Somehow, totally inexplicably, this is our last week of the semester. I would report this with total hysteria, except I’m very lucky to have students I will keep for the entire year. This makes the last week stressful for all sorts of housekeeping reasons, but at least there won’t be any goodbyes.
Tomorrow my students will submit their final paper, a study of some new technology that they feel will make a real impact on a large scale. I’ve seen a lot of great topics, from accessible water filtration to augmented reality contact lenses. We spent a lot of time working up to this topic. We’ve talked about individual and community perspectives on progress, and extensively about communities as ecosystems. We’ve read Nicholas Carr, Andy Clark, Jamais Cascio, Neil Postman. They are ready, I’m sure, to finish their paper, and their semester’s work.
It’s easy as the semester wanes to focus on wrapping up loose ends and to lose focus on content. To refocus our thoughts and (no spite intended) to prove to Carr that we can still read deeply I’ve given them Robert Hass’s “The State of the Planet” for tomorrow. The assignment comes from a presentation I saw at SAMLA by the aforementioned Paul Corrigan. He has kindly offered me the slideshow he has given to his own students illustrating many of the phenomena described by Hass in the poem.
So far this year our work with poetry has been limited to Raymond Carver and Saul Williams, both of which I hope to write about here at some point. Poetry is always a test of reading skills, for the novice and the committed reader. Tomorrow, though, I think poetry will be a test of our ability to share briefly some perspective. I’m not yet sure what that perspective will be. If Hass is right, each technological advance is a testament both to that which is most remarkable and most precarious about our species. That we are each one of billions is perspective we could all no doubt use. Hass wrote on the fiftieth anniversary of the Lamont–Doherty Earth Observatory. We will read his poem more than ten years and one billion people later. What, now, can any of us say with any certainty about the state of our own small hideaways, much less that of the planet?
“It must be a gift of evolution that humans
Can’t sustain wonder. We’d never have gotten up
From our knees if we could” (section 4 lines 19-21).
Indeed. If we could, who could be bothered with a paper due tomorrow at 5pm? With preparation for class? With this blog post? Wonder, I suspect, is much more difficult to learn than most of the things we encounter in the classroom. This is not a criticism of education; it is simply and necessarily so. That said, I hope we can seize a little wonder tomorrow and reflect on how that which we’re inclined to treat as perfunctory (class for example) might be treated instead as a chance to borrow another perspective—to observe, take note, and to feel, frankly, a little bit shocked.
Hass’s poem is not available online, but Lucretius’s On the Nature of Things is. Smile, and let the hollows of the serene sky glow with diffused radiance for thee.
Hass, Robert. Time and Materials. New York: Ecco/Harper Collins, 2007.