Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Why is 3E-COE here?

We are here because we need to act. I think that those of us in 3E-COE understand that we that nature's/the environment's state today is considerably worse off than it should be because human beings have been ignorant of the consequences of our actions. That's an incontrovertible fact. We have collectively paid too little of our minds to what happens because collective economic habits - the production, consumption, and disposal of fabricated goods - and now we are seeing them. But we are a hopeful people who, as teachers and future teachers, understand that we can have a large impact on how people act.

Teachers are institutionalized workers who reshape societies. Individually we have some power. Each of us in 3E-COE has some vivid memory of a teacher who moved us and we wish to move others. Not all of our memories are great of course, but some of them are transformative and show us through experience the power that teachers have. That power can go to ill ends - one need only think of the racial science classes in Nazi Germany - or for great good - the plight of girls and women in cultures where they have been considerably more liberated by learning to read, write, and count. Teachers matter.

We, as the agents of education must choose to change the course of our habits. These include the habits of choosing whether we ride a bike, the bus, or car pool; how much we travel, where we travel, and by what means we travel; what we eat and how it was produced; what we wear, who made it, and where they made it; and what is our relationship in our daily place to nature?

As far as I can tell we wonder about how people can best live into the future on our pale blue dot. How do we conceive of nature? How do we want to conceive of it and act in it?

Every action we take, whether in the confines of an office or if it is in the Shingletown Gap (at right) 4 miles from Penn State's main campus, we are taking an act in nature. Likely, the actions in that office have much greater costs than those taken in the Shingletown Gap because they require electricity to power every light, computer, heater, clock, radio, photocopier, printer, and so on. The Gap is itself, effortlessly evolving as part of nature's economy. Water percolates from the local water table, comes down from rains and snow melt on Tussey Mountain ridge, and then flows down into the Spring Creek Watershed which joins the Juniata River that flows into the Susquehanna eventually making its way to the Chesapeake Bay. From this Pennsylvania shaded water gap lined with rock-clinging mosses, rhododendron, hemlock, and lorel higher up, water makes its way out to the sea.

Recently, the Chronicle of Higher Education had a story that began with this:
Environmentalism has failed to slow the ways that producing, using, and replacing consumer goods deflect ecological costs into distant places and future generations. Consumption, interacting with political and economic structures, continues to deflect these costs into ecosystems with less capacity and onto people with less power to adapt to them...
We see this failure and rise as a concerned group to take small actions that combine to alleviate this suffering. As a people in a place who are students, future teachers, current teachers, leaders, and activists we know that we can act here to act there. Those costs that are likely to be deflected needn't be so great now and surely needn't be so great in the future. We teach for now and the future.

So we in 3E-COE, I think, hope for some small things. We want to create a way for students at Penn State to help reduce their footprints here, serve the local and global community through teaching and action, and carry those lessons into their future classrooms. In that spirit, we move forward by moving towards gardening in schooling, by taking the class outside and bringing the outside into classrooms, and by learning about and learning in the places where we live. By being grounded in our places, we can learn and teach best.

If you are in the Penn State community, come to our first semester meeting this Wednesday at 7:30 in Chambers Building (room TBA). Join the conversation and the movement.

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