Teaching Sustainability

If you were going to teach a couple of classes on how to live more sustainably, where would you start?  What of subjects seem most important and what subjects seem most appealing to the public?  Is it better to teach a subject you’ve already mastered or to invite your class to learn with you?

I’m thinking about teaching a class or two for People’s University this winter and I need to get my proposal in by September 15th.  It’s a very cool program run by Bloomington Parks and Recreation.  Anyone in the community can sign up to offer a class in… well, pretty much anything.  Most of the classes are either informative lectures on a topic (“Listening to the Beatles with New Ears”) or some sort of how-to class (Waltzing, Knitting, Glass Blowing, Sauteeing).  Some classes are just one session while others meet multiple times over several weeks.

Will and I actually met at a People’s University class – “Introduction to Massage” back in early 2006. This year we’re taking a class together called “This Whole House” to learn about home maintenance and repair.  I also signed up for the “Grow Organic Educator Series,” which I’ve been thinking about for a long time.  It’s eleven classes, two-hours each, so it was a big commitment but I’m really excited to learn more about organic gardening.

I taught a lecture in 2007 about ecovillages that was lots of fun but that didn’t come out as smoothly as I’d anticipated.  (I should have planned a little more.)  Now I’m thinking it’s time to try again but I can’t quite pick a subject.  It’s also hard to think about something that won’t happen until January or February but they like to get the course catalog figured well in advance.

Will and I could teach a class in soda-making, which we’ve talked about in the past.  I could do some research and do a talk on composting toilets and other humanure alternatives, a subject that intrigues me greatly but I’m not super knowledgeable about.  We could do a short intro on green living (as presented by greencouple.com).

What kind of class would YOU sign up for?

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6 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Andy said,

    August 20, 2008 @ 11:37 pm

    Funny I just read this, I was just compiling a list of places to offer a lessons on driving more efficiently. I had offered lessons once before, with no takers, but this is a much more open city that I am in now.

    There is a group around here that teaches energy efficiency by meeting at someone’s home each time and showing all the ways they could make it better or save energy here or there. Can’t be too hard for those who live that way to teach it.

  2. 2

    Dana said,

    August 21, 2008 @ 11:37 am

    Ooh! Just 15 minutes ago I came across something interesting that I was going to email you/Will about anyway, so I’ll put it here. I was reading a forum thread about natural shampoos, and two of the participants ended up delving into a long exploration of soapnuts/aritha. Apparently their shells can be used as laundry detergents (up to 3 uses per little bag of shells, dried between each use), dish detergent, and to make shampoo. The shampoo part seemed a bit difficult to get right for individual hair needs, but the laundry use seemed to work easily, and I remembered that you’d had some frustrations with getting suitably green detergent via Etsy. (Not sure how well it would work in an HE washer, though. I wonder if it matters.)

  3. 3

    Emily said,

    August 22, 2008 @ 1:09 pm

    If you can relate it to saving money, I bet it would be popular. “How to save gas” “Save on your electric bill” (Could you find a good deal on CFLs and give them out in class?) “Five home improvements to save money and energy” – that sort of thing.

    I’m not sure if you’d get more or fewer people if you use the word “sustainability.” My guess is, you’d appeal to the choir, but you’d need to step it up a notch. If folks know they are interested in a sustainable lifestyle, they’ve probably already done the “Top 10 easy things to save the earth.”

  4. 4

    Karen said,

    August 22, 2008 @ 6:45 pm

    I’d sign up for learning how to recycle by turning all sorts of things (plastics, baskets, glass jars) into different things with different purposes.

  5. 5

    Maggie said,

    August 22, 2008 @ 10:25 pm

    Thanks for all the ideas!

    Andy – I’d love to take a class in driving more efficiently but certainly don’t feel qualified to teach one. 🙂

    Dana – I have heard good things about soap nuts but haven’t tried them yet. (We currently have a ton of laundry detergent from the etsy seller and the local health food store that we’re slogging our way through.)

    Emily – The City of Bloomington Commission on Sustainability has sponsored several classes on how to save energy and money by making home improvements. It’s definitely a popular topic so I’m not sure what I could add that would be new and different but I’ll think about it. Saving money is an excellent hook. I probably wouldn’t use the word “sustainability” in the class title but might mention it in the description both to appeal to the choir and also to help educate everyone that pretty much everything relates to sustainability somehow!

    Karen – Creative reuse is a great idea. I can’t think of any super-cool projects, though. I know how to make lint firestarters but that’s about a fifteen-minute project so I’d probably need something else as well. 🙂

  6. 6

    Linnea said,

    August 23, 2008 @ 2:06 pm

    Maggie, check out ReadyMade.com, they have a lot of really great repurposing projects (making blankets out of grocery bags, CD storage out of mailer tubes, etc.) You might check that out for some inspiration.

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