Wednesday, November 14, 2007

No Child Left Indoors: Why Johnny Can't Learn

I dedicate this blog entry to our dear friend Margaret, who recently introduced me to the concept of "Friluftsliv". Through the years, she has been both and inspiration and an encourager in our quest to live simply, and to give back whatever we can to the precious ecosystems in which we all live and to our communities anchored firmly within those ecosystems.

I copied this excerpt from the NeoVox website, and I acknowledge and thank the website and, specifically, the author Christian Peters, for furthering my knowledge of "Friluftsliv".

"In contrast to Americans and Germans, Scandinavians even have a word for their tradition of living with nature and in the outdoors. They call it "Friluftsliv." Coined by Henrik Ibsen, famous Norwegian writer, dramatist, and poet, the term "Friluftsliv" can not easily be translated into foreign languages. Translations like "Life beneath the stars," "Open Air life," "Life in (and with) nature," only approximate the holistic content of the term............
"Friluftsliv" is the lived experience in the outdoors, being out in free nature all day and night long. It concerns an aspiration towards a genuine meeting face-to-face: nature in its primacy, as it genuinely is! This quality of experience is unfettered by an aggressive human agenda of conquest or study of nature as "other", or nature as a cultural construction. "Friluftsliv" is a quality of practical knowledge through which guides and students come to understand and experience a particular spirit of connectedness." end of quote.

Twenty years ago, I began teaching a course at Drury University's Pre-College program. The course, entitled E.A.G.L.E., short for Environmental Awareness and Group Leadership Explorations, combined group dynamics with environmental awareness in an attempt to "bathe" its participants in the subtle beauty and wisdom of Nature. Through sensitivity training, Native American teachings, quotes and readings from the transcendentalists, a book called Many Winters by Nancy Woods, music by Douglas Wood, and, most powerfully, the woods, the rocks, the rivers, the hills, the caves, and all of those things found within Nature and ourselves, I wanted to permanently connect a generation of youth to the sustaining natural world around them. I hoped that this experience would lead to increased environmental activism and appreciation for the miracle of life around us. The experience was truly life changing and affirming for both the adolescents and me.

The challenge each year, however, was to recreate the experience in my classes during the regular school year in the public school system. I know now that it simply cannot happen within our current educational system as long as we cling to the idea that learning occurs when 30 students are surrounded by four walls and that academic success is defined as proficiency on a "one size fits all" test at the end of each school year.

I have reasonable success with all types of students in my Missouri Wildlife and Habitats summer school class. We are fortunate to have the Finley River within walking distance. Along the river my class has set up a Prothonotary Warbler trail, and on the hillside of our campus, we have a Bluebird trail.

Monitoring the nests and compiling graphs of mortality rates and fledging success allow my students to discover that math is something we find a great use for outside. In repeating the process year after year, we further the great wealth of scientific knowledge contributed by amateurs in the field of ornithology. Best of all, my students are empowered to become environmentally aware movers and shakers in our communities.

The language arts requirements are a breeze (pun intended) to accomplish in a natural setting. Nature journaling becomes an outlet of expression for some of my students, while scientific reports on qualitative invertebrate research in the river appeals to my left brained students.

Water pennies, amphipods, isopods, large and small mouth bass, and yellow suckers all indicate that our stream is still healthy, but threats of rapid population growth and development serve as a mandate to my students to become involved in the political process to preserve and restore this aquatic treasure.

Old railroad bridge trestles and the mill pond beckon from the past to appeal to my kids who are history buffs. Local historian, Bruce Pegram, has offered his historical photographs to community activist Victoria Johnson, who has created a webpage to access this river communities' past at my students' fingertips.

Arts, no's beautiful, serene, and inspiring here near the river in the middle of our town, just a short walk from our school. Yes, true education can occur entirely in an outdoor setting.

But, it probably will not surprise you that I had to fight to continue my class last summer because since No Child Left Behind legislation was enacted, the "cores" are all that matter to administrators and school boards. Enrichment is out these days.......

I could go on and on, but my point is this:

Everywhere, if we want our children to learn exactly what they need to learn, we must connect them to the natural world around them. We must create classroom environments that inspire our students to rekindle their natural curiosity and sense of wonder. We must instill within each student's heart the knowledge that through sharing of one's unique gifts, that one truly receives. It's only in this way that we can begin to establish a culture of peace within a sustainable natural learning environment.

So, let's get it right this time; Let No Child Be Left Inside!


N8 said...

Nice one.

Greg said...

Thanks, I wanted to link to the Pegram Collection, but it's a dead link right now. I wrote to Victoria to see what is up. Anyway, when I figure it out, you should return and check it out. Great historical photos of our area!

tarbaby said...

These stories are an inspiration!
You & Martha have your roots very deep into a meaningful life ...

Human intelligence and goodwill can often be measured by our stewardship with the land...

Keep up the good work!


Margaret said...

Greg's insight into the importance of learning from our natural world, is hopeful and rejuvenating. I am extrememely honored to be included in the Nov. 14th blog. By sharing the concept of friluftsliv, I believe our dreams of sharing our love of nature will be increased.
Aage Jenson, a Norwegian educator, identifies educators like Greg to be "conwayors." Greg has helped his students find natural "learning spaces" - spaces where they can be given the possibility to tumble and fumble. People need the opportunity to develop positve relations and attitudes to nature. The ultimate purpose of conwayorship is to change our way of living to a lifestyle of harmony between nature and ourselves. It is more important than ever to do this."
Ash-Lad, a character in Norwegian fairy tales, is an expample one who tumbles and fumbles in the world, and through his experiences, becomes able to solve questions, particularly those without obvious answers.
There are few of us who would argue that our world is becoming more complex and distant from our life source of food, fresh air, and clean water. Our children must not be deprived of a close relationship to the earth. Thank you Greg for being a conwayer, giving your students the gift of understanding by experiencing adventure and intrigue of the natural world.