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Dig This: What do You Know?

So I asked my students the other day if they agreed with this statement:  “We may be living in an ‘information age’ with ‘information overload’” but we are really “living in an age of ‘information scarcity’”—according to Thom Hartmann, anyway.  I asked the students if they had read a complete book in the last two months.  I asked if they got information from YouTube sound-bites or Internet sites.

Then we read a long paragraph about how many people do not know how to grow their own food or even how to cook it, how to find water, how to build a fire, how to set a broken bone, how to deliver a baby, etc.  I asked if these things were important to know—and what IS important to know.  Most of my students said they want to learn these things and would take classes.  One student said he could set a broken bone, but not “very well.” Hmmmm. We all laughed; what does that mean exactly:  “not very well”?

Derek Owens in his book Composition and Sustainability argues:

“To be sure—and this will sound irresponsible to more than a few readers—there are days when I think that introductory courses in biointensive gardening, permaculture, off-grid living, and techniques for community networking would be a far more effective use of time than the majority of core college courses being taught, including those in English Departments.”

I am an English teacher.  Hmmm.  I do agree with Owens.

Some colleges and universities do teach the topics that Owens outlines above.  Prescott College in Arizona, for one.  I attended a presentation about Prescott College last year at the CSUC, Chico Sustainability Conference.  Students described growing their own organic vegetables on campus, harvesting them, and cooking them up to serve to the campus and community.  Great idea.  Cooking lessons—from scratch!  Then there is Warren Wilson College located in the Swannanoa Valley of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Their homepage states: “You [the student] might be relied upon for computer repair, library support, dorm maintenance, or dining services. Or you might be trained to design publications, catalog an arrowhead, or plow fields. In return, you’ll earn $3,480 in credit toward the cost of attendance.”  Cool.  Hands-on learning.

This month, on March 7 and 8, CSUC, Chico hosted its annual Sustainability Conference: number VIII.  I attended.  Some presentations were adequate; some were inspiring and tragic (the content, that is).  For example, on Midway Island, thousands of Albatross are dying.  The visual artist, Chris Jordan, Keynote Speaker, presented clips from his documentary:  Encountering Midway. Why are the Albatross dying?  Well, because humans use and dump plastic bottles, pens, bic lighters, caps, and other plastics.  All of these items find their way to the Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch, a dead zone.  The mother Albatross swallows the plastic and then regurgitates some for her babies. Hence:  death.  Their entire stomach fills with plastic garbage.

This is tough. What does it take to stop the pollution, the dumping of toxic material into waterways or the air or onto the soil?  Or, is it simply my right, via Ayn Rand philosophy, to do what I choose, whenever I choose, because I CAN?  Or, do I have a responsibility for life on this planet? When does life become more important than money?  More important than greed?  More important than selfishness?

We know researchers have studied the toxic effects of herbicides, such as Round Up, and the toxic effects of pesticides and chemical fertilizers.  I poison the soil, I poison myself. Pretty simple.  Or, I can believe Monsanto and other corporate propaganda.  I had a student who told me his grandpa said you can drink Agent Orange (another Monsanto/Dow creation).  No thank you.  I think I’ll pass.

I can cook from scratch.  I can plant gardens.  I can’t fix a broken bone.  I can build a fire, sometimes.  I really don’t want to deliver a baby.

But, I can’t keep contaminants out of the drinking water, the air I breathe, the good red earth I plant in.  I believe we all need just to say NO to poisoning ourselves and the planet.

I think I will take Thom Hartmann’s advice:  “Turn off the TV, and sit quietly for just 10 to 15 minutes each day.  Take another few minutes a day to walk outdoors.  Your life will change for the better, and in that way you contribute to the healing of our planet.”

Yep, this is what we should know.

Pamela Spoto is an educator, poet, and lover of all living things.