What are ecopedagogies?

I want to continue to tease out what is meant by ecopedagogies- of course this is a work in progress, an emergent process, and it would be great to hear what you think about the term and some of the ideas laid out here…Tonia and I have been musing on it for about 30 years (although not under this umbrella), since we first met in a school in the Southern Highlands of NSW where we both found ourselves teaching Wilderness as an elective subject. We started to explore the students’ reactions and relationship to wild areas they hiked though, canoed into, rock climbed out of and slid muddily underground via limestone caves. We were also noticing our own responses, both to the kids, each unique environment, the different gendered reactions and the challenging activities. For me, there was a lot of fear and I could so relate to many students experiencing the same. But there was also an exhilaration in getting to the top of a mountain, of abseiling down a cliff, of hiking over a canyon, despite the fear.
Ecopedagogies insist on the primacy of our relationship with the natural world and of the direct experiencing of nature. Of course, it can’t be denied, there can be vicarious experiences of the natural world, as many gamers attest to, and they can be quite powerful, but there is no substitute for one’s experience directly with nature. Paul Shepard talks about this in his book Nature and Madness (1982) when he looks to our hunter-gatherer heritage as comprising two births: one birth from the biological mother; the other birthing into Nature itself. He says ‘there is no substitute for growing up in the natural world’. In this context, ‘outdoor’ education takes on a broader conceptualisation that what it has been associated with in Australia to date. Ecopedagogies may include structured learning situations outdoors, such as that done through schools, pre-schools and universities; or learning in less formal educational structures, like scouts, girl guides, community gardens, permaculture groups, environmental groups, gardening clubs, etc. The ‘felt’ experience, the ‘lived’ experience may be approximated in other forms of our high tech world, but it cannot be replicated! Cheers, Carol

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2 Responses to What are ecopedagogies?

  1. Ben says:

    My experience as a teacher and a youth worker affirms the power of learning in nature. I remember once doing a school holiday program with some primary aged children in Bankstown. They’d never been to the bush. I arranged to take them for an outing to the Royal National Park. We had our regulation picnic and fed the cockies and other birds by the water and then I suggested a bush walk. They agreed to come and so quite spontaneously we crossed the road over into the bush.
    There was no set track there so we just made our way through the trees and the undergrowth. There was such an air of excitement among the kids. We must have walked for about an hour. It was a transformative experience for all of us, me included. There’s something about being in the Australian bush, with the smell of the gum trees and the bush flowers.
    On reflection it may have not been the safest way to go with a group of uninitiated young bush walkers, but I felt so confident in the bush they just followed. I think it was a highlight of that holiday program for all of us.

  2. Hi Ben, thanks for this story. It reminds me of the adventurous spirit of exploration which is often precluded from young childrens’ experience nowadays. There is an expression ‘cotton wool kids’- a generation (or more) of young who have been disallowed from the freedom of playing outdoors and in natural areas, especially in spaces that are non-adult accessed, hence ‘wrapped in cotton wool’.Gill (2007) talks about the contemporary ‘shrinking horizons of childhood’ through this culture that is in a constant state of perceived (not necessarily real) fear that is then transmitted to their children. Tonia Gray has referred to it as ‘marinated in fear’.Louv (who comes to Sydney next week for a conference and talks- see notice earlier) refers to this curtailing, if not extinction, of free play in nature as Nature Deficit Disorder (2005) that has had a huge impact physically, spiritually, emotionally, and cognitively on kids and adults.

    I worked for an American university for 6 years, with students choosing to do a semester in Australia. I would always, on day 1, crunch up some eucalypt leaves, hopefully the lemon scented gum which is one of my favorites, and get each student to get a smell of Australia. I still have contact with many of these students who still remember that first smell!!

    Also, besides the direct experiencing of nature, I know you are interested in the notion of a drama ecology of culture (the title of your essay in Social Ecology, 2011). I think this is a term you coined. So, ecopedagogies also concern themselves with ways of experiencing, knowing and thinking about the conceptualisation of ecologies of learning- can you say some more about your explorations in this area through drama?

    Cheers, Carol

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