This page features links and annotations for selected literature and media that have shaped my thought process and individual major over the past four years at St. Olaf College. The largest body of literature (which includes links to articles, books, and blog posts) is found in the Annotated Resources section of my Students for Education Reform Resource Guide.)
Though each of these 15 annotations features a correctly formatted MLA citation, you can find a full list here: CIS Works Cited.
- Historical Context: Race, Class, and American Culture
- Technology and Media
- Parenting Practices
- Environmentalism and Social Change
Historical Context: Race, Class, and Culture: The texts in this category served as an introduction to the themes of race and class in American culture. The conversations that stemmed from these books (read for American Studies 100 and American Conversations) peaked my interest in the study of privilege, systemic injustice, and the formation of identity for American citizens throughout history.
Though there are many resources that could be added to this list, these three texts are “classics” in the sense that their considerations trickle down to inform not only the books listed throughout this bibliography, but also many of the headlines found in any daily national newspaper. Throughout my major, I have had the opportunity to delve into subject matter deemed uncomfortable by many–learning to articulate my own “whiteness,” “upper-middle class” status, and femininity as I explore how each of these traits fits into larger American cultural systems.
Beecher Stowe, Harriet. Uncle Tom’s Cabin. vols. 5th ed. Boston: Dover Publications, 2005.
Harriet Beecher Stowe penned the stories of Tom and Chloe, George and Eliza, St. Clare and Eva, and the Shelby family to spark a movement. Kindling the hearts of 19th century Northern housewives across the country, Stowe wrote to expose injustice. She wrote to free an entire class of people from chains. And yet, her motives were complex.
Harriet Beecher Stowe believed in the power of education. She envisioned a society of black men and women—taught to read across the thin pages of Exodus and Ecclesiastes. She imagined emancipated slaves empowered and then exported to teach the “good book” overseas.
Stowe did not envision 1960s lunch counter sit-ins or Selma segregation. She couldn’t predict a system of higher education with statistics and entrance rates designed to insure acceptable ratios of colored skin.
In Stowe’s work we see the American history of white privilege. Between the lines we see the foreshadowing of a black boy with Skittles in his pocket–shot on a quiet evening in a “rough” neighborhood because his hood was up and he “seemed aggressive.” We see the renowned black scholar—arrested in an upper class neighborhood for “breaking in” to his own house. We see the waves of black schoolchildren and their anxious parents holding hands in crowded gymnasiums as they wait to see which ping pong ball will come up in the hands of the charter school superintendent—wondering which kids will win a new kind of lottery.
Reading Stowe’s “classic” text for my American Studies 100 course, I thought hard about what it means to advocate for a cause and to speak for a group of people to which you do not belong. These considerations would influence my participation in the group Students for Education Reform, the way I thought about my own “whiteness,” and my understanding of “diversity.”
As Stowe begged her readers in 1852, I understood that we must cannot be content to read Uncle Tom’s Cabin as a protest novel and feel “informed.” We need to act—or at least join the conversation. We need to continue to adapt those progressive lines of freedom (though imperfect) for present-day forms of domination and inequality. After reading Stowe and drawing lines to current events plastered across daily headlines, I came to believe that we need to use our privileged college educations not to extend the comforts of our compartmentalized lives, but to bring others into the systems that have for centuries shut them out.
Andrews, William. Classic American Autobiographies. New York: Signet Classics, 2003.
First studied in the Fall of my first year at St. Olaf College, this anthology serves as a primer to several of the voices that are associated with American culture, history, and identity. Though the comprehensive compilation features autobiographies from Mary Rowlandson, Mark Twain, and Gertrude Bonnin, the sections I spent the most time with were those devoted to Benjamin Franklin and Frederick Douglass.
Juxtaposing the narratives of two “self made” men from vastly different circumstances and social classes, one a Founding Father and the other an oppressed slave who found freedom and demanded justice, I grew to understand the power of storytelling in American citizenship and political action. In their carefully penned rhetoric of privilege and power, both of these men opened doors for new American values.
