Dana the Teacher — Unearthing our Visions and Driving us Nuts

Published: April 22nd, 2001

By Andrew Jones

~Former Student and Current Sustainability Institute Staff~

My name is Drew Jones. I was a student of Dana’s here at Dartmouth back in the late 80s and now work at Sustainability Institute, the organization she founded three years ago. I want to tell you a story about Dana and share something she wrote about her students. Overall, I want to talk about Dana as a teacher.

Several years into my first job after college, I found myself feeling a bit lost. Around that time, Dana came to visit to deliver her “Beyond the Limits” talk. A couple hours before the address, she pulled me aside, put her arm around my shoulder, and asked about my career and life.

On hearing of my confusion, she sat me down on a bench in our garden, told me to close my eyes, relax and then asked me to imagine myself in ten years. She continued, saying, “imagine that you are doing work that you would love. Not what you ought to be doing or are likely to be doing, but imagine yourself truly feeling — this is why I’m here in this world.”

Eight years later, she asked me again — this time I was part of her staff at the fledgling Sustainability Institute. On the canning porch at Foundation Farm she asked all of us to envision an organization that we would love to create.

Dana was always doing that, wasn’t she? And doing it well. She had an effective way of helping us find our passion, find what we really loved, and encouraging us to develop it fully and share it with the world.

She didn’t just do this with her students. How many of you have had a similar experience with Dana? How many Balaton, Dartmouth, Sustainability Institute, Cobb Hill folks? How many of Dana’s readers felt themselves looking deeper into their hearts and souls to see new possibilities?

Now slow down here. Before we nominate Dana for sainthood let’s remember what could happen if you didn’t answer her questions and chart out a plan for yourself: look out, sister, cause she’d chart one for you. Build that model, construct that chicken house, write that book, buy that farm, fight that policy. Has anyone else ever had the feeling of being aboard the Dana-mobile, and you weren’t steering?

In the classroom, she brought out our best not just through gentle, dreamy questions, but also through tough, probing ones. Listen to her talking about her latest crop of environmental ethics students, in her final newsletter:

I mistreat them badly. I never tell them what I think, and I constantly poke them to explore to the core not only what they think, but why they do. Why do they believe the assumptions they believe? Why do they value what they value? I drive them nuts.…

Usually somewhere about the middle of the term, they realize they haven’t any idea why — nor does anyone else, including the people they most strongly disagree with. That’s the point where we have the opportunity forreal transformation.

Such fun!

There’s Dana the teacher — having fun by driving people nuts towards transformation. Lord knows, she drove me nuts!! Anyone else??

She is talking about her classroom, but what she said also applies to her life’s work. She got a real charge out of gently, firmly, pushing ALL of US, all 6 billion of us, on the important, unspoken assumptions and mindsets that rest square at the heart of our survivability.

Looking back, Dana’s visioning process helped, as did her pushing on my assumptions. But today, I’m struck by a deeper message that Dana the teacher was sending: she believed in us. She believed that if we dedicated my life toour vision, not necessarily hers, the world would be better for it. Belief — what an incredible gift of a teacher to a student!

In the same way, as I look out on all of you, I know that Dana believed in YOU. She dedicated herself — her time, her attention, her resources — to the support of you, her many colleagues, her friends, her family, her neighbors, because of her deeply held faith that whatever springs from your hearts and your minds will make the world a better place. And you know, she was right.

Today, Dana is gone. She can’t sit us down and ask us to explore our visions. She can’t drive us nuts pressing on our assumptions. But let us remind ourselves that her belief in us, and in all of this crazy world, lives on.

Dana, we’re all saying good-bye much too soon.

Thank you for helping us find our passions — what we love in this world

Thank you for pushing so gently and firmly where we needed to be pushed.

Thank you for believing in us.

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About The Donella Meadows Project

The mission of the Donella Meadows Project is to preserve Donella (Dana) H. Meadows’s legacy as an inspiring leader, scholar, writer, and teacher; to manage the intellectual property rights related to Dana’s published work; to provide and maintain a comprehensive and easily accessible archive of her work online, including articles, columns, and letters; to develop new resources and programs that apply her ideas to current issues and make them available to an ever-larger network of students, practitioners, and leaders in social change.  Read More

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