27 July 2014

The Perfect Education Model for Our Times - Forest Schools

Charlotte's beautiful eagle, after storytelling in the woods

I seem to do at least one nifty thing every summer that I want to share with you here. I've told you about my nature daycamps and growing wheat with my students and my community's Fall Fair Young People's Agriculture division. Well, this year it's the Forest School Educator training program I attended last week. 

Forest School Canada's Maureen Power and Jon Cree from the UK's Forest School Association spent a week with us, pretty much all in the woods (on an urban university campus, so it doesn't have to be in the wilderness), including two rainy days in the middle of the week. 

The magic of the program came partly from the wonderful synergy of the 18 participants, partly from the lovely wooded site that was chosen for the training, partly because the instructors work (and play) and teach so well together, partly from the great food, and partly because I was so ready for this. 

Forest School is as close to our species' original education "model" as you can get. It's based on regular and repeated access to the same natural space, whether for half a day per week or every school day. Children and adults spend their time in "their" woods or other natural setting in every sort of weather, year round. 

The kids play (play is a child's learning work) and the role of their teachers is to supply "loose parts" like tools and art supplies, and to keep the children safe while observing their growth and development. 

All the things we were learning and developing
It's not the same as outdoor education or environmental education where there is a pre-determined learning goal. In Forest School, the "curriculum" is emergent, which is to say that the children choose what they want to do next and so that's what they'll learn next. The learning is experiential, inquiry-based, play-based and place-based. 
Making a mallet (woodcraft and safety)

It might be climbing a rock or a tree (they'll learn courage and strategy, gross motor skills and pride of accomplishment) or sitting quietly in their magic spot with a journal (where they'll develop self-regulation skills, the gift of contemplation, and perhaps their writing skills and artistic side). 

Our week of training was a rich, warm, powerful, loving and learningful experience.

Here's what I know, for sure, in the depth of my heart. If our training course was a taste of what we can create in our own educational settings, then it's what I want for my students ... and for all the
human children in the world!

(For a history of this movement, check out Forest and Nature School in Canada: A Head, Heart, Hands Approach to Outdoor Learning.)

20 July 2014

Is "Hope" Making a Comeback?

We are all connected. Each baby born carries a miracle inside. A unique purpose and that miracle is promised to one person and one person alone. We are voyagers set on a course towards destiny, to find the one person our miracle is meant for. But be warned: as we seek out the light, darkness gathers and the eternal contest between good and evil is not fought with great armies... but one life at a time. (from the movie Winter's Tale)
The one friend I have whom I can talk to about the bleakness of our climate-changed future is feeling so low, she told me yesterday, that she's in the bell jar. So she's feeling pretty fragile.

But I've realized that the tiny glimmer of hope that's been peeking into the dark tunnel ahead, well, maybe if we adjust our eyes, we can use that glimmer to light our path.

There's the news that the IPCC's scenario RCP ("Really Cool Plan"?) 2.6 (especially when combined with some excellent suggestions from Climate Action Network International's new position statement, so RCP2.6+) presents the possibility of keeping global average temperature increases within a survivable range. (The oft touted 2ºC limit would be catastrophic and deadly.)

There's also evidence that more and more people are "getting" it. At this weekend's convention of Canada's Green Party, it seemed the strongest, loudest and longest applause came when leader Elizabeth May spoke about the urgent need to deal with climate change.

Different types of people are entering the fray. "Masters of the Universe" (today's version of the captains of industry of yesteryear) are meeting to explain that climate change is Risky Business.

The entertainment industry is starting to take climate change seriously (if in funny ways; Jon Stewart and John Oliver, anyone?)

American President Obama is steppin' it up on climate change, in a dance with China that, if they don't step on each other's toes, could lead to major movement toward decreasing emissions. Okay, so they still don't get the "zero carbon" part of the dance ("This week, the United States and China took important steps to advance their cooperation to combat global climate change and work towards the common goal of low carbon economic growth."), but at least they're twirling on the dance floor together. (See Key Achievements of U.S.-China Climate Change Cooperation Under the Strategic and Economic Dialogue.) (Seriously, can't these leaders see that keeping economic growth as their main goal is, um, see Risky Business above.) 

Parents in the US are starting to demand scientific teaching of climate science in schools. (What a concept! Apparently one that Wyoming cannot grasp.) Check out the Climate Science Students' Bill of Rights

And the Climate Psychologist (Margaret Klein) has developed a mobilization campaign, to get people motivated by joining a movement (think WWII). Read the full strategy document here.

