Day 3

WEDNESDAY, MAY 25 – Realities and perceptions of Disease as an Environmental Issue.  How Environmental Issues Play in the Press?

8:45 a.m. – Continental breakfast (Laminan Lounge, Olin Center)

Unless otherwise noted, the following events will be held in Olin 002, on the ground floor of the Olin Center

9:00 a.m. – Discussion

9:30 a.m. –  Case Study #3:  Realities & Perceptions of disease as an environmental issue (Ari Bernstein, Center for Health and the Global Environment, Harvard University)


11:00 a.m. – Perceptions: How human disease issues play in the media (Julie Dobrow & Colin Orians)

  • Broadcast media
  • Comparisons to other forms of media

12:00 p.m. – Lunch (Laminan Lounge, Olin Center)

1:00 p.m. – Group exercise:  content analysis

(The following talk will be held in Barnum 114)

2:00 p.m. – Environment and the Media (Judy Layzer, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, MIT)

  • How conservatives have used the language of environmentalism and gotten their message into the mainstream media

3:00 p.m. – Wrap up & thinking points


What’s your sense of how best to inform/educate students and the wider community about any of the topics we’ve discussed so far, or other environmental topics you’re passionate about?  Post a few thoughts below.

13 Responses to Day 3

  1. Gogi Grewal says:

    The issue of us being disconnected from nature, and where our food comes from has come up a few times over the past days. I know some schools have already initiated this, but I think it is really valuable to have a school garden in every single school where possible. Spending some time working in the garden, including watching plants grow and harvesting vegetables/fruits is a great hands-on way to really get children AND adults exposed to agriculture on a very small scale.

    Another thing that I feel should be incorporated in any discipline, given the cross-cutting nature of these topics is a history of environmental issues- I am not sure what the best way to go about doing this would be. However, I think there is a real lack of awareness of lessons from the past among students today if they don’t happen to be in a field (Environmental Studies, Conservation Bio)in which they encounter such things.

  2. Diego Millan says:

    In passing today, I mentioned to Michael the possibility of making a podcast for a class. 10 minute video “preps” that help situate a discussion before it even happens. The details would of course be particular to the course and information, but I think trying to think outside the box of traditional academic models in ways that take into account the mental spaces of our students. While this does not get to the heart of the Homework question, I wanted to put it up to the group as a potential take away and something to think through how we communicate information overall.
    Particular to the topics we’ve discussed and how I might go about conveying that information to future students, I wanted to start by making the case for “literacy” in general. Rather than get on a metaphoric soap box about one issue, I think the most powerful experience so far has been developing a working comfort with environmental issues that could then turn into a more dedicated passion. So perhaps the most empowering model would be something like TELI’s where I encourage my students to take up an issue that is important to them and explore it in various ways.
    With that in mind, much of the English I course asks students to write personal, narrative, persuasive, research, and analytical essays (usually in that order). I think advocacy media provides an excellent space for content analysis, but also for students to work on writing persuasively about current issues that matter to them/matter to the environment. It does not take much guiding to get students to start thinking and talking about the environment (something like the CRED piece we read for today would be a great resource to establish a working vocab). Like any writing exercise, it necessitates a narrowing of focus, choosing an audience, and taking a stand. By taking Ari Berstein’s challenge to put the responsibility of believing they have a voice with respect to environmental issues in the hands of our students so early in their undergraduate careers, we really could in promoting the importance of environmental issues on campus.
    Limiting myself to teaching Tufts students for the moment, I would say taking Tufts as a common currency of sorts is an excellent way to encourage students to think through various environmental issues as they exist on campus. Being able to point them to TIE or working more closely with TIE to think through seriously productive on-campus conversations that could become possible writing assignments Rather than simply letting them focus on a self-determined issue, working with people on campus will hopefully instill a respect for collaborative efforts.

  3. James Mulder says:

    The idea I latched onto during today’s sessions is empowerment. I really take Ari seriously, as Diego mentioned, when he says that kids (and people more generally) want to discover their convictions on their own. I don’t think we need to vilify popular media for strategically playing on emotion to get a point across; I think instead we need to help students learn to be aware of the various factors (not just facts) that go into constructing a moving, effective argument. And then, of course, create space for them to generate and explore their own positions, opinions, and ways of constructing arguments to support their points of view, which is how I envision my English 1 class working.

    That said, I think the best way to educate students about environmental issues is to have them research it themselves. I really thought the Bio 7 class’s YouTube videos were a good project like this, and those videos perhaps open the door to a larger project involving raising awareness in the general public. Most of all, though, I think my job as a writing instructor is to bring it to my students’ attention that they have the power to think, research, construct well-reasoned opinions, and act on those convictions to make change.

  4. Michael Reed says:

    I’m not sure. I suspect that teaching a course that is a series of field trips that drive home in vivid detail the many issues that we are facing, followed by having them research the issue, might be the most effective – but it could only be done with small classes and at great cost (monetarily and in time). Part of the cost would be going to parts of the U.S. (or further) that best demonstrate the ideas.

