By being on the land and walking in the shoes of their host families, students begin to understand more deeply how and why Oregonians manage the land the way they do.
By Maureen Hosty
With contributions from Gary Delaney, Deb Schreiber, John Williams, Jed Smith and Shana Withee
regon is a state of great socioeconomic and geographic diversity. While this diversity brings strength, it also challenges Oregonians to meet the needs of all communities. This divide is mostly deeply felt around natural resource management issues. Oregon cities are now so culturally isolated from the country that clashes between urban and rural Oregon occur frequently when it comes to grazing, logging, wilderness and wildlife. That was the world Portland urban youth walked into when they took a stand in defense of wolves in 2005 at a public Fish and Wildlife hearing. Ranchers howled in protest. Yet, just as it seemed Oregon’s urban-rural divide had grown into an unbridgeable chasm this conflict ended when 4-H stepped in. 4-H staff from urban and rural Oregon along with a handful of ranchers from rural Grant County did the unexpected. They invited kids from urban Portland middle school to live and work along side them and see a rancher or farmers side of life.
Today the 4-H Urban-Rural Exchange involves youth as a catalyst for change for a sustainable Oregon future by providing a venue for rural and urban youth and families to share their stories, their lifestyles, their beliefs and their practices for managing the land for the next generation. Through this program, urban youth and their adult chaperons travel to rural Eastern Oregon to live and work alongside 4-H ranch and farm host families for 6 days. Likewise, rural youth travel to Portland with adult chaperons to live and work alongside their 4-H urban host family.
The program provides youth who are too often exposed to viewpoints on one side of an issue, a first hand experience on the land. It is this experience of being on the land and walking in the shoes of their host family that youth can begin to understand more deeply how and why Oregonians manage the land the way they do.
Through the process of developing this program 4-H Faculty quickly learned that a key to helping youth understand the the natural resource issues as well as the sustainability and resiliency of their host community, youth first need some knowledge about the dynamics of the influential social, environmental, and economic systems that underlie them. Thus, while the program began as a response to the issue of the reintroduction of wolves in Oregon, in the end the program is designed to help youth understand the broader social, cultural and economic issues within rural and urban Oregon and the interdependence between both sides of the state.
During their stay with their host family youth participate in daily chores in caring for the land with their host family. More importantly though, youth are involved in all aspects of community life of their host family. The attend school for a day, participate in community events, shop at the local store, attend a local sports game, meet local neighbors and sometimes attend church to name a few of the activities.
Participant Selection Process
Approximately 40-50 youth are selected to participate in this exchange each year. Youth selected to participate in this program must submit a 4-H program application and get approval from their school administrator and principal. Teachers and 4-H staff screen youth applications. Youth are selected for their commitment and openness to learn and their potential for serving as an ambassador for their community. Participating youth must also commit to giving a presentation back home about what they learned during their 6-day exchange. Once they are selected youth are paired with another student of the same gender and then matched with a host family. All youth are expected to write a letter of introduction to their host family.
Likewise, 8-10 adult chaperons are also selected to participate in this program. All adult chaperons must complete the OSU Extension 4-H Leader screening process and undergo a criminal background clearance. Chaperons are recruited and selected from teachers, parents and community partners.
Host families for this program are recruited from current 4-H and OSU Extension families. All adults in the host family must complete a background information application and participate in a host family site visit by the 4-H Extension faculty. Host families are selected for their ability to provide a meaningful experience for their visiting youth or adult chaperons.
Prior to loading in the vans and heading across the mountains to their host family, all youth and adult participants in the program must first complete a series of 4-H educational programs designed to prepare them for their experience. A 30-minute introductory program is provided at the beginning for the school year to introduce all potential students to the program and explain the application process. A series of 2-3 follow up educational sessions are held over the next several months. These educational sessions focus on the social, cultural and environmental issues of their host communities; cross-cultural communication and understanding; and sustainable urban and rural agriculture.
A mandatory one-hour orientation is held for all participating chaperons, youth and their parents. Participating chaperons also participate in additional training related to the roles and responsibilities of being a chaperon.
During the Exchange
Four six-day exchanges from urban to rural Oregon take place the same week in April. Urban 4H youth travel to multiple communities in Harney County, Grant County, Wallowa County and Klamath County. A few weeks later, youth from rural Oregon travel to urban Portland for a 5-day exchange.
Traveling to their host community takes several hours and generally includes brief stops at historical and/or natural landmarks within the state. A lunch stop is held at a local 4-H Extension office along the route.
Once youth and their chaperons arrive at their host county 4-H office, the program begins with a potluck dinner with all the host families and visiting youth and chaperons. The potluck is designed to give youth and chaperons the opportunity to meet their host families, participate in icebreaker activities, and learn about the guidelines and expectations for the week.
During their stay with their rural host family Portland youth work alongside ranchers and farmers from rural eastern Oregon to learn the joys and challenges that comes with real rural life. Some activities include: caring and feeding livestock, vaccinating animals, branding cattle, chopping wood, and cleaning barns. Urban youth learn that ranching and farming is a 24-hour around the clock profession and caring for their livestock involves even checking on their livestock at 2 am. Urban youth also attend a school for the day in their rural community host school. In some cases urban youth who are use to attending school with 500+ students in three grades are surprised to find some rural schools with less than 100 students in 12 grades.
Likewise, rural middle school youth visit Portland to learn about the joys and challenges of urban life. Rural youth live and work alongside urban families and explore issues relevant to Portland such as transportation, greenspaces preservation, urban agriculture and water management. Rural youth learn how to use public transportation, visit a farmers market and/or community gardens, tour a waste treatment plant , or visit a recycling center. They also attend school for a day. Unlike back home in their community, rural youth visiting urban Portland walk to school or ride their bike. In some cases rural youth learn that urban students get to school by public transportation.
On the sixth and final day of the exchange, visiting youth and chaperons and their host families return to the local 4-H Extension office to participate in a debriefing activity and to say final goodbyes.
Once youth return from their experience living with a host family across the urban-rural divide, the program does not stop. Participating youth are divided into teams of 3-4 youth. Each team is expected to prepare and deliver a 15-20 minute presentation to the rest of their school about what they learned during the exchange.
More important, however, many youth continue their education beyond the 4-H program. Over 1/3 of the youth who have particpated in this program reported that they went back to visit their host family in the summer and took their own family with them. Several families in one Portland community also began a beef cooperative with their 4-H host ranch family.
Outcome evaluations indicated significant changes in attitude, knowledge and understanding of socioeconomic and environmental issues from both sides of the divide. A four year evaluation found changes in knowledge and attitudes among both urban and rural participants. 119 urban participants and 43 rural host family members participated in the study.
Urban participants reported significant changes in attitudes in:
1) Knowing about the lifestyles, beliefs and ways of living of rural Oregonians; 2) Understanding the beliefs and practices for managing the land by rural Oregonians; 3) Understanding how the actions of urban Oregonians impact rural Oregon natural resource management; 4) Their awareness of rural Oregon stereotypes; 5) Knowing the commonalities urban and rural Oregonians have in managing their land; 6) Their belief that ranchers have a respect and understanding of how to best manage their land.
Rural participants reported significant changes as well in:
1) Knowing about the lifestyles, beliefs and ways of urban youth; 2) Their belief that most urban Oregonians are open to hearing all sides of natural resource issues; 3) Their awareness of urban Oregon stereotypes; 4) Their belief that urban Oregonians have a respect and understanding of how to best manage urban natural resources.
Today, over 600 youth and family members have participated in this program since it began in 2006. Many of these 600 Oregonians will likely spend the rest of their lives living and working in their same respective part of the state. They might never step foot on the other side of divide. But from this day forward, they will have a different idea about the kind of people they share the state with and how they are managing their natural resources. And when that time comes when another issue around the managementt of our natural resources divides this state, these 4H youth, 4-H leaders and 4-H host families will have someone they know and trust that they can reach out to and get their input and insights on the issue.
To learn more about this program, the program sponsors and partners, or how to become involved, please contact us:
Maureen Hosty, 4-H Youth Development, Metro 4-H
Since the program began in 2006, there have been a total of 34 Exchanges between urban and rural Oregon. Three hundred and eight urban youth youth and 74 urban adult chaperons have traveled across Oregon to live and work alongside 130 rural families (a total of 434 Rural Oregonians). The program has since expanded from 4 counties to 8 counties: Multnomah, Grant, Klamath, Wallawa, Harney, Wheeler, Gilliam and Morrow. 4-H Faculty and staff are busy preparing for the 2016 Exchanges which will take place March 31-April 5th. Participants in the exchange will be recruited from 4-H Youth and Adults from 4-H Clubs and 4-H Partner Schools. For more information about this program please contact: Maureen Hosty OSU Extension Faculty Portland Metro Area 4-H 3880 SE 8th Ave #170 Portland, OR 97202 PH 971-361-9628 | cell 503-360-6060 | fax -971-361-9628 email@example.com
All Photos: Lynn Ketchum
by David A. Greenwood, Lakehead University, Canada
As part of the 2009 North American Association of Environmental Education Research Symposium, this article addresses the cultural and theoretical frameworks that we bring to environmental education, the web of ideas and experiences that define the scope and purpose of the work in its geopolitical context. Originally delivered as a keynote address at the symposium, the paper highlights two necessarily related conversations within environmental education: the first concerns the problem of empire, including its roots in imperialism and colonialism, as well contemporary problems of globalization; the second concerns the problem of nature, including the need to develop intimate connections with the non-human on a planet that everywhere bares the mark of human alteration. Nature and empire are two poles on a continuum that shape the cultural and ecological contexts of life and learning. The author argues for the need to hold empire and nature not in opposition, but in paradox. Holding the tension of paradox complicates simplistic binaries, and can contribute to a stance that appreciates the relationships between seeming polarities in the intersectional work of social and ecological change.
For starters, I want to welcome all travelers to the Columbia River watershed. Here we are. I live some 300 miles east on the Idaho border, and the Palouse River that flows full of agricultural silt and erosion through my rural town mixes here with Portland’s urban confluences on its way to the Pacific Ocean. The mouth of the Columbia is an impressive roar of waves, marine life and history, commerce, and even today, shipwreck. Historian Richard White (1995) called the great Columbia River “the organic machine”: upriver the once wild Columbia and its many tributaries are now a mechanized and politicized system of dammed, slack-water reservoirs. The organic machine, indeed.
The tension of paradox surrounds us, and it surrounds the field of environmental education: local-global; urban-rural; environment-culture; masculine- feminine; native-settler; public-private; land-property; commons-enclosure; human-more-than-human; inhabitant-refugee; social justice-ecojustice; schooling- learning; domination-resistance; me-you; us-them; nature-empire.
