r.graham.barrett's blog

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Understanding the Environmental Studies Curriculum

            In  the last couple weeks I have put a lot of thought into how we can teach our class, the student body of the Tri-College Consortium, and society in general to be more ecologically aware of the environment. I have spent most of my time talking about this in my last couple of web papers. In Hurricane Sandy, the Rotunda, and Thomas Berry, I contemplated our class’ reading of Thomas Berry and his idea of restructuring college level education to prioritize awareness of the natural world. Having felt a close proximity with nature while standing in the Haverford KINSC rotunda during a blackout, I concluded that having unplanned real world experiences like this outside of the classroom would be very useful for increasing environmental awareness. As Berry stresses how the entire system needs to be reworked, I started to wonder how his reforms for environmental-awareness education could be implemented for the best results. This came in the form of my next paper, Ecologically Reworking American Politics and Its Dynamics, where I tried to merge Berry’s proposal of a complete educational overhaul and my own idea real-world experiential education. Using Haverford College as a template, I proposed making every student take an environmental studies course as a graduation requirement so as to try and make all of the student body ecologically aware in some form or another.

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Educational Experimentation

For me our two field trips this past week to Ashbridge Memorial Park and our blind shuttle tour had a particular significance to them. In the last couple of web papers I have been trying to advocate new ecological teaching styles which are based on unorthodox experiences that take place outside the classroom. Although our fieldtrips were not based on accidental and personal experiences, they nonetheless still managed to encourage us to not limit our learning experiences to just the classroom. Rather the class field trips gave everyone the opportunity experiment with how we were soaking in the knowledge of our field trip.

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Encroaching on and Balancing Out Nature

Today’s observation period at my sight sit besides being my last was also the first one that I’ve managed to have for a few weeks. With the weather conditions making the day feel more like it should be in March rather than December, it felt like it was going to be a rather pleasant hour at my bench. Unfortunately though, the visuals that I witnessed at the bench were not as pleasant as the weather. Although the sight of the trees along the nature tree and the pine needles healthily covering the bench were still there, placed right in the middle of the Arboretum field in front of me, was a cleared section of dirt and gravel. Leading from this spot were both a similar dirt and gravel path and a black plastic fence snaking away towards the Nature Trail and apparently extending all the way to Haverford Road. Upon inquiring about the cleared patch later, I found out that the field was being prepared to be turned into a temporary parking lot for the golf tournaments that were to take place on local golf courses during the summertime.

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Interdisciplinary Rambles and Education

On November 18th, Rachel and I met up with our 3 freshmen partners (Alex, Hannah, and Rochelle) to conduct both the botanical tour and the geographic tour of Bryn Mawr.  We began by first sitting down at our usual circle chairs outside of English and having a discussion in which we compared and contrasted our two classes. While there was certainly some similarities (they are of course taking an ecological-minded class as well) there did exist some differences, mostly in terms of the texts we read. Following this, Rachel and I brought the freshmen into the woods and had them examine privet, viburnum, spice bush, beech trees, and tulip trees. In turn, the freshmen brought to various buildings and structures around campus and explain to us the composition of each particular building, and highlighted particular usage of Wissahickon Schist and Baltimore Nice on a few of the buildings and contrasted their attributes. As we finished up the Interdisciplinary Ramble of the campus at the Bryn Mawr Fieldhouse, our combined groups discussed what we had learned through each of the botanical and geological examinations of the campus. We ended with an agreement that the current landscape of the campus did consist of the natural landscape but in the process of being turned into a college campus the landscape had to incorporate imported components (such as Baltimore Nice and the non-native species in the woods).

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Ecologically reworking American Politics and Its Dynamics

            In my earlier web paper, Hurricane Sandy, the Rotunda, and Thomas Berry, I talked about how an unexpected power outage provided me with an experiential form of environmental education. Standing inside the pitch-black Haverford College’s KINSC rotunda made me analyze the college courses proposed by author Thomas Berry for educating future generations to be more mindful of humanity’s role in the environment. By examining several of Berry’s prescribed courses, I was able to put my real world experience inside the rotunda into an educational context, thereby growing as an ecological-minded student. But while I certainly felt that Berry’s lessons were helpful for environmental education, I concluded that his classroom based and structured courses were not effective enough. Rather, I advocated that a true environmental education should incorporate more real world and unplanned experiences so that students can be thrust into the natural surroundings and realize their importance to society.

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Observing Blind

Yesterday during my observation period, I decided to incorporate some of what the class discussed in regards to Caning in the City,as well as the experiences of the "Find Your Tree" exercise into my observation period. Having been inspired by both being blindly led in Morris Woods and Carmen's talk of how being physically blind changed his perceptions of his surroundings I decided to conduct my observation with my eyes closed. I wanted to see if I could be able to observe just as much sitting on my bench without visual aid as I could when I had my eyes open. Naturally trying to do so created some issues, as having my eyes closed led to some horrendous note taking but more importantly blindly observing would be vhallenging my orginal intention for choosing the spot so I could note the visual seasonal changes on the Haverford Nature Trail. But in conducting this visual-free observation time, I nonetheless was able to still take note of my surroundings in suprisingly new ways. For instance I noticed I had a better sense of how intense each gust of wind was and from which direction it was coming from, based on tiny things like feeling the wind on exposed skin or the slight rustling of dead leaves near the bench. I could suprisingly tell the differences between different vehicle engines and animal and bird calls based on small variations in the noise level that was generated (something I may have missed if I merely saw these objects and organisms and only took note of their visible differences rather than the small differences).

