Last spring I learned that I had been assigned to teach a freshman writing course on sustainability. I don’t know much about sustainability, at least not in the currently popular sense of that term, and for many other reasons I was not thrilled about having to teach this course. So I decided to put a spin on the subject. What follows is an abridged version of my syllabus. I owe more than a little gratitude to John Hasnas for the sections called “The Classroom Experience,” “Present and Prepared Policy,” and “Ground Rules for Discussion.” He created these policies, and, with a few exceptions, the language from these policies is taken from a syllabus he provided during a workshop at a July 2011 Institute for Humane Studies conference on teaching and pedagogy.
Sustainability and American Communities
What is sustainability? You have registered for this course about sustainability, so presumably you have some notion of what sustainability means. The Oxford English Dictionary treats “sustainability” as a derivative of “sustainable,” which is defined as
- Capable of being borne or endured; supportable, bearable.
- Capable of being upheld or defended; maintainable.
- Capable of being maintained at a certain rate or level.
Recently, though, sustainability has become associated with ecology and the environment. The OED dates this development as beginning in 1980 and trending during the 1990s. The OED also defines “sustainability” in the ecological context as follows: “Of, relating to, or designating forms of human economic activity and culture that do not lead to environmental degradation, esp. avoiding the long-term depletion of natural resources.” With this definition in mind, we will examine landmark American authors and texts and discuss their relationship to sustainability. You will read William Bartram, Thomas Jefferson, Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Whitman, Mark Twain, and others. Our readings will address nature, community, place, stewardship, husbandry, and other concepts related to sustainability. By the end of the course, you will have refined your understanding of sustainability through the study of literary texts.
I have designed this course to help you improve your reading, writing, and thinking skills. In this course, you will learn to write prose for general, academic, and professional audiences. ENGL 1120 is a writing course, not a lecture course. Plan to work on your writing every night. You will have writing assignments every week. Read the rest of this entry »