[PeDAGoG] the barn-raising seminar technique

Christine Dann christine at horomaka.org
Thu Jun 9 23:45:28 CEST 2022

Kia ora PeDaGoGs

I came across the comment by Raymond de Young on seminar methods on 
Chris Smaje's Small Farm Future blog. I looked up de Young (info in 
italics below) and the Kahn paper he refers to. It all sounded like 
something which some of you could use - here's hoping. 😁




/Associate Professor//
//Behavior, Education, and Communication//
//Climate + Energy//
//Food Systems//
//Raymond De Young, PhD, is a broadly trained psychologist, planner, and 
engineer. He is an Associate Professor of Environmental Psychology and 
Planning at SEAS and in the Program in the Environment (PitE), and a 
Faculty Associate at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols 
Arboretum and at the Graham Sustainability Institute. His research focus 
is on the process of re-localization, a response to emerging biophysical 
limits and the consequences of having deeply disrupted the Earth's 
ecosystems. De Young applies conservation and environmental psychology 
principles to the challenge of helping people to envision and adopt 
frugal behavioral responses that support a life lived well within local 
resource limits. Despite what for some people is a dismal forecast, his 
work is decidedly hopeful. He is described as neither an optimist nor 
pessimist when it comes to human behavior, but rather an idealist 
without illusions.//
//His current work includes research on (1) helping people to 
pre-familiarize themselves with the behavioral aspects of the coming 
resource downshift, (2) motivating environmental stewardship using 
innate satisfactions and (3) using nature to restore the mental vitality 
needed for responding to and coping with the lean and difficult yet 
exciting times ahead.//


Of climate crimes, community conflicts and carbon cowboys


Raymond De Young on June 8, 2022 at 01:42 said:

On “…no small farm catch phrase.” I’ve been teaching a seminar on 
localization for 15 years with a colleague. Content of the initial class 
sessions evolved through several stages. Early years we had to argue 
hard for our stated premise of energy descent, later contended with 
questions about the ecomodernist counter-arguments, and more recently 
the privileging of DEI concepts before anything else can be considered 
(where your discussions of authenticity have greatly helped Chris).

It was fascinating that an eco-anxiety slowly emerged over the first 
decade (and not just in our seminar but across our entire school of 
environment) and then unexpectedly, it completely went away, at least in 
our seminar.

We were baffled about that, but finally realized we could ask the 
students why that happened. A few things came up (e.g., our inclusion of 
psychological well being in the readings, affirmative stories of 
small-scale localization efforts) but universally they credited a phrase 
we use and a technique that directs the focus of conversations on small 
steps, that can be taken now, but are about the future.

The phrase we use is sometimes credited to perma-culture folks but I’ve 
also heard that it was used by a football coach: “Blame no one. Expect 
no help. Do something.” The emphasis is, of course, on that last part. 
And that’s what the students say their education has come to ignore.

Now we’re a professional school so we do emphasize procedural knowledge. 
But even my school has moved more and more toward academic publications, 
conceptual frameworks (how I’ve come to hate that term), 
international/global thinking, etc. and away from grounded, practical, 
and smaller-scale efforts.

The other thing we do is use “barn raising” to structure conversations. 
Kahn has discussed four basic types of seminars (Kahn, 1971)*:

A. FREE-FOR-ALL: There is a prize out there in the middle of the floor. 
It may be the instructor’s approval or it may be one’s own self-esteem, 
but it’s there and the goal is to win it, and anything goes. You win by 
looking not just smart, but by looking smarter. And that means it’s just 
as important to make others look dumb as to make you look smart. The 
main tool is criticism of the readings and other member’s ideas. The 
academic critique mode fits well in this model.

B. BEAUTY CONTEST: In this model I parade my idea to you seeking your 
admiration. Then it’s off the runway I go to get ready for my next 
appearance while you’re parading your idea. Of course, I’m not paying 
any attention to your ideas, nor you to mine.

C. DISTINGUISHED HOUSE TOUR: In this model someone advances an idea. The 
rest of the seminar spends time exploring it, asking questions, 
uncovering inconsistencies, etc. When they have got a good grasp on it 
one of the other members offers another idea. It may be a whole 
different point of view on the same subject. The seminar members then 
explore that new idea. This is a high form of discourse and can produce 
good outcomes. However, while outright criticism is not used, neither 
are ideas compared, or built upon.

D. BARN RAISING: In frontier North America when a family urgently needed 
a barn and had limited resources, their community gathered to help build 
the structure. The family described the idea, the kind of barn they 
needed, picked the site, etc. But it was the community that pitched in 
and actually built it.

One student’s feedback really captured the process: “[The seminar] 
prompted intellectual curiosity by building a classroom environment that 
was founded on building UP each other’s thoughts, instead of on 
critiquing them and breaking them down. [The] course taught me the value 
in thinking ahead to how we’ll respond as a community to our changing 
world, and that in higher education, we need to think more about doing 
through action, and by starting small.”

I know this is a long comment, and it may seem to be about 
congratulating myself for running a great seminar. But what I really 
mean to convey is how rare it is to find a place like this blog where 
“barn raising” is the social norm.

And maybe to wonder if “Do something + Barn raising = Realistic optimism 
about the future.”


*The Seminar
By Michael Kahn


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