On the first day of class, I warned my students, “Wear jeans when you come to this class – or some kind of pants you don’t mind getting dirty. And bring a textbook that you can use as a writing surface.”
These sunny days of September could be the last sun we see until April. So I try to hold class outside as much as possible.
My students are hugely in favor of this plan, and they cooperate fully. We sneak out of the back of the building to find a quiet place on the grass that’s half shade, half sun. (I say sneak, because I use a swipe card key that’s given only to faculty, and an alarm on the door will go off if it’s held open for longer than 15 seconds. So we gather in the hall outside the door, I open the door, and they all race out quickly to beat the clock. So far, we haven’t set off the alarm yet.)
I tell them that they have to sit very close together so that we can hear each other – and they do. Sometimes they work in groups, each gathered around a textbook they’re using as desk surface, but often we’re sitting in a a circle, cross-legged, getting into intense discussions about the essays we’ve read and sharing bits of our own writing aloud.
We’ve been talking about environmental issues – I’m using an anthology called The Future of Nature, which is a collection of articles from the magazine Orion. It just doesn’t seem right to talk about our connection to the earth while we’re sitting in a windowless classroom with harsh overhead lights. So instead, we sit outside on the ground, in the sun and the wind, listening to the wind rush through the trees while we talk.