The Liberating Arts, Naturally…

Dr. Mark O’Gorman is a Professor of Political Science and the Coordinator of Environmental Studies Program at Maryville College." Photo courtesy of Maryville College website.
Dr. Mark O’Gorman is a Professor of Political Science and the Coordinator of Environmental Studies Program at Maryville College.” Photo courtesy of Maryville College website.

The other day, I smiled while leading my FYS110 class in our outdoor meditation session near the College Woods, remembering my own freshman year in college. When I thought that I would never, ever have to go back into nature.

I grew up in small town in the mountain foothills of the northern Appalachians. Every day, I was outside. But by my senior year, I wanted to get out, and get inside. Part of it was physiological; when I did like nature, nature didn’t much like me.

I have bad allergies. Not good if you lived in a rural town. Everyone had a pet. Or had a working farm. Or had both! When tourists would come to my town in fall to look at the leaves changing colors, they’d say “ahhh.” My response was usually “choo.” It was attitudinal too. I wanted to get on with life. I wanted to get out of my tiny town and get a “real” job, with an office in a big city. No more trees. Separated from nature. At home, I thought.

I went to a small liberal arts college, like MC, taking courses to become an aerospace engineer. It didn’t work out. But I had signed up for and did take a political science course. By the second week of classes, I loved it.

American democracy is still, today, a grand experiment. And elections are quadrennial tests to see if US citizens take democracy seriously and participate in political campaigns and ultimately, vote.

Over time, I realized that two big political questions interested me, involving science, and nature.  How would technology transform society, for good or ill and what should be the role of government in determining how technology should impact our lives? How are humans changing the planet’s climate, and how might science, and/or government respond to such a threat?

I am forever grateful that I went to a liberal arts college. It was during my time studying the liberal arts that I was first asked those questions and forced to think about making connections that I never knew existed. The liberal arts helped me learn skills that were never part of my college course list. But a day has never gone by where I haven’t used such skills. Also, the liberal arts reconfigured my own attitude and reminded me that nature did matter.

I happily no longer shun nature. In fact, John Muir’s words guide me more than ever. I go outside and realize that I need to stay outside, for as Muir said, “For going out, I found, was really —going in.”

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