My thesis is a simple claim around a single paradox: environmental education of any stripe can deepen its theory and practice by purposefully embracing the tensions between nature and empire. Nature and empire are two poles on a continuum that shape the cultural and ecological contexts of life and learning.
In the tradition of 19th century natural history, imagine an object lesson. I hold in my hands two related objects: the flight feather of a barn owl, and a wallet full of plastic and paper money. Inquiry: How do these objects and what they represent implicate me and shape our work? Nature and empire, the flight feather of an owl and the wallet of a white man, generate a paradox, a paradox that we need to hold, and balance.
We need to embrace paradox because we nature-lovers and no-child-left-insiders must also face up to the eco- and genocidal politics of empire, politics we’re all complicit with everyday in our cosmopolitan superprivilege. We need to embrace paradox because as heady academics and well-meaning activists, we can easily forget the gift of our own embodied and earthy existence. This feather is perfect. No matter how scientifically rigorous, politically informed, or culturally responsive, environmental education is barren if it does not include re-enchantment with the wide world of creation, encounters with the others, and gratitude for the gift of life.
Nature, empire, and paradox.
Nature. Remember, when you walked miles into the mountains until the rant of your mind receded. The sounds around you returned. Birds, insects, movement in the cover. The air, warm and cool of sun and shade. You started to blend, quiet self diminished and enlarged by a place full of others, and though walking through, you felt belonging. Until later you startled a cougar, you had thought this impossible, your shared shock while everything stopped, her ears twitching, brown eyes locked on your next move, your heart jumping on your chest, predator, prey, you watched each other’s bodies trembling. Remember, how against reason you wanted to run, how you caught your breath and she suddenly returned easily to the ninebark. The day shimmered, your relief, you had finally come back to your senses.
Encounter, enchantment, gratitude.
Empire. Like globalization, empire describes the political economy of the planet: the new imperialism, colonization, development, free trade. Empire—a system of domination and resistance, a bio-political power that is exercised, internalized, and shaped by networks of human cultures worldwide. A system of authority and control enacted by all of us, motivated by habit, addiction, desire, necessity, dreams of a better life, fantasies of endless economic growth—all increasing the throughput of natural and human capital. Empire creates and destroys under the flashing lights of a “postindustrial” age. Empire—your I-Phone, my laptop, the G-20—ecological and social impacts concealed, denied, ignored, and masked as ecological nostalgia or market opportunities. The subject of empire is the commodity; the object is the consumer. All of us are its soldiers.
Domination, critique, resistance
Context: It’s a beautiful world, life is short, and I want to live. I want to feel the wind rushing around me. I want to walk on the land I love, every day. I want to garden with my children and watch them taste the fruits. I want friends. I want to drink starlight in the mountains and howl at the moon. I want the experience of being alive, to feel my sensuous and spiritual relation to flesh, water, rock, fire, wind, species, shooting stars. I want to keep my privileges and increase them. I want to travel to Europe with my family. I want to see my daughters in London or Paris.
Context: Planet Earth 2009, population and industrial explosions, perpetual war, mass extinctions, billions of us striving for better and more, the unthinkable suffering of others. Such beauty and possibility for wonder, connection, pleasure—and—as Barry Lopez (2001) wrote in his great essay “The Naturalist”: “To read the newspapers today, to merely answer the phone, is to know the world is in flames” (¶ 24). Earth abides; meanwhile, no one knows the full extent of the mess we’re making of habitats, species, biosphere, ecosystems, neighborhoods, cultures, selves, others, relationships. No one knows the full extent of “this entire extractive culture [of empire] that has been deforesting, defishing, dewatering, desoiling, despoiling, destroying since its beginnings” (Jensen, 2009, ¶ 10). No one knows the full scale of the problem of empire, its spiral of unintended con- sequences, and the degree of our own complicity: the way we are part of the problem we fail to understand, the way we fail to understand our part in it. Some say we are on the brink of industrial apocalypse. Others remember: we’ve been here about 500 years.
Anyone paying any attention can see that the mounting data describe an awesome mess of impacts, but fitting the fragments together is complicated. How many parts per million CO2? How many African American men in prison?
Rare is the space in which related impacts are acknowledged along with their more complex cultural causes. But increasingly, impacts are experiential, and therefore transformative. During my first week of classes this fall, a graduate student showed us a collage of photographs she made from her travels with Philippine Exchange: a dichotomous landscape of incredible beauty, destruction from mining, factories like prisons, and desperate poverty: people barely surviving, naked children playing on mountains and rivers of waste. Slumdog without millionaire; millionaire far removed. “It humbled me,” she said, and our privileged space of learning grew quiet. Breathe it in now.
I believe that appropriate responses to the facts surrounding nature and empire—what we know and don’t know, what we feel and don’t feel—are anger, fear, grief, and humility. Avoiding such emotions can lead to projections that may contribute to problems we deny or arrogantly claim to understand. We might learn to be with, rather than run from, the natural sense of despair that the field of environmental education sometimes schools us to avoid. If we are the least connected to others, we are part of a great suffering. Inquiry: Can we hold the paradox between suffering and hope, the dichotomous landscape of wretchedness and magnificence? “The test of a first-rate intelligence,” F. Scott Fitzgerald (1936/2008) wrote, “is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless yet be determined to make them other- wise” (¶ 2).
Paradox. Along with grief, anger, and a rational fear of catastrophe, there is also a sense of urgency and responsibility, an embodied and shared knowing that we must do what we can, and now. From “Hieroglyphic Stairway,” by Drew Dellinger (2006, p.47):
it’s 3:23 in the morning and I’m awake because my great great grandchildren won’t let me sleep my great great grandchildren ask me in dreams
what did you do while the planet was plundered? what did you do when the earth was unraveling?
surely you did something when the seasons started failing?
as the mammals, reptiles, birds were all dying?
did you fill the streets with protest when democracy was stolen?
what did you do once you knew?
(See the poet perform the entire poem at http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=XW63UUthwSg)
Pause. W. S. Merwin said of poetry, “Any work of art makes one very simple demand on anyone who genuinely wants to get in touch with it. And that is to stop. You’ve got to stop what you’re doing, what you’re thinking, and what you’re expecting and just be there . . . however long it takes” (Merwin in Moyers, 1995, p. 2). Like the other time I seek out on the land, poetry engenders another cultural way of knowing. It is a dissident minority tradition within my own colonized and colonizing culture. Stopping for poetry is an antidote to the morning news, to the incessant political posturing, to the super-sure academic argument, to the voice of reason that governs research methods and reports findings with caution and restraint. Poetry revives me, helps me to recover my wilder self, my possibilities, my empathy, in a domesticating competitive culture that makes me feel loss and lost. Poetry does not argue for the truth, it burns with it. “What did you do once you knew?” (Dellinger, 2006, p.47).
Pause. At 82, W. S. Merwin has won two Pulitzer prizes for poetry including this year’s prize; he is also an environmental and peace activist. What Merwin says of poetry is a fruitful beginning for any field of inquiry shaped in part by empire: we’ve got to stop what we’re doing, what we’re thinking, and what we’re expecting. Is it possible to let down our guard and just be here, together?
To deepen a felt experience of paradox between nature and empire, I want to read two poems by Mary Oliver, another great American poet of nature. The poems I’ll read are from her recent volume, Red Bird (2008); the titles are “The Teachers” and “Of the Empire.” These two poems reflect a tension in environ- mental education: between a focus on nature and human relationship with the more-than-human world, and a focus on empire and the political structures that shape people, place, and planet. My argument, again, is simple: environmental education research must hold together the tension between nature and empire or risk its own irrelevance while empire grows and nature recedes.
Mary Oliver is one of the best nature poets ever. She has taught millions to stop and wake up to their own terrestrial embodiment. In “The Summer Day” Oliver (1992) confesses:
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields. (p.94)
Oliver ends this poem by asking of everyone alive, “What will you do with your one wild and precious life?” (p. 94). Her poem “The Teachers” (2008, p.27) is typical of her meditations on slowing and stopping to pay attention to the others and what our relationship to others might signify.
Owl in the black morning, mockingbird in the burning
slants of the sunny afternoon declare so simply
to the world everything I have tried but still
haven’t been able to put into words,
so I do not go far from that school
with its star-bright or blue ceiling,
and I listen to those teachers, and others too—
the wind in the trees and the water waves—
for they are what lead me from the dryness of self
where I labor with the mind-steps of language—
lonely, as we all are in the singular,
I listen hard to the exuberances
of the mockingbird and the owl, the waves and the wind.
And then, like peace after perfect speech, such stillness.
Pause. The teachers, the others, make me more human. The more-than-human world—as David Abram, Paul Shepard, Annie Dillard, Henry Thoreau, Rachel Carson, Jay Griffiths, Derrick Jensen, and all my friends remind me— the more-than-human-world is sacred, biological diversity makes human life possible, it makes my life, your life, potentially, beautiful. The logic of empire is destroying this world, leaving behind what David Quammen (1998) called “a planet of weeds.”
Who are the teachers, what are their names, and what, if we learn to listen, might we hear the land and the water telling us? Robert Michael Pyle (2008) wrote, “[Environmental] education, no matter how topographically or culturally informed, cannot fully or even substantially succeed without reinstating the pursuit of natural history as an everyday act” (p. 156). It’s only good manners, Pyle says, to get to know our neighbors. “What we know, we may choose to care for. What we fail to recognize, we certainly won’t” (Pyle, 2001, p. 18). Nature study, from this perspective, must also include the study of what we fail to recognize, the study of what dominates our attention and stunts our ability to perceive nature. It must, in other words, include the study of empire.
Environmental education requires an expansive conceptual and experiential framework connecting local and global realities; it requires ecological attention and political edge, to make it relevant to our place and time. It also requires what Phillip Payne and Brian Wattchow (2009) call “slow pedagogy,” deep experience that helps us open and become responsive to the voices of the teachers:
Owl in the black morning, mockingbird in the burning
slants of the sunny afternoon…
…I do not go far from that school…
(Oliver, 2008, p.27)
How far gone are we now, here, today, from the teachers? Returning to the teachers, slowing to open to the more-than-human others, to the experience of habitat and biological diversity, to the interactions between land and people— this is the heart and soul of environmental education. What impedes our ability to perceive these teachings?
