Professors should take time and utilize teach-in option

By By Alicia Williams

By Alicia Williams

Most students didn’t even realize the U held a weeklong teach-in two weeks ago. If you did, you are one of the lucky 1,500 students in a class taught by one of the 56 inspiring instructors who chose to participate in bypassing traditional curriculum to discuss current sustainability issues.

Although Craig Forster, director of the U Office of Sustainability said, “Any amount of faculty participation is a success,” the U Web site said there are 3,300 total faculty members at the U. To have only 56 participate is a pretty sad representation, especially for a university that claims progression towards a climate-neutral campus.

U President Michael Young promised that progression last April when he signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, requiring the fulfillment of numerous obligations, one of which is that the U will infuse sustainability principles throughout its curriculum. Faculty participation in the teach-in helps the U meet these obligations.

The only requirement for faculty was to link class course material to sustainability issues in one class, or even part of a class held any day during the week. The Office of Sustainability offered multiple ideas and media tools to create a connection, Forster even held “brainstorming” briefing sessions to help faculty discover that connection.

“One element of this is that faculty has an inherent right to teach what they think should be taught,” Forster said. “And if they feel like they are being directed, it may create some resistance. They have no obligation. But, for graduates from this institution, to play their appropriate role as citizens and leaders, they really should have a broader systemic understanding of some of these (sustainability) issues and of how their chosen career or their discipline fits into to the grander scheme of things.”

U.S. universities and colleges have been utilizing teach-ins since the Vietnam War as a method for nonviolent protest. Students and faculty meet in a safe environment to peacefully engage in an argument of an issue critical to the time.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, a speaker at the first teach-in held at the University of Michigan on March 24, 1965, wrote about his experience in a blog at The Shalom Center on March 23, 2005.

“The teach-in was an extraordinary event even beyond its challenge to official U.S. foreign policy, because it broke the barrier between academic intellectual research8212;”cold facts’8212;and passionate activism. The teach-in created “hot facts.’ Facts that made a difference to life and death,” Waskow said. “The teach-ins were also crucial because they created a new sense of student empowerment. Students had broken through the “conventional’ definition of what “knowledge’ was, and how a university was supposed to run8212;just as they had broken through the conventional assumption that learning happened only between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. and only in carefully tailored courses with “number’ labels in rigidly defined departments.”

Over the years, teach-ins have been employed for a variety of issues: alcohol and drug awareness, environmental issues and more recently, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. No one can deny that “balancing the relationships between environmental stewardship, economic development, and social responsibility,” is one of the critical issues of our time.

“It’s important because this is an issue that’s not going away. Issues of sustainability are affecting every sector of our life, specifically with global warming. It affects our environment, our food and our economy,” said graduate teaching fellow Guy McHendry. “So I can think of no better place than the classroom to be having these conversations and to talk about the controversies with these issues.”

The teach-in was a unique, interesting and informative event that created a desire to want to learn more. I went home, googled global warming and researched ideas presented during my class from both students and the instructor. It was an eye-opening and thought-provoking experience. It’s too bad more U students didn’t get to share it.

U professors need to take advantage of this unique teaching opportunity by providing students an environment to discuss the sustainability issues touching several aspects of all of our lives. Course content is extremely important to curriculum, but spending one class to discuss real world issues and how they fit in with that curriculum is also vitally important.

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Alicia Williams