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

Friday, April 6, 2012

Eng. 150: Wangari Maathai

I absolutely love Fridays. Not because they're the last day before the weekend (because the way that my schedule is this semester makes it feel like my "weekend" happens on Thursday mornings), but because both of my classes turn in their Think Pieces (their reading responses). I love reading responses. I absolutely love them. It's a safe space where my students can write about their fears, frustrations, surprises, joys, and connections where they don't always bring those wonderful moments up in class.

I've been struggling in the last two weeks with this class as I've been teaching Erik Reece's Lost Mountain about mountaintop removal coal mining in Kentucky and other human-caused disasters happening, because it seems like the whole thing has been so overwhelming and so huge that my students (and me too) are getting buried under the powerlessness of the whole thing. I think I underestimated the power of this reality on myself and my students. Mostly, for them, it's because they didn't know these things were happening and so that makes them feel even more powerless. As I'm reading through their Think Pieces for this week (that they just handed in), some of them are being able to push through that shock and powerlessness and helplessness that they're feeling into a place where they can start to think about what they can do.

Thank goodness. I was getting really worried there for a while.

Of course, it helps that today we looked at Wangari Maathai's website for the Green Belt Movement. I read her memoir, Unbowed, in Tom Lynch's Global Environmental Literature class during Fall 2010 and Maathai was supposed to come to UNL in the fall, but she died of cancer in September. She was the first African woman (and first environmentalist) to win the Nobel Peace Prize, in 2004. What the Green Belt Movement was able to accomplish is staggering.

We watched these two videos:

And I asked my students to jot down notes of things that sounded familiar to them and we put them on the board. We heard issues of gender, class (specifically poverty), the rural/urban divide, politics and power, government and power, and grassroots empowerment. Such a simple thing, to plant a tree and allow rural women the opportunity to stand on their own two feet.

We spent the rest of the class period working on the topics for their WP3, on human-caused disasters. Most of them had a decent idea of what they would do: tracking, the BP oil spill, ocean dead zones, the Keystone XL pipeline, and more. What I emphasized as we wrapped up the class is that I want them to concentrate on complicating what is going on. One of the problems we see with these human-caused disasters is that there is a huge divide between people and the environment. It's an either/or, not a both/and. So, I want them to make sure that they're talking about a disaster in a specific place--fracking in Texas is going to be a different issue than fracking in Ohio or Pennsylvania. The place matters. The people matter. Who, specifically, is affected? Race, gender, class, economic status, heritage, etc. Why should anybody care?

Their rough drafts are due next Friday, so I'm pushing them to work on the researching now, this weekend, so they can have something solid before Friday, because their last rough drafts were not good. I hope they can apply what they learned last time to this paper. I'm going to be very interested to see what happens with this project. Verrrry interested. And like I'm noticing with my 252, there's still an energy to the class that defies this race-to-the-end-of-the-semester, which is just plain awesome.

No comments:

Post a Comment