Aldo Leopold (1949-1968) said it over a half century ago: “our educational and economic system is headed away from, rather than toward, an intense consciousness of land” (p. 223). Today, it is even possible to observe that some environmental education research is headed away from, rather than towards, intense consciousness of land, consciousness that can only develop through direct experience of sufficient frequency, duration, curiosity, and reverence, so that we may learn to listen and to love. The environmental education field has become culturally responsive, politically astute, and psychologically smart—mainly in response to empire. But we still need the teachers. What they teach us is irreplaceable, and endangered, unless we stop, look, and listen for a long time.
Pause. Before sharing Oliver’s (2008) poem, “Of the Empire,” I want to make a few paradoxical claims about the field of environmental education.
First, environmental education researchers and practitioners ought to guard against the lure of professionalization and the pressures of specialization that surround all fields of inquiry. There is a danger inherent in specialization that narrows our potential community and that distances us from the teachers. In many ways I believe, as Peter Martin wrote in 1996, that “having become institutionalized, environmental education is a lost cause and should be phased out as soon as possible” (p. 51). This obviously does not mean that I don’t support environmental education; rather, I observe that the development of environmental education as a profession can dull its political edge, and can school it far away from the teachers. What is more, as Foucault (1977) showed us, professions tend to normalize behaviour, marginalize outsiders, and disqualify dissent; they can make us docile and unresponsive to nature or empire.
In a provocative lecture titled “Professionals and Amateurs,” Edward Said (1994) noted:
Specialization means losing sight of the raw effort of constructing either art or knowledge; as a result you cannot view knowledge and art as choices and decisions, commitments and alignments, but only in terms of impersonal theories or methodologies. . . . In the end as a fully specialized . . . intellectual you become tame and accepting of whatever the so-called leaders in the field will allow. Specialization also kills your sense of excitement and discovery, both of which are irreducibly present in the intellectual’s make-up. In the final analysis, giving up to specialization is, I have always felt, laziness, so you end up doing what others tell you, because that is your specialty after all. (p. 77)
Environmental education, because of its inherent interdisciplinarity and the enormous scope of the work, ought to resist specialization by definition. The real challenge is not to advance the field, but to participate in and help shape the larger movement for cultural and ecological renewal and transformation. As Paul Hawken (2007) tells it in his book Blessed Unrest, the larger movement is huge. It is made up of diverse networks of organizations and individuals working for peace, social justice, ecological sustainability, and Indigenous and civil rights. Each of these related ideals is threatened by the same empire. Political and conceptual power capable of resisting and shaping empire can be found in the intersectionality of the larger movement. This power is also found in the arts, the soul of all social movements.
Mary Oliver’s (2008) “Of the Empire”:
We will be known as the culture that feared death and adored power, that tried to vanquish insecurity for the few and cared little for the penury of the many. We will be known as a culture that taught and rewarded the amassing of things, that spoke little if at all about the quality of life for people (other people), for dogs, for rivers. All the world, in our eyes, they will say, was a commodity. And they will say that this structure was held together politically, which it was, and they will say also that our politics was no more than an apparatus to accommodate the feelings of the heart, and that the heart, in those days, was small, and hard, and full of meanness. (p.46)
Let’s face it: environmental education is a pedagogical David to the Goliath of empire with its schools, bombs, patriarchy, and shopping opportunities everywhere. The way the U.S. national budget is prioritized is symptomatic: trillions for horrific wars; nothing for the environment within the Department of Education. Even if the United State’s No Child Left Inside Act of 2009 eventually passes, and the environment is finally noted by the Department of Education 40 years after Earth Day, it and its budget will be subsumed under No Child Left Behind, which is the climax of neoliberal education reform aligned with the politics of empire. This is not conspiracy theory or even critical theory, but the explicit expression of educational purpose from policymakers and leaders from local, state, and federal levels. No Child Left Inside is a remarkable example of grass-roots political activism in support of environmental education. May we please open a window and listen to the teachers? But obviously, the thrust of formal education in the industrial/capitalist state is aligned with the politics of empire.
Today in wartime, these politics constantly promote the expectation of “economic recovery,” and the recovery of “consumer confidence.” We might wonder what it means. Consumer confidence? Recovery back to what? The prevailing fiction of limitless growth, that logical impossibility that Edward Abby called “the ideology of the cancer cell”? Recovery back to what? An unjust colonial order? An economically exploitative and ecologically destructive culture of hyper-consumption, speculation, and debt? Today in wartime, few educators, environmental or otherwise, are questioning the profoundly pedagogical impact of empire: economic growth for the class economy, military adventurism for false security, and the erosion and commodification of the cultural and ecological commons. The most insidious effect of empire, however, may be that it functions to conceal from thought the very idea that any of this is problematic. These are the politics from which no child is left behind, and to which environmental education research must attend.
Memory and Reinhabitation
A writer and lover of beauty, my grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s the last decade of her long life. She was the matriarch of a large family, a first generation immigrant who loved America, and the American flag, for the real opportunities it represented for freedom from poverty and oppression that my ancestors fled in Eastern Europe. I remember the last time I saw her before she was placed into full-time care. I took her for a short canoe ride on a lake in northern Wisconsin. She crawled into the bow seat; I paddled from the stern. I had never paddled so intentionally, every stroke deliberate and smooth. Once out on the water, she leaned over the gunwale and let her hand dip below the glassy surface. “Soft,” she said, “it’s so soft.”
The last time I saw her before the funeral was at the nursing home in Milwaukee. The attendant who wheeled her into the common room told her, “Your grandson is here to visit with you, Liz,” and then she parked the wheelchair next to me and left us alone. I was scared. Would she know me? Was it a good day or a bad day? So, I started talking about the weather, the season, what was going on. I said: “Nonny, guess what. I moved to the country.” Instantly, as if from far away, she came back: “Smart,” she said, “smart.”
Then she must have remembered I was a teacher. She loved education, read all the time, left school after eighth grade. “You’re teaching,” she said, half statement, half question. I answered, “Yes, I’m a professor now.” Unimpressed, she asked me what I was teaching, and glibly I told her, “Well, I’m trying to help tear down the system.” Her eyes got real squinty then, and they widened and cleared as she looked up at me with the firm authority of elderhood, “You mean build it up!” She was insistent, and that was the end of that.
Most days my grandmother didn’t know her own name, her children or grandchildren’s faces, the season, the current president (she often spoke of Lincoln), or how long ago her husband had passed (it had been 30 years). But at the mere mention of tearing something down, the response from my grandmother was immediate. “Sonny,” she said, “you need to build it up.”
Today I honor my grandmother’s wisdom. She came of age during the Depression. She stretched a meager budget for food for seven children. “Sonny,” she said, “you need to build it up.”
Building things up and tearing things down—this apparent dichotomy presents another opportunity to hold and balance paradox. I’ve described nature and empire as two poles of a paradox that reflect the expansive landscape of environmental education, the linked cultural and ecological contexts of our work. I want to offer another paradox that holds together the big aims of environmental education, and that also points to pathways for pedagogy and curriculum. The paradox is between decolonization and reinhabitation, between tearing things down, and building things up.
I propose considering “decolonization” and “reinhabitation” as twin goals for education in a culture of empire. It should be said that these goals parallel other aims of educational research and practice; naming them is an effort to make inclusive space for those interested in environment and culture, nature, and empire. Like other synonymous terms, decolonization signals a strong critique of cultural practices and their underlying assumptions. The significance of decolonization as a theoretical category is that its usage specifically problematizes the colonization of people and land, both as historical practice and as the political progenitor of today’s empire. Of course critique alone is insufficient theory for environmental education research, and thus the pairing of decolonization with the vision of reinhabitation. It is the tension of paradox between decolonization and reinhabitation that gives both terms their conceptual range. Though for the sake of theory-building the two terms are called out as distinct, reinhabitation and decolonization are two dimensions of the same task. Renewal often requires that something is undone. In California, Van Jones expressed this clearly with his program, “Green Jobs, Not Jails.” Nature, empire, paradox.
Decolonization involves learning to recognize disruption and injury in person-place relationships, and learning to address their causes. Because colonization refers also to the colonization of the mind and body, it involves the practice of unlearning and undoing. Reinhabitation involves maintaining, restoring, and creating ways of living that are more in tune with the ecological limits of a place, practices that are less dependent on a globalized consumer culture that values profits and conveniences more than people and places. Reinhabitation means learning to live well socially and ecologically in a place, and learning to live in a way that does not harm other people and places (Gruenewald, 2003).1 These are big aims, but there is more. Reinhabitation also implies taking a new stance toward one’s own becoming. We reinhabit the self whenever we seek our own renewal, when we stop to listen to the teachers, or when we acknowledge the heartbeat of empire in our own bodies:
they will say also that our politics was no more than an apparatus to accommodate the feelings of the heart, and that the heart, in those days, was small, and hard, and full of meanness. (Oliver, 2008, p.46)
Because decolonization emphasizes human relationship to land, Indigenous perspectives on inhabitation are vital, as are the perspectives of other displaced and minoritized groups. Acknowledging Indigenous inhabitation is not only to recognize place-based relations to nature, but also to remember the long story of colonization, resistance, and the rights of sovereignty. Indigenous cultures are not the only cultures that have histories that need to be remembered; many minority traditions tell sacred stories of land, displacement, and struggle. Even mainstream white America incubates movements for resistance and change. The voices of poets, artists, activists, and others working for peace, social justice, Indigenous and civil rights, and for environmental justice and ecological sustainability—these voices are a worldwide movement standing up to empire. Whatever success this unnamed movement will have building things up and will depend not merely on critique and vision, not merely on developing communities of congruence and resistance. Perhaps building things up will depend mainly on changes in consciousness that open the heart, reinhabitations that slow us down so that we can recognize the intersectionality of our interests, how each of us is implicated in the other.
Listen to the teachers, confront empire. I want to build now toward naming a course of action for the field. While we might celebrate No Child Left Inside and the growth of green, decolonization means that we dig deeper: that we acknowledge genocide, racism, and patriarchy, past and present; that we acknowledge the class and caste systems that our contented consumption supports; and that we face up to our militarized culture of violence, repression, and war. Decolonization and reinhabitation mean untangling the roots of empire and building something up, a process that begins with ourselves, reaches outward, and never ends. Every act is important and not without consequence; collectively all of our actions create all of our contexts. Our numbers are many.
