Saturday, December 6, 2008

some reflections-

I have been thinking about this class some, and decided that I should utilize this tool to share some of my thoughts with all of you. I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings on any of this.

This class has been interesting in a variety of ways. I came into it wanting a better understanding of mortise and tenon joinery, and I feel like I got that. I understood the basic concepts; I just wanted some practice with the actual construction. Making some bents and thinking about it made me feel much more capable with the process, and I intend to use that capability in my construction projects. It was great to use the mallets and chisels, which is something they do not teach you if you work modern construction now. In that way, I feel like I got what I wanted from this class.

After the first day or two of actual class time, I was pretty excited about some other aspects of the class as well. I wanted to hear what my peers had to say around some of the philosophy and materials that we would be working with. In retrospect, that aspect of the class was something that I feel could have been much improved upon. I know that it was an 8am class, but the dynamics are something that I have noticed in many, if not all, of my classes at Unity.

Real education is not passive. It is not like television. If it is approached that way, it is either totally ineffective or, at best, simple indoctrination. Somehow our culture has developed the opinion that mere presence in a classroom constitutes learning. In the same way that mere presence in a church service does nothing to nurture or develop spirituality, just being in a learning environment teaches one nothing. As students, we need to engage. We need to step forward and challenge what we are being taught. To simply accept what is told us in the classroom is doing ourselves a great disservice, and frankly, it seems like a pretty boring experience for student and teacher alike.

We, as a body of students, have every bit as much if not more influence over the effectiveness of any given class as our professors. If we choose to blindly accept whatever our teachers say to us, the chances are very low that we will even remember it 5 years from now, let along have an educated opinion on the matter. Beyond that, if we do not actively engage in our education, it is not that interesting to be in school. Boring classes are the result of disinterested learners as often as they are the result of poor instruction. Especially in a class like this one, the material is so relevant to our lives that it seems rather tragic to let the opportunity to develop our thoughts and opinions on the matters slip by so passively. This class was about how we approach work in our lives. It was about what we think our government’s role in the workforce and economy should be. These questions are extremely relevant to everyone in our society.

My energy level at 8 am is pretty low, but I pay a lot of money to come to school. I can sit passively and not engage and not learn for free, why would I pay to do so? I know that this class is required, but if anything that should mean that we are more interested in what it has to say. The curriculum of this class is the material that the administration and faculty of this institution have decided that every single person who graduates should have been taught. I came to this school because I felt like the administration and faculty’s philosophy was pretty close to my own. The required classes are a chance to really hear what their priorities are and pick their brains a little.

I should say that there has been more engagement in this class than in many I have taken here, so part of this thought process is not based in this course specifically. Mick did a pretty good job dragging opinions and thoughts out of a bleary-eyed group of sophomores. This thought has more to do with some of my philosophy of work relative to education. Education should be a lot of work, and our behavior as students provides a pretty good insight into our philosophy of labour. This is higher education, and no one is going to hold our feet to the fire. We and we alone dictate the degree of our participation and involvement, and that in turn dictates the quality of our education. To a student, the study of work should be the study of how to approach learning. Unity is a school that it is possible to float through. I have heard peers say flat out that they are buying a degree, and it honestly makes me want to scream.

I don’t mean this as an attack. I did hear some of my peer’s opinions in this class, and I enjoyed it a great deal. I just think that we could have gained a lot more from it if we had all engaged more and challenged some of the ideas we were working with. Education does not have to be boring. In fact, I personally rarely find boring education educational.

As students, we are here to change and grow. No one expects us to have totally solid, unshakeable philosophies. If we wait until we know we are right to speak, we will never grow and never learn what is right. We need to speak our thoughts as they come in order to gain other perspectives on them and see them more clearly. Most of the time I speak I don’t know what I’m talking about, in that I don’t have a complete belief system that I know is correct. I said in class that I thought we should live under a total tyrannical dictatorship. I don’t really believe that, I just wanted to put it into the conversation to see what my peers thought. I said it because I wanted to hear why that thought was wrong, and why consensus or democracy can be as effective and efficient at protecting the environment. As people and especially as students, we don’t need to have the right answer to every question. We need to be comfortable saying something that we are thinking in the moment and seeing what that looks like when other people think about it.

We are capable of creating a dynamic, engaged, mutual educational setting here. Every person in this class is a competent, bright individual. Why not take that and push it? Why not hone and temper our thoughts and beliefs until they can cut through the artifice and ignorance that has become so prevalent in our culture? When someone says something we disagree with, let’s not let it slide. Let’s explore the idea and see where it holds up and where it does not. Then we can gain a real understanding of our opinions and the opinions of others.

Beyond this, I noticed that as it became apparent that we were not, in fact, going to build a barn, the momentum and excitement of the class sort of crashed and burned. I know I was pretty disappointed. I think that in the future, all the red tape needs to be cut before a class like this is offered. It was certainly educational in one way to have the barn not get built, but it was not very good for morale at all.

I agree with Nils that a similar class to build the cabins would be a great idea. The conceptual design that Rick showed us did not really appeal to me. The principals that it was demonstrating were phenomenal. Solar heat, thermal mass, good insulation; these are all great things. But the buildings need to fit the ecosystem, and perhaps it was just the way they looked in the software, but those glass and grey boxes were not something that I would like to see in the woodlot at all. I would be more in favour of a couple of natural building styles using local resources. Cordwood, straw bale, lime plaster, post-and-beam, stonework, these are the things that this ecosystem can provide. Why not work with those, and have more organic buildings that fit the woodlot? Cement is terrible stuff; I don’t really want big cement and glass boxes out there. Why not explore how to make Earthships fit into this ecosystem?

I enjoyed this class a lot. I liked the content and the things we discussed; I really enjoyed those Gary Snyder poems. Thanks to everyone in it, it was fun working with you.

Quasso regimen, carpe iter.

trevanion j grenfell

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