Wednesday, April 8, 2015

In Which We Propose to Teach The Circle and Not The Line

My school had me put in my book order for the fall (no contract yet, but at least they anticipate my teaching...). Literature and The Environment has swung back around, and in addition to our anthology, this time I'm adding Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.

The introduction by Carson's biographer Linda Lear and Edward O. Wilson's afterword are excellent additions to this edition, and are particularly useful to students. 

Now I have the task of deciding how to "teach" the book--something that always seemed a strange endeavor to me, considered on its own. But having the context of the course brings it down to earth. 
My initial thought is this: I want my students to take their time with Silent Spring, and I want the book to unfold for them as the topics of the course unfold. I'm thinking a chapter or so a week, aligned with our other readings. In addition, I'd like to have the students engaging in some reflective work in relation to those other readings. 

Not to say that Carson's book is the end all and be all. Rather, we can acknowledge that it is the way in which one aspect of the environmental discussion began (the influence of Silent Spring is still being felt, still being debated) and also return to it as a touchstone, seeing how the overall elements of Environmental Lit play out in Carson's writing as compared to the shorter works we'll read.

And there's also Carson's voice. Her prose style in the book exerts its own push and pull; she manages to relate complex concepts affably, to win over her readers in an anecdotal manner, yet all the while she has the force of over fifty pages of principle sources backing her up. There is an intensity that underlies her argument that feels like the building of an immense wave--it can't be escaped. 

So I don't want the book to become a sprint or a chore. Students will be getting a wide selection of readings in the course, and some of the texts make for dense and difficult reading. If there is one thing that students can excel at, it's rushing a text and demanding immediate meaning. I'm thinking, right now, that slowing the pace with the text may slow them down a bit, as well. 

Slowing down is also my own plan for the summer, in regard to reading Carson. I'm hoping to think it through as I go, and also explore the intersections that I see in relation to other texts, other environmental situations, other advancements, retreats, and disappointments. Ideally, students will do this, as well--allow the text and its significance to be a catalyst for furthering their thoughts, rather than a race to the end of that week's reading. 

I'm pretty hopeful in my thinking, but there's still a long stretch between then and now. 

More about Rachel Carson

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