Environmental What?

Harriet Ratzlaff
Wichita High School North
1437 Rochester
Wichita, Kansas 67203

When the words “environmental history” first passed my lips last September in my U.S.I Honors (USIH) class, they looked at me with new eyes. Those eyes said, “This is where she loses it, right here in front of us.” The concept of an actual history of their environment was funny, foreign, and a little fishy as far as they were concerned. It was obvious that we had a behemoth task in front of us. By the time the semester ended, they were throwing around names like Merchant, Worster, and Cronon as if they were bosom buddies! They can even tell you who the Garbage Historian is! My English III Honors (EIIIH) were a little less dubious; they were, in fact, right with me building on knowledge they had acquired in their science classes. Both groups responded very well to the study of environmental history and/or issues.

The USIH students received portions of readings from the Merchant Problems in American Environmental History as their introduction to the topic. (That book is, by the way, on its last legs due to excessive use by all of us this year for teaching and research purposes in history and English classes as well as various and sundry other subjects.) They were not, of course, thrilled with extra reading, but they plunged in trying to humor the gray-haired one, and found they rather liked the things they learned. The format of the Merchant book allowed them to work with primary texts and to read contemporary views on the same basic topics. We began with the chapter on New England forests, learning such concepts as resource extractive, and formulating economic concepts when reading about the beaver pelts. We used the material on soil-exhaustive tobacco growing, farm ecology in the early republic, and the exploitation of the Great Plains grasslands. They will forever remember the name William Cronon because they had to create a graphic organization of his essay on land use. That was an assignment where we all learned to define patience! There were no specific guidelines, just to create a graphic organization of the essay so they could visualize what he was telling them. They equated this task with bringing Apollo 13 back safely, but we got it done, and very creatively I might add. We also read Sinclair’s The Jungle to wind up the year. My goodness but they did get their eyes opened! They wrote some very good essays about the tour of the packing house! We tried reading a little nature writing. It doesn’t take long to get a feel for the personality of a class; this was not the group with which to pursue such endeavors. I do, however, plan to incorporate this into my English I honors (EIH) next year using the river next to our building and its environs to do regular observation, research and writing.

My EIIIH kids were real troopers. We read Carson’s Silent Spring, Cather’s O Pioneers!, watched the American Experience video about Carson that we at NEH saw last summer, Sea of Grass about the battle between farmers and ranchers for control of the land in the Southwest, did research on prairie life, and rode the big yellow limo to spend a day at Konza. Their first semester final was about environmental history. We also prepared questionnaires and information for a storm drain stenciling project undertaken by science classes at North.

As for outcomes, there’s bad news and good news. The down side of the situation is that the subject will not be pursued in the humanities next year for either group. The English canon for seniors is fairly well established; neither adopted texts nor supplemental texts deal with environmental history. My USIH will only receive more exposure if they wind up in my LIIIH class this fall! The good news is that next year in our building we are beginning an Environmental Studies curriculum. The science and English components start at the freshman level. The following year the U.S. History component kicks in; I am fortunate enough to get to design and teach that class. There is also the fact that the 51 students I had in those two classes this year are 51 more than had the knowledge last year. They have been made aware, and have been taught to think in new ways.

Considering the fact that this was the first year for not only my students but also myself to concentrate on a new history, I feel very good about what we accomplished. Will I do the same things next year? No, not entirely. I will extract successful portions from both classes and reorganize them. I am reading Our Stolen Future and plan to incorporate parts of that with Carson. I want to build a short unit on Carson and Muir for my USIH and EIH kids. I am on a quest to find poetry and art to reinforce subject matter. I will definitely repeat the assignment calling for students to produce an informational poster or banner on some environmental issue that touches their lives and those of their peers. The work we put up in the halls this year sparked several discussions and comments. I plan to repeat the first semester final I gave allowing students to work with environmental history and metaphors. Carolyn Merchant will be making several command performances. I will definitely teach The Jungle again but try to do so a little sooner in the semester. Carl Sandberg’s poem “Chicago” fit in well here and I think I will keep that also. All in all the year was good considering I taught six classes, had five preps, four that were new, two that were honors, and lived to tell about it!

Silent Spring Final Project

Harriet Ratzlaff

This project is in lieu of a test. You may select any environmental crisis about which you wish to inform your peers. You know that brevity is a virtue! This will determine 65% of your grade for this book (class discussion determines the other 35%), so give this some real thought and creativity. I will furnish tagboard, crayons, colored pencils, glue sticks, and rulers. If you want anything else to work with, I guess you’ll have to truck it in! There MAY be occasional time in class to work on these projects, but DO NOT COUNT ON IT!!! As usual I will accept no excuses on this project--in on time or zero credit; you have plenty of advance notice. This project will be worth 200 points and will be graded as follows:


This is your final for first semester of Honors English III. You will work individually and will create a visual metaphor that represents the relationship between the environment and the people who live in it. For each stage listed you will create a visual based on the metaphor you select and include factual evidence to support your point of view. Your choice of metaphor should indicate your final stand on this issue: Are people learning to take care of planet earth?

Directions and Requirements

1. Choose one of these metaphors. The relationship between the environment and the people who live in it is like the relationship between:

2. Your project should show how this metaphorical relationship worked during the four time periods listed:

3. Divide your paper into four sections, one for each period. For each panel, create a visual that shows how your metaphor captures the nature of the relationship between man and his environment during the time frame listed. You can assume that each time period extends to approximately the next period listed with the final one going to the present day. Use drawings, cutouts, photographs, and photocopies to tie your metaphor to events of each period.

4. Write a short explanation for each of your visuals, using evidence and historical details from the period to support your interpretation.

5. Write a short paragraph below each visual stating whether or not humans should be praised for their interaction with the environment during this period and why.

6. Give your completed project a bold title. Your title will probably include references to humans, the environment, and the metaphor with which you have chosen to work.

Evaluation: Your final project will be graded on:

Visual Metaphor Project - Final: Evaluation Checklist

						Needs Work	   Good	Outstanding
						      1-6		    7-15		    16-20

1.  Metaphorical Interpretation
Central metaphor is clear
and easily understood __________ __________ __________ Visual details support, explain, and extend the central metaphor __________ ___________ __________ 2. Historical Evidence Adequate evidence is provided to support the central metaphor convincingly __________ __________ __________ Supporting historical details are stated clearly and accurately __________ __________ __________ 3. Visual Presentation Visual elements are laid out in an interesting and colorful way __________ __________ __________ Text is neat and legible __________ __________ __________ 4. Overall Creativity Striking, inventive or amusing visual images used __________ __________ __________ Language is interesting and colorful __________ __________ __________ 5. Project Requirements Four metaphorical visuals are included __________ __________ __________ These written elements are included: 1) title, 2) historical explanations for each period, 3) stand on the issue for each period __________ __________ __________ Comments: Overall Grade on Presentation: __

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