Our numbers, in fact, and our impacts, are extreme. Chris Jordan is a photographer who creates images that communicate the otherwise ineffable scale of our culture of mass consumption (see all the following images at http://www.chrisjordon.com). What is indistinguishable from a distance is revealed on closer scrutiny. “Gyre” (2009) depicts 2.4 million pieces of plastic, equal to the estimated number of pounds of plastic pollution that enter the world’s oceans every hour. All of the plastic in this image was collected from the Pacific Ocean. “Shark Teeth” (2009) depicts 270,000 fossilized shark teeth, equal to the estimated number of sharks of all species killed around the world every day for their fins. Jordan’s art also magnifies the social and psychological impacts of empire: “Ben Franklin” (2007) depicts 125,000 one-hundred dollar bills ($12.5 million), the amount our government spent every hour on the war in Iraq during 2007; “Constitution” (2008) depicts 83,000 Abu Ghraib prisoner photographs, equal to the number of people who have been arrested and held at US-run detention facilities with no trial or other due process of law, during the Bush Administration’s war on terror; “Barbie Dolls” (2008) depicts 32,000 Barbies, equal to the number of elective breast augmentation surgeries performed monthly in the US in 2006. The commodification of life under empire reeks of plastic, petroleum, patriarchy.
Paradoxically, the demand for Jordan’s work is high: people are drawn to the terrible truth of his poetry. Of all of Jordan’s (2009) work, his “E. Pluribus Unum,” or “the many become one,” best represents to me future directions for environmental educational research. From a distance, this image reminds me of the stories of the land told in tree rings. Complexity and beauty are revealed in proximity. This large scale mandala (the indoor wall hanging measures 45 by 45 feet) depicts the names of one million organizations around the world that are devoted to peace, environmental stewardship, social justice, and the continuation of diverse and indigenous cultures. The actual number of such organizations is unknown, but Paul Hawken’s (2007) “Blessed Unrest” project estimates the number at somewhere between one and two million, and growing. If the lines in this piece were straightened out, they would make an unbroken line of names, in a ten point font, twenty seven miles long.
What I’m suggesting is that if part of the work of environmental education is to decolonize and reinhabit empire, then we must better recognize the intersectionality of our interests with the interests of others, even or especially those whose ecological consciousness may be diminished by the ravages of empire. Green jobs, not jails. Environmental educators who can hold the paradox between nature and empire can expand the landscape of the field while enhancing the reach and impact of environmental education. In all intersectional social movements there are opportunities to acknowledge and resist the power of empire, to remember and reinhabit colonized land and colonized places, to remember their stories, and to listen for the wisdom of the teachers. We need an intersectional approach because our work is already braided in its resistance to and reconfiguration of empire, and moreover, to discount the struggles of others is to cut ourselves off from the principle of interrelationship; and to discount the struggle of others is to enact the logic of empire.
The intersectional movement that environmental education needs has been gathering: social ecology, environmental justice, ecofeminsim, ecojustice, eco-pedagogy, ecopsychology, critical geography, Indigenous ways of knowing, place-based education, peace education, humane education, sustainability education, disability studies, transformative education, Transition Towns, Wendell Berry, Jane Goodall, the Earth Charter. The shared theme of intersectional movements is their responsiveness to both nature and empire. Their movement energy is the vanguard of educational theory and practice.
The politics of empire do not change unless they are resisted by growing social movements: locally, nationally, globally. Democrats in Washington are obviously not enough. President Obama is not enough. Even if he wanted a strong climate agreement, for example, or to remove the salmon killing dams on the Snake River, or to provide affordable universal health care, or to end war–he can’t get it done, because his work is governed by the logic of empire.
History shows us that through partnership, solidarity, and persistence, social groups grow wiser and stronger in their ability to transform this logic, and to reinhabit our colonized places and lives. In the age of empire, the field of environmental education can itself become a kind of E. Pluribus Unum that invites and creates intersectional theory and action.
But—as important as it is to politicize our work and to ally the field with kindred social movements, we must remember the teachers. We need to learn how to stop, slow, and invoke their sacred presences. We need to learn how to privilege the teachers—other species, their languages, “owl in the black morning”—as full partners in E. Pluribus Unum. Nature, habitat, ecosystem, species, climate—this is not a political group; it is the context that makes all politics possible. There is a power greater than political power, and a strength greater than intellectual muscle. We know it as the experience of being alive, and being connected to others. The challenge is to hold this power and develop this strength as we participate in the larger struggle for peace, social justice, Indigenous and civil rights, and ecological well being.
Because a culture of perpetual war undermines the growth of any environmental ethic, I want to close with a poem by Judyth Hill (2002, p.4) called “Wage Peace.”
Wage peace with your breath. Breathe in firemen and rubble,
breathe out whole buildings and flocks of red wing blackbirds.
Breathe in terrorists and breathe out sleeping children and freshly mown fields.
Breathe in confusion and breathe out maple trees. Breathe in the fallen and breathe out lifelong friendships intact.
Wage peace with your listening: hearing sirens, pray loud. Remember your tools: flower seeds, clothespins, clean rivers.
Make soup. Play music, learn the words for “thank you” in three languages.
Learn to knit, and make a hat. Think of chaos as dancing raspberries,
imagine grief as the outbreath of beauty or the gesture of fish.
Swim for the other side. Wage peace.
Never has the world seemed so fresh and precious. Have a cup of tea and rejoice.
Act as if armistice has already arrived. Celebrate today.
Participation in the money economy makes it difficult to know how one’s consumption is impacting other people and places. The point is that to practice reinhabiting place, one must become more aware of how one’s actions have impacts “all over the place” now and in the future—and—one must begin to act ethically on that knowledge.
This paper was the concluding plenary address at the North American Association of Environmental Education (NAAEE) Annual Conference Research Symposium in Portland, Oregon, USA, October, 2009.
Excerpt from “hieroglyphic stairway” by Drew Dellinger. Copyright © 2006 by Drew Dellinger. Used by permission of the poet. www.drewdellinger.org
Excerpt from “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver. Copyright © 1992 by Mary Oliver. Used by permission of the poet.
“The Teachers” and “Of the Empire” by Mary Oliver. Copyright © 2008 by Mary Oliver. Used by permission of the poet.
“Wage Peace” by Judyth Hill. Copyright © 2002 by Judyth Hill. Used by permission of the poet.
David A. Greenwood is Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in Environmental Education in the Faculty of Education of Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Canada. His teaching, research, and community work revolve around place-based, environmental and sustainability education. Widely published in these areas, David recently guest edited with Marcia McKenzie Volume 14 of the Canadian Journal of Environmental Education (2009), and is editor with Greg Smith of the book Place-Based Education in the Global Age (Routledge, 2008). Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dellinger. D. (2006, Summer). hieroglyphic stairway. YES!, 38, 47.
Fitzgerald, F. S. (1936/2008). The crack up. Esquire. Retrieved from http://www.esquire.com/features/the-crack-up Foucault, M. (1977). Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison. New York: Vintage Books.
Gruenewald, D. (2003). The best of both worlds: A critical pedagogy of place. Educational Researcher, 32(4), 3-12.
Hawken, P. (2007). Blessed unrest. New York: Viking. Hill, J. (2002). Wage peace. In M. Adams (Ed.), Singing this great body back together:
In remembrance of September 11, 2002 (p. 4). Columbine Hills, CO: Baculite Publishing.
Jensen, D. (2009, May/June). The world at gunpoint. Orion. Retrieved from http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/4697/
Leopold, A. (1949/1968). A Sand County almanac. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.
Lopez, B. (2001, Autumn). The naturalist. Orion. Retrieved from http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/91/
Martin, P. (1996). A WWF view of education and the role of NGOs. In J. Huckle and S. Sterling,(Eds.), Education for sustainability (pp. 40-54). London: Earthscan.
Moyers, B. (1995). The language of life: A festival of poets. New York: Doubleday. Oliver, M. (1992). New and selected poems. Boston: Beacon Press.
Oliver, M. (2008). Red bird. Boston: Beacon Press.
Payne, P. & Wattchow, B. (2009). Phenomenological deconstruction, slow pedagogy, and the corporeal turn in wild environmental/outdoor education. Canadian Journal of Environmental Education, 14, 15-32.
Pyle, R. (2001). The rise and fall of natural history: How a science grew that eclipsed direct experience. Orion, 20(4), 16-23.
Pyle, R. M. (2008). No child left inside: Nature study as a radical act. In D. Gruenewald & G. Smith, (Eds.), Place-based education in the global age: Local diversity (pp.155-172). New York: Routledge.
Quammen, D. (1998). A planet of weeds. Harper’s Magazine, October, 57-69. Said, E. (1994). Representations of the intellectual. New York: Pantheon Books.
White, R. (1995). The organic machine: The remaking of the Columbia River. New York: Hill and Wang.
Although this article was written in 1996, and contains references to events and people from that era, much of Weilbacher’s critique remains relevant today. -Ed.
Every Day is NOT Earth Day
Reflections on the True Meaning of Earth Day
by Mike Weilbacher
‘ll admit it up front: I’m a sucker for Earth Day. I’m a child of the first Earth Day in 1970, for its tidal wave of publicity captivated my teenage attention and launched my career. My wife and I met planning Philadelphia’s Earth Day ’90 extravaganza – her parade met my outdoor stage, and the rest was history. Today, my workplace’s largest education program has become Philly’s longest running Earth Day event.
So few things annoy me more than the standard environmental knee-jerk position on Earth Day. You know it well, and have probably recited it like some Zen mantra: every day is Earth Day; make every day Earth Day.
As usual, we got it all wrong.
Because the environmental movement began as a countercultural phenomenon, we simply can’t stand our own successes, and continually sabotage our greatest gains. Like Earth Day.
Just think of what’s happened. Millions of kids across the planet are gearing up for some celebration of the day, perhaps a tree planting, a litter clean-up, a bad assembly featuring some whining folksinger (“Please save the rainforest, boys and girls, and when you’re done, please save every large endangered mammal”), or a recycled art contest, where eminently recyclable objects like cans and egg cartons are irrevocably glued to each other and turned into wholly non-recyclable monstrosities that are trashed after the event is over (and we’re teaching what here?).
OK, bad examples, but what it means is so startlingly simple it has flown way over our still-shaggy heads. Earth Day has arrived; it has planted a taproot in the mainstream of American pop culture, and like it or not, there it will stay, and grow, and blossom…
…Into a new intemational holiday that will one day rival Christmas in its scope. I’m dead serious. Signs of this were first revealed during the extraordinary event that was Earth Day’90. While the first Earth Day was an exclusively American college-oriented teach-in, Earth Day ’90 graduated into a global festival of more than 100 million people in more than 100 countries gathering to, in some cases, perform quite meaningful work: restore rivers, save species, reclaim battered landscapes. Earth Day ’90 was, barring world wars or Michael Jackson concerts, the largest mass event in world history.