A famed multi-tasker, eloquent writer, and prolific inventor, Benjamin Franklin influenced countless citizens with his public commitments to a strict code of virtue and morals. These convictions would become stitched into the fabric of the early American image. Likewise, Frederick Douglass’ narrative of life as a slave in the United States provoked empathy and guilt in an era of great conflict. He engaged his audience with a vividly painted picture of slavery that was both heartbreaking and hope-filled–offering room for his readers to act on his conviction in order to create a better world.
Skloot, Rebecca. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. New York: Broadway, 2011.
In the year 1951, a poor black woman was treated for ovarian cancer. Cells were taken from her cervix and stored away as samples. When it was discovered that these cells had incredible potential for advancement in many areas of medical treatment, they were eventually sold off to medical companies and hospitals across the world. By the time this happened, the woman they were taken from had died. Her family was not informed of the cells’ existence.
Those cells would change the course of scientific history.
The subject of this 328 page nonfiction text is a woman whose position as a black, poor and, female tobacco farmer contributed to the silencing of her story. Though her “HeLa” cells were essential to finding a cure for polio, cloning, and mapping genes, few knew Henrietta Lacks’ name before white journalist Rebecca Skloot dedicated several years of her life to unearthing the human history behind the cold caption she’d seen in a biology textbook.
In the process of mapping “HeLa” from a unique angle, Skloot confronted the collision of ethics and medicine. Merging a strong understanding of science with an empathetic and sensitive re-telling of a troubled family’s story, Skloot realized that her investigation could change the lives of Henrietta’s relatives dramatically. “HeLa” quickly became a representation of the unnamed and slighted citizens of oppressed groups in American society.
Reading Skloot’s highly acclaimed book, I thought deeply about whose stories have the privilege of being told. I wondered about the intersection of “hard sciences” and humanities and the power of creative nonfiction. In Skloot’s artfully crafted journalism, I found inspiration. I began to feel that even as a white woman from an affluent family, I could share the stories of those who are not “like” me without being deemed a hypocrite. I could overcome my ignorance by first acknowledging it. Skloot’s work serves as a model for conscientious storytelling, informed social change, and “systems thinking.”
Technology and Media: These books and media became the bedrock for my ongoing consideration of what it means to be a young adult growing up in an increasingly “mediated” culture. Thinking about the ways we control technology and the ways technology controls us, it’s easy to see how media can be identified as a major component of “identity” in the 21st century–changing the way we relate to one another, construct our daily experiences, and understand our “sense of place.”
“Eli Pariser: Beware Online ‘Filter Bubbles’ | Video on TED.com”, n.d. http://www.ted.com/talks/eli_pariser_beware_online_filter_bubbles.html.
In this groundbreaking TED Talk, author and cultural theorist Eli Pariser analyzes the implications of our increasingly “mediated” lives. Examining our fragmented identities strewn across youtube, Facebook, Hulu, Gmail, Netflix, and Reddit, Pariser reveals that we are manipulated by the products we’ve created to entertain us. Though we believe that we live in a world of increasing variety and choice, Pariser tells us that our views and understanding are actually growing narrower.
The online spaces where we live are designed to show us only what we “want” to see. If we are interested in liberal politics, it is only the headlines from the New York Times that show up in our right hand news feeds. Advertising is catered to fit the things we’ve already clicked on and looked at. Everything we do is recorded–archived to ensure easy access and hierarchies of information based on pre-defined preference.
Throughout his talk, Pariser asks; “Do we control our technology, or does our technology control us?” This question began a string of follow-up considerations dealing with identity in a technology-driven age. It would eventually provide a framework for my research in the summer of 2012 on the topic of Electronics, Emerging Adulthood, and the Environment–tying together themes of political engagement, mediated childhoods, and misconceptions about the “multitasking generation.”
Turkle, Sherry. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. New York: Basic Books, 2011.
Sherry Turkle, author of the eloquent ethnography Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other offered a unique perspective and voice to begin the summer research of 2011′s ongoing conversation about Emerging Adults, Eletronics, and the Environment.
