Academic Innovation in the Age of Uncertainty

Members of the Literature and the Environment class present their dystopias.

“There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot.” — Aldo Leopold

The quote above is how English teacher Avery Stern opened her presentation to the faculty about the course she recently developed—Literature and the Environment—with a George School Curricular Innovation grant. In this new approach to the junior English class World Literature, Avery shares with her students the natural beauty of the environment and of literature’s responses to it.

In addition to reading environmentally engaged authors from a variety of periods and backgrounds, including Henry David Thoreau, Toni Morrison, and Margaret Atwood, Avery has assigned students to research the origins of the foods they eat and even tend their own gardens. With activities like journaling about their gardens and creating their own dystopias, Avery’s students have become pioneers in a field that straddles the boundary between science and the humanities.

Avery, along with all other George School teachers, is learning how to take her class virtual in the upcoming spring semester. She and her students will take on the role of innovators and explorers once again, as technology takes a more central role in their teaching and learning.

As school has started up again, Avery still has plans for her students to plant their gardens, take pictures of them, and journal about what they observe. Avery says that her class is “also studying poetry. The poems are from Black Nature, a book that explores black poets and their complex historical relationship to the outdoors.”

As Avery and her students traverse this new territory of distance learning, she leaves us with the hopeful reminder that “one good thing is that a lot of the world has repaired itself environmentally as a result of this pandemic.”

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