An Exercise in Perspectives
Jeff Rennicke, English Teacher

We live in a quickly-changing world. New information, new ideas, and new challenges come at us in a rush. The ability to think deeply, see clearly, and take in new perspectives quickly can lead to deeper understanding and empathy. This week in Wilderness Voices (Conserve School’s English class) students read about, thought about and experienced changing perspectives in a lesson that combined advanced readings, deep thinking, imagination, tree climbing, and sledding.

student in snow

It begins with a discussion of a concept in literature known as “Windows and Mirrors.” This is the belief that some readings reflect a student’s current worldview, portray the world in a way that is consistent with their cultural background, their experience, their way of understanding the world. These “mirrors” are vital to readers gaining a sense of self, a feeling of belonging, of community, of shared experience. Other readings give us a glimpse through another’s eyes, a portal into a worldview, a set of experiences, a cultural mindset that we can hardly imagine. These are “windows” to another world and can open our eyes to the beautiful but complex tapestry of ideas and beliefs that weave our world together. They challenge us to step outside of the self, to see through another’s eyes, and realize that ours is not the only way to see the world.

students reading in snow

Throughout the lesson, we use a wide variety of “windows and mirrors” beginning with a short video featuring Will Robinson, an African-American Iraq War veteran who used a through-hike of the Appalachian Trail to combat PTSD. We use the poem “13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” by Wallace Stevens to discuss various ways of perceiving even the common, often overlooked things around us and the immense capacity we all have, if we try, to see things from new and sometimes startling new perspectives. Then, we read and discuss a wide variety of essays offering unique perspectives on the role of wild places in our lives. These include “Black Women & the Wilderness” by Evelyn C. White, “We Bear You in Mind” by Scott Russell Sanders, “Burning the Shelter” by Louis Owens, “A Private Wild” by Laurel Nakanishi and “Why Not Spoil the Wilderness?” by Robert Wernick.

English class in snow

To drive the lesson home and to create a physical manifestation of “changing perspectives,” we study a beautiful white pine on campus from below, then climb the tree to see things from a new angle. We change our perspective from the top of the Sledding Hill which gives a view of the campus to the bottom where the horizons are more constrained. The students think about, read about, and experience a changing horizon, a new perspective, and a fresh viewpoint, skills that may serve them well as they continue their journey beyond Conserve and into in this ever-changing world that we live in.

student in a tree
student reading in a tree
student laying on the snow
student sledding
group of students sledding

Photos contributed by, Jeff Rennicke, English Teacher