip-mining and mountaintop removal. The purpose of the project is to find a human-caused disaster and propose a solution (of some sort); part of this will involve arguing why it's a disaster, because obviously the coal companies don't see mountaintop removal as a problem. The situations are much more complicated than that. As my students did their final two author presentations of the semester (on Reece and Don Worster, who's giving a lecture my students are going to on Wed night), I asked my students to consider a few things as we start reading this book:

It's not as simple as saying that places should be protected because they're pretty, because they mean something to us, because they represent something in the mythology of our country or our world. The world is a lot more complicated than that, so we have to get beyond our emotional reactions. I asked them to consider the role that the economy and class play in Reece's book--because these areas of Appalachia are extremely poor--and we'll continue to add to our list of complications. I like complications. They make life--and class--much more interesting.

In my 252 today, we started Joseph O'Connor's novel Star of the Sea and our awesome collaborative project with Dawn Duncan's class at Concordia. The truth is I'm extremely nervous. I've never done something like this before and between Dawn and myself, between our two classes of students, this could go really well or it could fail spectacularly. Add into that that I've never done a wiki before and new technology scares me. If you want to check out our wiki, click here for Imagination and Knowledge. I hope it turns out well.

Today was the Famine background power point in 252 and I thought it went fairly well, considering the subject matter. But as I was putting the power point together, it occurred to me the juxtaposition of politics and ecology, particularly The Little Ice Age and revolutions. I recommended Brian Fagan's awesome book The Little Ice Age, which I spoke of in tones I don't normally use for climate books. He's got an incredibly awesome chapter on An Ghorta Mor. And then also Michael Pollan's book The Botany of Desire, which contains his chapter on control and potatoes. I brought up the winters during the American Revolution and the famous painting of Washington crossing the Delaware. I brought up the French Revolution. (I brought up Stradivarius and the theory that the Little Ice Age partly explains the superiority of his instruments, which made a few students nod in interest.) I mentioned Mt. Tambora's eruption in 1815, the Year without Summer (and with a mention of Frankenstein), and then we get into the Famine itself. The lecture was more complicated and more linear than this, but strangely, this is what my students seemed most interested in. A lot fewer of them looked bored than I thought they would. Go figure.

We start the actual book on Wednesday and I can't hardly wait. The book is freaking awesome. The landscape of the text, the manipulation of the form, the switching POV--sigh. I asked my class if anybody had started reading yet, some had, and those that had were so raring to go, with so much to say, so many questions about it, that I really, really can't wait for Wednesday.

It's the point in the semester where I have too much to do, not enough time, but I still can't wait for the next class. That's a good sign.

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