|Students do more than just play in the yard
RELEASED: Jan. 27, 2005
DANVILLE, KYMost of us think of the lawn, when we think of it at all, either as the setting for childhood frolics or as a chorea thing to mow or rake. But as students in Anne Lubbers' CentreTerm course have learned, the American lawn, far from being a patch of grass, is something that can teach us a great deal about the environment, history, self-expressionand ourselves.
Freshmen in Lubbers' three-week course, "The Lawn: An American Obsession," began by taking a tour of Danville and the surrounding areas to view and document the types of lawn ornaments people choose to display. The students say they saw many types of ornaments including Victorian gazing globes, animals, elegant statues and religious figures. They also viewed functional yard art, including mailboxes, birdbaths, benches and bridgeseverything from the elegant to the humorous.
After the field trip, students gave presentations on the different issues associated with the lawn and lawn care such as water supply, ecosystems and global warming.
"I've always been interested in the lawnfor instance, the lawn ornaments have always caught my attention," Lubbers says. "I'm always intrigued by the variety of relationships students have with their yards. Some don't spend time outside, for some it's a place to play, and for others it's a place for wildlife. I enjoy hearing students discuss their ideasit's fun to get to know the students better."
She adds, "I was surprised by how many have never mowed the lawn before!"
Clarendon Hills, Ill., freshman Larissa Jursich says the course was the only class she wanted to take this term.
"I enjoy the discussions the most," Jursich says. "It's when different people can put in the different ideas and different ways of looking at things. Our discussions are thought-provoking and are a time to make new and interesting connections. This enhances learning of not only the particular subject but of other related topics."
Lubbers says that from the presentations and discussions, the students are learning how something as relatively small as the yard is connected to so many issues.
Clark Norris of Ashland, Ky., says he's enjoyed Lubbers approach to teaching, allowing the students to teach each other through independent presentations.
"I will come away from this class with a new appreciation for the lawn and its origins, as well as a new opinion of the lawn and its adverse effects on the environment," Norris says. "This includes consumption of fossil fuels through lawn equipment as well as waste of valuable water. Regular lawn care also releases harmful pesticides and fertilizers into the environment that pollute and disrupt ecosystems. In the future when I own my own home and have a lawn to take care of I'll remember and apply the things I learned in Dr. Lubber's class about more environmentally friendly lawn care."
In addition to the environmental impacts associated with the lawn, Taylor McGovern of Louisville, Ky., says she's enjoyed learning about the history and psychological aspects of the yard.
"We talked about the instinct to have a lawn coming from when our ancient ancestors were living in the savannahs of Africa and there were large plains of grass with a few scattered trees," McGovern says. "This touches on the desire for a lawn being inherent to every human, which I thought was very interesting."
Lubbers says the lawn is representative of how people treat the environment. Instead of making changes to our own behavior, we change the world around us. By taking the students out to her own two-acre lawn, which is planted with a wide variety of native grasses and trees. Lubbers tries to show them alternatives to mowing a large monoculture of grass.
"Once you start thinking about the impact, you might look beyond to preserving ecosystems," she says. "You can start in your own backyard making changes."
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