Respect for nature, for the feminine aspect and for life’s inter-connectedness are woven through the disciplines of politics, science and religion in a three class course offered in spring term.
The classes, taught by social science instructors Stan Taylor and Clifford Trolin and science instructor Melissa Kilgore, are taken together. The 12 credit cohort “generates connections between the students that [are] deep and lasting,” Taylor said. “A lot of people find a path as a result of this learning community, or they have the path they are on reinforced.”
Taylor’s class is Environmental Politics, taught from a grassroots perspective. He introduces students to non-traditional ways of seeing the world through deep ecology, indigenous knowledge, ecofeminism and the Gaia principle.
Ecofeminism, Taylor says, is a branch of feminism that views the domination of women and nature as part of the same fabric. His class explores the fabric’s threads. “If you are going to end the domination of nature and of women, they have to be done simultaneously,” Taylor said. “You can’t separate one from the other.”
Trolin teaches Nature, Religion and Ecology. He begins by inviting students to look at how native and indigenous cultures have viewed nature. “For a lot of students it’s a real eye opener because it can be so foreign to them,” he said, adding that he introduces students to non-western religions as well.
After presenting students with alternatives to what they have typically grown up with, he then has them explore Christianity. “They often have a negative view of Christianity,” Trolin said. “We turn it into a debate: Is Christianity environmentally harmful or supportive? They discover that they can argue both ways.”
Trolin said that students then look into contemporary spirituality. “That’s something they can often strongly relate to,” he said, adding that “for a lot of the students, nature is where they find God.”
He said that students relate strongly to the idea of the earth as a divine being and not just a beautiful place. This perspective, he says, makes the earth more precious to them and makes violating it more real. A central question Trolin asks is “how do we save this place that we love so much?”
Kilgore teaches the Global Ecology biology course. She said that in her class students are offered the perspective of seeing the world as a whole versus the pieces that humans typically separate it into. “We look at habitats, we look a conservation issues, evolutionary perspective, extinction rates and take a larger approach looking at the native people’s perspective in terms of viewing our planet as more than just a resource,” she said.
Humans, Kilgore explains, need to see the earth as something to be preserved and recognized more for its aesthetic biodiversity than its economic potential. Students in her class go on field trips and also get involved in local non-profits. They study ways in which non-profits add non-economic value to the community.
“They volunteer time to become familiar with the organization,” she said. “I don’t pick the groups. The students pick the groups. That’s because I want them to learn how to research and discover what happens in their community and what kinds of conservation and opportunities are available and how to come into contact and work with those groups.”
Being in her class can be depressing, Kilgore said, because students hear everything that humans are doing to destroy the planet. “It seems very hopeless,” she said, adding that after presenting the bad news, she gives students the tools for having local and profound global impact.
Kilgore emphasizes to her students that every impact on the earth has consequences such as climate change, pollution, weather pattern changes and toxic waste build up. “At some point those consequences are going to snowball,” she said.
The originators of the learning community 11 years ago were Taylor, Trolin and Jerry Hall, a former Lane science instructor. After one year, students were required to take all three classes concurrently. Hall retired five years later, at which time Kilgore joined the group.
Kilgore, Trolin and Taylor all agree; for students who join the cohort each year, the experience is deeply enriching and results in them forming communities of their own. The long term personal connections made by the students, the instructors say, is a particularly rewarding aspect of teaching Reconnecting with Nature Learning Community.
For those interested in knowing more, two books that underlie the principles and philosophy of the cohort are:
“The Universe is a Green Dragon” by Brian Swimme Ph.D.
“The Chalice and the Blade” by Riane Eisler.