“If literacy is driven by the search for knowledge, ecological literacy is driven by the sense of wonder, the sheer delight of being alive in a beautiful, mysterious, bountiful world.” – David W. Orr
” Our greatest challenge lies in rethinking what kind of education is appropriate for a species whose standards of success threaten its ecological foundations.” — David W. Orr
Environmental education is a process by which, under the right circumstances, ecoliteracy can be achieved. In a companion essay [ Ecoliteracy – From Knowledge To Action], I offer a critical review of the state of ecoliteracy in modern society. This review expresses concern about the effectiveness of some environmental education programs. In particular, the concern is expressed about environmental education programs that are conducted in classroom environments instead of in Nature. In this essay, I present the wisdom and experience of two environmental educators, David Orr and Deborah Perryman. Near the end of the essay, I share the details of an environmental education program that I oversee.
We Must Teach By Connecting The Dots
A Sense Of Wonder
“A revolution in education is under way and it is starting in the most unlikely places.
The revolutionaries are not professional educators from famous universities, rather they are elementary school students, a growing number of intrepid teachers, and a handful of facilitators from widely diverse backgrounds. The goal of the revolution is the reconnection of young people with their own habitats and communities. The classroom is the ecology of the surrounding community, not the confining four walls of the traditional school. The pedagogy of the revolution is simply a process of organized engagement with living systems and the lives of people who live by the grace of those systems.
Perhaps “revolution” is not quite the right word, for it is more akin to a homecoming. We all have an affinity for the natural world, what Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson calls “biophilia.” This tug toward life is strongest at an early age when we are most alert and impressionable. Before their minds have been marinated in the culture of television, consumerism, shopping malls, computers, and freeways, children can find the magic in trees, water, animals, landscapes, and their own places. Properly cultivated and validated by caring and knowledgeable adults, fascination with nature can mature into ecological literacy and eventually into more purposeful lives.
A curriculum that enables young people to discover their own homes as described here is not an add-on to the conventional curriculum. It is rather the core of a transformed education that enables young minds to perceive the extraordinary in what we mostly mistake for the ordinary. There has never been a time when we needed the kind of transformation described here more than at the end of a century of unprecedented violence and at the dawn of the new millennium. We need it, first, to help open young minds to the awareness of the forgotten connections between people, places, and nature. But we need a transformed curriculum and schools as the start of a larger process of change that might eventually transform our communities and the culture beyond. If this occurs, and I believe that it will, it will begin with small everyday things: freshwater shrimp, the trees along the banks of streams, the lives of ordinary people, the stories we tell, and the excitement of children.
D.H. Lawrence once said that “Water is H2O, hydrogen two parts, oxygen one, but there is also a third thing that makes it water and nobody knows what it is.” It is magic, the kind that can only be found in nature, life, and human possibilities once we are open to them. The kind of education I have in mind takes young people out of the classroom to encounter the mystery of the third thing. In that encounter they discover what Rachel Carson once called the “sense of wonder.” And that is the start of a real education. ”
EARTH CENTERED learning rests on seven propositions
- All education is environmental education. Conventional education,for the most part, excludes our dependence on nature.
- Environmental issues are complex and cannot be understood through a single discipline or department. Interdisciplinary environmental education remains an unfulfilled promise because it was taught in discipline centered institutions.
- The study of place is a fundamental organizing concept for education. Formal education prepares students to reside, not to inhabit. A resident is a temporary occupant. People who do not know who they are because they do not know where they are. However, the inhabitant and a place mutually shape each other.
- For inhabitants, education occurs in part as a dialogue with a place and has the characteristic of a good conversation. Good conversation with nature has the purpose of establishing what is here, what nature will permit, and what nature will help us do here.
- Environment education should change the way people live, not just how they talk. Real learning is participatory, experiential, and interdisciplinary, not just didactic (instructing). The flow should be two ways — between teachers; who function best as facilitators, and students, who are expected to be active agents in defining what is learned and how.