An MIT technology and society specialist, Turkle explores our relationships in a digital landscape–focusing on how we use technology to construct ourselves and our realities. From robots and cyborgs to facebook and twitter, Turkle urges us to consider what devices tell us about our values and the loss of understanding our human “purposes.” As her title suggests, Turkle paints a picture of our constantly connected society–a society where bodies exist together in public spaces while minds fly across a digital terrain.
Surrounded by glowing screens from the moment we wake to the minute our heads hit the pillow and luminous green numbers proclaim the time “late,” we have developed an entirely new sense of place. Combining the real and virtual worlds, children born in the digital age now think in terms of search engines, “like” buttons, and mouse clicks. We feel an intimacy for objects that do not have the capacity to understand us. We imagine a future with robots who reliably care for the elderly and perform everyday tasks to perfection. In a society of multi-taskers, we become more robotic every day. Socially networked life keeps us more connected theoretically, but also allows us to hide from one another. We live lives of simultaneous introversion and extraversion.
Turkle begs us to think about the state of our relationships to each other and to technology–looking at how they represent what we want to stand for. This text was the starting point for my CURI 2011 summer research on Electronics, Emerging Adulthood, and the Environment, and it was cited often in the content of the Campus Ecology lessons I taught throughout 2013. Turkle’s work provides meaningful context for considerations of social change in a mediated world.
Gladwell, Malcolm. The Tipping Point. Little, Brown and Company, 2000.
After reading Gladwell’s the Tipping Point, it’s easy to feel like you know exactly how to start a social movement. Isolating the three “rules” of the Tipping Point, Gladwell proves that social movements can spread like epidemics—beginning with a few individuals and infecting millions. In his analysis, Malcolm Gladwell asks his audience; “Why is it that some ideas or behaviors or products start epidemics and others don’t? And what can we do to deliberately start and control positive epidemics of our own?” (14) Through case studies of Hush Puppies, New York City Crime, Sesame Street, Blues Clues and Paul Revere, Gladwell’s readers know the three necessary ingredients make something “tip”: The Law of the Few, the Stickiness Factor, and the Power of Context.
● The Law of the Few tells us that it only takes a handful of influential people (Connectors, Mavens, and Salespeople) to start a movement.
● The Stickiness Factor is all about the messages you can’t get out of your head.
● The Power of Context tells us that the smallest and subtlest factors can affect the way we act.
Despite Gladwell’s impressive examples for each of these rules, even he admits that they do not fit every situation. Ideas that have tipped, (or are about to tip) surround us every day. Throughout Gladwell’s text, I found myself asking; How might we create ideas that “tip,” influence them, or prevent them? How do these rules influence our understanding of the world around us? Gladwell’s context and theories about human behavior provide the theory necessary to begin a movement for social change. His themes and examples have inspired my exploration of mediated life, the civic and political engagement of 18-25 year olds, the subtext of daily headlines, and the way our possessions and countless profiles define us.
Postman, Neil. Amusing Ourselves to Death. Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. vols. 20th Anniversary Edition. London: Penguin Books, 2006.
Though Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death was first published in 1985, its central thesis claiming that every aspect of modern life has become a form of entertainment rings even truer in 2013. Postman uses the evidence of our celebritized politicians, obsession with appearances in all venues from the morning news to the Sunday church pew, and the fragmented nature of our everyday lives to emphasize our American culture’s transition from “word-centered to image-centered” (9). Echoing media analyst Marshall MacLuhan’s assertion that the “medium is the message,” Postman worries that our shift to media devoted predominantly to entertainment could make us less human—changing the lens through which we see the world as our technologies define our culture.
Postman artfully foreshadows the questions that our generation grapples with in an increasingly mediated Millenial world. Questions like: Can we develop meaningful identities while defining ourselves on so many different technological platforms? Can we be more than our appearances and entertainment value when institutions like Facebook and Linked In and Twitter exist? What sort of culture have our “plugged in lives” created? Do we control our technology, or does it control us? What are the hidden curriculums within our daily Internet use, TV episode viewing, and conversations? How can teachers engage students of the “multi-tasking generation” who are used to being in a dozen different mediums at once?
