Wednesday, April 6, 2011


The main purpose of "outdoor education" is to provide meaningful contextual experiences--in both natural and constructed environments--that complement and expand classroom instruction, which tends to be dominated by print and electronic media (Knapp, 1996, p. ix). It is a broader term than "environmental education," which can be described as instruction directed toward developing a citizenry prepared to live well in a place without destroying it (Orr, 1994, p. 14). Environmental education can occur both inside and outside the classroom.

Understanding the relationships among place-based education, outdoor education, and environmental education is worthwhile because each concept has been developed somewhat separately by educators who have produced curriculum materials and instructional practices that could be useful within the other concept areas. Further complicating this potential exchange is the variety of labels that have been applied to each of these approaches. For example, as the field of outdoor education matured, it was labeled school camping, camping education, and eventually, outdoor education. Likewise, place-based education has been referred to as "community-oriented schooling," "ecological education," and "bioregional education."

Paul Theobald refers to "place-conscious" elementary and secondary classrooms in his book, "Teaching The Commons" (1997, pp. 132-159). He advocates using the immediate locale as "the lens for disciplinary engagement in all schools across the country" (p. 137). In a later article, Theobald and Curtiss (2000) describe the field as "community-oriented schooling."

Smith and Williams (1999) describe this approach as "ecological education." They write, "The practice of ecological education requires viewing human beings as one part of the natural world and human cultures as an outgrowth of interactions between species and particular places" (p. 3). The authors outline seven principles, two of which directly reflect outdoor education: (1) practical experiences outdoors through the application of an ethic of care, and (2) grounding learning in a sense of place through investigation of surrounding natural and human communities.

Traina and Darley-Hill (1995) extend "locale" to include "bioregional education," encouraging students and teachers to know their place and to consider the impact of lifestyles on the resources of that bioregion. Similarly, Orr's (1994) call for "ecoliteracy" presents principles for rethinking education that clearly relate place-based education to outdoor education: (1) students should understand the effects of this knowledge on real people and their communities; and (2) learning though direct experiences outside the classroom is as important as the content of particular courses.

Thomashow (1995) writes about the goal of achieving "ecological identity" through the examination of four basic questions: What do I know about the place where I live? Where do things come from? How do I connect to the earth? What is my purpose as a human being? He integrates these questions into activities by incorporating reflective learning in the school, home, community, and the workplace (p. xvii). These questions focus curriculum and instruction on understanding and appreciating students' immediate surroundings.

Haymes (1995) speaks directly to a "pedagogy of place" and addresses issues of race and class as they are made manifest in the construction of urban environments and in the power and politics that emerge from those constructs. His work takes a cultural studies perspective and contributes a much-needed complement to more conventional outdoor/environmental curriculum and instruction.

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