- Experience in the natural world is both an essential part of understanding the environment and conducive to good thinking. Understanding nature demands a disciplined and observant intellect.
- Education that addresses the challenge of building a sustainable society will enhance the learner’s competence with natural systems.
Ecological literacy, furthermore, implies a broad understanding of how people and societies relate to one another and to natural systems, and how they might do so sustainability.
Ecological literacy is to know that our health, well-being, and ultimately our survival depend on working with, not against, natural forces.
Ecological literacy is to understand the speed of the crisis that is upon the human race. It is to know magnitudes, rates, and trends of population growth, species extinction, soil loss, deforestation, climate change, ozone depletion, resource exhaustion, air an water pollution, toxic and radioactive contamination, resource and energy use, that is the vital signs of the planet and its ecosystems.
Ecological literacy requires a comprehension of the dynamics of the modern world of humanity. It requires a thorough understanding of the ways in which people and whole societies have become destructive of the natural world. The ecologically literate person will appreciate something of how social structures, religion, politics, technology, patriarchy, culture, agriculture, and human cussedness combine as causes of our predicament. Ecological literacy requires an understanding of the major importance of sustainability. The concept of sustainability implies a radical change in the institutions and patterns that we have come to accept as normal. Sustainability implies a new ecology that is the basis for the redesign of technology, cities, farms, and educational institutions as well as a change in metaphors from mechanical to organic, industrial to biological.
Environmental literacy requires a broad familiarity with the development of ecological consciousness which includes efficient resource management, and a broad search for pattern and meaning including issues of value and ethics. It requires more durable directions toward prudence, stewardship, and the celebration of the Creation.
Using Natural Space For Teaching Outside Of The Classroom
“We are the students and teachers of the Environmental Science classes at Elgin High School, and this is our project, that started in 2014, to raise awareness about the importance of biodiversity and to inspire our participants to take action in its protection.”
Hope For Mankind’s Future Comes From Instilling A Deep Consciousness For An Interdependent Nature In Our Youth.
The Power of Teaching About Nature Outdoors
Building And Maintaining Legacy
Here is a current list of essays about ecoliteracy for your consideration. This list will expand with time.
- Ecoliteracy – What Is Ecoliteracy?
- Ecoliteracy – Interdependence Is Life
- Ecoliteracy – Our Earth Is A Living System
- Ecoliteracy – The Poverty Of Human Insight
- Ecoliteracy – We Need An Ecoliterate Citizenry
- Ecoliteracy – A Systems View Of Life
- Ecoliteracy – Rethinking Environmental Education
- Ecoliteracy – From Knowledge To Action
- Ecoliteracy – The Power of Legacy
- Ecoliteracy – Empowering Our Youth
- Ecoliteracy – Web Resource Material
For Your Further Consideration
This essay is part of a series of essays about ecoliteracy that present ideas to environmental educators, students, and all stewards of Nature. These ideas come from some of our modern great thinkers. The emphasis in these essays will be on two key ideas:
- Our earth is a living system that transports and transforms energy to all life. The key to an active ecoliteracy that results in a healthy environment for all life on earth is the building of a systems view of life into the minds and hearts of humanity, This worldview is based the fact that all of Nature is interconnected and interdependent.
- Environmental education is not simply offering facts. Environmental education must be hands-on and take place outdoors if ideas, facts, and effective conservation strategies are to become a consciousness in the minds and hearts of our youth. Environmental education must include the passing of this consciousness to future generations.
thrilled in knowing that I’ve played some small part in setting this world view in motion in your mind.
The purpose of my essays is to develop a dialog with my readers. You are strongly encouraged to comment on this essay in the space provided below.
My name is Bill Graham. As a Marine Biologist who has worked in the US and Mexico for 30 years, I am a student of Nature, a teacher, a researcher, and a nature photographer. Through my work, I have acquired an ever growing passion for how everything in Nature is connected. Today, I travel extensively contemplating about, writing about, and photographing Nature’s connections. I also work with conservation projects in the USA and Mexico and mentor talented youth.