The Nature of College by James Farrell

What We Learned 2011

What We Learned in Campus Ecology

Spring 2011

Each semester, near the end of classes, I bring in a stack of index cards and distribute them to students. I ask them, simply, to write down the ten most important things they learned in the class. I emphasize that the list represents what they learned, not what I was teaching. The results are always delightful–here are the most recent revelations:

1.    Pay attention to details.

2.    Nature can be closely related to religion.

3.    Balancing economic development and environmental protection is really tough.

4.    Why Americans do not adopt public transportation that often…

5.    Pete Sandberg and Randy’s jobs really impressed me because of their hard work reducing waste and saving energy.

6.    Dorm annotations—do we need that much stuff?

7.    If people love their jobs they will definitely do them well.

8.    American lifestyle is kind of wasteful for me.

9.    Learn to love nature at an early age.

10. Small changes can lead to big changes.

11. I can use less than 10 minutes’ worth of water in the shower. I can use less than 5 minutes worth! I didn’t think it was possible.

12. We are already suffering for our environmental sins in big ways.

13. I could see environmental disaster in my lifetime.

14. It doesn’t have to be expensive to be environmentally friendly.

15. You can be environmentally-minded in literally every aspect of life; it’s not just one category of your day.

16. Other people (lots of them!) enjoy nature. Huh!

17. More is not always more—in schedules, in content of classes, in belongings, in variety of food, etc.

18. It’s not that hard to reduce everyday impact.

19. Feeling disgruntled about the future of the environment and enjoying life are not mutually exclusive.

20. There is immeasurable energy in talking with other people about environmental hopes and ideas.

21. Don’t ever, EVER give up on hope: sometimes it’s all you have in life.

22. You can talk the talk, but if you don’t walk the walk, nothing is getting accomplished. Take initiative!

23. Journaling is actually fun.

24. Mary Oliver writes really good poems.

25. Classes with less expectations/homework/tests actually make me want to work harder.

26. 55 minutes 3 times a week is not enough time to discuss the issue of environmentalism.

27. Driving your car less is more important than taking shorter showers.

28. More people need to educate themselves on environmental topics; a small group of people can’t fix the world alone.

29. I’m a really good listener. I may not talk much, but sometimes there are too many talkers in the world and not enough listeners to actually take the time to hear what they have to say.

30. More treats in class.

31. Hope—it is necessary for change and a good thing for life.

32. Beauty—it’s all around us, we just need to stop and look.

33. Politics—it can be difficult, but it’s important to get involved.

34. Change—we need to work for it individually and as a group.

35. Consumerism is a political act.

36. Corporations have consumer power that can be used to incite change.

37. Spending time on my plot in the natural lands helps with stress.

38. Slow down—try not to rush through life, you may miss things.

39. There are many environmental aspects to being a college student.

40. Talk and listen to others—it’s amazing what you can learn.

41. Hope is at the root of structural change.

42. Parenting is political.

43. I love Mary Oliver poetry—she gives a voice to feelings I didn’t know I had.

44. Just sitting and observing for an hour can teach you more than 10 hours in the library.

45. We are the stories we tell.

46. Shopping is political (vote with your dollar).

47. Showers should be shorter.

48. Activism doesn’t have to be about carrying a sign and marching in the streets.

49. We look at issues (environmental and otherwise) too simplistically in many cases. We need to realize how complex our interactions with the earth and one another really are. We need to connect and use “designing minds.”

50. We can design buildings like trees. We can make them breathe (I loved seeing this when we toured Regents especially).

51. What counts as natural and unnatural in nature.

52. What nature means to me in my life.

53. How St. Olaf is a part of natural systems.

54. How my operative and expressed values affect the world and global “weirding.”

55. Small actions make a difference.

56. Communication can cause change.

57. I learned to not be afraid to express my love for nature; I learned that telling people that I care can make them care.

