Why are you here?
What do you value above all else?
Who will survive?
We kicked off the first class of the semester with a few not-so-easy questions. Every person, myself included, started by introducing themselves and sharing why they came to college. Answers ranged from long-time expectations rooted in family and social pressure, to deep passions to learn or serve the world, and even just practically to obtain a job. I settled on some combination of excitement for learning and stubbornness.
The first students who came to class helped me randomly distribute ten decks of values cards, small one-word cards with common major values. After the brief introductions, each student was asked to choose the four that meant the most to them personally, leaving all others behind on the tables. Once students returned to their seats I asked them to narrow their selection down to only one card. Groans rose from all corners of the room. Setting down the other three was difficult. With one card in hand, it was their task to meet at least two other people and talk through why they each picked the card they carried and what it meant to them.
Now that we were all becoming a community of friends I gave them the terrible news. The world as we knew it was about to end. Only the people in our classroom and eight other people from outside would survive the day. It was their job to decide first individually, then as a group, who they would invite into their bomb shelter and save to rebuild humanity. Two groups made their selections in time and lived to start again. The other two perished because they just couldn’t decide to let anyone on the list go…
Okay, maybe the world wasn’t really going to end. So why did we start class with these values activities? This semester our class will spend time exploring major questions about the environment, health, our connection to nature, ethics, and how we live our daily lives. To set a productive tone and the expectation of respectful debate, I wanted to open the class by acknowledging and embracing the fact that we will disagree — hopefully regularly. But this class will be a safe space explore big questions and challenge our perspectives.
…. And what will I teach?
This all led us to the biggest question of the day. What do you want from this class? It was the students’ job to select four major class topics. Cell phones out, they rapidly battled to fill up our calendar for the semester. The students have spoken, and they chose to include:
- UConn Cows: They wanted to learn about campus agriculture from the people in charge more than any other topic.
- Food, Health, & Illness: They wanted to know how what we eat influences our life-long wellness.
- Nature v. Technology: They want to look at the tensions between technological advances and natural practices.
- Sustainability: And finally they wanted to seriously talk about sustainability and how we can play a positive role in the world.
It’s already looking like it will be a great semester!