In conversation with texts like Alone Together, Mediated, and The Nature of College, this text got me thinking about the important connections between American pop culture, media, rapidly blossoming technological “progress,” and transitions in education systems necessary to “keep up.” Our mediated and entertainment-driven society plays a huge role in the development of our identities—showing us what who we should be to make it to the “big screen” of success. Like my experiences studying Electronics, Emerging Adulthood and the Environment with Jim Farrell, teaching Campus Ecology, and co-designing the website for the SustainAbilities program, examining this text within a seminar-based Media Studies context challenged me to think about the application of media theory to my life as a 20-something American woman and to my future vocation.
Postman argues (as H.G. Wells does in 1984,) that we are “in a race between education and disaster.” The only way to evade disaster is to teach the complexities and politics of media to future generations—encouraging young people to continue thinking about all aspects of the world around them and maintain a sense of control over their identities. The unpacking of media and mediums is something I hope to continue throughout my life, especially as I enter the world of teaching.
Thomas de Zengotita. Mediated. New York, New York: Holtzbrinck Publishers, 2005.
In the introduction to his provocative assessment of our mediated world, Thomas de Zengotita says; “Ask yourself: is there anything you do that remains essentially unmediated, anything you don’t experience reflexively through some commodified representation of it? Birth? Marriage? Illness? Think of all the movies and memoirs, philosophies and techniques, self-help books, counselors, programs, presentations…think of how all this conditions your experience. Ask yourself: if I were to strip away all of those influences, could I conceive of my life?” (9).
Today we think in Facebook statuses and Twitter hashtags. Our collective experiences are shared across screens and in winding Netflix queues. We are everything, everything is us, and nothing is original or authentic. These are the unsettling observations and thoughts that Thomas de Zengotita prompts. He reminds us that we are a culture of convenience, performance, and options as he unpacks advertisements and iPods and the changing experience of “childhood” as seen on TV. Zengotita exposes our culture as one that is trapped by technology, but that believes it is freer than ever. He exposes us as “Method Actors” as he takes us through chapters devoted to Identity Politics and MeWorld. He writes emotionally about our shared experiences of catastrophe as we watched streamed storm footage and unparalleled terror as two planes collided with the World Trade Centers and shows us that the everyday has become surreal–captured in a ubiquitous frame.
We can never fully analyze media, because we can never escape it.
Taking this lesson another level, the media studies class in which I read this book performed a 3-day long experiment.We attempted to “unplug” from all media–leaving behind our laptops and cell phones and music for 72 hours. You can find my reflection on this experiment here.
Through this “unplugged” experience and the words of Zengotita, I have begun to think about technology in a much more conscious way. Zengotita’s text may be read as a warning, and I plan to use it as I imagine what I’d like a future society for my own children to look like.
Parenting: Several of the resources listed in this session come from the independent study conducted with Anthropology Professor Tom Williamson on the topic of Child Rearing Across Cultures. These books offered the opportunity to explore histories of child rearing advice and practice in American culture, and to consider how parenting has changed to become what it is today. The way that we raise our children says much about what we prioritize as a society.
Hulbert, Ann. Raising America: Experts, Parents, and a Century of Advice About Children. New York: Random House, Inc., 2004.
Within Ann Hulbert’s book Raising America, the perspectives of child rearing “experts” throughout history are explored. Reading about the influence of such famous advice-givers as Hall, Holt, Watson, and Dr. Spock, I am fascinated by the way their own upbringing played into their philosophies. Absorbing the anecdotes of Hall and Holt for example, Hulbert states: “In practice, Holt and Hall based their child rearing advice at least as much on the drama of their own pasts as on data they amassed as scientists in the big city” (42). Beyond Holt and Hall, I came to understand through my experience reading Raising America that what you remember from your own childhood experiences plays the greatest role in how you will ultimately define yourself as a parent. Looking to the way that our parents raised us, we put each situation encountered with our own children into the context of our memories.
