Holding Class Outdoors: A Springtime Mini-Memoir

People often ask me, “What do you miss most about not being a college president anymore?”  My answer always is “the students.” Right now students and faculty at Goshen College are frantically preparing for the end of the semester and commencement. But I know what many of them will be doing tomorrow in 70-degree weather.  Frisbees will soar into blue sky, blankets will appear upon the lawn, the chefs will put on barbeque aprons, the voice of the turtle dove will be heard in the land, and someone will say, “Can we hold class outside?”

I taught a class called Romanticism and Criticism for many years.  Whenever we got to the Wordsworth section of the course, I would start checking the weather reports and try to surprise the class by reading aloud from the front of the room, moving to the door and motioning the students to follow:

The Tables Turned

Up! up! my Friend and quit your books;
Or surely you’ll grow double:
Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks;
Why all this toil and trouble?

The sun above the mountain’s head,
A freshening lustre mellow
Through all the long green fields has spread,
His first evening yellow.

Books! ’tis a dull and endless strife:
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music! on my life,
There’s more of wisdom in it.

And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
He, too, is no mean preacher:
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your Teacher.

She has a world of ready wealth,
Our minds and hearts to bless –
Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
Truth breathed by cheerfulness.

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous form of things: –
We murder to dissect.

Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.

We would often go across the street to Witmer Woods, where we would walk out the wooden walkway and sit listening to the sounds of insects, birds, and the silence underneath.  At other times, I took classes to Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center–“where earth and people meet” and to The Hermitage retreat center.  “Deep calls to deep,” the Psalmist says.  In the woods, bogs, streams, and plains of northern Indiana, places sacred to Native Americans, we heard the call of the deep and could connect the pulsing in our own blood to the hawk in the sky, the sound of water over stone, the crumbling of dead leaves under our boots.

Happy Earth Day, students young and old!

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About Shirley Hershey Showalter

Author of memoir Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World. Blogging about Magical Memoir Moments and Jubilación -- vocation in the second half of life.
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