Check out my review that I've posted below and tell me what you think!
I recently had the chance to review Margaret Atwood's MaddAddam, the conclusion to her trilogy that also includes Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood. This post-apocalyptic, dystopian satirical social commentary is an excellent read. It takes place in the not too distant future and centres around the day-to-day survival of Toby, a middle-aged environmental activist that is one of the few surviving members of the human race. She is living among others in her group of activists and scientists that survived a plague that wiped out the rest of the humans on the planet. She's accompanied by the gentle Children of Crake, a new GMO species that are similar to humans but supposed to be superior in adapting to the new climate and biosphere on Earth. Through flashbacks she describes events leading up to the plague and Atwood more than hints that this scenario is possible in our time too if we do make rapid social and environmental change. If you are interested in reading it, I highly recommend starting with Oryx and Crake, a book I've read twice now and would read again. MaddAddam challenges the most basic fabric of our culture and leaves readers thinking deeply about their day-to-day lives.
Check out my review that I've posted below and tell me what you think!
So much of what we hear in education circles today is about preparing children and young people for a fast-paced, globalized world. Why is a return to a 'local' perspective advantageous today?
In our effort to prepare students for a fast-paced, globalized world, we decided for years that standardization of education would produce the best results. This is resulting in an education system that doesn’t produce critical and creative thinkers; instead it has produced capitalist consumers and workers for the globalized world. We’ve lost many aspects of local culture in trade for a more homogenous group of learners. An education system that is place-conscious is necessary to get back what we’ve lost in terms of different cultures and build on unique perspectives that are otherwise unheard in a standardized education system that focuses on the perspective of the dominant culture.
How would you sum up for someone who may unfamiliar with the concept, the core themes or larger purposes of a place-based approach to education?
When we think about the purpose of a place-based approach to learning, we often think a lot about the day-to-day practices of it and so its important remind ourselves of the end goals. Summed up: giving students the skills and outlooks to live sustainably in their local landscape. The best part is that these skills and outlooks can easily be translated and used to live sustainably in any part of the world. The overarching themes of a place-based approach are ecological sustainability, social justice, collectivist culture, and deep-learning that is tailored to the people and the place.
That's interesting, but some people may criticize place-based approaches as being too 'narrow', and running the risk of enforcing the dominant worldview and perspectives of a particular community or place. Is this an issue? and how can place-based learning also be diverse, inclusive, and speak to global issues?
In a balanced and true place-based learning environment, these are not big issues. The ideas about how humans relate and connect with the non-human and human world through place-based education are easily translated beyond the local environment. Gruenewald and Smith would argue that if we are teaching key lessons in multi-culturalism without place-conscious thinking, students will see these lessons as abstract and not grounded in real-life. (p.xxi, 2008) Using pedagogy that builds on local understandings and solves local problems allows students to understand the greater world and translate knowledge and skills they have across cultures.
I have also heard the term 'bioregional." It sounds rather technical and complicated. What is it exactly and how can it inform place-based pedagogies?
Bioregionalism is much less technical than the name would have it sound. Simply put, bioregionalism is a way of thinking that is completely decentralized and divides the earth by natural boundaries and similarities rather than by political and anthropocentric ones. For example, locally Manitoba and Minnesota are divided politically by the Canada-USA border. When one things about a bioregion, the Red River flows through both, making parts of them more similar than different, thus connecting each as part of the same watershed with comparable problems and cultures. When we think of bioregions informing place-based pedagogies, it is important to remember that a place can be defined in many ways. Using political boundaries can be dangerous and counter-intuitive. If, for example, I am building a pedagogy that would encompass all of Manitoba, I likely am thinking way too big for a place-conscious approach to learning. The people of Red River Valley have different needs and perspectives about the land than the people who live on the shores of Hudson Bay. There are too many different biomes that do not share the same ecology and would make this kind of exercise unfruitful. Place-based pedagogies need to be focused on what is important to the place they are.
Just one final question. It's been almost 30 years since the well-known scholar and environmental educator David Orr stated, "All education is environmental education." What do you think he meant when he said this, and does it still hold true today in 2018?
When David Orr said this in 1992, I think we was talking about the attitudes and values of education. He goes on to talk about the contrast of environmental stewardship versus carelessness and I think he was talking about how each can be taught. The attitudes and values of those in the education system reflect the pedagogy and policies we see today. “All education is environmental education” is perhaps truer today than it was in 1992, since we are in a hyper-globalized world where we can see the effects of our choices, sometimes thousands of kilometres away. Values of social justice, sustainable living, critical thinking, and environmental consciousness need to be seen in all education to create real change-makers. Environmental education needs to be embedded into everything we do as educators.
