Dr. Fockler asked me to introduce myself to the class and describe what I do. During my brief introduction I mentioned I focus primarily on external stakeholders, but am visiting classes to learn more about the ways faculty interact with our students and create a meaningful classroom experiences. I am also sharing my experiences with my team and the stakeholders with whom we work so they have a complete picture of how amazing an Augustana education is.
Fockler followed my introduction by mentioning that, “as a faculty member, he’d never really thought about external stakeholders.”
He continued by reminding the class how important one’s “lens” is and that as he thought about having me in class, he had to see things through my lens to understand why it was important to me to sit in.
In the moment, I had no idea how important the concept of one’s lens was going to be to this classroom experience and how expertly and imaginatively Fockler had set up today’s classroom discussion.
In a nutshell, the class was about the conflict between horses and cows (both novel functional groups, I now know) in rural areas of Nevada, where Fockler grew up, and the cultural, societal, symbolic and economic conflict inherent in creating policy. While the subject matter was fascinating, the purpose of the class was not to steep these students in policy surrounding land management and grazing rights.
It’s presumptuous of me to speculate on the intent of an instructor, but I think the actual purpose of the class session was to remind students that one’s lens is focused on what is important to them as an individual, and that it is critically important to seek to understand someone else, even if you don’t see the world the same way.
Through a discussion about cows and horses in the American West, Fockler introduced the deeply complex and often deeply personal perspectives that citizens may have about the same issue.
At one point, he shared a personal anecdote about a friend who lived in a sod home and drove a car that ran exclusively on biofuel, but also would take the maximum number of deer (11 in this case) allowable annually. I am pretty sure this was Fockler’s way of saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover.”
Fockler pushed students hard to consider all of the lenses of everyone involved in cows v. horses. At one point he said, “Come on, let’s fight.” He asked:
What should be done?
How would you deal with this issue?
Where do you draw the line?
Where do you quit if you don’t know where to start?
Fockler’s students responded as they were pushed. They pushed back. They formed their own ideas. They thought about each lens impacted. And, they discovered that there are no easy answers when it comes to cows v. horses or life in general.
Fockler concluded the class by describing what it takes to make progress when people with deeply held beliefs find themselves on opposite side of things—as is often the case in Natural Resource Management. This is my summary of what he said: change seldom happens when the presumption starts with remaking everything.
He went on to say that success comes when we ask what can we try? Where can we start?
Watching and listening to the students engage left me with no doubt that this set of students will encounter the world in a way that involves awareness of another’s lens—and they will ask,
What can we try in order to move forward? This is exactly what a liberal arts education is intended to do.
Matt Fockler earned his M.S. from the University of Nevada and his Ph.D from Montana State University. He began teaching at Augustana in 2013.
Fockler has geographic teaching and research interests in nature and society interaction, natural resource management, and social and environmental responses to resource management and adaptation in mountainous environments.
His research has explored irrigation and water management in Nevada and United States Forest Service landscapes in Montana.
Currently, Fockler is researching historic and current forest canopy cover in Army Corps of Engineers managed forest lands along the Mississippi River and investigating how Army Corps fire management policy has contributed to current forest cover.
Specializations: Human and environment interaction, Natural resource use, Management, Resilience, Vulnerability, American West, Public lands and management, Historical geography, Natural hazards, Natural resource policy
If you are interested in reading more Classroom Sessions, you can read more on my blog