Planting Seeds: Anchoring Ethics in the Dirt

Classes, Environment, teaching

By Christy Tidwell

My Environmental Ethics & STEM class asks big questions about knowledge, values, justice, and responsibility – both individual and systemic – related to environmental issues. Although I try to situate these conversations in specific, real-world examples, they can still sometimes seem abstract or beyond the scale of my students’ reach. They may wonder what they can do to address climate change, for instance, or to change corporate policy.

But they can, of course, make a difference, and we look for ways to identify the actions they can take (again, not just individually but within larger contexts). In the meantime, to help connect us more fully to the environment, this semester I asked my students to plant seeds and to do their best to grow them and keep them alive. It’s my hope that working to protect and nurture one small plant will give the class a personal connection that issues of pollution, plastics, or water rights may not always have.

In addition to (hopefully) creating a connection with a living piece of the natural world, this exercise also provided an opportunity for students to connect with each other. They chatted about their seed choices, asked questions, and gave each other advice about how to plant and care for their seeds.

I look forward to seeing how students’ plants do this semester – if they survive, I may share pictures from the end of the semester, too!

A student holds her hands above her pot, in the process of patting the soil and preparing it for seeds.
Preparing the soil.
A student holds a packet of seeds above his pot, preparing to tap some seeds into the soil.
Putting in the seeds.
Two pots with soil on the grass. One is being patted by a student's hand.
Finishing up.
A group of young men stand in a circle, holding their planted pots and chatting.
Conversations after planting.

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