58. Environmentalism can be cool.

59. Politics affects everything.

60. There is hope in the world. We can change.

61. Communicating values.

62. To really observe.

63. Taking time to reflect on my thoughts.

64. Portrayal of nature in our surroundings.

65. How influential consumerist society is on our daily lives.

66. Importance of activism (I’m still working on that).

67. Figuring out what hope is.

68. Having meaningful relationships with people and our environment.

69. Puns and plays on words make essays more fun to read.

70. Thinking about what I’m going to do to create a better place for myself and for the future.

71. Community is critical for social change.

72. There is hope.

73. GDP doesn’t measure wealth.

74. Our operative and expressed values aren’t both present in our culture.

75. There is a way to be environmentally religious.

76. We need to change society to be more environmental.

77. Politics is not, but should be, a part of our everyday lives.

78. You need passion to make change.

79. It’s important to learn the names of places and things.

80. Always question what you are told.

81. Systems.

82. People have different ideals.

83. Hope.

84. Patience.

85. I learned about myself.

86. I learned to listen.

87. That so many things are interconnected.

88. Being an Environmental Studies major is cool.

89. There is always a political side.

90. St. Olaf is actually not that sustainable in the curriculum.

91. Conversation is the single most effective way to learn.

92. Sometimes/most of the time you need to plan time to do nothing—it stimulates thought.

93. Community is extremely important.

94. Doing individual acts, such as showering less or recycling, isn’t going to ‘save the world’—there needs to be a paradigm shift from industrial to ecological.

95. You don’t need to take a test to show how much you’ve learned.

96. To slow down.

97. We need to love.

98. My party affiliation does not align with my environmental views.

99. Social injustice is key to our environmental problems.

100.      Creating relationships is what makes the world go around.

101.      Connecting to your place is important and fun.

102.      Exploring can be fun alone, but is sometimes even better with a friend.

103.      It’s hard to separate classes with similar content.

104.      Don’t always judge a book by its cover.

105.      I have hope that humans can have a net positive impact on the earth.

106.      The most important conversations happen over and over again

107.      It’s easy to think that everyone thinks similarly to you—this is not always true.

108.      I’m glad to get to know Northfield, but I’m sad I’m leaving so soon.

109.      Tracks in the snow.

110.      Live intentionally.

111.      You don’t have to know everything or be perfect.

112.      That I can make a difference.

113.      That spending time to convene with nature (particularly alone or just with my journal, cameral, and an open mind) is one of the best things I can do with my time.

114.      That we can use everyday conversations, as well as deeper conversations, to instigate social change.

115.      To think about things deeply and not just take them as they come.

116.      That our culture promotes hookup relationships with nature, but I want to have and have started cultivating a long-term committed relationship based on love, effort, and gratitude.

117.      That the Natural Lands haven’t always been there…thank GOD they are!

118.      That Mary Coulson and Jim Farrell are AWESOME people, teachers, and role models.

119.      That baking bread is really fun and I can even do it (I can’t cook).

120.      That there IS hope and that there ARE people in this world who care about things the way I do; that movements for social and environmental justice are both ideals and realities.

121.      That EVERYONE should get to take Campus Ecology!

122.      Higher education does not always equal greater life knowledge; sometimes more education makes us blind to simple solutions.

123.      Hope is one of the most important things we can hold onto, despite Jennings, because it stimulates changes (or ideals) into action.

124.      America’s highly individualized and competitive society is actually what is hurting us internationally.

125.      St. Olaf’s Bon Appetit program is incredible! I want every freshman to get a tour of the caf during Week One.

126.      Most of the stuff we buy ends up costing the environment farm more than the money we put in.

127.      In order to implement change, you need to get involved in politics and ignore the sleazy politicians.

128.      Think global, act local; focus on local projects and then more people will be affected.

129.      It is okay to call yourself an environmentalist and do sustainable things, but not be perfect at it.

130.      “Conserve” is in the world “conservative,” so maybe Republicans can be shown that environmental conservation is part of their definition.

131.      We should work with big business to affect change, not against (don’t destroy companies/cities, but green them up).

