This past weekend, the Religious Studies and English interdisciplinary class, “Gandhi and Resistance,” taught by Tim Dobe, Religious Studies, and Shuchi Kapila, English, took an overnight trip to the Possibility Alliance farm in Missouri.
The Possibility Alliance is an organization that offers free education to interested groups on permaculture, sustainable agriculture, animal care and other knowledge that is vital in emulating the sustainable, simple lifestyle that founders Ethan and Sarah Hughes maintain on their homestead.
During the semester, the students have studied the non-violent teachings of Mahatma Ghandi. They read texts such as Gandhi’s autobiography, Hind Swaraj, and other related works, including fictional novels that incorporated Gandhian peace principles. Additionally, several guest speakers visited the class and participated in workshops focusing on non-violence and activism.
During the weekend trip, students were able to experience first-hand a lifestyle based on the principles that they had discussed all semester.
“I wasn’t sure how it would work because I’d never been there, and this was the first time we’d added a hands-on component to the course,” Dobe said. “It was confirmed that their organization is very Gandhian.”
The way of life on the Possibility Alliance farm is completely sustainable; they live without electricity or running water, and depend only on food from their own farm or neighboring farms.
“They are working to recreate a society where they’re not dependent on foreign energy sources or energy sources that are ruining the environment, but it’s obviously not a viable solution to all the world’s problems,” said Grace Gallagher ’15. “Not everyone can move to Missouri and live on a farm. … I think they understand that not everybody can do that and not everybody is going to do that. My understanding is that it serves to inspire people to sell their SUV and buy a Prius instead.”
Upon arrival at the homestead, students first sat outside and discussed activism with Ethan Hughes. The Possibility Alliance supports the belief that activism should be both meaningful and enjoyable.
“They talked about how when people think about activism, they don’t think they’re supposed to enjoy it, and how activism needs to be enjoyable and have meaning in our lives,” Gallagher said. “Entertainment and meaning shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. We can have meaningful entertainment and meaningful experiences can be entertaining.”
Students also participated in two workshops. In the first, they were asked to consider the ways in which different types of people work to promote peace, such as peacemakers, peace creators, peace breathers—those who meditate to promote peace—or peace keepers, those willing to protest and go to jail for their cause. In the second, the students were asked to reflect on the question, “If you could make something totally new possible, what would it be?”
“Mine was ‘I want there to be schools accessible to girls all around the world,’” Gallagher said. “I was inspired to say that because this past summer I was in India, and when I was working with these girls in this village in India, when we talked to them about going to school, none of them really understood why they would go to school because they didn’t have a model of a woman doing anything besides raising children and holding down a household, which is no small job, however. It is a huge task, not only to have schools, but to give girls an understanding of the value of an education beyond reading or counting numbers so they can go to the market.”
Students also helped out with farming tasks, such as milking cows and goats.
“[The most powerful experience was] milking the goats. Through that lens, we could get a larger understanding of their way of life. It was really powerful to be a part of, even if for only a short period of time, their peaceful commune,” said Ian Gold ’13. “Once you leave, it’s hard to even make sense of it; it’s a very different way of life.”
Overall, the trip was a significant experience for students to bring back to the classroom.
“Getting out of the routine of Grinnell and getting into the world sort of proved Gandhi’s statement, ‘You have to act to know,’” Dobe said. “The trip confirmed the importance, for me, of getting outside the classroom context with students. I really enjoyed being with the students in a different setting, outside the teacher-student dynamic of grading, lecturing, leading discussions. I think that’s the value of breaking down the wall between the classroom and the world.”