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.