Elementary Bedevilment: Driving Students Crazy, Part 1

Here’s the first essay assignment from my environmental lit/ethics/politics class:

In order to relate the idea of nature to the questions of ethics and politics that will occupy us for the rest of the semester, you need to clarify your own idea of nature and set it against the background of the traditional ideas we have been studying. Therefore, for your first essay, I would like you to work through the question

What is the best way to think about nature today?

In this form, the question asks you to consider what is best, but in the context of your own life, your community, and the contemporary environment. You are not required to make a timeless definition of “nature,” but you should try to make a timely one.


  • To articulate your own picture of nature.  This may include reflections on personal history, scientific theories, and sense experience, among other things. Don’t be afraid to tell illustrative stories, to appeal to systems of thought we haven’t studied, or to appeal to your daily encounters with the environment. You may also quibble with the terms of the assignment itself; perhaps you don’t believe in “nature,” but, if so, you must appeal to some other account of the universe, rather than merely negating the ideas of others.
  • To put your own world picture in conversation with the readings we have discussed so far, especially the material you encountered in your oral presentations.
  •  To use your first and second blog entries as raw material for this work; to demonstrate a sense of recycling in your own writing.

2 thoughts on “Elementary Bedevilment: Driving Students Crazy, Part 1”

  1. I like the work off of blogs. Where Thoreau had his journal and other 19th-C folks had their commonplace books, we have blogs as a reflective space to look at where language breaks down in its effort to encompass the Real; “recycling,” indeed!

  2. One thing about being a high school teacher: one thinks about Bloom’s Taxonomy a lot. At least I do. If you don’t know it, it’s a pyramid of cognitive learning activities. The two categories on the bottom of the pyramid, “Knowledge” and “Comprehension,” require observation and memorization; the four categories climbing up the pyramid require more energy and creativity: “Application” “Analysis” “Synthesis” and “Evaluation.” When I read your assignment, I thought, “well, well … ‘evaluation'”–right to the top of the pyramid.

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