Taking an Ecological Approach to Teaching and Writing: A Philosophy of Teaching

What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, men would die from great loneliness of spirit, for whatever happens to the beasts also happens to man. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth also befalls the sons of the earth.

                --Words Attributed to Chief Seattle, “Letter to President Pierce, 1855.”

            Chief Seattle's remarks to President Pierce in 1855 highlight an ecological ethic that has since been supported by biological and ecological research: that all things are connected, both organic and inorganic, physical and mental, natural and cultural. Ecological thinking, however, transcends the mere biological and can be used as a model for life and education. Just as in our physical world, our actions and thoughts are all interconnected with a multitude of others, establishing (bio)diversity and equilibrium that helps individual survival in a constantly changing world. I aim to foster such an approach in creating a classroom of critical thinkers, readers, and writers. Ecological philosophy helps students recognize their uniqueness as being critical to their physical and mental fitness in their own survival in the ecosystem of academe as well as realizing their integral inclusion in a larger community.

            A crucial aspect of the physical world is the constant struggle to achieve equilibrium. I cannot emphasize the word “struggle” enough because, as we well know, life is fraught with struggle in the attempt to find some sort of balance. The quest for balance (as I will call it, knowing full well that the drive for equilibrium in the natural world is blind) is synonymous with the rhetorical triangle and the constant struggle of achieving an effective balance between ethos, logos, and pathos. I try to establish such a balance in the classroom by mediating between myself and my students, emphasizing the legitimacy of their voices and ideas, and by modeling the very approach it takes to become a contributing member (a thinker, reader, and writer) of  an academic and civic community. Discovering and legitimizing each student’s talents and ideas helps me individualize my instruction to the needs of each of those students as well as to the needs of the ecosystem of the classroom. The most effective strategy that I have developed to achieve such critical thinking and writing is to always to question “Why?”, especially when it comes to the writing process: “Why am I writing what I am writing?” By leading my students through this reflective struggle, I help them discover their voices in an interdisciplinary academic discourse that they can then take with them to other arenas in life, adding to the cultural environment in which we live.

            It makes sense to model life and teaching after nature, using the daily tension to struggle and work toward a balance that basically mimics the balance every good author strives to achieve in writing. We are, after all, born of nature, are components of nature's vast web of life, and live every day in some part of nature. The struggle for balance and equilibrium, an ongoing struggle in ever-changing environments, parallels the constant fluctuation between each aspect of the rhetorical triangle. Helping students recognize the interconnectedness of all things and of their roles in their immediate environments is my ultimate goal in helping them become active members of their communities.