Writer, Teacher, Student of Birds

I have a lifelong commitment to social justice as a writer, teacher and community organizer. The courses I’ve created at the University of Vermont teach students how to listen to and learn from our community outside the campus bubble, to prepare them to help solve community and global problems. I do this by designing courses that lead to transformative learning, not the reproduction of systems of oppression (Freire, 1968). One example is the community-based course and program, “Birding to Change the World,” which pairs college students as enviro-mentors with children in Burlington’s schools. In 2022, HarperCollins-ECCO will publish my birding-teaching memoir about this program.

Through what author Thomas Wolfe called “a dark miracle of chance,” birds became my unpaid feathered teaching assistants later in life. During the last 11 years of my teaching career, I’ve discovered that birds and the reflective practice of birding—with all its privileges—are an important pathway for learning about racism, white supremacy and social justice, see “Racism as an Environmental Issue.” For example, as a white birder, I don’t have to worry about getting shot by the police just because I am wandering around the woods or a neighborhood with binoculars (see Dr. Drew Lanham’s Birding While Black.)

I am deeply inspired by and indebted to the work of bell hooks, Paolo Freire, Drew Lanham, Jack Kloppenburg, Bernd Heinrich, Parker Palmer, and Randy Stoecker. My teaching comes from reading their works and studying directly with some of these amazing humans. If you are interested in community-based teaching, see their work and the teaching link above for my syllabi. These materials can be used in almost any setting—not just the college classroom.

Biography: Before studying the natural sciences, I worked as a human and civil rights investigative journalist for a decade in Central America and five years in the Deep South. In Guatemala I worked for the United Nations investigating massacres perpetrated by the Guatemalan military. In Alabama, I conducted research on white supremacist groups for the Southern Poverty Law Center and taught writing in a women’s prison. These professional experiences led to an award-winning teaching career. I continue to write for major media, including The New York Times. I live, bird, write and garden in Burlington, Vermont along with my husband, Jim Carrier— a writer, banjo picker and filmmaker — our dog, Nova, who has a dog-torate in tennis balls, and four chickens–Betty Boop, Cayenne, Cinnamon and Maeve.