Final Reflection Essay

There is a call for change, if not revolution, that is more powerful and cacophonous than anything my generations has heard so far. Annihilation mounts in a slow violence against humans. The real issue though is that the violence being committed is not dealt as fairly or indiscriminately as “humans” would suggest. Corporations with personhood and bigoted politicians make broad decisions that somehow keep themselves free from prosecution while destroying the lives of those deemed not worth the time or money. The corrupt ideologies that motive these people in power are actively being dissected in higher education, and what is being recognized is that the world we deal with today is not a result of a flapping butterfly’s wings in some remote corner or an invented universalism hidden somewhere inside every human. There is not as much evil in what is done as there is ignorance to the reality that no one thing has a singular cause. Thinking larger and about the collision of an event’s circumstances has been a major aspect of interdisciplinary education and something I recognize as a way through these difficult times. In many ways I am an educator, although I feel the need to correct to “future educator” as I have yet to achieve my full certification in English adolescent education. In progress towards my personal future, I am happy report that I not only believe in the necessity of teaching students broad, varied curriculum, but I have also been able to see it work to develop some of the most stunning minds I have ever had the privilege to know.

The most beneficial thing I was able to do for myself at SUNY Geneseo was engage in literature courses centered around nature and ecology. Embedded in those discourses are the interdisciplinary sentiment that I’ve come to adopt into my own work in education. Authors engaging in ecological discourse tend to recognize opportunity costs and long term consequences in a way that fits in with the work done in education to prevent single mindedness. I have had the good fortune to continue my specialization in these ideas by taking part in this interdisciplinary course on N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy. As a class, we had variable experience and pre-existing knowledge that drew us to the class and helped inform our ideas on Jemisin’s writing. With the class split between a 100 level course group and a 400 level course group, we had a good mix of literary expertise and knowledge from outside English language arts. This organization of the class was found to be necessary because, once we had completed the first reading assignment in Jemisin’s trilogy, we all acknowledged that this would be as much an exercise in English as it would be in geology. With a large portion of the material being centered around Jemisin’s earthbending orogenes, there was a necessity to be versed on the basics of things like volcanology, seismology, and mineral composition. To answer questions on those fields, Dr. McCoy treated us to guest speakers who far outmatched us with their knowledge of things like volcanology, seismology, and minerals. All of the new information and the chances to apply what I did know were thrilling, but I had early failures that, looking back, became what I was the most grateful for.

There is a blog post that I left unwritten despite the file for it having floated on my computer’s desktop for a long time. I would have liked to write about how the collapse of comms in Jemisin’s continent of the Stillness informed the survivors of Seasons on what not to do. My early blog posts were similar to the ash clogged and empty comms that are claimed by the Seasons of the Stillness. I did not think to count these early, poor marks as lessons until I got farther into Jemisin’s world. As I started thinking outside of what seemed like the rigid life of Stillness citizens, I shifted into the mindset of those characters that were affecting change on the continent as the Season of all Seasons. Essun and her daughter Nassun’s moon antics have the largest impact on the environment of the Stillness by far, and I found their agency to be something I was considering alongside the academic work I was doing. My first four blog posts were stagnant and showed little improvement from one to the next. I came to understand the person who wrote those first four posts to be in a fixed mindset. Though I did not gain heroic inspiration from Essun and Nassun’s growing agency, I look back now and recognize that their growth was in parallel to mine as the class moved from The Obelisk Gate to The Stone Sky.

The midpoint for me was more like a turning point. I marked my writing process as being in desperate need of attention after receiving, what I considered, and uncharacteristically bad grade. Although, it was not as much an uncharacteristically poor mark as it was an indicator of  an older, now failing way of thinking. That midterm essay seemed to be the culmination of what was going wrong with my initial blog posts. “Jemisin and alternate biology,” was the title of my first blog post and focused on making the distinction that Jemisin’s humans were biologically different from the human I was. It was thought out, but it didn’t communicate the idea well. My fourth blog post, “Adjusting Thoughts on Jemisin’s Humans,” was an attempted correction of that first post and the beginning of what I consider to be my present growth mindset. Reaching back like this helped me contest my past failures as new work sites instead of condemned ground. The body of work suddenly became fluid and something to be expanded from instead of moved on from. I should point out the greatest shame of my blog posts, “Geology fiction” as the absolute flattest and most “doing it for the grade” piece I have written. In all of the contesting of my early semester work, I have had to accept “Geology fiction” as a simple failure to not be repeated.