Plus, the deniers are just getting sillier and sillier! To wit:
There is no global warming. There is climate change. This melting is caused by the underground volcano's..We are starting a mini ice age due to the suns inactivity..This is all a money thing for the bigwigs..Pollution is poison, we are killing our planet. This is not made by us. This is a nature process..We cant stop it. We can stop Fukushima. sharon b, ky,usa   18/07/2014 06:55

So folks, maybe, just maybe, it's starting to happen. Can we create a crescendo of public outcry that convinces negotiators at the December 2014 UN climate conference in Lima, Peru to adopt the RCP2.6+ for the text of the all-important agreement that will be negotiated in Paris in 2015?

Let's start here and now:    * * * **  ** * ***  ** * ** *** *** ** *
                                      * * * * *     * *      * * **** **
                                 * * RCP2.6+  * ** * * !!!
                                 RCP2.6+  ** *** * ** **** ** * ***
                            RCP2.6+                                *** * **     *** **     * * *** **

I'll tell you something that should chill your blood. No matter how far we tip the scales our way, no matter how many of them we turn dark, nothin' seems to break their capacity for hope. They pass it back and forth like the flu at a preschool fair. We're losing, Lucifer. One bright star at a time, we're losing. (from the movie Winter's Tale)
Which means we just might be winning!

13 July 2014

On Vacation - See You Next Week

Hi all,

I'm actually (and finally) on a real vacation (see proof below). Staying with a friend who lives in a lovely rural village with a stream running out back. Although the climate change work never ends (alas, I brought my computer, didn't I?), I'm also reading on a lounge chair, celebrating Bastille Day, wearing fewer undergarments (ladies, you know what I mean!) and enjoying the water.

Happy summer, everyone. I'll be back in the fray next week, with lots to report on how we (and more and more others) are going after a biosphere-saving agreement in Paris in 2015.

p.s. For your summer reading, check out this article about a newish type of story called "cli fi." 

Climate change has created a new literary genre

06 July 2014

Dilettantes of the World, Start Your Climate Change Dabbling!

I was called a dilettante recently (by someone who attended our Toronto event and apparently would have done it differently, as we would have in a perfect world). 

I looked the word up cuz it's not one that floats around in my vocabulary. 

dilettante: a person who cultivates an area of interest, such as the arts, without real commitment or knowledge 

"Dilettante comes from the Italian word dilettare, 'to delight.' Its connotation is that someone enjoys doing something, but does not take it seriously enough to become a professional at it. Most often used in relation to the arts and often is used as a critical way of describing someone who simply dabbles in the arts and lacks the discipline to perfect their skill.”

Now the funny thing is that he threw this epithet out as an insult. But it doesn't insult me. Except for the "without real commitment" part (he has no idea how much of my life is dedicated to this cause), it's true. I'm someone who has had to cultivate an interest in environmental issues, especially climate change, but I didn't have much knowledge in the area. (I'm a French teacher by training. I'm also a Gemini, which means I have fingers in many pies. Plus I'm the wage earner in my family, and a volunteer in my community, and a caregiver, and someone who enjoys long walks on occasion.) And despite the many hours my husband and I spend on climate change, we certainly aren't professional in the sense of getting paid to do this work.
I'm pretty sure the hurler of this would-be insult is simply a misunderstood genius with a short fuse and an impatience with people like me who have to work hard to understand things. But he got me thinking....
We probably need more dilettantes in our climate change campaigns, right? We need more people, period, working on our side, and very few of us are experts. But it seems people are wary of "dabbling" in climate change. Do they think it will take too long to understand the issues adequately? Is it a lack of confidence? Or a lack of mentors? 
During my master's research into effective learning about sustainable development, I realized that a major barrier is what I called the "I'm-not-an-expert" barrier. Here's what I wrote: "Many people don't become involved in environmental issues because they believe they don't have adequate knowledge or experience. John Gaventa (in a book chapter called 'The powerful, the powerless, and the experts: Knowledge struggles in an information age') poses several questions that point to an ideology of expertise held by many people in our culture:

  • Who has the right to define knowledge?
  • What is the relationship of 'popular' knowledge to 'official' knowledge?
  • Who produces knowledge? For whose interests?
  • What are the mechanisms of the power of expertise?

"David Orr accounts for the I'm-not-an-expert barrier as an overspecialization problem, which makes ecoliteracy difficult for Westerners. 'The ability to think broadly, to know something of what is hitched to what ... is being lost in an age of specialization.... To think in ecolate fashion presumes a breadth of experience with healthy natural systems, both of which are increasingly rare' (in Ecological literacy: Education and the transition to a postmodern world)."

Ah, interesting. We're criticized for being non-experts and non-specialists, while the experts are lamenting overspecialization. Can't win for losin'.

The irony of this fellow's stinging critique was that he preceded it with a quote from Naomi Klein: "Not until we have a plan to heal the planet that also heals our broken selves and our broken communities do we have a hope." 
It strikes me that if this is the way climate change dilettantes and dabblers are going to be treated by the people on our own side, we're a long way from the hope and healing that's going to safeguard the future.