    I have played with the idea of virtual field trips, that really integrate Google Earth with YouTube videos, powerpoint, and links to news articles, the attempt I made with UIT this past semester did not pan out. However, I the idea has a lot of promise, and will try again next year to develop it.

    While I love the idea of playing on emotions, this is the same approach I criticize when it favors values that I am against – like Tea Party values. So, do I fight fire with fire, or try to be above it? (I lean towards using all the tricks and manipulation I can.)

  5. Colleen Butler says:

    First off, I really enjoyed today’s talks and discussions. I think Dr. Bernstein made some great points about how communicating global climate change is more difficult to communicate than other more immediate, personal, and local environmental issues, such as London’s Great Stench or Love Canal. Climate change is a huge, intimidating issue. While it’s important to teach the facts, I think it’s also important to provide students (and other people) with practical ways that they can make an impact. Without that, the enormity of the situation is paralyzing.
    There’s a super-cheesy story that I once used in a job interview (I got the job, but I did feel like a total dufus). Anyway, here’s the story:

    The Starfish Story
    by: Loren Eisley
    One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked, What are you doing?
    The youth replied, Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die. Son, the man said, don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference! After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said, I made a difference for that one.

    Like I said, it’s totally cheesy and a little preachy, but it does provide a good lesson. You, as an individual, are probably not going to save the world, but you can still make a difference. I would like to impart that feeling to students. The teacher could either focus on a single issue or let students choose their own topics. Local issues could be especially powerful and could connect students to the local community (either that of the university or their hometown).

  6. Lai Ying Yu says:

    What’s your sense of how best to inform/educate students and the wider community about any of the topics we’ve discussed so far, or other environmental topics you’re passionate about?
    As I listened to Ari’s talk this morning and his emphasis on creating space to acknowledge and empathize with the “mental model” of the person(s) with whom we’re trying to educate or, maybe even more broadly put, convince them to consider a different side of the issue echoed for me Wendy’s approach with patients who voice objections to having their children vaccinated — ask them to share their concerns first and then offer a different perspective of it, all the while being open and perhaps creative enough to meet somewhere mid-way if they don’t become convinced right away (eg waiting to vaccinate). It seems that any successful attempt to educate or change the minds of others would require the teacher/advocate/environmentalist/activist first to get to know the concerns and thoughts of his audience in relation to the issue at hand and then work from there to integrate the “hard science” and ask them, if we are talking about a class room setting, to respond to it through personally-directed research and a written piece. For an English composition class, I could envision this being a great research paper project. I think, for English comp., it is critical to integrate a research component in it so that there may be time dedicated for direct involvement in steering his/her learning process and that such research would help move a paper that might be primarily grounded on limited personal experience to wider contexts. I think the Love Canal archives sounds like a great potential project for students to research, but with lots of preparation beforehand from the teacher working with the archivists at Tufts. — in the end, I echo what’s been said about the importance of approaching any environmental issue from the humanist position of personal and immediately relatable experiences, but I also add to that this humanist position should perhaps first be grounded in the “student” and his/her relationship to the issue for learning and potential change to take place.

  7. christin says:

    The disconnect from nature is slowly being recognized with movements like No Child Left Inside and programs that incorporate outdoor experiential learning that attempt to reestablish this link with children. How to provide funding and make them a priority (vs. MCAS “training”) is really the question. Much like one of the articles from yesterday and some of the discussions about environment vs. economy (conservation and preservation vs. job creation and preservation), communicating the benefits and necessity are very difficult given the long term nature of the environmental changes and the difficulty in monetizing.

  8. Michelle Boyd says:

    I endorse the idea mentioned by James Mulder, in that individuals “want to discover their convictions on their own”. In addition, I’m drawn to the point mentioned by Lai Ying Yu that it is important to create “space to acknowledge and empathize with the ‘mental model’ of the person(s) with whom we’re trying to educate.” I think as a foundation, it is important to create an environment or culture within the classroom (and/or in our interactions with the wider community) that supports meaningful dialogue (even when there is disagreement). I think it is worthwhile to support bonds among the group built on mutual respect and consideration where people are willing and comfortable enough to open up (even the educator!).

    Such dialogue can present opportunities in which students/community members can explore ideas, process information (which at times can be abundant), and reflect about issues (in this case environmental ones). In addition, such discussion can provide the basis for the development of skills (in case people haven’t developed such skills) which allow students/community members to form arguments, express opinions, deal with disagreements, and critically analyze and understand issues (which are often complex).

    I’m not convinced that most people have regular opportunities to have deliberative discussions with others about complex and important issues or that people regularly put themselves in situations to challenge their own beliefs and views (or have to justify or articulate the reasoning for their perspective). I believe it is possible that individuals can primarily expose themselves to information that validates their personal beliefs and values (whether it is the media they expose themselves to or the people they choose to interact with) without a true consideration of others’ perspectives (especially when it is contrary to what they believe or value). I personally see encouraging a space for such discussion as a starting point for engagement in the other curricular activities.

