Debating the legitimacy of Laws, Codes, and Ordinances in History of Design Technology 424
Andy Loewy, Assistant Professor of Industrial Design | University of Louisiana at Lafayette
Looking back at the 1960s, it is easy to remember how idealistic our generation was, how committed we were to solving the world’s social and environmental problems. We were a generation that wanted to make all the perceived necessary changes almost all at once. What happened to the 1960s and our enthusiasm for change? Obviously, to some degree, the fight for a sustainable world has continued, but what was special about that time that let us believe that our generation could mend what generations before weren’t able to comprehend much less repair? There is no doubt that the Vietnam War brought an immediacy and critical mass to the societal problems.
Our generation created a movement of discontent that became so large and powerful that it affected public policy. It was this empowered movement that effectively ended the Vietnam War, and it was the same movement that lost its momentum and along with our thoughts and dreams dissipated or became absorbed. Many of the same issues exist today that were so relevant 40 years ago. If anything, the issues have become more devastating, complex, plentiful, and immediate in recent years. Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring, possibly the first comprehensive outcry about the hazards of pesticides helped to set the stage for the environmental movement and was widely read and revered by high school and college students. It was a book that shouted for change and those that read it more often than not took up the crusade. Today, it would be difficult to have a book such as Silent Spring be required reading for a course that covers sustainability issues. Today, it just wouldn’t hold the student’s interest. Most Americans, for reasons that are hard to identify, no longer have the same sense of immediacy with regard to problems larger than themselves. The difference is not that we have solved our problems but, rather, that maybe we have grown accustomed to them. There is no question that we have made some progress towards change, but with every step forward, we discover a proliferation of problems that await us. The apathy or lack of concern for what can only be described as the health of our future environment is what should concern us the most. Is it a loss of innocence or is it the need to accept things the way they are that has created this apathy?
This paper is concerned with educators and how they deal with student apathy towards our environmental problems. What role do we play so as to have the largest possible positive influence on our students? What strategy do we use to allow students’ the opportunity to see and understand the environmental dilemmas that we face as a society without imposing a polarizing
political viewpoint or falling into what many consider dogmatic rhetoric? Gone are the days of picket signs and sit-ins. We can no longer expect an enthusiastic audience by merely pointing to where we believe the problems exist.
The author offers a class assignment and exercise within the course unit—Social Responsibility as Designers and Building a Sustainable World. The dialogue and exchanges that were precipitated from the exercise worked well partly because the class recognized the dichotomy between the American-dream/frontier mentality and the current necessity for more legal restrictions protecting our environment. The class became aware that it was not the either-or situation (the that we so commonly hear these issues addressed) but, rather, that the best solutions come in the shades of gray. The class conversations were so inspiring that it was felt that the framework for this exercise was worth writing about. An important observation that should be mentioned is that the institution where the author is teaching is located in a fairly conservative part of the country. There exists a fair amount of cynicism amongst the student body towards the values of the political left. The hope is that teachers in similar situations, with similar convictions and apprehensions can make use of my framework to help create a learning environment that engages the student regardless of his or her political background. Ultimately, as teachers, we want to educate all our students not just those who happen to share our own political beliefs. It is to this end that this paper has been written.