June 9, 2009
Source: Piedmont 2008
My project is the creation of a “topics-based” 212 course for the Department of Spanish and Portuguese,
which will be taught in Fall 2008. Spanish 212 is fifth-semester Spanish, an upper-intermediate level
conversation course. Until now, this multi-section course has used A Que Sí as a textbook, with multiple
(between two and nine) sections aiming for cross-section uniformity each semester. In Fall 2008 for the
first time, the department will offer options (my Sustainability and the Environment section, and Zaitseva’s
section on Public Health), in an effort to provide multiple pathways to the major.
When I began the Piedmont Project, my intention was to converse at length with people “in the know”
about “green” issues, in order to discover source texts I could adapt and use as a springboard for class
conversations, dividing the course into four subsections such as “biodiversity”, “endangered species”, etc.
In many senses, my overall aims have not changed. I still plan to divide the course into subsections, each
of which will be comprised of a variety of texts (poetry, prose, journalism, film). What I do feel changed
substantially, however, is my conception of what “the environment” and “sustainability” are. This evolution
in my thinking grew directly from the workshop days, presentations, and discussions with participants,
and has been very liberating.
In essence, the vital importance of place is what I now see as the driving forces behind what I hope to
explore with students. And this examination of place led me to widen the scope of what I had initially seen
as relevant to a course on the environment. So, for instance, rather than limited conceptions of “the
natural world” (the Brazilian rainforest, etc), I am seeing more and more how “the built environment”,
human relations (and policies) and factors such as justice influence and shape issues of sustainability.
Prior to the workshop, for instance, I would never have imagined using “health” as one of my four topics.
Now I see it as primordial (and am having Piedmont participant Prof Sara Edwards come speak to my
class on lactation in Latin America).
The sense-of-place awareness so effectively fostered during the Piedmont Project helped me see how I
could use place as a means of engaging students in each of the issues we explore. It has struck me that
virtually anything we discuss in terms of Latin America can be brought “home” (whatever, or wherever
“home” is for the students). For instance, one of our topics will be water. We’re going to read an article
about Bechtel’s privatization of water in Bolivia, and a Juan Rulfo short story about agrarian reform in
post-revolution Mexico in which peasants are given an enormous chunk of parched earth too far from any
water source to ever grow anything. But in addition to seeing “others” suffer the tragic consequences
wrought by a lack of water, we will also discuss students own water practices, the drought in Georgia
(and California, and…), and any relevant water-related issues students may bring to the table. I hope that
this interplay between “here” and “there” will prove thought-provoking or even (as it was for me)
In terms of the framework for the course, I have (not entirely, but largely) tried to stop anguishing at the
inevitable overlap between topics (e.g. slow food is not just “food” but also trade, globalization, etc) and
accept that any divisions are, to a certain degree, artificial. This is a course in which students will be
exposed to a large number of complex issues, the vast majority of which we will touch upon in a
somewhat superficial manner (linguistically, they are not prepared to be bombarded with highly
specialized vocabulary on a daily basis, and I still have to cover the same grammar as the other Spanish
212 courses). Rather, therefore, than attempt to ensure that students “acquire” a body of knowledge, I
hope that they will come to see and feel connections between the topics we discuss and their own lives,
and to think about the role of place in how those play out.
Dillman.pdf (340.7 KB)