  9. Anne Cantu says:

    Those of you who already posted have done a great job of recapping the ideas put forth in our discussions, so I will focus on how to bring all this to students in classes whose subject matter is neither science nor free-topic writing. I think it is quite plausible to fit it into most humanities classes since, in some way or another, we are all talking about human beings and the lives they live or would like to live, be they fictitious as in literature or case studies in sociology or history. Since the environment affects all people, the practical application is not difficult to identify. What some of us need to do, if we are not savvy about pure science, is to find the “angle” we would feel comfortable dealing with in our courses. I can envision some significant role-playing by our students.

    Given the difficulties we have seen in finding suitable reading material on environmental issues–that is, looking for something deeper than the popular press but digestible by the layman–I think the second step (the first being to provoke interest in environmental topics from the perspective of practicality) is to help the students find bibliography that suits them, at the same time that we help them to become discerning readers who can assess the validity of a given piece of writing, as we have been doing ourselves: Who is the source? What is the agenda? etc.

    I must say that some Tufts students are already very tuned into these environmental issues, and they can certainly be utilized as catalysts in our classes. As for reaching the wider community, once we have raised awareness among our students, they need to take their ideas off campus, true to the Tufts mandate. Many are already doing this, but we can certainly try to create more venues for them.

  10. Blake Ratcliff says:

    For me, and assuming my audience is comprised of bright college-age kids, I would try to engage them in ways to show that so-called ‘environmental’ policies, laws, and decisions are themselves the product of many decisions and the balancing of concerns that may be less than obvious to the casual observer. Decisions or projects that look, to the layman, to be “obviously good” or “clearly bad” may not be after weighing underlying considerations and alternatives. Most ‘environmental’ actions and decisions are quintessential political choices, involving irreconcilable viewpoints and finite resources. Rarely can all interests and viewpoints be appeased, and cost concerns can serve as a very tight constraint. Nearly all environmental projects have nuanced positives and negatives, and most have effects too broad to be easily discerned. I would like my students to become astute and questioning enough to be able to consider and evaluate the underlying concerns behind an environmental action, and question the popular paradigms and their underlying assumptions. Everything today (at least in the US) has become politicized, even down to the studies and data used in support, and I would want students to have the tools to question and then be able to inform themselves.

    I would draft a series of examples to show perceived misconceptions, and try to stimulate discussions that challenge assumptions from all points of view. I would perhaps try to walk through the pros and cons of a particular project like a hydroelectric dam, to highlight all the potential affected interests and the possible environmental, economic, social, and cultural concerns. Perhaps there could be a role-playing element, where students have to argue for why an assigned concern should be considered more important that others. Hopefully, students can see that there are positive and negatives effects to every project, alternatives to every proposal, situations that cannot be anticipated, and always a question of scope that puts the project/regulation in a different light. I’d like students to be sympathetic–or at least respectful–to concerns that are non-obvious or contrary to their previously-held viewpoint, sharp enough to realize when they do not know the full measure of concerns themselves, and to become comfortable discussing their views with others who don’t agree.

  11. Sara Hasselbach says:

    In terms of how to engage, educate, and inspire students about environmental issues, I’m haunted by Ari Bernstein’s comment: “Everyone speaks dinner.” As Ari noted, an effective pedagogical stance appeals to the student’s budding independence, or his/her willingness to explore and better understand the world. To piggyback on Ari’s meal metaphor, then, I hope that independent thinking, sensitive reading, and logical reasoning will be the utensils that a student uses to access and devour information.

    To this end, assignments in Expository Writing will be aimed at sharpening the student’s logical apprehension and graceful analysis of information. Students at Tufts are smart, idealistic, and interested. I have little doubt that, given an essay prompt that asks them to analyze (for example) two different approaches to “sustainable” farming, their investigation will yield provocative insight into both the presentation (media) and the synthesis of the information. Placing the interpretive burden on students will hopefully force them to come to logical conclusions. Luckily for environmental advocates (and I use that phrase loosely), logic and data are actually on their side.

    This sort of essay prompt would allow students to feel that—through critical thinking and writing—they could develop a voice that may participate actively in environmental issues. If nothing else, it would at least raise awareness of these issues and, like Colin mentioned today, file them in some mental storage bank, to which they might someday return. As a bonus, I would imagine that a burgeoning sense of communal responsibility, and perhaps even activism, might develop during class discussions and workshops devoted to this material. Finally, if logic fails, there are always scare tactics.

  12. I really liked Ari’s talk, it had so many dimensions that could be applied to research and teaching.

    I would say it is important to set a culture that makes everyone do all the small things but lately I have also started thinking about how we can encourage the students to do the biggest thing according to their ability. Here is what I mean, if the grad students work on a promising environmental technologies or ideas for their thesis work, they don’t have to worry twice – about their thesis and the environment. They have to worry about the thesis anyway so just make them role it into one issue.

    In terms of teaching techniques, field trips would be appropriate in my field, but posting responses to readings like we do here would be a good thing, too.

  13. Matt Panzer says:

    I teach engineering students, and these students are overloaded with content in their courses. For most, taking any time at all to pause and think deeply or wrestle with an issue/concept is a luxury they just can’t afford while trying to stay on top of things. To me, the kind of presentation Ari made (narrative, full of historical facts and provocative images) would be an excellent way to present a lecture and foster discussion on the relationship between human activities and the environment.

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