Teaching About Place
Learning From The Land
Publication Year: 2008
These essays reveal broader lessons about the possibilities and limitations that come with teaching about place and inhabiting our own places outside the classroom. Contributors include: Ann Zwinger, Bradley John Monsma, SueEllen Campbell, Terrell Dixon, and John Elder.
Published by: University of Nevada Press
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Introduction: Why Teach About Place?
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At the front of nearly any road atlas of the United States is a picture of the nation snared in a colorful net: gray strands run between the states, red strands trace the older roads, and thick blue strands carry shields along the postwar interstates. There are broken lines of time zones, too, and even some faint blue rivers. Many people could point on...
PART I: Teaching in Place
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Chapter 1. Calamity Brook to Ground Zero
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The afternoon is balmy for November, and the students aboard Riverkeeper’s patrol boat have shed their jackets as they ride the current of Rondout Creek toward the Hudson. The creek has left an impression on them. From the barge-cluttered banks to the hillside ranks of condominiums, this battered creek looks nothing like the watershed they...
Chapter 2. Learning Nature Through the Senses
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College students are desperate for sensation. Through the news, we hear some of what they choose to do in their free time: dance to pulsing rhythms, create art, climb mountain peaks, get drunk, run whitewater, travel to sunny Mexico, try psychedelics, explore each other’s bodies, taste intense new cuisines from other cultures, play body-bruising...
Chapter 3. Uplift and Erosion: Together Along the San Gabriel Front
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It’s raining. An environmental literature professor strolls from the Chandler-esque noir of the Pasadena street into the warm light of Vroman’s bookstore. He’s pondering once again why the books and places he loves seem so little noticed by everyone else. Suddenly he overhears a clerk trying to maintain patience with a persistent customer....
Chapter 4. A Teacher on the Long Trail
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During my four years at Middlebury College and the Bread Loaf School of English, I’ve often taught courses whose titles recycled combinations of the words “nature,” “writing,” “landscape,” “reading,” “place,” “Vermont,” “mountains,” “watershed,” and “home.” Looking back now at this comical continuum, however, I can discern a progression...
PART II: Making Connections
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Chapter 5. Thinking About Women in Place
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Creating healthy communities requires the kind of work that was once labeled women’s work, work that kept women in their proper “place.” Baking casseroles for potlucks—checking on a sick neighbor—soothing hurt feelings—caring for children—planting flowers—volunteering— cleaning up. This essay describes a course titled “Women and Literature”...
Chapter 6. The Complexity of Places
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There’s something compellingly immediate about places. Dirt, trees, houses, mosquitoes, a barking dog, the weight of the air: these things are so directly physical, so very present. Our personal reactions and associations draw us into their orbits as well: I caught tadpoles here as a child; I dream often of that house; this is where we watched those elk...
Chapter 7. A Place at the Table: Writing for Environmental Studies
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I’m not the nervous type, but when the second TV station called, I began to feel a little queasy. Three radio interviews. Reporters from the two major newspapers. And suddenly TV cameras were coming to class. The dean was coming too, the president left a message, other faculty were going to be there, and fourteen freshman composition students...
Chapter 8. Meet the Creek
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The yellow public school buses will pull through the gate at White’s Mill at 9 A.M. and disgorge sixty fifth graders from Chapman Elementary School. It’s been raining for days, but finally it’s clear. Our four learning stations are almost set up for “Meet the Creek,” and sixteen freshman college students are busy spreading green and gray tarps on the ground...
Chapter 9. Beneath the Surface: Natural Landscapes, Cultural Meanings, and Teaching About Place
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In one way or another, almost all of my pedagogical activity involves teaching about place. The more I think about it, though, the more I realize that what’s really going on is that I’m allowing places to teach me. And to be a good student of place, I’ve learned, you have to be a careful reader and listener. It’s easy to be beguiled by the immediate qualities of...
PART III: Meeting the Challenges
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Chapter 10. Idiot Out Wandering Around: Few Words About Teaching Place in the Heartland
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The first time I encountered this phrase, about ten years ago, I was visiting the writer Dan O’Brien at his ranch in western South Dakota. Dan had generously offered to drive me around the surrounding acres of mixed-grass prairie that he was restoring and to hunt ducks with his peregrine falcon, Little Bird—one of a native species he had helped save...
Chapter 11. The Bayou and the Ship Channel: Finding Place and Building Community in Houston, Texas
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Most Americans view our cities as having a sort of built-in placelessness. Cities are mainly freeways, and malls, and chain restaurants. The real Places, the ones that matter, are the Grand Canyon, and Old Faithful, and Rocky Mountain National Park. Once we allow for differences in weather, one American city is pretty much like another....
Chapter 12. Rediscovering Indian Creek: Imagining Community on the Snake River Plain
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Freshmen who arrive in the city of Caldwell to begin their first semester at Albertson College of Idaho most likely take Exit 129 off of Interstate 84, which runs through southern Idaho. Exit 129 leads them to Twenty-first Street—the bane of my college administration’s existence. In all seriousness, it’s a problem for recruitment, for retention, and for campus...
Chapter 13. Gifts and Misgivings in Place
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Teaching environmental studies to rural Westerners differs from teaching it in cities on the coast. To adopt an easy formulation, made by the press during the 2004 elections, one might typify the rural inland as “red” politically and the coast as “blue.” Mainstream America may romanticize western values by making the rural West seem simple and...
Chapter 14. Weaving Wildness: The Paradox of Teaching About Wilderness and Place
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After three days of fruitless searching for wolves, I suggest we sleep in until seven, but the students want to get up again at five-thirty for another try. Although it’s mid-July, Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley is virtually empty of people, save wolf biologist Rick McIntyre. He informs us that his radio telemetry is picking up a few signals from the Slough Creek...
Chapter 15. Teaching About Place in an Era of Geographical Detachment
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A powerful spring storm that downed trees along Utah’s Wasatch Front is now rolling toward us across the Uinta Basin. Above the rim of Split Mountain Canyon, lightning flickers in the dry air. The students are a little nervous about settling in for the night, so I remind them we’re in a rain shadow, where average annual precipitation is only about eight...
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Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2008