Beyond this general observation, Raising America led to the exploration of these questions:
- How has discipline changed in the power and authority dynamics of American families? Particularly reactions to physical punishment?
- How does social and economic class play a role in the opportunities given to children growing up in America? For example, I thought of standardized test preparation, gifted and talented programs, medical care, and expectations parents place upon children. This tied in with the influence of older generations as well.
- How does the idea of motherhood as vocation play out today? Why are the “Real Housewives” so famous? What is it about them that we love and hate to watch? How does this sort of media affect how we view parenting? What is the identity of the “Super Mom” like in American culture? Is this a good thing?
- How wild should adolescence really be?
- Is it so bad to be maladjusted in a conformed consumer world? What if you don’t want your kids to question?
- Why is pre-school so important? Are we always trying to compensate for social inadequacy?
- Are parents too dependent? Are they childlike themselves? In a generation where “emerging adulthood” is acknowledged and “growing up” takes much longer than previous generations, I wonder sometimes if I will ever be capable of being as independent as the generations before me.
- How much should we shape our kids for their future careers? Do they really have complete “choice” when it comes to vocation?
Ultimately, these questions led to further independent studies and research papers and considerations that will influence the way I raise my future children. They informed the creation of Students for Education Reform St. Olaf, my desire to understand the experience of the American child, and my choice to read books like Our Babies, Ourselves.
Carson, Rachel. The Sense of Wonder. Harper, 1998.
For Rachel Carson, an ecologist renowned for her efforts to expose the negative effects of pesticides on the environment and the human population, the child’s “sense of wonder” was perhaps the most important natural resource. In addition to her legendary 1962 textSilent Spring, Carson penned several lesser known titles focused on the incredible strength of childhood curiousness. In one of these texts, a photograph-filled storybook titled Sense of Wonder, Carson chronicles the outdoor experiences shared with her grand-nephew Roger.
In a picturesque nutshell, Carson brings out an often overlooked responsibility of adulthood–giving children the space to create memories that will last a lifetime. More than memorization and testing of the carbon cycle, recycling practices, air pollutants, and the names of plant species of deciduous forest ecosystems, this is effective environmental education. Giving space is just as important as building an information base. This space extends beyond the physical realm. When we “give space,” we give freedom. We offer online corners and games as a supplement to natural experience. We integrate the environment into algebra problems and reading assignments. We go for walks and build schools with the outdoor classroom in mind. We offer students choices as they learn common principles and ethics–acknowledging that personal connection is key to future action.
Read for an independent study with Jim Farrell, this text helped me to envision an idyllic definition of “parent”–one where wonder is a priority and the pressures of “success” take a back seat.
Chua, Amy. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. New York, New York: The Penguin Press, 2011.
In one very intentional and fluid motion Amy Chua flung a hand made birthday card back into the open hands of her daughter Lulu. In an infamous sentence that would soon reach the appalled lips of book club mothers and helicopter parents across America, Chua announced; “I don’t want this…I deserve better than this. So I reject this”
A collection of anecdotes and quotes echoing this strict perfectionist art incident make up Chua’s now famous book: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. A weaving maze of 6 hour torturous practice sessions, straight-A demands, strict “no sleepover” or “playdate” policies, and countless threats made in the face of disobedience, Yale law professor Amy Chua shared her self-proclaimed “Tiger Mom” parenting philosophy and was met with an American roar. Attacked as an unfeeling monster and Nazi parent, American parents tore into Chua’s philosophy–a defensive chorus of critiques driven by a very carefully disguised yet palpable fear. The real question that Amy Chua’s memoir presents is not whether her parenting style is correct, but why we care enough make such an aggressive effort to tear it to shreds.
Amy Chua was one person telling the story of the way she has raised her children. Somehow, her book, which originally served as a personal explanation for why she approached parenting the way she did, became a warning about the growing global inferiority of the U.S. and a challenge to the “wimpy” parents of America that ended in a defensive battle cry. As I analyzed the controversial text, I began to see American mothers as “undercover tiger mothers”–connecting the demands and expectations of parenting across cultures and piecing them together to think about the construction of identity within the family structure.
