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Month: May 2021

Dialogue Principles

During the summer of 2020, as I was planning to teach my Fall 2020 courses at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay entirely online, I was eager to find new ways to support students as they developed their capacity to have meaningful discussions about U.S.-American history. To be honest, I also felt anxious, given that political polarization seemed worse than at any time in my teaching career. (Little did I know that the political climate of divisiveness and disinformation would grow even worse during the first several months of the academic year!) What could I do to help foster respectful dialogue? What tools could I provide to help students navigate difficult situations that might emerge, such as microaggressions or hate speech?

Perhaps I need not have worried, but given that an online discussion assignment that I called “Historical Conversations” was central to my courses, I decided that I needed a clear plan.

I thus created these Dialogue Principles, which became the topic of the first discussion in my online courses. I asked students to respond to these principles, to make suggestions for other principles, and to share their thoughts about the challenges of having meaningful dialogue during our time (which included the global COVID-19 pandemic, heated debates and protests over police violence, and the U.S. presidential election).

Across the academic year, I worked with about two hundred students in online courses, and across their thousands of discussion posts, I never once noticed a disrespectful remark. I occasionally observed respectful disagreement, which played an important role in the learning process, and scores of students commented on how much they learned from their classmates through these discussions, as they encountered new perspectives and information.

My students, of course, deserve all of the credit for their openminded and respectful engagement in these conversations, but I think that instructors also have an important role to play in creating the classroom community as a zone for respectful dialogue. I wasn’t aware of anything “going wrong” in these discussions, but if microaggressions or even hate speech became a problem, I wanted to have some principles to apply to address the situation.

I am sharing these principles freely through a Creative Commons license; see the end of the document for details. Feel free to modify or customize it for your own needs. I also share a number of resources on Reflective Dialogue, including other shareable handouts.

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“Infusing Sustainability” Workshop

On May 10-11, 2021, I had the great pleasure of facilitating part of a workshop on “Infusing Sustainability” for faculty at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. I would like to thank UWRF Sustainability Fellow Grace Coggio for inviting me to participate!

I have shared a list of resources on the following topics:

  • Land Acknowledgments
  • First Nations Perspectives
  • Sustainability & Unsustainability in Critical Perspective
  • Pedagogy & Teaching Resources

The list includes several teaching resources that I share freely through Creative Commons licenses:

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Guided Meditation on the Ecological Self

This meditation is inspired by the concept of the ecological self as described by Arne Naess, Joanna Macy, John Seed, and other participants in the Deep Ecology movement, which began in the early 1970s, and also by a guided meditation by Sharon Salzburg on gratitude and our interconnectedness with other people.

The ecological self honored here is the expansive, interconnected self, that lives in relationship with everything else that exists.

I am sharing this meditation freely through a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

If you prefer to download the audio file, you can access it here.

The script for the meditation is available here, in case you’d like to read the meditation yourself or make modifications.

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Canonball Podcast Interviews on Environmental Humanities and Aldo Leopold’s “Sand County Almanac”

Canonball Podcast Logo

On March 25, 2021, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Professors Ryan Martin and Chuck Rybak at UW-Green Bay for two episodes of the Canonball podcast. (Here’s the official description of the program: “Canonball is a podcast out of Phoenix Studios at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay that covers the great works from a variety of disciplines. From movies to film to literature to video games, hosts Chuck Rybak and Ryan Martin discusses all things canonical.”)

In the first episode, which aired on April 8, we discussed the Environmental Humanities.

In the second episode, which aired on April 22 (Earth Day), we discussed Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac (1949), as well as Robin Wall Kimmerer’s “Speaking of Nature,” from Orion Magazine (March/April 2017).

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Beyond Sustainability: Imagining an Ecological Future

This talk, available on YouTube, was the opening plenary session for the Common CAHSS 2020 Conference at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay on November 30, 2020. Professor Ryan Martin shared the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Land Acknowledgment at the opening of the session, and Professor Alison Staudinger skillfully guided me through the questions at the end. In the conclusion of the talk, I quote a sentence from Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass, “All flourishing is mutual.” This phrase appears five times in the book (on pages 15, 20, 21, 166, and 382), and Kimmerer presents it as one of the “teachings of plants” mentioned in the book’s subtitle. Given the degree to which this talk was inspired and informed by writings and teachings of First Nations people, which have been offered freely to all people, including settler colonists, I’d like to encourage anyone who watches the talk to consider how the United States and Canada could move toward reciprocity and justice for First Nations people today–as an essential aspect of moving beyond sustainability.

We need to have an honest conversation about sustainability—not to demolish the concept, but to recognize that it has fallen short in helping us change our unsustainable ways.

This excerpt from the beginning of the talk provides a brief overview:

We need to have an honest conversation about sustainability—not to demolish the concept, but to recognize that it has fallen short in helping us change our unsustainable ways. In my talk this evening, I’d like to focus on several aspects of the public discussion of sustainability, in order to suggest a more honest, expansive, and holistic approach. We can’t begin to talk honestly about sustainability until we come to terms with unsustainability and the harm we have caused on this living planet—including harm to each other. To do that, we have to see things holistically, and as whole beings. We will need sustainable knowledge systems that recognize multiple ways of knowing, and we will need a more robust media system, that shares accurate information and supports honest dialogue. We’ll need to pay more attention to the connections between environmental issues and social and racial justice. Above all, we’ll need to be more imaginative—to envision futures in which we thrive together as members of the larger community of life.

For more information, see the Sources and Acknowledgments for the talk.

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