Sunday, April 01, 2007

My Outdoor Education

Education For the Future
Demands Authentic Teaching

I grew up in an old farm house in the country. We had no TV until I was nine. I was constantly outdoors. I remember seeing a huge snake shed its skin; I remember seeing a Momma skunk with five baby skunks following in a line after her; I remember playing endlessly outside -- the clucking chickens, crowing roosters, my Dad’s garden and my Mom’s flowers. All of this, and much more, was part of my education and, like a little sponge, I took it all in.

I like Maria Montessori’s concept of the absorbent mind. Nature has empowered us with a great capacity for individual development, and much of this capacity is unconscious to us. Certainly we are always learning more than what we know that we are learning. And my outdoor education provided me with a wealth of input and impressions.

My first teachers were my parents. I was blessed that, throughout their lives, they grew into ever more loving and wise individuals. What I’ve come to understand is that from those who are truly are our teachers, we learn ways of seeing, ways of hearing, ways of feeling, valuing, and expressing ourselves as well -- and, that such learning happens very naturally.

The whole march of the No Child Left Behind Law and the Back to Basics movement downplays and diminishes the role of teacher, and increasingly takes away a human quality in teaching. Advances in computer instruction and the continuing revolution in computer technology raises the possibility that, in the future, teachers will literally be robots. But, I think not. I think that eventually, education, unlike today, will become based on a more valid view of human nature, and this view will cause education to define itself in human terms.

In the future, I’m thinking, today’s schools, and today’s ideas of education, likely will be viewed somewhat like we, today, view the fourteenth’s century’s ideas about medicine -- as antiquated, dangerous, misguided. Fourteenth century medicine was based on goofy ideas not rooted in reality; today, modern medicine is based on sound ideas that are well rooted in a deep understanding of nature.

We have failed, so far, to advance a scientific understanding of education, one based on nature. Such an understanding, I believe, would develop a profound understanding of the role of teacher. Our current prescriptive schools tend to define teachers as bureaucrats whose job is to oversee and dispense a government program. But the natural role of a teacher, one established through the millennia, is a role that is quite different, one that results in a model of developed humanity, one that reveals an individual who is constantly growing into the capacity of who he or she is as an individual, one that inspires and that is worthy of emulation.

Today, when I see a well kept garden, particularly if it has vigorous muskmelons plants, I realize that I see it with my Dad’s perspective and appreciation. When I see a beautiful bloom, I realize that I experience it with the love and gratitude of my Mom’s perspective. At one time, I suppose, I would have imagined that such ways of seeing were just part of my make-up, but I’ve come to better understand the impact of these influential teachers, and how my own perspectives and thoughts came to be shaped by them.

The education of the future, when it shuffles off its unscientific core, I believe, will begin to anchor the teacher role and the teacher /student dynamic within an understanding of education that is based on a deep understanding of human nature. Education in a more enlightened future will have as its goal the development of human potential and will understand and promote authentic teaching as a key aspect of that development.

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