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Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Calendar to Reconnect Relationships to Earth - M.Ed. Grad School Update #3

by Mary Kiesau, Methow Conservancy Educational Programs Director

The first quarter of my Masters of Education in Environmental Education program is quickly coming to a close and I'm feverishly finalizing two papers - one a discourse analysis on the "language of conservation" and one an examination and critique of Paul Kingsnorth's writings about “Dark Ecology.”

A project that I recently finished is what I'd like to share today.  The project asked us to define environmental education, envision its future, and describe our personal philosophy of it.  We could write a paper or create some other form of medium.  One person created a website.  I created a 12-month wall calendar (yes, ready to hang and use).

The calendar was called "Themes & Seasons of Environmental Education: Reconnecting Relationships to Earth," and here's some of what I wrote, plus the photos and captions (scroll over the image for the caption).

This calendar showcases many forms of environmental education, and represents the flow and motion of time inherent in education. Education, especially ecologically-centered education, is constant and growing; it is not a static cycle. The “seasons” of environmental education are represented in this calendar in
the following way:
  • New Year/winter: rebirth/renewal/awakening. It is a time for observing, listening
    and quiet self-education as we begin to re-emerge for new or expanded growth. 
  • Spring: blossoming/growing/creating/learning. This is an active time of exploring and learning. We are eager and engaged. 
  • Summer: establishing/sharing/forming/bonding. Now we’ve transitioned to a time of establishing our knowledge and feelings by sharing them with others. Shared experiences enhance our education, and we begin to build community. 
  • Fall: reflecting/harvesting/nesting in “home” and place. As our education evolves, we need time to reflect and assess, which allows for expressing ourselves,and we start to dig deeper into both our connections to the world and our place and time in it. We realize there is still a lot to learn to be fully ecologically aware and connected. 
  • End of year/winter: incorporating/tying up loose ends/celebrating/giving back. This is a time when we look both back and forward to come full circle and find wholeness in our lives. Now, we work to incorporate environmental education into all aspects of our lives so that it’s not even “environmental education” anymore but simply education paired with personal growth, sustainability and community. 

I believe environmental education is a dynamic process that should result in ecocentric behavior, values and beliefs. The process is between a “teacher” and a “learner,” where the learner could be the teacher and where the teacher could be any number of things from which we learn: experience, person, plant, animal, earth, history, conversation, etc. While environmental education is often centered in nature study, science and conservation education, and outdoor education, there is not one set way to do environmental education. Environmental education is not static and unchanging. It’s not a set of practices or a prescription but a mode of operating, a lens through which life is seen. There are no starting and
stopping points, and it is always growing and evolving for learner/teacher, building on the past and creating a path into the futurewhere nature has intrinsic value and where people value and act on their interconnectedness with all human and non-human life. The environmental educator’s job is to help themselves and others discover, understand and explore their place and relationship in and with the natural world.

While huge strides have been made in environmental education, I believe, like educator David Orr, that there is both a global ecological crisis as well as an educational crisis happening right now. Environmental education should not only be an aspect of science class or outdoor education, or a course in college; it must stop being viewed as a separate and specific topic for certain “educators,” and start being incorporated into the social fabric and conscious-raising of people from age zero upwards in all the places humans live. “The crisis we face, Orr explains, is one of mind, perception, and values. It is, first and foremost, an educational challenge” (Island Press). The upshot is that for the long-term health and survival of humans and all life on earth as we
know it, nothing short of an ecocentric educational revolution is needed. Everything else, and the bulk of what most “environmental educators” have been doing, is just window dressing in that it looks and feels good but isn’t making any significant changes in the world. Look at nearly any ecological or human health statistic and you’ll see that things
are getting worse. Environmental education, which must be holistically and strategically incorporated into all forms of school, must also reach beyond

children and schools to adults. How? If I knew, I’d be doing it. One thing that will help is to acknowledge and share with each other our fears and sense that something is missing, and tap into our compassion and empathy for all forms of life (human and non-human). In doing this, we will create more honest dialogue with each other. Along with re-thinking and re-organizing schools and curricula with an ecological and interconnected paradigm, we need to increase and enrich conversation and discourse. We need to create new stories that envision a functional future for all life.

Mary Kiesau,

observer, learner, naturalist, educator, earthling