Before the revision that my fourth blog post made, I looked to my other peers for inspiration for what was becoming the mounting challenge of writing well-paced blog posts. My third, “In Response to Civil & Uncivil Disobedience,” found agreement with Michee Jacobs’ connection to Henry David Thoreau’s writing. Where I had expected to root myself and leverage a mild expertise in favor of my own ideas about Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience, I was searching for further areas of growth rather than refutation. In this way, I was progressing though I had yet to recognize a need for change. The collaborative blog post that we wrote in groups also helped me write inside of a community instead of trudging along on my own.

It took a chainsaw and time in the hospital to rip me from my intellectual muck. I had managed to sustain a deep, jagged cut across my knee that had forced me to slow down in what was a demanding load of 22 credits in college courses. Though I would not read about it until after the injury, I felt a connection to the literal and figurative transformative experience that Essun had when her arm turns to stone. Her virtual loss of orogeny and awakening from her obelisk-initiated coma made an interesting connection to my own loss of mobility and time in the hospital. Though the events that landed me in the hospital were not life threatening, they did threaten to take away my limb. Seeing the response from my friends, family, and significant other alongside my own fears were more than enough to spur more progressive ways of thinking.

Thinking about my future during mandatory bedrest steered me in the direction of my work towards a degree in education. It was frustrating that I couldn’t walk, but that mandatory rest allowed for a lot of introspection. Thet frustration was similar to the frustration that I believed to be the primary motivator in my work towards becoming a teacher. There are things that go on outside of schools that are limiting if not deadly to children, and a lot of the time the classroom you are in has to push past those things in order to reach State dictated objectives. From that place I wrote “ACEs in the Stillness.” That blog post was the first cohesive and accomplished post that I wrote, and it was reflected in its grade. Writing in and around the part of me that was an educator lead me to progress into “Young orogenes as child soldiers.” That post was primarily about the book A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah. The book is a memoir about the violent past of the author as a child soldier and was something that I was taught from during my time in high school. Tutoring work that I was doing at the time exposed me to the book again, but I found that the Rochester City School District students that were working with it were doing so three or four years earlier than when I was exposed to it as a high school senior. Similar to Jemisin’s oroegenes, children were being exposed to trauma at extremely early ages in ways that highlighted an obvious commentary in the trilogy.

The early exposure to the memoir was something that wasn’t as horrifying to me as it was upsetting. RCSD students are a population that I knew well after having worked closely with them during my three years of education coursework here at SUNY Geneseo. The stories that came to me through different camps and tutoring programs were hard to hear after having sat down with students and heard the dreams that are being made to coexist in dangerous environments. It was horrible to think that the trauma suffered by children in Jemisin’s Stillness was not all that different from what was going on in the world I lived in. The next post, “What children learn from colonizing Mars is the same thing we learn from comm organization,” was about the resilience of the students that I had taught and their success despite the circumstances.

Having found a way of writing that worked, I returned to more literary topics. My finals posts were about the horror of geology and chaos theory. I found that I could still work in areas that I personally found interesting without sacrificing the cohesiveness and purpose that I had in my education based writing. The subtle difference was that I had turned my worries about the futures of my students out onto the world. It was in these last posts and during the end of the Broken Earth trilogy that I found the part of our course title that worked best for me. Of “Blackness, Love and Justice,” I found the strongest connection with love. Like Essun trying to keep Nassun from the violence against orogenes, Nassun trying to keep Schaffa from the core-stone’s pain, or Alabaster trying to keep Corundum from the fate of his other children, I had been writing about the things that I wanted to keep people from. Knowing that I cannot prevent the pain or the kinds of failures I learned from, I have settled for making the subjects that worry me visible.

In reflection of this semester and the work I’ve done in this class, I believe that I have made progress from a fixed mindset in my writing. I am sure that there is work to do in other aspects of my life, but the progress I’ve made in my writing is at least an example of my ability to affect change on myself. Though there was a thoughtful and sincere professor to give me comments and a corresponding grade to help visualize my progress, I have personally recognized an improvement in my writing quality. More important than that though, I found things out about myself and how I think. In the future I hope to share the need for interdisciplinary work with my students and peers.

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