Sunday, December 13, 2009

Outdoor Education

No Child left's actually a movement! Have we devolved so quickly from the fabric that supports us to become aliens to the basics? I've heard a story told by the Wampanoag about someone who surrounded themselves with tools and ceremonies designed to ward off the imperfect things of the Universe. In this effort, he lived in constant fear and condemned the folks in the village who had the ignorance to believe the Universe was made perfectly. He ended up bringing those things upon him that he feared the most. It is a powerful story of how ones focus determines their reality. The Maine Primitive Skills School shares tools of empowerment in the guise of a survival school, a tracking school, a community, a place to be with "like minded" people...whatever that means. Truth be told, it is a vehicle to unlock, awaken, gently slap the back of the head of all of the gifts that lay dormant from years of childhood chastizement. Don't play in the mud! Don't stick your fingers in things! We don't have time for that! Well meaning and overstressed adults actually believed that a whole human being developed from sitting for hours and learning out of a book....when we know unequivocally that the whole being has to be engaged in experiences with some emotional investment in order to really learn. I know many public educators who are left with no other response to, "Why do we have to learn this", than to say, "You'll need it for next year". Many even respond with disciplinary actions instead of really searching for ways to design experiences that alow these kids to truly be with how the skills they are learning apply to them. One of our elders, Ingwe, once said, "the wilderness holds all truth and knowledge". No matter how hard we train, how many degrees we earn, or how much dirt time we have with our students, we can never hold all truth and wisdom. We are the doorway. Rather, that is what we are supposed to be, but in not truly knowing what this means, we close the door and pull the shades on our youth, opting for the laptop, the standardized test, and the brilliant images of nature on the electronic screen at the expense of the back yard. So many folks have been condtioned by years of tools and ceremonies designed to keep them "safe" from the out of doors that, like the man in the Wampanoag story, they have found themselves in a "reality" of fear and dis-ease. In the face of irrifutable data showing how healthy wild edibles, direct sunlight, and outside air are, we wrap ourselves in climate control and cower in the fear of catching poison ivy, lymes disease, west nile, swine flue, rabies, and so many other threats just waiting to snuff us out lest we venture from our dimly lit, stale air filled abodes in to the beauty and lesson filled real and natural world.
There is another way.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Environmental Education
Emily wanted chicken nuggets for dinner. I had just given her a head lamp to "explore" the darkened house (and buy me some time in preparing the food around the oven). Just as I attempted to tear the foil from the box, the serrated edge detached, creating a jagged piece of foil too small for the sheet pan. Suddenly, Emily peered in to the kitchen, head lamp ablaze. Without a second thought, I put the tattered foil on her headed and molded it to her cranium. I told her it was a helmet used to prevent aliens from reading her mind. I gave her instructions in it's use and how important it was to keep the shiny side out in order to reflect the alien mind control rays. Without missing a beat, she continued the story about how it also made her invisible. With that, she was off battling aliens in the darkened house. Armed with a foil helmet and a head lamp.

Invoking a deep imaginative state is a primary learning tool. It comes as standard equipment upon our arrival in to this world. I believe we are supposed to keep it active and challenged, or it may atrophy. This could lead to adults who lack the joy, spontaneity, and curiosity they had as children. I find this deep imaginative state in a modern context in some unique places. Actors, dancers, artists, musicians, and story tellers all seem to possess this ability to "shape shift" in to another state of being. This is what it is to "learn fully". It is by "becoming" not by rote memorization that we acquire experiences that lead to wisdom. Learning is done through experience. Memorization is done through reading. Not until we plug our bodies in to an experience and emotionally invest ourselves do we truly learn. While books are a great start, they are only just that. We have let our definition of learning lapse because it is easier, less costly, and easier to manage twenty sitting children than to challenge twenty dynamic personalities in an ever changing series of circumstances. A nasty secret of the dominant model is that the brightest are either bored or drugged. Those who "learn the game" are only challenged by the slight tweaking of their delivery of the norms and morays of the game as each new teacher presents a slightly different variation of the expectations. "Failure" is considered a dead end option, instead of a gateway to wisdom in this construct. Failure is also easier to "blame on" than to grow from. The student feels that they have "failed" if they do not obtain the "grade", the parent feels they have failed their child, the teacher...well, the parent usually projects the pain they see in their child to add to the teachers own sense of "failure". The blame is cast on the weakest link in this vicious cycle...let's leave it at that.
Environmental Education has a different approach. It goes much farther and deeper than "Take all children outside". It is a series f adventures, where the student is ageless, the lessons are timeless and easily apply to daily life. More importantly, "failure"is an opportunity to listen, learn, adjust, and grow. Failure is not a dead end wrought with blame, it is a clarion call, and a challenge. It asks, "Here is the situation your in, know what are you going to do about it". There is no static linear equation, no standardized test, no one to blame. It is a multi-dimensional deep ecological approach to problem solving that stimulates growth and messages new neural pathways through all of the senses. Immersion in nature, coupled with native learning technologies produces superlative beings. It moves people of all ages through emotional, cognitive, and even spiritual boundaries.
The results are analogous to comparing a mass produced industrial chicken to a wild raven. One being responds to bells in order to move from one holding cell to another with only a small portion of their mind being intentionally addressed. The other has to problem solve daily to provide for themselves. While the entity at the industrial chicken farm mindlessly shuffles to external stimuli in a conditioned and predictable daily regimen, their feral counterparts are plugging in to their environment with their entire being and exercising everything from their brain, to their five senses as they interface with the landscape, the weather, and the other animate beings for such relevant items as shelter, water, and food.
So, Emily, age seven, has cleared the house of aliens. As I left the keyboard to check on her nuggets, I found her "helmet" at the top of the stairs, and she cuddled and asleep with her loyal dog Bo. I'm not sure how that will come out on standardized testing, but as far as becoming a well rounded human being, I see "honor roll".