Environmentalism: Though this discipline is not technically a piece of my individual major, it has very much informed the way I think and act. As I continued to take courses and perform research with my advisor and mentor Jim Farrell, my passion for environmentalism and questions about the environmental movement as a component of American and “Emerging Adulthood” identity grew. The following books showcase connections between environmentalism and several of the other questions and subjects I’ve considered throughout my major–including child rearing, “systems thinking,” and storytelling. In an age of extreme climate change and an ongoing cultural conversation of environmental ethics, I believe that this perspective is important to take note of.
Steingraber. Raising Elijah: An Ecologist’s Journey to Motherhood. Da Capo Press, 2011.
Acknowledging parents’ conflicted flurry of emotions and unwavering duty to serve as advocates for their kids, environmental author Sandra Steingraber published in 2011 an inspiring book of anecdotes, carefully compiled research, and relatable cultural analyses titled Raising Elijah: Protecting Our Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis.
In her environmentally themed memoir, Steingraber artfully explores staples of American childhood–unpacking the invisible and harrowing consequences of milk, pizza, playgrounds, laundry, and homework. With poetic descriptions of her own journey through motherhood, Sandra Steingraber takes her reader from familiar personal vignettes to the details of phthalate plasticizer and ehtylene dichloride production. As I read her memoir, Steingraber had me sweating for a dozen pages at a time–realizing the countless carcinogens I had been exposed to in my own childhood.
Moving from familiar suburban household dynamics to large scale implications, Steingraber’s chapter headings are a genius synopsis of her unique perspective on parenting in an ecological crisis:
- One: Milk (and Terror)
- Two: The Nursery School Playground (and Well-Informed Futility)
- Three: The Grocery List (and the Ozone Hole)
- Four: Pizza (and Ecosystem Services)
- Five: The Kitchen Floor (and National Security)
- Six: Asthma (and Intergenerational Equity)
- Seven: The Big Talk (and Systems Theory)
- Eight: Homework (and Frontiers in Neurotoxicology)
- Nine: Eggs (and Sperm)
- Ten: Bicycles on Main Street (and High-Volume Slickwater Hydraulic Fracturing)
Placing the seemingly mundane experiences and physical surfaces of her children’s days into the context of larger systems, Steingraber has us thinking about the unending compromises of parenthood. In this systems-thinking approach to parenting, I was struck most by Steingraber’s analyses of playgrounds, grocery lists, and the classroom dynamics inspired by neurotoxicology. In each of these accounts I was overwhelmed by information, left helpless, and then reeled back into pseud0-comfort with creative solutions invented by Steingraber for her own quirky family.
Not only was I inspired by Steingraber’s “creative non-fiction” writing style, but I was also motivated to use her work as a frame for the discussion of “political parenting” in the Campus Ecology course I taught in the Spring of 2013.
Farrell, James. The Nature of College. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Milkweed Editions, 2010.
Though I’ve placed this book in the category of Environmentalism, it really belongs in every single one of these sections. Underlined and highlighted in four separate readings throughout my career at St. Olaf, The Nature of College is a central point in my grid of Growing Up in America connections.
Authored by St. Olaf Professor Jim Farrell, this book explores the everyday life of the American college student from an accessible ecological perspective. Encouraging his 18-23 year-old readers to reconsider the meaning of “common sense” in the culture that surrounds them and take much needed action, Jim Farrell lays out the structure of college life in chapters with titles like The Nature of Parties, The Nature of Sex and (Sometimes) Love, The Nature of Politics, The Nature of Religion, The Nature of Clothes, and The Nature of Screens.
A result of Jim Farrell’s experience teaching the democratically operated Campus Ecology class begun by senior student (and CIS major) Elise Braaten in 2004, this book was co-authored by dozens of St. Olaf students who took the course–true experts on the ins and outs of college life. As current students read The Nature of College, they are asked to offer their own revisions and perspective to its text. Every time I re-read this innovative book, I recognize the ways in which my views have shifted. Its messages and observations remind me of the capacity college students hold to have their voices heard in arenas that extend far beyond the classroom.