Today, the sound of the holiday embedding itself in our cultural psyche can be heard everywhere. In schools: Earth Day has become a part of many school curricula; kids are growing up knowing that Earth Day is April 22nd, and doing something relevant on or near that day. In politics: every April 22nd, President Clinton – with Vice President Green, I mean, Gore, at his side – hosts a press conference to announce another underwhelming eco-initiative. On TV: every April, there’s a round of cheesy Earth Day specials featuring forgettable stars like Bob Saget performing amazing feats like installing toilet dams in their home bathrooms (that really happened a few years back.) On radio: Rush Limbaugh will likely repeat his tired tirade that the day reflects the true deep green plot against society, for April 22nd is also Lenin’s birthday – proof that environmentalism is a Communist plot! (Memo to Rush: April 22nd was chosen because it was the only spring Saturday Senator Gaylord Nelson had free in 1970, and no environmentalist I’ve ever met in 27 years of Earth Days ever knew when Lenin was born.
You’ll hear it in newspaper editorials and worldwide web pages; in store ads and nature center events; in zoos and museums; on T-shirts and coffee mugs.
Love it or hate it, you gotta admit it: Earth Day is here to stay.
And Earth Day will only grow in scope because environmental issues are not going to go away. Quite the contrary. With Pinatubo’s ash finally settling out, with atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations on the rise, the global warming debate will likely warm up quite dramatically in the next few years. The biodiversity conflict is only starting to gain any intensity at all – here’s one issue guaranteed to explode as soon as a large, charismatic mammal vanishes, like the black rhino or mountain gorilla, both threatened by Africa’s political instability. And we have never properly confronted the population issue – we likely will when the next famine arrives.
On top of this, the nascent Earth Day holiday will receive a huge jolt in the year 2000. New millennium. The thirtieth anniversary. That year’s Earth Day will be a humbling event.
Sure, the “make every day Earth Day” sentiment has its place. Mostly, it serves as a reminder that the values and ethics we hold important must be cultivated daily if they will thrive. And it should remind schools of the danger of pigeonholing the ecology unit into a one-day or one-week project. Certainly, state educational mandates for ecological/environmental understandings must never be met from a one-day event, and too many schools rely on this one day to complete its environmental education requirements.
Speaking of schools, Earth Day brings out the worst in too many teacher, and too many outside educational agencies, from corporations to utilities to non-profit. There are too many lame Earth Day poster contests, where kids are asked to draw a colorful poster with an Earth Day theme. So it’s education as fascist slogan: “Don’t Pollute!” “Love the Earth!” “Reduce! Reuse! Recycle!” Relax already. We still labor under the horribly misguided notion that if we command kids’ knees to jerk in the proper direction, their heads will follow. Wrong, so wrong. Sloganeering is not educational in any sense whatsoever, teaches no information at all, and only confirms our kids’ worst fears about the state of the Earth: The Earth must be dying because the posters say so. Environmental education must be uplifting, never down- grading, and never be reduced to a bumper-sticker answer to a lapel-pin question.
Still, wading through all the flotsam and jetsam floating around Earth Day, there is a nugget of truth, a seed of change that we must hold onto tightly.
We need holidays. Better yet, we need holidays with meaning. Christmas resonates with so many people – even people who are barely Christian the rest of the year – because it speaks to a set of values we all want so desperately to believe, like the triumph of Light over Dark. The Fourth of July is centered on freedom, independence, and the meaning of America. Martin Luther King Day, I hope, will evolve to take on transcendent relevance around issues of equality, nonviolence, change and the need for multicultural connections.
Sadly, Memorial Day, Labor Day and President’s Day have lost so much of their original meaning, and exist only as three-day holidays for overworking people. Our culture may be seeking new holidays with new meanings for a new millennium, and the beauty of Earth Day is that it emerges as the only secular holiday the entire world will celebrate simultaneously. Earth Day will become just that, the “Earth’s day,” a holiday where people pause to consider what it means to be a planetary citizen, and reflect on how well we shared limited resources with so many other species.
My eldest daughter will be a graduate of the Class of 2010. I’ll wager that during her school career, she’ll have a day off from school for Earth Day. Banks will close. Governments shut down. Stores hold Earth Day sales. Greenpeace’s executive director will write an op-ed piece in the New York Times begging us to “put the ‘Earth’ back in Earth Day.”
And I’ll be on some stage somewhere hosting an Earth Day festival, living every minute of it all.
So remember: every day is NOT Earth Day. Once a year is fine. Happy Earth Day.
At the time this was written, Mike Weilbacher was executive director of the Lower Merion Conservancy, sponsor of the Children’s Earth Day Forest, an event featuring an indoor life-size recreation of a Pennsylvania forest hand-crafted by local schoolchildren.
Creating the Need to Pay Attention
Field trips and adventures in the woods are tremendously important experiences for children, especially those students that don’t often get to spend time in a natural setting. Some of the most important, lasting results of good Environmental Education are the heartfelt connections that young people make with nature. They value the natural world because they have experienced first hand the beauty and magic of living ecological systems. To really feel this in a personal way, the kids have to go outside and experience it.
by Chris Laliberte
he excitement of exploring outside with friends and classmates can turn a well behaved class into a pretty raucous crowd, and in all the commotion, it’s very easy for students to pay more attention to each other than to the woods around them. And while they might huddle up at each interpretive spot for a brief lesson or activity, what teacher or educator could possibly be there with each student for the whole walk, helping them learn from each moment as they explore the landscape with all their senses? The trick to making the entire outing an intense learning experience is to find ways to ensure that the students are invested in paying close attention the whole time.
“Tree Tag” is the classic example of creating a need to pay attention. Kids love to play tag, and they NEED a base, some place to avoid the tagger. So when base is whatever kind of tree the teacher calls out, the kids suddenly have a very real need to be able to identify trees correctly, so they can get to base. I love to watch what happens when kids disagree about correctly identifying trees, and they have to prove to each other what kind of tree it is. Tree Tag, however, illustrates a deeper point around creating need. A game of tag is a boisterous, wild, hectic thing. But remarkably, within this game is a fantastic heightening of awareness. The danger, the risk of being tagged, or the need to tag someone, is visceral. It creates physical and chemical responses in the body that affect awareness and the learning process. Adrenalated states provide a powerful opportunity for learning. Notice that this suggests an interesting point: in Tree Tag, the key dynamic for learning is the creation of a certain amount of anxiety, or a state of discomfort. This creates a very strong need to pay attention, and then the game focuses the heightened awareness onto something very detailed and specific — in this case, the differences in bark, leaf, branching pattern and color of different trees. By paying careful attention, the student can resolve the anxiety and get to someplace “safe.”
It’s a testament to the power of the adrenalated state that, more often than not, kids will leave base and venture back out into the fray on their own for another dose. Of course, some students will be reluctant to leave base, so the teacher can keep the game active by announcing that base is now a different kind of tree, and it starts again: more adrenaline, more awareness, more attention to details of different kinds of trees, more good learning about nature.
So how can this dynamic be harnessed so that it is present throughout the whole field trip? Here’s one method that has proved enormously powerful at Wilderness Awareness School. It’s called “Bird Language.”
The basic principle behind Bird Language is that birds love to gossip. They are constantly announcing to each other and the world around them just how they are feeling about their lives at that moment. It’s almost like a town crier who likes the job so much that s/he uses any excuse to make another public announcement. “The forest is calm and happy!” “The forest is still calm and happy!” But what birds love to talk about most of all is danger and peril. Anything that might possibly be a threat is immediately announced and pointed out. Jim Corbett, a famous tracker from India, once mentioned how puzzled he was that anyone could ever get eaten by a tiger. The birds and monkeys are so loud and aggressive in announcing the presence of any tiger, and even following along above it in the treetops, screaming out their warnings, that it seemed inconceivable to him that anyone could be taken unaware by a tiger in the jungle. By coming to understand Bird Language, students can learn to recognize all the movement and activity going on in the forest around them. They’ll know when raptors or other predators are moving through, or when animals like deer or raccoons are sneaking away.
Using Bird Language with your students starts with creating the need to pay attention to what the birds are saying. For some younger students, the possibility of seeing fairies or unicorns works wonders at getting them to listen for the announcements of the birds. This is especially good if students are already uncomfortable with being outside in the woods and need a little assurance. Our favorite strategy at Wilderness Awareness School is to set up the day so that students are hiking or exploring in small groups, and might at any time be ambushed by another group sneaking up on them. If you don’t have the ability to set up the ambush dynamic, or if the group is older and more callous to the woods, the classic anxiety here in the Pacific Northwest is the threat of the cougar. Wilderness Awareness School is very careful in using this particular set-up for bird language. We let students know that cougars are sneaky but cowardly hunters, who like to attack unseen and avoid a fight or struggle. To really help students feel the anxiety in a visceral way (like the threat of being tagged), you can describe the nerve endings in the canine teeth of the cougar that help it to feel just where to bite on your neck to cleanly sever the spinal column like scissors through a banana . Now, we are careful to point out that cougars don’t normally attack people. But they sometimes can’t help themselves when a really loud, obviously unaware, small, tasty looking person hurries by without paying any attention to the woods at all. But if you notice a cougar, and make yourself look tough, maybe yell at it, then the cougar won’t bother you. They’re really pretty timid once they’ve been found out.
Regardless of what strategy you use to create a need to pay attention, listening to Bird Language can provide the focus for your students’ heightened awareness, and will allow them to resolve their tension and anxiety appropriately. For if they are listening carefully to Bird Language, no cougar or group of kids will be able to sneak up on them without alarming the birds and giving itself away. Really accurate interpretation is a fine art, and requires a lot of practice sitting outside and investigating bird alarms, but mastery is not required for Bird Language to be a remarkably effective learning tool. Here are the basic details your students will need to know to be able to get started successfully:
Bird Language: A Quick Summary
Pay closest attention to the small ground-feeding birds: Robins, Sparrows, Juncos, Wrens, Towhees, etc. They are the best sentries.
Learn to distinguish the Five Voices of the Birds. The first four Baseline Voices indicate that the forest is relatively comfortable, and therefore “in baseline.” The last voice, the alarm, indicates a threat, usually a predator, often a human.
1. The Song: Birds singing their characteristic celebration, they are often loud but the feeling is very comfortable.
2. Companion Calling: Birds in pairs or groups call back and forth to each other regularly, either with their voice or with body movements, just to let each other know that they are alright. Usually this is soft, quiet language. It can occasionally sound scolding if one bird gets out of sight from another and fails to respond quickly enough.
3. Juvenile Begging: Young hatchlings can make quite a racket demanding to be fed. This repetitive whining may sound obnoxious, but don’t mistake it for distress.