132.      Paradox of American individualist interests.

133.      How to sit and think deeply about a plot.

134.      Problem of environmentalism is a design problem.

135.      Professor Farrell loves goodwill sweaters.

136.      Importance of education to change.

137.      How great Bon Appetit is.

138.      Effective energy system we have at school.

139.      Hope.

140.      Conversation is a great way to learn.

141.      Passion in every aspect of life.

142.      How to think beyond what is said.

143.      Local versus global; individual versus community.

144.      I learned how to think while I read.

145.      There is beauty everywhere and in everything.

146.      Everything has an environmental impact.

147.      To appreciate—to slow down.

148.       Love everything.

149.      The environment must be taken into consideration in everything we do, and being aware of this is part of living the good life.

150.      We can learn from assignments in school but what we really learn from is people.

151.      Sometimes the most valuable experiences have no ‘value’ in our socially constructed world.

152.      Being politically active and aware is important.

153.      Living simply really is better!

154.      If you have free time, read or write, always!

155.      Having hope is better than arguing if we should even have it at all.

156.      Relishing small moments is more fulfilling than anticipating large ones.

157.      Everyone should grow their own food and we should be a part of a society that allows time to do so.

158.      The importance of stories—life is made of stories.

159.      How to talk to people who disagree.

160.      How to read for pleasure even if what is written is not a pleasing idea.

161.      How to write between the lines (not intro/body/conclusion, but rather a discovery while you’re writing).

162.      How Bon Appetit operates.

163.      How culture creates us (media, education, parenting).

164.      How to ask questions.

165.      How to have a relationship with nature.

166.      What is hope.

167.      Through the anger and frustration I have felt in this class, I have learned that I am truly passionate about the Earth.

168.      I learned that the place I’m living in is my responsibility.

169.      I learned that where I’m from matters.

170.      I learned that other people (many others) share my values.

171.      I learned that if people don’t change, the world will.

172.      I learned that if people do change, the world still will.

173.      I learned about blue jeans.

174.      I learned about energy on St. Olaf campus.

175.      I learned things about St. Olaf I didn’t know before.

176.      I learned that learned behavior is hard to change.

177.      I learned that change starts with me.

178.      Be appreciative towards all that surrounds you.

179.      Be politically active.

180.      Class can be just as educational without tests.

181.      I can be afraid to take action if I expect to see change.

182.      I learned just how much I value nature.

183.      I learned that, while much more needs to be done for the earth, some actions have been taken.

184.      I am guilty of, to quote Jim, “bitching” a lot.

185.      Learning about myself is the greatest form of education.

186.      Jo and Joe College are not real (kidding, of course).

187.      I have learned that I am pretty normal. Now it is time for me to go out and make an effort to be unique by changing my habits and, through them, the world.

188.      Overconsumption is the number one environmental killer.

189.      The small things in nature are just as awe-inspiring as the grandiose things.

190.      Our operative values don’t often correspond to our expressed values when it comes to environmentalism.

191.      Having the variety of two instructors provides a nice change of pace.

192.      Change needs to start on small levels so it can snowball to larger scales.

193.      My plot is beautiful!

194.      Many of my choices in life are unsustainable (i.e. a large consumption of beef) and I need to make some sacrifices in order to improve.

195.      St. Olaf does a pretty good job at being eco-friendly.

196.      In order to save nature, we need to love nature.

197.      Economists are viewed in a negative light in much of environmental literature, and there’s some truth to that, but I intend to prove otherwise.

198.      What I might want to do for graduate school.

199.      That I think I want to be an environmental consultant for corporate businesses as my career.

200.      That there is hope for change in our society (kind of cheesy).

201.      That tofu has a large carbon footprint.

202.      That I don’t need a stressful workload and big exams in order to learn a lot in a class.

203.      That actually being in nature is just as important as working to preserve/restore/protect it.

204.      We need to change our political system, education system, religious views, and corporate businesses. It’s not just small-scale changes (although those are good too).

205.      Environmental studies should not be limited to one major or department.

206.      Each individual’s actions can make a difference as it can lead to a movement and then cultural change.


208.      I learned how to look for hope.

209.      I learned how to be more conscientious of my surroundings.

210.      I learned how to relax in my writing and just write.

211.      I learned about the intricacies of our facilities buildings.

212.      From the STARS project, I found out that St. Olaf is pretty good at coordination and planning but could do better.

