Eco-Literacy: A cluster of three courses in Economics, Education, and English

Professor: David Ross, Jody Cohen, and Anne Dalke
Institution: Bryn Mawr College
Course Number: ECON 136, EDUC 285, ENG 216

Have particular places influenced who you are and what you value?
Are you someone for whom “the environment” seems to be an elusive and overly emphasized issue–and who also has some curiosity about this?
Are you experienced (and perhaps frustrated by your work) in environmental activism?
Are you a scientist who might be drawn to the humanities, a humanist intrigued by the quantitative tools economists use, an economist curious about how others learn?

Being ecologically literate includes an appreciation of earth systems, and of human impact on the environment. Our focus here will be on how such knowledge interacts with our values–such as our love of nature, our yearning for social justice, our need for personal fulfillment–enabling us both to cope with and be agents for change.

This Eco-Literacy 360° cluster considers our participation in the environment from the perspectives of economics, education, and various forms of literary and visual expression. Our goal is to develop a vocabulary for thinking, feeling and talking about the ways in which the places we live affect each of us, and how each of us affects the places we live. (As Aldo Leopold said in 1948, we will “examine each question in terms of what is ethically and esthetically right, as well as what is economically expedient”).

Through discipline-specific and cross-disciplinary activities, field trips, artistic expression, community outreach and collective reflection, the Eco-Literacy 360° seeks, in part, to address two long-standing, and related gaps: that between “values and action,” and the disconnect C.P. Snow famously identified between the “two cultures” of science and humanities. We hope to grapple with the false silo-ing promoted by disciplinary thinking, gain perspective on the resilience of complex ecological systems, investigate possibilities for sustainability and social justice.

We are particularly interested in how the resources of economics, education and creative expression, as well as the intersections among these disciplines, might help us understand and convey our understandings in insightful and inciting ways to others, to engage in what radical literacy activist Paulo Friere calls “re-writing”  or transforming the world.

ECON 136: Working with Economic Data: Valuing the Environment (David Ross)

Economists treat nature as providing environmental services that contribute to the production of goods and services that address human needs and desires. “Working with Economic Data” will focus on the measurement and valuation of those services as part of quantifying market outcomes.  Within the discipline, environmental harm is seen as a failure of the market. We will consider how economists measure the magnitude of this deviation from the ideal, and assess efforts to ameliorate the failure.

EDUC 285: Ecologies of Minds and Communities (Jody Cohen)
Environmental education is too often split off not only from its felt source, but also from matters of social justice, thus reifying a divide between “human society and culture” on the one hand and “nature” or “the environment” on the other.  “Ecologies of Minds and Communities” weaves these strands together:  In order to elicit and develop diverse students’ ecological literacy, we will attend to “the distinctive features of students’ emotional and imaginative lives” (Judson), as well as to their community and cultural lives, including the raced, gendered, and classed dimensions of students’ experiences, concerns, and desires.

ENGL 216: Re-creating Our World: Vision, Voice, Value (Anne Dalke)
To this shared project, the discipline of English literary studies will contribute an awareness of the limits and possibilities of representation, asking what is foregrounded, what backgrounded or omitted, in each verbal, visual, aural or tactile re-presentation of the world. Asking, too, what might be imagined that has not yet been experienced, “Re-creating Our World” will invite students both to create their own multi-modal representations of the spaces they occupy, and to re-create, in some way, the space that is Bryn Mawr.

All three syllabi, class notes and on-line conversation: