To begin the story at the beginning, read "Part 1: Post 1: Beginning Again," published in January, 2013. To consult a description of the campus, read "Part 1: Post 14: The Greening of Campus," published in March, 2013.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Year 2: Part 1: Post 2: Starting Classes

Most of the snow is gone now.

We had a long rain the other day, cold and harsh and unpleasant, and it turned six inches of pretty snow into two inches of icy slush and sent up clouds of even, echoing mist. The crows cawed in the mist, caw! caw! and I cawed back at them and got them to reply to me until someone said I shouldn't try to speak Crow if I didn't know what I was saying. Anyway, the sun came out the next day and the weather warmed, and nearly all the snow is gone, now. It's like spring from a greeting card, though there aren't many flowers yet. It could snow again, of course, but I'm enjoying the weather while I can.

Anyway, we've started horticulture work in earnest now, though the ground is still too cold and wet to dig. We've got a lot of plants in the greenhouse, mostly young perennials Charlie wants to give a head start, but also some native annuals he wants to introduce. Today we had to separate and transplant all of them, and starting tomorrow we have to move all of them outside in nice weather and then back in before frost. That's a lot of tiny plants to move back and forth.

Apparently later this week we're going to get a detailed tour with lots of plant ID work (fortunately, I'm kind of ahead there) and then we're going to get into pruning. After that, we go on invasive exotics patrol.

My extracurricular activities--Philosopher's Stone Soup, Paleolithic Dinner, and Dead Poet's Society--all started up in February, but they were all kind of strange for a while, since it was too cold to meet outside. One week Rick did make a giant snow cave for Dead Poet's Society, which was really cool, no pun intended, but a few days later the weather warmed up a bit and it rained and the roof of the snow cave fell in and Rick didn't build us another one. Otherwise we've met in the martial arts studio, which is private enough but sort of lacks the romance of the grape arbor. The two dinners have met in the Bird Room off the Great Hall, which works ok, except it's harder to maintain privacy, and it just isn't the same.

But now that it's starting to get warm and Daylight Savings Time has begun (so it's light out at dinner time), we're probably going to move at least the two dinners outdoors again, at least for this week. That will be nice; I've missed cooking and eating outdoors.

All of this stuff seemed so exotic last year and it seems to familiar and homey now.

Today was also the first day of new classes. As I mentioned, I'm taking four, and Monday is Greg's class, American Minority Perspectives. The idea of the class is that most of us know American history only from the perspective of white, mostly rich, men and that there are other histories that also make up America. Greg was careful to say that there is nothing wrong with white men, which I appreciate, only that ours isn't the only history to learn.

I've got the class syllabus here in front of me. There are eight class meetings, counting today, and they are divided up like so:

Week 1. Japanese-America
Week 1b. Native America
Week 2. Native America
Week 3. Northern Mexico
Week 4. Black America
Week 4b. European Immigrants (Germans, Irish, and Jews)
Week 5. The Old Confederacy
Week 6. Japanese-America

The "week 1b" thing is because, as I think I mentioned last year, the spring semester is only six weeks long, so to get all eight meetings in classes have to meet twice a week sometimes.

Greg explained some of the syllabus today. For example, he said that "Northern Mexico" refers to the fact that much of the United States used to be part of Mexico, and that he intends to tell the Mexican-American story not as a story of immigration but as a story of the Mexican roots of parts of America. Some of us questioned why the Confederacy was on the list, so Greg asked us to raise our hands if we thought it belonged. Six people did. Then he asked if any of us were Southern. The same six raised their hands. Ok, then.

He also said that there aren't multiple Americas, but there are multiple perspectives on America and they don't always see the same things. To demonstrate this he placed a large sculpture-type thing in the middle of the room. It was a sphere full of multicolored dots, I don't know what it was made of, and asked us to describe it from where we sat. Some people saw mostly blue dots, some mostly red, yellow, or green. Some could see patterns in the dots while they looked pretty random to most people. Some people could see one purple dot, but not everybody could.

But it was all the same sculpture.

Just like his Introduction to History class I took last year, he isn't going to focus on giving us information but on teaching us how to get information. After all, we can only touch the surface of a couple of stories in this one class, and there are a lot more stories out there for us to learn.

The way it's going to work is that every week he'll give out a summary and a timeline of American history from a certain perspective and then for homework we have to find a person, place, or incident to talk about from that perspective. At least a third of us have to choose women to talk about, at least a third must choose men, and at least two people must discuss children every week. That means we have to collaborate on our homework. Then, the next class meeting, we'll spend the first half talking about what we found and the second have listening to a guest speaker.

This week, of course, we don't have to do that because the next class meeting is Wednesday and we don't have time. Instead, all we have to do is read Lies My Teacher Taught Me:Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, and A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present.

Of course, those two books together make over a thousand pages of reading in two days, which is absolutely, utterly insane. Fortunately, we've known about these books for a few weeks now, so most of us have gotten started already, but we didn't know we had to get them finished by Wednesday, and I, at least, have a hundred pages of one book and all of the other to get through.

Did I mention they teach us to work magic here?

But before all of this preparation, before all of this discussion of logistics, right at the beginning of class, Greg asked us a simple question.

"How many of you think I'm white?"

I didn't raise my hand because I know Greg doesn't consider himself white, but he looks more or less white, at least to me. I looks around the room and saw a lot of hands go up. There are yearlings in the class who don't know Greg very well yet, plus some senior students who just haven't spent much time around him. A lot of those hands went up, then I saw the people look around, realize that most of the senior students had not raised our hands, then the hands went back down again.

Greg grunted or chuckled and took off his glasses. I don't know if he did it deliberately to expose the shape of his eyelids--he does have a slight epicanthic fold--or if the timing was just a coincidence.

"Who here thinks it matters that I'm not white?" Greg asked.

I know a trick question when I hear one. There's no right answer; if you raise your hand you look racist and if you don't raise your hand you deny the premise of the whole class. I looked around and saw hands go up, then down again, then up again...all the students in the class are white, or, at least they look so to me. Most students at the school are.

Greg grunt/chuckled again and put his glasses back on.

"You can't effectively talk about your thoughts about race if you do not admit you have thoughts about race," he said.

And then he told us his family's story.

[Next Post: Friday, March 28th: Dark Waters]

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