Friday, July 27, 2007

Bees and a Global Issues Course

I teach a junior-level interdisciplinary course called Global Issues and every semester I am faced with the same problem: How do I engage students to consider important macro-structural global issues without losing them? An understanding of the problems (and benefits) surrounding economic and environmental globalization are a must for any informed citizen, yet, for many students, these issues are too abstract and distant from them. Their eyes glaze over with each discussion of IMF policy, or the impact of neo-conservative ideology. I do well enough on my evaluations so I could ignore this problem and coast to retirement, but I have this gut feeling, not found in any of the "positivist" assessment tools used to evaluate the course, that my students are just not getting it. Developmentally, my students are very concrete thinkers, so I am left with the problem of getting them somehow to ponder very abstract concepts.

One approach to my dilemma is to get my students to cultivate what we sociologists call "the sociological imagination": the ability to perceive that one's inner and day-to-day life is very much connected to the larger macro-structures we live within; the concrete mundane problems that we can easily grasp are very much related to those larger global issues and policies which we see as distant.

I've been pondering then whether all this research and hands-on activity I've been absorbing about bees and apiculture might be one such concrete activity that might get some of these global issues across. The problems (e.g CCD, organic vs conventional husbandry) that beekeepers face are not simply biological issues, but are impacted by macro structural forces as well, connected to a short term profit oriented global economy. While it is probably too late to add apiculture as a case study of global issues to my syllabus this fall, perhaps I can do something when I teach the course in the spring. Anyone want to give a guest lecture?

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