Photo: Stuart Allen's Lake Berryessa Line

The Putah-Cache Bioregion Project:

Putah-Cache Adjunct Writing

What Happens in Class:
Excerpts from the Class Report

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How the class was run
Class discussions and responses
How the students invented their own final project

How the class was run

For each class, following the reading of the synopsis, I gave ten minutes or so of lecture that drew connections between the day's readings or that day's and previous readings, ending up with a question for discussion. If possible, I took the lecture idea from office hours conversations, bringing the student to whom I'd been talking to into the position of authority.

Once the students grab the ball and run with it (as in this class they always do!), I take the position of facilitator, calling the order of those with hands raised, trying to capture comments on the board, sometimes throwing in comments of my own to clarify or connect the discussion. The only time I would become directive was when, since the discussions are aimed at helping the students work out thinking for their essays, I had the opportunity to point out or ask how what someone was saying could be made into an essay.

Students may have felt dissatisfied with the lack of hard facts about the bioregion. But I did this on purpose, putting the burden of knowledge on the students, because I resist their inclination to replace thinking with information-gathering.

We also had two field trips, one to the PCBP's Bioregional Artists in Residence show, held at Guenoc Winery just outside of Middletown, and the other a guided tour of Monticello Dam, followed by a visit to the cemetery of the town of Monticello. These field trips provided material for subsequent essays.

Class discussions and responses

I think students found themselves thinking at levels of greater complexity than they'd had to elsewhere, and many of them found this exhilarating.

For their first analytic essay, the students read six different definitions of what "bioregionalism" should be and had to position themselves amongst these writers. To facilitate this, we had several days of class debate during which I attempted to only facilitate, or at the most synthesize the ideas as they flew. Here are some comments from [student] synopses of these sessions:

"The class was like an eccentric ping pong game where multiple players pitched ideas back and forth and the idea became clearer with every volley. . . . The limits of bioregionalism served as one node of our discussion. Would the idea of eliminating non-indigenous plants extend to immigrant or invader populations of humans?"

"This discussion resulted in a few conclusions. First, when we use terms, we need to examine them and think about them in different ways so that we can understand the essential thing. Second, there may be a distinction between the essence of something and the use of that "thing." Third, there could be a problem when you know too much about the "thing" before you are ready. Lastly, people may think of the bioregion in different terms; one view is not more correct than the other."

The discussion about terms provided a great segueway into the next analytic essay. In the reading on bioregionalism, the term "sacred" was used over and over again, never quite meaning the same thing. ...the heat of class discussion on the matter confirmed that this was a good topic. Students were asked to write an essay that discussed what the term meant traditionally, and how that use compared to what they or other writers meant by it (see the prompt for Analytic Essay #2). There was some concern that the bioregional writers referred to Native American practices but there was no such point of view represented in the readings, so two students contributed two more excerpts that were also distributed.

This essay assignment produced some really great writing, proving that one will write well about what one cares about.

Here are comments from synopses written during this part of the course:

"There is no set of criteria that defines just what sacred is. The individual must feel their own spirit and allow others to feel their spirit. Bioregionalism can incorporate the open and closed myths of concerns [as articulated by Northrop Frye]. The different expectations and practices of individuals can be shared by everyone, but the same enlightenment may not be attained. We can create values for a community of bioregionalists and practice bioregionalism to preserve our bioregion, but each participant must be open to the sacred space of others."

"I find that this attention to language is not only a trend in bioregionalist arguments, but also in many philosophical arguments. Women's studies classes point to colloquial word choices that seem to imply that a patriarchal philosophy exists nearly invisibly in our language. Language, apparently, reflects social problems and offers a place to begin in handling these problems, thus should be recognized and studied as such. Perhaps our class . . . will eventually offer a few suggestions that will help simplify the definition for "sacred."

How the students invented their own final project

For the second documentary essay (final essay), the students asked if it might be possible to compile their final essays into a guide published under the auspices of the Putah-Cache Bioregion Project.

Having gotten approval from the Project folks for the book, we spent a class session brainstorming about the kinds of "tours" that should be included. I imposed some control: I laid out a directional structure that to some extent picked up on the "Four Mountains" of the first documentary essay, and encouraged the students to consider tours that did not require a car (to be both undergraduate- and environment-friendly). Other than this, the students determined their own content.

The next session we spent discussing the "hidden agendas" of the guidebook, and discussed strategies for showing/not telling to accomplish such agendas.

Final versions were handed in (supposedly) limited in length and printer-perfect on the day of the final, after which I was to lay out the pages and get the whole thing printed. A potluck was scheduled for the Sunday before the first full week of classes to fold and collate the whole book, to get it into the bookstore for the beginning of the Spring Quarter.

But of course, as one synopsis says, "Things don't always go as planned." The entries need too much editing for me to prepare them single-handedly and the student-made map is illegible; so we will meet instead for a group editing session and the book will come out a bit later. Just like real life!

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