Mar 082009
Authors: Anne Marie Merline

A week ago, I changed my Facebook status to read “Anne Marie Merline had two kick butt classes today. I love my students this semester.” It was the same a week before that too.

These past two weeks have been full of “banner days,” which to me are days that I leave class energized because the students truly engage themselves with the material. There is no better feeling that can come out of the classroom.

Two weeks ago my second semester students read a chapter out of the book “Collapse.” This book by Jared Diamond explains his theory as to why some societies have collapsed over the course of human history.

Diamond’s theory is that societies go belly up because the people in those societies wreak havoc on the environment in which they live; the environment in turn cannot support those humans and then the population ceases to thrive.

The idea that I had for a class activity was to take these perspectives on the end of whole societies and ask them to discuss this paradigm in terms of the few things that they have already learned this semester.

My morning section did a great job of discussing the ways that we are thinking about the issues that are due to over-consumerism and environmental harm. We started by thinking about the industrial revolution and ended the conversation with the Mountain pine beetle. All of these topics examine the human response protecting the environment.

This early morning section energizes me on a regular basis. Equal to their intellectual enthusiasm, is their humanity. They come to class early, greet me enthusiastically and go right to task to arrange the furniture in the way that makes us all feel comfortable. Great connections, both as humans and as students of the world, make my morning a joy.

I went into my afternoon section of a course I call “Got Affluenza?” intending on another great discussion. There were two students in this section who were scheduled to give their extemporaneous speeches.

The first was on global warming, and the second one was about the idea of greed and how that fit into Diamond’s four-tiered paradigm of failed societies that I discussed with my earlier section given by a student named Michael.

As you can imagine, Michael’s accusations against the American way of life generated much controversy. The conversation included the topics of capitalism; socialism; welfare; personal choices; life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; changing our habits; the American dream; “need versus want;” and everything else in between.

There were many in the class who rejected Michael’s ideas based on the philosophy of freedom of personal choice. There were also others who understand that we are all in this together and that the only way to reverse the damage to the earth is for all of us to take the greater whole into consideration when we make our individual decisions.

This past Tuesday, it was Kristina’s speech in my morning section that encouraged me not to carry out my lesson plan, but to continue the conversation that she started.

We read a chapter out of James Howard Kunstler’s “The Long Emergency.” Kunstler urges us to imagine a world without fossil fuels. Kristina’s speech about organizing human communities to be more sustainable encouraged the students to think about and design “villages” within the larger Fort Collins to cope with the lack of fossil fuels for everything as we know it now.

The four different groups in each of my sections brought up some interesting ideas about human nature and how societies might change and we had a lot of fun along the way.

As a teacher in the social sciences, there is nothing more fun than having your students become so passionate about the class topics that they engage the rest of the class into conversation. Thanks to all of my second semester students for making these last two weeks “banner days.”

Anne Marie Merline is an instructor for the University Honors Program. Her column appears biweekly Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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