The Overstory – A cMOOC Un-Introduction

I was so excited to stumble upon Equity Unbound, a cMOOC facilitated by Maha Bali, Catherine Cronin, and Mia Zamora this weekend. Inclusion, diversity, paradigm busting, and openness are at the heart of Contemporary Pedagogy (aka “GEDI”), a professional development course for future faculty I teach every semester.  When I saw that Equity Unbound would use an “emergent collaborative curriculum” to help create “equity-focused, open, connected, intercultural learning experiences across classes, countries and contexts,” I knew there could be wonderful synergy between it and the intentional, multi-disiciplinary, and diverse learning community that is #GediVT (our Twitter hashtag).

So, if you’re reading this and have any connection to #GediVT or are following along on the hashtag, please think about joining me. Don’t worry about how much time this will take (I know you don’t have any — I don’t either), or how we’ll coordinate the logistics (loosely, of course!), or any of the other reasons you might not want to do this. Just head on over to the Equity Unbound website and see if there isn’t something that works for you.  One of the great things about cMOOCs is that they are somewhat self-paced, and you can engage as deeply (or intermittently) as you like. Of course regular sustained engagement is best, but really anything you  contribute you won’t regret — because these are wonderfully social, supportive, networked learning opportunities that will give you a ton of serendipitous learning experiences and the chance to get to know wonderful people, even though you might not ever meet them F2F. Also, if we get enough folks interested, we might be able to contribute to the emergent curriculum Maha, Catherine, and Mia have in mind.

I’m going to keep this short because I have class in a couple of hours, but one of the suggested introductory activities is an “Un-Introduction, which gives me the opportunity to share some important information about “Where I am Local” and what makes me tick, that doesn’t appear on my “regular” professional bio or CV. So, here goes:

At the recommendation of a veteran of the resistance to the Mountain Valley Pipeline, I started listening to Richard Power’s “The Overstory” on my run this morning.  An epic re-imagining of how humans relate to the natural world and to the lives of trees in particular, The Overstory begins with the story of the demise of the American Chestnut, the magnificent tree that once dominated the forests of the Eastern United States.  A lone “sentinal” tree on the plains of Iowa, planted in the mid-nineteenth century by the ancestor of Nicholas Hoel, one of the book’s human characters, stands poised to help its species survive. Meanwhile, Nicholas Hoel is leaving his farmland roots in Iowa and heading to art school.

Chestnut Fall
Fallen Chestnut, Montgomery County, VA

I am just starting the book, but the connections between humanity and the natural world and between environmental and social justice are already in evidence.  I’ve been experiencing these tensions and connections most recently in the resistance to the Mountain Valley Pipeline,  a proposed 333 mile long 42″ fracked gas pipeline that has gouged hideous scars into the mountains of West Virginia and Southwest Virginia, allowed tons of sediment to flow into the water supply for millions of people, and will undoubtedly leak and possibly explode if it ever comes into service. The pipeline is backed by hedge funds based in Pittsburgh and the gas it will carry is primarily for export to India and China.

Chestnut Tree Understory
Chestnut Tree Understory, Montgomery County, Virginia

The signs of human-caused climate change are becoming ever more difficult to deny, and for me, this pipeline represents the enemy at the gates, or the global warming in my backyard, or whatever metaphor works for you. Seeing how the extractive industries prey on rural communities, fragile ecological systems, and historically marginalized and minority populations makes it obvious to me that environmental justice and social justice are inextricably linked. We will not have one without the other. Exploitation of the earth depends on human oppression and visa versa.

Water Protectors, Mountain Defenders
Banner in Support of Tree-Sitters Who Are Resisting the Mountain Valley Pipeline, Montgomery County, Virginia. 
No Prisons, No Pipeline
Environmental Justice and Social Justice are Connected, “No Prisons, No Pipelines”

As  Jeff Goodell warns in The Water Will Come, rising sea levels are a global issue and time is of the essence. How much more can Earth abide?

2 Replies to “The Overstory – A cMOOC Un-Introduction”

  1. I tweeted a response but that’s not the same as taking time to comment here at your post. I read The Overstory and just loved so much of it. I won’t say more, since you are still inside the story itself. Like you, I found myself making many connections … thinking of the metaphorical wandering and how metaphors of caring for each other and the living things around us should become the reality of what sustains us.

    1. Thank you for commenting and tweeting! Both are greatly appreciated. I do a lot of my “reading” on audio books these days, but I already ordered a hard copy of the The Overstory as well. I can tell that the book’s tapestry warrants visual inspection and reflection. Can’t wait to hear more about your thoughts on it once I’m further along.

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