Giving our curriculum, our co-curricular activities and our research a regional emphasis -- an explicit awareness of, and engagement with, local geography -- can do more than just improve town/gown relations. It can position our communities to survive an increasingly challenging future, and our institutions to serve an increasingly central role in that future.
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February 28, 2013
February 18, 2013
Town and gown. How long we've all heard about the tension between a college or university and the community that surrounds it. As a trope, it's been around for decades -- maybe longer.
February 14, 2013
From time to time, I rant about sustainability explicitly from the point of view of a farmer. That's because I believe that farmers -- more and more unlike the majority of folks in North America -- experience and interact with the biosphere directly. Which is not to say that we always gain great wisdom from, and exercise exquisite stewardship in, those interactions of course. But even our most ineffective (or negatively effective) interactions are -- as a result of direct physical involvement -- informed by a wider range of considerations and potential understanding than could possibly be conveyed in a YouTube video. Or a textbook. Or a lecture.
February 7, 2013
One of the key reasons that North American society has become so unsustainable in so many ways is that we don't see the results of our own decision-making processes. When I say that to folks who work to promote sustainability on campuses, the most common reaction is "right - greenhouse gases are invisible." The second most frequent response has to do with time lags.
February 6, 2013
I'm more and more convinced that assessing/accounting for environmental sustainability only makes sense at a regional scale. While "region" isn't precisely defined, it's something smaller than most nations, smaller than most US states (except maybe on the eastern seaboard), larger than a city, certainly larger than any campus. But sustainability extends beyond its environmental aspect, and for other (social, economic) forms of sustainability, the regional scale is even more critical. Certainly, it seems so in a US context.
January 28, 2013
In my last post, I talked about how having to account for greenhouse gas emissions from off-campus behaviors started me on the path to realizing that you can't build a sustainable campus in an unsustainable city (or town, or countryside). Thus, while my official charge is to change the Greenback campus, my thought process focuses more and more on changing the Backboro metropolitan area.
January 24, 2013
Stories about how communities thrive in the resource-constrained environments that islands present may provide lessons about sustainability, but those lessons will need to be ported to the mainland if they're to have any significant global impact. Happily, sustainable mainland communities and sustainable island societies may have more in common than is immediately obvious.
January 23, 2013
I remember the thrill of reading Robinson Crusoe for the first time. Later readings may have surfaced infamous bits of wordplay and troubling social/racial stereotyping, but when I was ten or eleven the image of a lone individual not just surviving but (to an extent) thriving in a wilderness was captivating. No need for a never-ending set of interlocking puzzles as per Lost, no man/beasts created by Dr. Moreau, not even an almost-magical black stallion -- the (by current Hollywood standards) embarrassingly simple story of adversity and unfamiliarity overcome grabbed my childhood imagination and held it for years.
January 17, 2013
I'm still struggling with whether (how) the teaching power of stories can be used to change people's beliefs and expectations about sustainability. However, in the process of the research which is part of pretty much any struggle I undertake, I came upon a two-sentence passage that's simply too close to perfect not to share. In a heartbeat, it conveys the essence of what a successful story-telling strategem must accomplish -- not how to do it by any means, but how to tell if it's been successful.
January 9, 2013
The evidence that stories are effective and efficient teaching tools is generally based on test results -- improved reading, writing, science and math scores. But in terms of teaching sustainability concepts, stories have an additional advantage. To the extent that they describe real-world (or seemingly real-world, or even imaginably real-world) characters and actions, each story situation is inherently trans-disciplinary.