4. Territorial Aggression: Generally made by males, this is loud, aggressive language that can sound like alarms, but you’ll notice that it doesn’t bother other birds (females, or birds of other species).
5. The Alarm is dramatically different from the four baseline voices. While the baseline voices sound like someone happily whistling, the alarm sounds like someone yelling for help. Different species sound different, but they all sound terribly upset, worried and nervous, and you’ll find yourself feeling that way too, when you open yourself up to really listening receptively to birds.
Watch the body language of alarming birds:
1. Where does it go when it alarms?
Does it fly up higher into the branches, or down low to the ground? Ground-feeding birds are typically brown, so they like to be down low where they are camouflaged and hidden. The only reason they fly UP is if there’s a threat on the ground. They will fly just high enough to avoid the danger, so how high up they fly is a good indicator of how high the danger can reach. If they go down, it’s because they’ll be safer down low in the thick brush, so it’s either a raptor or a threat that can’t get into the bushes (like a human).
2. Does the bird fly up and then look back to where it came from as it alarms?
If so, it was scared out of its place by something close by on the ground. Does it fly up and look forward, or out and around? If so, it was probably startled by a sound or another bird’s alarm and it is looking for the danger. It usually looks towards the source of the alarm (remember, these birds often look sideways).
3. Does it just fly madly away alarming as it goes? If so, it has been “plowed” out of the area, quite likely by a human.
Those are the very basics of Bird Language; however, the most important aspect of all is the “Secret Lesson” that you don’t even talk about. By attending to bird alarms, students soon realize that they themselves are disturbing the “baseline” of the forest. One of the old sayings from Kenya that young kids heard constantly was “Never disturb a singing bird.” Once they notice that they are scaring all the birds away, they begin to work at not alarming birds, and the transformation that this causes is remarkable. Once oblivious, boisterous and unconnected kids turn into quiet, observant, and respectful participants in the ecological community. Listening to birds now becomes a fabulous tool to encourage heightened awareness and a phenomenal source for amazing close encounters with animals that they want to see, like elk, deer, foxes, and raccoons, because now the birds aren’t warning these animals of the approaching students five minutes before they arrive.
In Wilderness Awareness School’s experience, Bird Language works best initially as the focal point for new students who have been “set up” to pay attention by the cultivation of a state of discomfort, and quite literally gives students the awareness they need to be safe, aware and feel comfortable in the woods. Remember, it will take some time to establish this as a routine for your students. They’ll need plenty of reminders early on. The most effective one is simply “Ssshhh! What was that? Did you hear that alarm?” Above all, have fun with it! You’ll be amazed at the transformation Bird Language can work in your students if you just stick with it.
Chris Laliberte is the Program Director for Wilderness Awareness School, a national not-for-profit environmental education organization based in Duvall, WA which is “dedicated to caring for the earth and our children by fostering appreciation and understanding of nature, community and self,” on the web at http://www.WildernessAwareness.org
Resources for Bird Language Study
The Language of the Birds and Advanced Bird Language: Reading the Concentric Rings of Nature, beginning and advanced audio series by Jon Young. Available at http://www.WildernessAwareness.org
Backyard Bird Walk and Marshland Bird Walk, and other recordings by Lang Elliott. Available at http://www.naturesound.com
Kamana One: Exploring Natural Mysteries, by Jon Young, part one of Wilderness Awareness School’s four-level independent study Kamana Naturalist Training Program. Includes bird language, tracking, wilderness living skills, traditional herbalism, and naturalist mentoring. Available at http://www.WildernessAwareness.org
Jungle Lore, by Jim Corbett. A powerful narrative from the Indian jungle which includes Bird Language lore.
Bird Tracks and Sign: A Guide to North American Species, a unique new resource for studying birds by Mark Elbroch , Eleanor Marks, and Diane C. Boreto.
A Guide to Bird Behavior, Vols. I,II, and III, by Donald and Lillian Stokes.
Peterson Field Guides: Western Birds, by Roger Tory Peterson.
A Birds World, permanent exhibit on Bird Language at the Boston Museum of Science. http://www.mos.org
It Takes a Community to Raise a Scientist:
A Case for Community-Inspired Research and Science Education in an Alaskan Native Community
By Nievita Bueno Watts and Wendy F. Smythe
The quote, “lt takes a village to raise a child,” is attributed to African tradition and carries over to Alaskan Native communities as well (Hall, 2000). Without the support of their community and outside resources, Alaska Native children have a difficult time entering the world of science. Yet increasing the awareness of science, as a tool to help a tribal community monitor and maintain the health of their environment, introduces conflicts and misconceptions in context of traditional cultural practices. Rural communities depend upon traditional food harvested from the environment such as fish, wild game, roots, and berries. In many Native Alaskan villages the health of the environment equals the health of the people (Garza, 2001) . Integrating science with culture in pre-college education is a challenge that requires sensitivity and persistence.
The Center for Coastal Margin Observation and Prediction (CMOP) is a multi-institutional, National Science Foundation (NSF) Science and Technology Center that takes an interdisciplinary approach to studying the region where the Columbia River empties into the Pacific Ocean. Two of CMOP’s focus areas are biogeochemical changes affecting the health of the coastal margin ecosystem, and socio-economic changes that might affect the lives of people who harvest and consume fish and shellfish.
The Columbia River waters touch the lives and livelihoods of many people, among them a large number of Pacific Northwest lndian tribes. These people depend on the natural and economic resources provided by the Columbia River. Native peoples from California through Alaska also depend on resources from their local rivers, and, currently, many tribes are developing-a workforce trained with scientific skills to manage their own natural resources in a way that is consistent with their traditional way of life. The relationship between Traditional Knowledge (TK) and practices, which are informed by centuries of observation, experimentation and carefully preserved oral records, and Western Science, which is deeply rooted in the philosophies and institutions of Europe, is often an uneasy one.
National progress is being made to open pathways for individuals from Native communities to Western Science higher education programs and back to the communities, where tribal members are empowered to evaluate and monitor the health of their environment. CMOP is part of this national movement. CMOP science is developing tools and techniques to observe and predict changes in the river to ocean system. CMOP education, an essential element of CMOB supports American lndian/Alaska Native students in pursuing academic and career pathways focusing on coastal margin sciences (Creen et al., 2013). One of CMOP’s initiatives is the CMOP- School Collaboratories (CSC) program.
The CMOP-school Collaboratories (CSC) program is based on the idea that Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) pathway development requires an intensive and sustained effort to build relationships among science educators, students, school personnel, and the tribal community. The over-arching goal is to broaden participation in STEM disciplines. CMOP educators developed the CSC model that includes integration strategies for a community, development of appropriate lessons and field experiences and student action projects that connect local and traditional knowledge with science. Educational experiences are place- based, multi-disciplinary and culturally relevant. The objective is to open students’ minds to the reality of the need for scientists with many different world views and skill sets working together to address our planet’s pressing problems in a holistic manner. CMOP seeks to encourage these students to be part of that solution using both Traditional Knowledge and STEM disciplines.
The program encourages STEM education and promotes college preparatory awareness. This CSC program has three unique characteristics: it introduces coastal margin science as a relevant and viable field of employment; it integrates STEM learning with Traditional Knowledge; and, it invites family and community members to share science experiences. The example presented in this article describes a four-year program implemented in a small village in Southeast Alaska, 200 miles from the capital city of Juneau.
Figure 1: Students, scientists, a cultural expert. and a teacher with scientific equipment used to collect data from the river.
ALASKA NATIVE VILLAGE CASE STUDY
Wendy Smythe, a CMOP doctoral candidate and principal investigator for an NSF Enhancing Diversity in the Geosciences (OEDC) award, is an Alaska Native Haida. As she advanced in her own education, she wanted to share what she had learned with the youth of her tribal community, striving to do so with the blessing of the tribal Elders, and in a way that respected the Traditional Knowledge of the Elders. Dr Bueno Watts is a mentor and expert on broadening participation. She acts in an advisory capacity on this project.
The village school consists of l5 staff members and 50 K-l2 students, with the school experiencing high administration turnover rates. ln the first two years of the program we recruited non-native graduate students to participate in the CSC program. This effort provided them experience working in Native communities. ln the last two years we recruited Native American undergraduate interns to teach lessons, assist with field activities and provide students with the opportunity to become familiar with Native scientists [Figure 1]. lnterns formed part of the science team.
STEPS TO GAIN ENTREE TO A VILLAGE
The community must support the concept to integrate science education with traditional practices. Even for this Alaska Native (Smythe), the process of building consensus from the tribe and gaining approval from the Elders and school district for the program was a lengthy one. The first step required letters of support from school district and tribal leaders. The difference in geographical locations proved difficult until Smythe was able to secure an advocate in the tribe who spoke for her at tribal meetings. Face-to-face communications were more successful than distance communications. Persistence proved to be the key to achieving success at getting the consensus of community leaders and school officials’ support. This was the top lesson of l0 learned from this project (Table l).
Traveling to the school to set up the program is no small feat and requires extensive coordination of transportation and supplies. A typical trip requires a day-long plane ride, overnight stay in a nearby town to prepare and gather supplies, a three-hour ferry ride, acquisition of a rental truck and a one-hour drive. Accommodations must be made to board with community members.
The development of appropriate lessons for the curriculum engaged discussions with tribal Elders and community Ieaders on an individual basis. Elders agreed to provide videoed interviews and were given honoraria as a thank you for their participation. Smythe asked the Elders what scientists could do to help the community, what stories can be used, where students and educators could work in the community to avoid intruding on sacred sites, and what information should not be made public. Once Elders agreed to provide interviews and share stories, other community members began to speak about their lives and concerns. This included influence of boarding schools, Iife as it was in the past, and changes they would like to see within the community. This was a significant breakthrough.
Table l . Lessons Learned: ten things to consider when developing a science program with Native communities
1. Persistence is key.
2. Face to-face communication is vital and Lakes time.
3. A community advocate with influence and respect in the community is critical.
4. Consult with the Elders first. They have their finger on the pulse of the community and are the center “of the communication network. Nothing happens without their approval. Find out what it is okay to talk about and where your boundaries are and abide by them. lnclude funds for honorariums in your proposal. Elders’ time and knowledge is valuable and they should be compensated as experts.
5. Partner with individuals or groups, such as the Department of Natural Resources.
6. Find a relevant topic. Be flexible with your curriculum choice. It must reflect the needs and interests of the community and the abilities of the teacher you are working with.
7 . Be prepared, bring supplies with you. Ship items in advance if going to a remote location
8. Have the ability to provide individual instruction for students who need it to prepare projects and practice giving presentations.