I’ve been fortunate enough to interact with this book in many ways–expanding upon its themes in my summer research with CURI in 2012 on Emerging Adults, Electronics and the Environment, and in my work as a co-teacher for Campus Ecology. The Nature of College has followed me throughout my entire college career, and it will remain a reference point for many years after I graduate.
Russell Sanders, Scott. Hunting for Hope. Boston, Massachusetts: Beacon Press Books, 1998.
Like The Nature of College, this book of essays written by environmental philosopher Scott Russell Sanders sums up many of my deepest feelings regarding the environmental movement. Using his own personal and familial anecdotes to introduce themes of Simplicity, Skill, Beauty, Wildness, and Fidelity, Sanders uses this book to reveal the complexity of the everyday. Sanders writes in elegant prose as he urges his readers to think about which values are their deepest and how these values compare to the values expressed by mainstream society. He shows us that a hiking trip with a teenager can become an ineffably beautiful memory, that families endure, that humans can “collaborate with wildness,” and that hope means “leaping up in expectation.” The vignettes he develops of his own family members morph into our own reeling memories. We feel an attachment to future generations that have not yet been born.
In an age of doom and gloom headlines, horror scene footage on the 5 o’clock news, and the constant cry that our generation is the one that must “save the world, it’s easy to feel hopeless and disillusioned. It’s simple to become so overwhelmed by the countless problems that you cannot even start. Sanders’ essays are a welcome opportunity to slow down and digest the world around us–understanding that it is as laced with hope as it is with distress. He calls for urgent action, but he does so in a way that feels authentic and genuine. Through Scott Russell Sanders, I have learned the art of framing stories and messages. By packaging his call to action in relatable anecdotes and the flowing poetry of mountain landscapes, Sanders opens a new kind of door.
Gruchow, Paul. Grass Roots: The Universe of Home. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Milkweed Editions, 1995.
In Paul Gruchow’s collection of short essays Grass Roots: The Universe of Home that connects the anecdotes of his life to the environmental movement, a theory of curiosity-centered environmental education is presented. In his 5-page essay Snails Have Faces,Gruchow describes the delight of nature walks with young children. Describing their youthful expertise, Gruchow says; “I like the exuberance of children on such walks…the way they take small things seriously, their unjaded acceptance of the everyday world as a place still waiting to be discovered…They don’t delegate the work of discovery. They boldly assume it for themselves. When I go walking with children, thinking to show them a bit of the natural world, I usually end up learning something about my own understanding of it” (70). In Gruchow’s brief walk with this group of children, the inherent sense of wonder present in every child is fed and encouraged. Gruchow remembers that just because he is older does not mean that he is wiser. In fact, several paragraphs of his short essay are dedicated to the lament of growing up and “fall[ing] out of love with the world” (73).
In the conclusion of this essay, the reader is left wondering what things could look like if we all still wondered. The kind of wonder I’m thinking of is a wonder with two sides: curiosity and questioning. Gruchow foreshadows the future mindsets children whose hands he holds in the wild of an afternoon walk. Coming up against inevitable conflict, he worries that they will forget how to question–leaving the decisions that run their lives in the hands of authorities and systems and “experts.”
But what if they somehow maintained their childhood wisdom? What if they “rise and assume that boldest of adult responsibilities, the responsibility of asking a question or two without the slightest concern for appearing dumb or difficult?” (74). These are the most significant questions and considerations that came from my ongoing work with this book. They will inform the way I teach, perceive, and act in the world.
Education: (Click here for this list) See the section titled “Education Themed Books.”
Because these resources are annotated within my Senior Project Resource Guide, you will travel to an external website to view them. These books and articles are a selection of texts that have shaped my view of the incredibly complex American education system. As my major developed, I realized that all questions and connections led to the notion of education. Education has become the hub at the center of my branching studies.