Gruenewald, D. & G. Smith. (Eds.)(2008). Place-based Education in the Global Age. Introduction: Making Room for the Local. NewYork: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Lynch, T., C. Glotfelty, & K. Armbruster. (Eds.)(2012.) The bioregional imagination: Literature, ecology, and place. Athens GA: University of Georgia Press.
Orr, D. (1992). Ecoliteracy: Education and the transition to a postmodern world. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
After reading Snyder’s Language goes two ways and Kelly’s Understanding Creativity, Creative Capacity and Creative Development, I found a number of quotes that resonated with me. Here are four that I think help to understand creative practice through language and how it is necessary (and not yet the norm) in education.
“…in consumption-intense education environments, this natural curiosity that goes hand in hand with natural intuitive/adaptive creativity quickly evolves into much more limited research practice, characterized by finding and reporting of curricular content.”
As a teacher on the edge of a shift from these “consumption-intense environments” to a more creation-intense environment, this quote spoke to what I’ve seen in my short educational career. I teach kindergarten and grade 1 and I’ve heard this age group described as sponges that suck up anything you teach them. This isn’t wrong, but it’s a narrow view. I get kids before they’ve been taught to stifle their “natural intuitive/adaptive creativity” so I think students at this age need a better metaphor that also takes into account their ability to create rather than just absorb content. Kelly describes the “consumption-intense education environments” that, sadly, are still the norm in Canadian schools, but the shift is happening and I’ve seen it start in Kindergarten. (2016)
“…teachers are constantly faced with the challenge of making remote concepts relevant to learners in attempts to advance discipline understanding.”
When I used to think of a really good and talented teacher, I pictured the teacher that every student loved because they made whatever “remote concept”, be it Ancient Egypt or Algebra, and made it intensely interesting for their students. That sounds absolutely exhausting. In the last five years that view has shifted. Now, when I think about a good and talented teacher, they are no longer even teaching “remote concepts”. Their students are following their own interests and the teacher has strong enough relationships with those students to guide them through the creative practice they’ve chosen. If the goal of school is “to advance discipline understanding”, I’ll argue that we have bigger fish to fry and better ways to do it. (Kelly, 2016)
“But really good writing is both inside and outside the garden fence. It can be a few beans but also some wild poppies, vetches, mariposa lilies, ceanothus, and some juncos and yellow jackets thrown in. It is more diverse, more interesting, more unpredictable, and engages with a much broader, deeper kind of intelligence. Its connection to wildness of language and imagination helps give it power.” p.3
This is such a beautiful passage. I feel like I’ve been to this place where one side of a fence is orderly and cultivated. The other side is wild and full of life. I’ve been there because it is my own yard. I have the part that I care for, plant vegetables and flowers, mow the lawn, care for trees, but I also have the wild part down by the river where I just walk and try not to wreck anything because it is already perfect. This was such as strong metaphor for me because I am connected to this place and I’ve written in each part of it as well. It makes me question how our surroundings can affect creativity. Are my thoughts more open when I am by the river than they are in my home? Does the interwoven “wildness” of this place create wild thoughts? (Snyder, 2000)
“Natural Language, with its self-generated grammars and vocabularies constructed through the confusion of social history, expresses itself in the vernacular. Daily usage has many striking, clear, specific usages and figures of speech that come through (traditionally) in riddles, proverbs, stories, and such---and nowadays in jokes, raps, wildly fluid slang, and constant experiment with playful expressions (the dozens, the snaps).” (Snyder, 2000)
“Natural Language” is something I haven’t given much thought to before. I thought carefully about how language changes constantly for the first time and connected it with the call for creative practice in education. We cannot teach language in a consumption-intense educational setting because what we consume today will likely change before students even leave the school. In our K-12 school I am constantly shown the “wildly fluid slang” that makes me feel out-of-date or a very old 28 years of age. I see how language from a Youtuber filters down from the middle years and reaches my students in K/1 months later. The kids experiment all the time with language and “playful expressions.” What is the best time to observe this? Lunch time. I sit and eat like a fly on the wall as rhymes, songs, artful plays are all created by 5 and 6-year-olds. I need to find a way to not only allow that kind of time for creativity, but encourage and share it with others.
Kelly, R. (2016). Creative development: Transforming education through design thinking, innovation, and invention. Brush Education.
Snyder, G. (2000). Language goes two ways. Found in McEwen, C., & Statman, M. The alphabet of the trees: A guide to nature writing. Teachers & Writers Collaborative.