9. lnvolve the community. Hold events in a community center to encourage everyone to attend.
10. View your involvement as a long-term investment in a committed community relationship.
ln addition to the Elders, support was needed from a natural resources representative who functioned as a liaison between our group and the community members. This person’s role is found in most villages and could be the head of the Department of Natural Resources or a similar tribal agency that oversees fish, wildlife, and natural resources. This person provides a critical link between the natural environment and the community. The next step is to go in the field with the natural resources representative, science teachers, EIders, and interested students to identify a meaningful focus for the community. lnitially we focused the project with a scientist’s view of teaching microbiology and geology of mineral deposition in a river ecosystem. However, the team found community interest low and no enthusiasm for this project.
Upon our return to the village, the team and CMOP educators found the focus, almost by accident. We were intrigued by “boil water” notices posted both at the home in which we were staying and on the drinking fountains at the school: The students were all talking about water, as were the Elders. It was clear that the community cared about their water quality. The resulting community-inspired research educational plan was based on using aquatic invertebrate bioindicators as predictors of water quality (Adams, Vaughan & Hoffman Black, 2003). This student project combined science with community needs (Bueno Watts, 2011).
The first classroom lessons addressed water cycle and watershed concepts (Wolftree, 2OO4), which were followed by a field lesson on aquatic invertebrates. Students sampled different locations in an effort to determine biodiversity and quantity of macroinvertebrates. While students were sitting at the river’s edge, the site was described in the students’ Alaska Native tongue by a cultural expert, and then an English translation was provided. This introduced the combination of culture and language into the science lesson.
Figure 2: Students use data loggers to collect data on temperature, pH, and location.
The village water supply comes from a river that runs through the heart of the community. Thus, this river was our primary field site from which students collected water for chemical sampling and aquatic invertebrates using D-loop nets. Physical and chemical parameters of the river were collected using Vernier LabQuest hand-held data loggers. Students recorded data on turbidity, flow rate, temperature, pH, and pinpointed locations using CPS coordinates (Figure 2].
Aquatic invertebrate samples were sorted, classified, counted, recorded, and examined through stereoscopes back in the classroom. Water chemistry was determined by kits that measured concentrations of alkalinity, dissolved oxygen, iron, nitrate/nitrite, dissolved carbon dioxide, and phosphate.
Microbiology assessments were conducted in an effort to detect fecal coliform (using m_FC Agar plates). Students tested water from an estuary, river, drinking fountain, and toilet. Results from estuarine waters showed a high number of fecal coliform, indicating that a more thorough investigation was warranted While fecal coliform are non-disease causing microorganisms, they originate in the intestinal tract, the same place as disease causing bacteria, and so their presence is a bioindicator of the presence of human or animal wastes (Figure 3).
Students learned that the “dirty water” they observed in the river was actually the result of a natural process of acidic muskeg fluids dissolving iron minerals in the bedrock, no health danger. The real health threat was in the estuarine shellfish waters. Students shared all of their results with their families, after which community members began to approach the CMOP science team with questions about the quality of their drinking water. The community was relieved to find that the combined results of aquatic invertebrate counts and water chemistry indicated that the water flowing through their town was healthy. However they were concerned about the potential contamination as indicated by fecal coliform counts in the local estuary where shellfish were traditionally harvested.
ln the second year, a curriculum on oceanography developed by another STC, the Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education (C-MORE) was introduced (Bruno, Wiener, Kimura & Kimura, 2011). Oceanography lessons focused on water density as a function of salinity and temperature, ocean currents, phytoplankton, and ocean acidification, all areas of research at CMOP. Additional lessons used local shipworms, a burrowing mollusk known to the community, as a marine bioindicator (CMOP Education, 2013). Students continued to conduct bioassessments of local rivers and coastal marine waters.
Figure 3: Students sort and count aquatic invertebrates as a bioindicator of river health.
Students used teleconferencing technology to participate in scanning electron microscope (SEM) session with a scientist in Oregon who had their samples of aquatic invertebrates. Students showcased their experiments during parent day. Five students (l0%) had parents and/or siblings who attended the event.
As a reward for participation in the science program, two students were chosen to attend the American lndian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) 2009 conference in Oregon. Travel expenses were shared between the school, CSC program, and the tribe. ln the following three years an additional ten students attended the AISES conference and presented seven science research posters in New Mexico. Minnesota and Alaska. ln 2012, one student won 3rd place for her shipworm poster presentation (Figure 5). These conference presentations enabled some students to take their first trip out of Alaska.
ln May 20ll the first Science Symposium for grades K-12 allowed students to share their science projects with parents, Elders, and tribal community members. Both students and teachers were prepared on how to do a science fair project. Work with students had to be accomplished on a one-on-one basis, and members of the team were paired with students to assist with completing projects and polishing presentations. Students were not accustomed to speaking publicly, so this practice was a critical step.
The event was held at the local community center, which encouraged Elders and other community members to attend.
Elders requested a public education opportunity to teach the community about watersheds and the effects of logging. Our team incorporated this request into the science symposium. Students led this project by constructing a 5D model of the watershed for display. People could simulate rainfall, see how land use affects runoff and make runoff to river estuary connections. Scientists conducted hands-on demonstrations related to shipworms, local geology, ocean acidification and deepsea research. Language and culture booths were also included. During the symposium, a video of one of the interviews we had conducted with an Elder was shown as a memorial to his passing. The symposium was considered a huge success and was attended by 35 students and 50 community members.
The CSC program garnered results that could not have been predicted at the outset. For example, the tribe requested our input when deciding which students should attend a tribal leadership conference and summer camp. Three student interns participated in a collaborative project with the tribe to conduct bio-assessment studies of local rivers and a key sockeye breeding lake. lnterns operated a remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) for data collection, resulting in video documentation of the salmon habitat. ln addition to the bio-assessment, the interns conducted interviews with Elders about the rivers in the monitoring project. The results of this study were used to stop logging around sockeye spawning habitat and to ban the harvest of shellfish from contaminated parts of the estuary. Now the tribe is monitoring rivers on its own. ln the near future CMOP plans to install a sensor that can be monitored remotely, and to train people to read and interpret the data.
Community-inspired research often produces a ripple effect of unforeseen results. ln this case, inclusion of Elders in the design and implementation of the project produced large scale buy-in from community members at all age levels. Consequently, in a village where traditionally students did not think about education beyond high school, we have had two students attend college, two students attend trade school, five students receive scholarships, and eight Native interns conducting science or science education in the community. And, given the low numbers of Alaska Natives pursuing careers in science, we find those numbers to be remarkable.
Adams, J., Vaughan, M., & Hoffman Black, S. (200i). Stream Bugs as Biomonitors: A Guide to Pacific Northwest Macroinvertebrate Monitoring and Identification. The Xerces Society. Available from: http://www.xerces.org/identification-guides/#
Bruno, B. C., Wiener, C., Kimura, A., & Kimura, R. (2011). Ocean FEST: Families exploring science together. Journal of Geoscience Education, 59, 132.1.
Bueno Watts, N. (20,1 1). Broadening the participation of Native Americans in Earth Science. (Doctoral dissertation).
Retrieved from Pro-Quest. UMI Number: 3466860. URL http ://repository.asu.edu/items / 9 438
Center for Coastal Margin Observation & Prediction. QO13). Shipworm lesson URL http://www.stccmop”org/ education/k1 2/geoscience/shipworms
Carza, D. (200.l). Alaska Natives assessing the health of their environment. lnt J Circumpolar Health. 6O@):a79-g6.
Creen, V., Bueno Watts, N., Wegner, K., Thompson, M., Johnson, A., Peterson, T., & Baptista, A. (201i). Coastal Margin Science and Education in the Era of Collaboratories. Current: The Journal of Marine Education. 28(3).
Hall, M. (2000). Facilitating a Natural Way: The Native American Approach to Education. Creating o Community of Learners: Using the Teacher os Facilitator Model. National Dropout Prevention Center. URL http://www. n iylp.org/articles/Facilitating-a-Natural-Way.pdf
Wolftree, lnc. (200a). Ecology Field Cuide: A Cuide to Wolftree’s Watershed Science Education Program, 5th Edition. Beavercreek, OR: Wolftree, lnc. URL http://www. beoutside.org/PUBLICATIONS/EFCEnglish.pdf
The educational resources of CMOP are available on their website : U R L http ://www. stccm o p. o rg / education / kl 2
CMOP is funded by NSF through cooperative agreement OCE- 0424602. Smythe was also supported by NSF grant CEO-I034611. We would like to thank Dr. Margo Haygood, Carolyn Sheehan, and Meghan Betcher for their assistance and guidance with the shipworm project. We would like to thank the Elders and HCA for their guidance, advice and encouragement throughout this program
Nievita Bueno Watts, Pn.D. is a geologist, science educator, and Director of Academic programs at the NSF Science and Technology Center for Coastal Margin Observation & Prediction (CMOP). She conducts research on broadening the participation of underrepresented minorities in the sciences and serves on the Board of Directors of the Geoscience Alliance, a national organization dedicated to building pathways for Native American participation in the Earth Sciences.
Wendy F. Smythe is an Alaska Native from the Haida tribe and a Ph.D. candidate at the NSF Science and Technology Center for Coastal Margin Observation & Prediction. She runs a geoscience education program within her tribal community in Southeast Alaska focused on the incorporation of Traditional Knowledge into STEM disciplines.
No Fooling: Exploring the Nature of Responsibility, Progress, Success, and Good Work
How we answer a challenge raised over half a century ago regarding the way we handle the blessings of nature will go a long way towards determining our future.
by Peter Hayes
In the roughly 10,000 years since members of our species first began to call the Pacific Northwest home, many good questions have been asked. Of all that have been posed, one continues to stand out as the most important. In 1938 during a noontime luncheon address to a group of prosperous citizens in Portland, Oregon, the thoughtful, worldly generalist, Lewis Mumford asked this question: “I have seen a lot of scenery in my life, but I have seen nothing so tempting as a home for man than this Oregon country… You have the basis here for civilization on its highest scale and I am going to ask you a question which you may not like… Have you enough intelligence, imagination, and cooperation among you to make the best use of these opportunities?”
Though he spoke to one group of people in reference to the future of one region, the question applies equally well to our entire species and our total habitat — this planet — “do we have the qualities necessary to successfully live here for the long haul?” That is the most important question in the world. The only answers which matter are those expressed through actions, not words. And what do the consequences of actions taken since Mumford’s 1938 question say about our success? There is certainly good news in the form of the development of a more crash resistant economy, a country and world which may have made progress toward the challenge of judging people by the quality of their character instead of the color of their skin, and the imagination, endorsement, and enforcement of laws which help the powers of care, cooperation, and foresightfulness get the upper hand on the powers of selfish, shortsighted greed trying to turn our commonwealth into their personal wealth.