213.      I learned a lot about a college student’s impact on the environment.

214.      I learned that classes can have really good conversations.

215.      I learned about place, and appreciating it.

216.      I learned about Northfield, the town I’ve lived in for four years.

217.      I learned that having a passionate and involved professor makes classes a lot better (NOT sucking up, it’s true!)

218.      How to slow down and appreciate the world around me.

219.      The importance of civic engagement, not civic resignation.

220.      How strongly politics influences our lives and some ways we can influence them.

221.      How nature is deeply affected and shaped by human culture.

222.      A more concrete idea of my standards of “sustainability” and what the means.

223.      Anger is a virtue.

224.      That the antonym of “bitching” is “hoping,” which has altered my conversations with friends (in a good way).

225.      Meals are one of the best times to share ideas, especially in college.

226.      Food is important.

227.      How colleges are harbors of change.

228.      I get more out of conversations where no one’s trying to “win” or make the best point.

229.      Parents are teachers.

230.      We have a political, not an ecological problem (the symptoms are ecological).

231.      Thinking economically is useful, though I don’t like to do it.

232.      Buildings breathe.

233.      Freshmen are really smart and cool.

234.      St. Olaf is part of Northfield is part of Minnesota. I live all of those places.

235.      It’s important and meaningful for everyone to know everyone else’s name.

236.      Death and Earth are intimately linked.

237.      We are not helpless or without agency. In fact, there are more things to be done to better our world and environment than can be fit into ten lifetimes. So many we have to choose!

238.      School and learning are still the most fun things ever.

239.      I learned some things that bring me joy.

240.      I learned what hope is for (and wonder).

241.      The importance of practice.

242.      What “work” is.

243.      Pete Sandberg is awesome.

244.      Why shorter showers do matter.

245.      About embodied energy.

246.      Jim likes wordplay.

247.      The triple bottom line.

248.      Why growth is bad.

249.      Why growth is good.

250.      Why I love JRR Tolkien.

251.      How to listen.

252.      Class can be different (radical, student-led, outside).

253.      Our current systems aren’t sustainable (politically, culturally, socially, etc).

254.      Small changes are happening (ex. St. Olaf energy systems, Regents, STARS).

255.      More needs to happen!!!

256.      Many have hope (in us, kids, futures).

257.      Many don’t.

258.      Getting to know nature deeply is important beyond confines.

259.      Poetry is beautiful. And powerful.

260.      We need liberal radicals!

261.      Olaf needs more radical dudes like Jim. We need to break the status quo more—that’s my hope/vision for St. Olaf.

262.      Be curious and inquisitive.

263.      Go outside and use my senses.

264.      Individual behavior change is key—that should come first.

265.      Creating a culture that displays its values outwardly should come next or simultaneously.

266.      Political change should follow from cultural change because people will be actively engaged in the community’s well-being.

267.      Environmental education and awareness are needed now!

268.      Our current system cannot hold up much longer.

269.      Act, communicate, teach and learn from others.


[10 Most important things I learned from teaching Campus Ecology (by Mary)]:


1. I process information best when it comes full-circle in my life.

2. I’ve changed a lot since I was a freshman.

3. Every person is complex, and a classroom where students are allowed to be complex people is more interesting.

4. Teaching is really about listening.

5. There is not one over-arching solution to the environmental crisis, but may creative, place-specific solutions (thought up and implemented by many creative, place-loving people).

6. St. Olaf students love deadlines, page limits, and clear directions.

7. Mary Oliver is more complex than people let her be by just reading The Summer Day. She expresses through poetry what I’ve never found a way to express.

8. The St. Olaf landscape, birds, sunshine, buildings, teachers, students, custodians, friends, sky, ponds, maple trees—will always be in my heart.

9. I like being a leader. I also like being the center of attention. I also love people.

10.  Everything goes back to love. And to politics. Love and politics.