Woolman Semester Email Update – February 7, 2009

Dear Friends,

This is my first official email update from the Woolman Semester, but I have contacted many of you individually to tell you how much I am enjoying this program of study. Our first week of academic classes ended yesterday; two small presentations are done; and all thirteen of us students are thirsting for what the rest of the Semester will bring.

On the Monday after I arrived at Woolman, the students and teachers piled into vans and traveled to the Pacific coast for a week of fun, adventure, and community building. We stayed in a renovated farmhouse near Jug Handle State Reserve. The ocean was a short walk from the farmhouse, and we went there frequently. Throughout the week, we went on various excursions. The group took outrigger canoes up the Big River and hiked around the Mendocino Lake. We also did some service work around the farmhouse – planting trees, splitting firewood, and working in the garden.

The most profound experience of the week was our solo – when we spent 24 hours alone in nature. The teachers brought us our meals, and we were all close enough to the farmhouse that we could have gotten help if we needed it. This was a time for deep reflection and a time to dream about the four months that are in front of us. I found myself spending more time taking care of my space and my needs than I expected, but I still had ample time for thought.

All of us returned to the Woolman campus feeling connected as a community and ready to delve into academics. Classes began on Monday. I am taking Environmental Science, World Issues, Peace Studies, and Humanities & Ethics. In Peace Studies – our English course – we will deconstruct American culture. Our first project was to watch a Disney movie and identify stereotypes and representations of minorities. We also looked for the way violence was portrayed in the film. Another student and I chose Aladdin. In addition to noting that violence was present throughout the film, we analyzed the skin colors of the two main characters – Aladdin and Jafar. We proved that Jafar – the antagonist – had darker skin than Aladdin. This could simply be because we associate darkness with fear, but we suggested that it could also have to do with the racism that is still prevalent in this country.

World Issues began with a crash course on capitalism. This class will look at the global scene from an economic point of view, but we need to know how capitalism works before we can analyze it. On Thursday, I was in a small group that presented on three economists who saw capitalism in very different lights. Boiled down to the bare bones, our presentation said that Adam Smith was the optimist, Karl Marx was the pessimist, and John Maynard Keynes was the realist. Other groups presented on the transition from feudalism to capitalism, the meaning of Gross Domestic Product, and the function of the U. S. Federal Reserve.

Our first unit in Environmental Science is on water and water rights. I am starting a two-week research project. The city of Los Angeles gets much of its water from rivers that flow into Mono Lake. I will look at the effects of this practice on the ecosystems and population near Mono Lake and will present my findings to the wider Quaker community here.

Humanities & Ethics is our elective, and we only have class once a week. We will discuss topics of Quakerism and spirituality. I expect that Humanities & Ethics will be the class that I will get the most out of.

We have had rain for the past few days, but now I am looking up at a clear blue sky. I just got out of a flint knapping workshop where we learned how to chip rock to make arrowheads, and now I must return to schoolwork. To the people back east, I hope you enjoyed your round of snow and cold weather. I miss all of you, and I will definitely stay in touch.