But overall the evidence of actions taken, and not taken, since 1938 indicate that our answer to Mumford’s question is: “no, we don’t yet have the qualities necessary to successfully live here. Our perceptive abilities, values, and ethics have not yet evolved in the ways that they must in order to develop and use those qualities”.
If meeting the challenge is a matter of fundamental survival, why haven’t we done it? If we are clever enough to pull off such feats as walking on the moon, splitting atoms, and cloning creatures, why not attend to our most basic survival? The answer is that we choose to fool ourselves. Fueled by the powerful forces, including the omnipresent media and our systems of schooling, we fool ourselves in four main ways. Progress toward meeting Mumford’s challenge — our most basic responsibility — depends on recognizing and correcting the ways that we’ve been fooled and continue to fool our children.
The fooling happens in how too many of us answer these four questions: 1) What is success?, 2) What is our greatest challenge?, 3) What is the basis for our decision making?, and 4) What are schools for?
What is Success?
One major reason for our continuing failure to meet — or even acknowledge — Mumford’s challenge is that for the majority of our species the challenge is not seen to be important enough to even pay attention to; for many, there is no connection between our personal yardstick of what it means to be a successful person and progress toward the challenge. Our systems and competitive instincts program us to be amused and preoccupied by other challenges and measures of success — accumulating more money than we need, proving that we are better than other people — whether on the sports field, in the classroom, boardroom, stock exchange floor, or battlefield, and basing our identities and sense of success on the acquisition of power, prestige, and comfort — on what we can take instead of what we choose to give. So, much like the highly capable student who flunks a course because she just didn’t choose to try, the first reason we continue to not meet Mumford’s challenge is that too many of us continue to be fooled into believing that success is measured by actions which take us further from meeting the challenge instead of toward it. Tellingly, Mumford prefaced his question to Portland’s City Club with the caveat that he had a question which his audience probably would not like. Wasn’t this because it presented — to people who already saw themselves as successful — an alternative, ultimately more important, measure of success, which if recognized, stood to threaten and/or limit their accepted notions of success?
What is the Challenge?
As a teacher, I owe thanks to my students for helping me recognize the second way that we fool ourselves. Year after year class discussions devolve into a familiar debate over which of the challenges on humanity’s plate is most important and deserving of our attention and energies. Here is a sampler of predictable excerpts: “Yes, I know that all of the problems with the environment, such as saving the salmon, are important, but you’ve got to realize that we have to look out for the well being of our own species first; people are starving and that must be our top priority.” Or “These efforts to help people learn to treat each other well, and to solve environmental problems like global warming are important, but we have to be sure to do nothing which might threaten quarterly profits and harm the economy; if we don’t have a strong economy, things will fall apart”. They have learned what they have been taught — and been fooled, just as I was fooled. We have inherited a flawed conceptual model which is based on the assumption that our species faces three, competing challenges: the challenge of people learning and choosing to successfully live with one another, the challenge of humans learning and choosing to live within the limits of what the land can provide, and the challenge of learning and choosing to develop an economic system which can endure over time. I fell for it; conclusions such as Aldo Leopold’s: “We end, I think, at what might be called the standard paradox of the twentieth century: our tools are better than we are, and grow better faster than we do. They suffice to crack the atom, to command the tides. But they do not suffice for the oldest task in human history: to live on a piece of land without spoiling it.” fooled me into the mistaken belief that one of the three competing challenge was paramount. I now see that from birth my culture conditioned me to see myself as positioned in the center of a triangle, with compelling, competing, and insistent voices from each corner vying for my attention. Across from Aldo’s siren call come the words of Martin Luther King Jr. and others, such as “We must either learn to live together as brothers or die together as fools.” And from the third corner come the powerful economic cautions of Alan Greenspan, Wall Street, and the WTO advising that without a functioning economy we have nothing. After investing twenty five years of my working life in the wholehearted, and often zealous, service of one of the three challenges — helping people learn and choose to live within the limits of what the land can provide – I have come to see that I was wrong because my work has been based on a flawed conceptual model of the real nature of the challenges. Aldo was right, but he was also wrong; King was right, but he was wrong; Greenspan is right, but he is wrong.
While each is essential, none is in itself sufficient. An economy dependent on the degradation of land or people will never succeed; a healthy land community depends on a functional economy and healthy human community; and humans cannot resolve their differences as long as the ecosystems and economies on which they depend are in disarray. As Jared Diamond described in a post September 11th letter to the Washington Post: “If a dozen years ago you had asked an ecologist uninterested in politics to name the countries with the most fragile environments, the most urgent public health problems, and the most severe overpopulation, the answer would have included Afghanistan, Burundi, Haiti, Iraq, Nepal, Rwanda, Somalia, Yugoslavia, and Zimbabwe. The close match between that list and the list of the world’s political hot spots today is no accident.” Though the world around us continues to do its best to fool us into seeing three competing challenges, the evidence from a careful look at how the world really works convinces me that these are not three challenges, but one — building communities which can survive and thrive indefinitely. For me, the competitive triangle model has been replaced by an interdependent, cooperative circular model of three links of chain. Healthy communities depend on meeting the challenges represented by each link, and our success is only as strong as the weakest link.
Progress depends on each of us learning to let go of our drive to see our highest priority corner or link prevail over the other three (think Earth First, WTO), and instead develop a higher commitment to the whole of being a citizen and community member than to any one of the links. Ironically it seems that the longer and harder we continue to push on our chosen corner of the competitive triangle model — as well meaning as we may be — the less likely we are to make progress toward any of the challenges. Success depends on turning all of our environmentalists, human rights activists, and economic development enthusiasts into just plain citizens — knowledgeable about and committed to all three links of the chain. These people fit into Wallace Stegner’s notion of choosing to be “stickers” instead of “boomers”, and follow the advice of Gary Snyder and others that one of the most radical — an useful – things we can do is to stay put.
What is the Basis of Our Decisions?
The third way that many of us continue to fool ourselves is pretending that the basis of our decisions can reasonably shift if distanced by time and/or space. When reduced to the most local scale, our moral evolution, as a species, has progressed toward basing an increasingly percentage of our actions on what is right to do as opposed to what we have the power to do.
Even if I am bigger and tougher than my two eating mates, I don’t eat more than my third of the pizza because that is the right thing to do; sharing a common pasture with other farming families, I choose to graze only as many cattle on it as the land can provide for, because that is the right thing to do; even if certain investments could be unusually lucrative, I choose not to invest in them because they are bad for the community. Each of these represents a choice to base decisions on ethics instead of power. In contrast to the progress we have made in what might be called moral evolution, we continue to fool ourselves with arbitrary blinders and barriers in terms of what we consider to be the domain of ethics and what is the domain of power.
Curiously something which is based on ethics when close to us in space or time, can slip back to being based on power when removed to greater distance. An example is the land use choices of forest products companies based in the Pacific Northwest. When operating within the United States the company uses a set of land use practices which their full page newspaper ads tell us are shaped not by laws, but by an abiding, ethically based commitment to land stewardship. Yet when the same companies transfer capital from domestic investments to forestry in other countries, their treatment of land is much less careful and, in the absence of land use laws in places like Russia, the basis for company decision making apparently shifts from ethics to what they have the power to do. Similarly, though I might buy a shirt made using child labor paid at unreasonably low rates — if it came from a very distant place, I would refuse, on ethical grounds, to eat at a local restaurant whose existence and profits depended on similar human abuse. Though a fisher would choose for ethical reasons not to steal fish from the hold of a fellow fisher’s boat moored alongside of his, he sees no ethical problem with overfishing a species, such as Atlantic Cod, to commercial extinction, which is effectively stealing fish from the holds of the fish boats of his children and grand children. Why do so many of us continue to fool ourselves into believing that our responsibility for ethical decision making decreases in proportion to how distant and anonymous the consequences become in space and/or time? Isn’t a consequence a consequence, no matter where and when they happen?
The Work of Schools
Mumford’s question — do we have the characteristics necessary to successfully live here — begs a preceding question: what characteristics are most important to us as we seek to meet the challenge?
Though he suggested intelligence, imagination, and cooperation, what would be your top ten essential attitudes, skills, and habits? What letter grade would you give the success of the five schools closest to your home at developing these characteristics in their students? What limits their success in doing this? The schools in my community are failing in this most important responsibility because they don’t recognize it as being their responsibility and are never held accountable for success. Instead, their missions, parental pressure, and deadening effect of school reform standards focus their attention and resources on maintaining and increasing students’ upward mobility — or put more bluntly – using the fair winds of competitive instinct to train good predators. Because of this, the final of the four barrier between us and rising to meet Mumford’s challenge is that too many of us fool ourselves into believing that our schools can be considered to be successful when they continue to put a disproportionate emphasis on preparing students to take/pursue personal gain — instead of developing in students the readiness to give in proportion to what they take, which is the measure of responsible citizenship. This status quo of schooling is a road toward diminishing returns because the pursuit of individual gain at the expense of our commonwealth leaves a dwindling world to be upwardly mobile in. We will know that this barrier is behind us when our schools are as, or more, effective at encouraging moral evolution and developing the characteristics of citizenship as they are in preparing students for upward mobility.
I was born into a world where the imbalance between what people asked of our communities and what those communities had the capacity to provide led to progressive erosion of community health and vitality. Though the decline continues, I am optimistic that within my lifetime it is possible for us to turn the corner by reconciling what our species demands with what the systems can sustainably provide. Every day I become increasingly convinced that the key to success is waking up to the four crucial ways that we fool ourselves and continue to fool each succeeding generation. What makes me hopeful is that when you look closely, in the right spots, it is easy to find, learn from, and be inspired by many remarkable examples of work that are successfully beginning to rebuild community vitality. Their success is the result of choosing to end the foolishness by redefining progress and success, re-envisioning three competing community challenges as one challenge, expanding the universe of ethical responsibility, and reshaping schooling to acknowledge that educating for responsible citizenship is our highest responsibility.
Among all of the candidates proposed as yardsticks for a successful life – educational pedigree, net worth, level of influence — is not the ultimate measure of our value and good work the degree to which we help equip our culture and its children to answer “yes” to Mumford’s challenge?
Peter Hayes is the former Ecological Studies Coordinator at Lakeside School in Seattle. He now manages a family tree farm in the Coast Range of western Oregon.