A year and a half ago I was a teacher-counselor for a summer camp that SUNY Geneseo hosts for Rochester City School District. That iteration of the camp was themed around Mars colonization and asked students to take up the cause of saving the human race or, at the very least, preserving it. The body that funded the camp required that the children partake in a STEM based curriculum, but I was pleased to find that we were able to work different aspects of social justice and art into the material we taught. Since our course title is getting at social justice in a mostly scientific context, I was reminded of the teachers at this STEM camp that were intent on getting students to understand community as much as they were understanding rudimentary rocket propulsion.
How Jemisin organized comms in the world of the Stillness was something that immediately reminded me of how my students had talked about organizing their Mars colonies. The students needed an amount of scaffolding towards something as complex as self-sustaining interplanetary colonization, but once they had a basic understanding they came to a lot of the same conclusions that Jemisin lead her readers to. Because Jemisin is trying to impart a message onto her readers, it seems fitting to recognize her work as educational and having the same kind of tiered pedagogy that teachers use. For example, students learned about ways to forego the relocation of the human race before they learned about space colonization. Jemisin first details the effects of the Seasons before showing the reader how they motivate pragmatic decisions over emotionally motivated decisions. Within education many people recognize the need for a foundation of knowledge to build or scaffold finer ideas from. The idea of starting off with a base of information has an inherent logic to it that Jemisin surely recognizes. Since she works so much in metaphor and across so many topics (our course title naming three of them) it makes sense that in order to communicate what are important ideas on race and how society is organized one would need to reach for something more complex than a story map. Comm organization serves as one of the spaces where readers can identify parts of the institutional oppression of orogenes.
The actual work that students were doing was to take what they learned about colonization and apply it to what would become their utopic vision of a Mars colony. Because the camp was STEM based, a majority of the classes worked with the science of sustainability which would be far from Jemisin’s discussion of geology alongside social issues. As mentioned though, I was grateful for the flexibility to work with the other teachers in the program to supplement students with material relating to social justice. Pre-assessments had first shown that students were looking to staff their colonies with doctors, engineers, and technically minded people with little acknowledgement of secondary characteristics. Thankfully, students did not need a lecture on why things like gender, religion, and race did not factor into usefulness. By the time their post-assessments were due, they were calling for those with spiritual and emotional expertise alongside their technologically capable colonists. At that point they were diverging from the comm organization that Jemisin detailed. It’s important to mention that the colonies that students were planning were closest to Jemisin’s Season law comms in how little could be non-essential. Although there is a denouncement of wasteful behavior in the Stillness as a whole, Season law is closest to the careful, rationing behavior that a newly formed colony might have. What the students presented in the assignment was a respect for life that wasn’t immediately useful. In a broader statement, they recognized value in all human life. Unlike the comms that existed in Jemisin’s orogene oppressing Stillness, students were choosing not to ash people based on age or non-essential occupation though it may have helped that the Stillness lacked organized religion and a formal study of psychology.
Now that I’ve finished The Stone Sky, I find it interesting that when my students were ordering different potential colonists by value they had listed a historian as fairly high on their lists despite the lack of mental, emotional, or technical assistance they might be able to provide. There’s a deeper history of record keeping and its purpose in the Stillness, but there is a value to it that this group of students were able to recognize outside of Jemisin’s trilogy. Danel’s presence as a lorist at the saving of the world in The Stone Sky illustrates the importance of recording history that Jemisin includes in the book’s universe. Although students were intentionally reminded to be aware of things outside of the physical needs in space, their choice to include someone to chronicle their colonies experiences was mostly self-generated.
The Stillness’ comms are organized in such a way that they are assistive to the oppression of orogenes and so do not represent a perfected system because of their building upon a designed/engineered past. The importance of lorists/historians in the Stillness is supported by their hand to hand training that serves as a bonus skill if not a defense against those seeking to destroy oral history. Humans of the Stillness diversify to increase their Season value. I have taken the students’ inclusion of a historian into their colonies as a choice that reflects an understanding of human experience instead of achievement. The need to record history even presumed the survival of the species which was a bold piece of optimism. Ultimately, they were able to devise their own comm under the heading of Mars colonization and were able to reach socially conscious decisions similar to different characters in Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy. They still lacked artists in their colonies and shrugged at the need for entertainment or leisure as well as developing some interesting ideas about meritocracies, but I digress. I would like to offer that the untainted minds of children were able to make decisions informed by emotional intelligence because they lacked the kinds of racist and discriminatory ideals that Jemisin’s pre-Rift Stillness held.