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Gathering Biological Information

The first half of my hour of observation felt like a very standard observation period for me. I noticed it was windier, slightly colder, how the tree’s had lost even more of their leaves (not only could I now see the Nature Trail but I could see all the way through the trains along the Haverford Road to the golf course on the other side of the R-100 line),the diminishing animal life (excluding dogs being walked), and how the nature trail was starting to resemble a trail in a forest (with all the leaves covering it) rather than one on a college campus. Sitting on the bench , and making what I saw as my rather standard observations, I began to get bored and started to wonder if I could actually observe something new. Sure unlike in the previous weeks the weather was less turbulent, and the cold and wind weren’t bothering me that much (showing that I was at least becoming more adapted to the seasonal transition) so there was that. Still wanting something more exciting to observed as well as a change of pace, I finally figured out how I was going to mix things up. I decided…. to stand up from the bench and walk around a little bit.

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My Spot and Experiencing the Cold and Sandy's Aftermath

Besides briefly seeing it from a distance, I had not seen or visited my spot since before Hurricane Sandy hit the area. Luckily for me the bench had survived the storm although it was still soaked from the weather we had the last week as well as looking much more weathered. Besides this, there was also plenty of other signs of Sandy even a few days afterwards. Although the trees around the bench had been spared for the most part (save one that was slightly uprooted and leaning slightly on its neighbor) there was one tree that had been blown down that I had noticed on my route to the bench. Likewise looking around the ground was strewn with, sticks, and fallen braches so Sandy certainly had done some damage to the general area of this section of the arboretum. Besides blowing down the branches, Sandy also helped the transition towards winter by blowing off a good portion of the tree leaves, so the rainbow of colors I had noticed on the tree line earlier was now replaced with patches of bare leaves. Although this did allow me a better view of the nature trail I also could see Haverford road more clearly, so the scenery unfortunately was not solely a beautiful natural setting. For the most part the area was pretty empty, both of individuals using the nature trail and of the usual signs of nature, so at times I felt like I was my current observation period was rather dreary. It was cold, windy, and cloudy so that didn’t really help.

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Hurricane Sandy, the Rotunda, and Thomas berry

During the height of Hurricane Sandy, I was in the computer lab of Haverford’s Koshland Integrated Natural Sciences Center (KINSC) when the power in the building and the rest of campus failed. Plunged into darkness, not only had the energy powering the building disappeared, but the energy I had previously possessed for doing homework disappeared along with it. The novelty of being in caught in a power outage and a curiosity to see who else in the building was affected by the outage inspired me to explore the building. As I wandered the halls of the KINSC, with the exception of two people lounging in Zubrow Commons and the people I had left behind in the computer lab, I was completely alone in the building and for the most part in the dark.  As my wanderings continued, the notion of being entirely alone with hardly any light to guide me or companionship to combat my solitary status was incredibly intimidating and my nervousness began exponentially increasing. My only comfort it seemed was that I was not outside in the midst of the storm, with Mother Nature’s raging winds not buffeting me with gusts, debris, and rain but rather the shielding walls of the KINSC, demonstrating that man-made constructs could withstand Nature. My comfort and faith in the strength of the KINSC’s ability to serve as a shield against nature was soon challenged when I came upon the central rotunda/staircase in the building. Within the rotunda, I experienced how the emergency lighting was not active here, leaving only the dim natural light of the stormy night sky showing only dim silhouettes.

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Possible Ideas for Class Discussions

In terms of topics we could talk about in class for the rest of the semester I think we should try having conversations about how all the topics and readings might overlap with one another. A specific example of this would be Pollan’s article about weeds and Silent Spring’s talk of pesticide use. Both discuss a similar subject matter, plant life that is unwanted/undesired by humans, and the possible implications to dealing with them (ignoring them/letting them grow in specialized plots according to Pollan and drenching them in pesticide as Carson puts it). Seeing how both pieces address a similar topic, I think it would be useful to look at the overlap between Carson and Pollan and discuss/compare it with one another. From there class conversations could also look other similarities we can find among the other readings as well. It would also be nice to see how previous readings we have looked at might have some implications on the subject matters we are currently examining, as well as contemporary environmental and gender issues (since Silent Spring has started to make us talk about such issues in greater depth already). Revising the course to have more conversations like these would be helpful because it would let us put many of the readings in context with one another and also look at the much broader scope that each reading’s subject matter might hold on relevant issues.    

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