Apr 132008
Authors: Anne Marie Merline

The idea of “inspiration in the classroom” came to my mind this past week when I invited a community activist into my class on Tuesday.

I love having guest speakers because they are practitioners of the ideas that my students learn about. I let the speakers set the agenda, set the tone for the day and manage the classroom as they wish. This being said, I “let them” do all of this because I think that their knowledge should become a vital part of the conversation of the course.

The second-semester seminar I am teaching this spring is about consumerism and how our human actions affect the natural environment.

I met Neil Kaufman, one of my more recent guest speakers through community connections. I met Neil through his wife Erin, whose second grader, Sarah, goes to school with my son, Ben. Little did I know that not only did my guest speaker last week have a great example of sustainable practices in his mind, his heartfelt passion for the choices that we can make as humans left me in awe.

The story begins when I invited Erin and other parental units last fall for a “Friday-afternoon-potluck-while-the-kids-are-in-school-so-that-we-can-actually-hold-down-a-meaningful-conversation” gathering. These gatherings are few and far between, but they are nice because we get to talk about things that we never get to hear about as a part of our daily routine because we are interrupted by skinned elbows or feats of eight year-old awesomeness.

So talk we did.

Erin talked about her husband, Neil, who was starting up the National Center for Craftsmanship, a group dedicated to the preservation, enhancement and sustainability of quality craftsmanship.

Right now, Neil’s project is to highlight the “de-construction” process. This process gives people an introduction to the trades by first learning about de-construction. On the environmental level, it enables sustainability by re-using the materials saved while gently taking it away from a structure that would have otherwise been thrown into the landfill.

Knowing what I was teaching in the spring, I made a mental note that I wanted to learn more about the business and to talk to Neil about it. Unlike post-it notes, mental notes in my world do not stick.

Fast forward to the spring semester. Sarah and Ben were signing up for an after school activity, so Erin and I again talked about life and she reminds me of Neil’s work. I actually contacted him this time, and after several e-mails and calendar shuffling, he came into my classroom to talk about the NCC.

Neil sat down with the class (this is a seminar, after all) and he talked from his heart from the get go. He spent 60 of the 75 minutes of the class talking about the power of community connections and social change.

He posed two questions about the efforts of humans to create a sustainable world. The first question was, “Is it worth it?”

In the context of our class: Is it worth it to turn the water off when you brush your teeth, or is it worth it to take re-useable bags to the supermarket, is it worth it to ride your bike or walk instead of jumping in the car, is it worth it to turn of lights and appliances when you are not using them?

His second question on Tuesday was, “Must it be done?”

In my opinion, yes, it must be done. We have it in our power to alter the course of environmental history to one of a sustainable world.

If we all could be inspired like I was inspired by Neil’s contribution to my class we can do “it” too. All of this made me wonder if many students on campus are inspired by their instructors or mentors as they go about the business of learning the stuff to get them the degree that they seek.

My advice after Neil’s words of wisdom: Take some effort to find something to be inspired about to change the world for the next generations. It is worth it. It must be done.

Anne Marie Merline is a professor for the University Honors Program. Her column appears biweekly in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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