Saturday, April 27, 2013

Can human civilization become ecologically sustainable?

That would be the final essay question in our Core III General Education class, Environmental Sustainability, currently being offered for the last time. We've been teaching this class since Fall Semester 2000.

We ? Me, actually. Mostly me.

I've been teaching this class since then without a break, every semester of every year.

I expect I've taught over 85% of the total sections offered over the years. Some years, I've taught as many as five sections. It was, as I said in an essay in 2004, "Preaching NOT to the converted."

Most Unity College students did not want to take the class, all were forced to take it by the college's system, and the great majority, at least to begin each semester, acted accordingly. They sulked, they pouted, they drug their heels, they didn't do the work, they didn't come to class, and some of them, usually about 25% on the first midterm, flunked the exams.

Yet most, after what was often extreme efforts at communication on both our parts, ended the class with at least a starting appreciation of the difficulties humanity faces. By the time they finished, well over 98% had passing grades.

Part of the reason for this is simply that I'm extremely stubborn. (Once a Yorkshireman, always a Yorkshireman.) So I would never take "no" for an answer. Students who didn't want to do the assignments, who didn't want to think, were generally made to, through fair means or foul. My teaching evaluations reflect this. I can look back in humor now, but there were always a handful of recalcitrant students, one or two percent, who, on learning that they wouldn't graduate before handing in some assignment or another, would write "fire Mick" on their evaluations!

But Core III was a core class. You are not allowed to graduate before you get a passing grade in all your core classes. The professor in each core class therefore has a veto on your graduation. I used that authority to the hilt to make students do the work.

I think I would do the same again, if put in the same position.

It just doesn't seem right to me, that a person offered the opportunity to review scientific and balanced information about the future of humanity, would want to ignore that information. To want to do so fails the first test of intellectual curiosity. It shows that you're simply not a scholar of any dimension.

And so I never allowed it.

As always when any great period in a person's life comes to an end there will be a reflective reckoning. I long ago discovered that the key to mental health and the key to being a good academic was internal reflection.

I'll let you know how I feel about the end of Core III as soon as I know what I feel. But I do know that if I come to the end of my life having done nothing further for the planet, teaching what was probably about 52 sections of this course to an average of 20 or so students a section, making some 1000 students in all, was at least a modestly serious contribution. And some great planetary warriors and thinkers have come through this class over the years.

No need to name names. You know who you are.

Here's an interesting article to help the current students with their final essay.

The final, final essay.

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