Opinion | 4 November 2021
Dr Dylan Adams, Senior Lecturer in Education, Cardiff School of Education and Social Policy and
Chantelle Haughton, Senior Lecturer, Cardiff School of Education and Social Policy / National Teaching Fellow.
This was the enticing title we were given as an invitation to write a piece about the climate crisis and education. As lecturers and former practitioners in early years and primary education, we could contextualise our brief discussion within these parameters. However, we feel that what follows is equally applicable to all ages in education and indeed to human beings in general.
Rather than asking "when is the right time..." we feel that it would be more important to ask, "what perspective of time is needed to avert us from ecological Armageddon?" Mainstream education in modern Western societies is governed by the clock. This narrow perspective of time not only has dire ecological consequences, but also reflects a limited world view that distorts our authentic state of being and severs us from the rhythms of our planet. Is it any wonder then that we live in apocalyptic times confronted with impending climatic catastrophe? Wonder, of course, is one of the casualties of this ontological distortion. As Nhat Hanh (2013) observes, we live increasingly isolated lives, "no longer in touch with ourselves, our family, our ancestors, the Earth, or the wonders of life" (p.28).
"This brings us to our main rallying cry for education: to heal our relationship with the Earth and re-member ourselves as part of the natural world."
Children in their early years are choc-full of wonder, malleable and in their natural wild-ness, they happily transcend the clutches of the clock. Yet ironically pupils are traditionally schooled to keep up with the ever-quickening pace of modern life. To fall behind is to fail and to fail is to fall behind. This tautology appropriately sounds at home in the political slogans produced by those who have risen through the élite educational institutions of the land. However, the land itself has been sadly neglected in our 'grown-up' educational thinking. It is yet another casualty of the neoliberal, capitalist world view that sees nature as resource and proposes incessant production, quantifiable progress, measurable targets, and a lustful devotion to market forces as the cure for all ailments. Children in their early years do their human best to evade this force in their natural curiosity and love playing in and learning to care for their natural environment and creatures living within it. Louv (2012) re-summons our attention to know nature nourishes creativity, intelligence, connection and compassion.
This brings us to our main rallying cry for education: to heal our relationship with the Earth and re-member ourselves as part of the natural world. We need a radical new appreciation of the purpose of education. Nothing less than honouring our authentic nature and rejecting harmful states of being will divert us from the road to the apocalyptic abyss. We need to stop focussing on symptoms and treating nature like some medicinal pill we can take to improve our wellbeing. These approaches merely pander to the prevailing paradigms and ruling dominant culture that believe we can fix our problems without changing our neoliberal, capitalist world view. Instead, we need to question the very nature of being and our relationship to the more-than-human world.
Contemplative practices in education, free from targets and already written end-points, can replenish education as the seeking of existential wisdom. With the possibilities of the New Curriculum for Wales (Welsh Government, 2021) with areas of learning and experiences in place of subjects we can disrupt and reshape our ways. We have found that mindful, immersive activities in nature places, and even indoors, can spark the wonder of life and re-connect children with each other and the natural world (Beauchamp et al., 2020). For example, evidence shows that children making music in nature places (Adams and Beauchamp, 2018; 2019) and engaging in mindful activities in nature reserves (Adams and Beauchamp, 2021a; 2021b) affords them optimal experiences that transcend clock-time and provide an expanded sense of self. These examples are given as they are easy to find, though there are many other examples of contemplative pedagogies that could be cited. The crucial point is, as Sobel explains, we must enable children "to love the earth before we ask them to save it" (Sobel, 2013, p.47). Alternatively, we may adjust the argument to this: we must not inhibit the natural love children have for the Earth. Van-Matre (1984) cautioned that we need to refocus away from how to be loved and instead concentrate on how to be loving and how to be more loving to our Earth. Beauchamp et al (2021) reflected on how a sense of grit comes into play and impacts connection when children are immersed in weather, terrain, bumpy muddy ground and bird song. Allowing our children and ourselves to tune into the heartbeat of the Earth can give access to a heightened and authentic reality that reveals the more-than-human world as sacred relations of us all. Thus, our priorities will change when we attune to our planet. Not just to save the Earth, or to save us, but to re—member who we are.
Adams, D., & Beauchamp, G. (2021a). Other knowings and experiencing otherness: Children's perspectives of playing a hunting game in a nature reserve. Australian Journal of Environmental Education, 1-16.
Adams, D., & Beauchamp, G. (2021b). A study of the experiences of children aged 7-11 taking part in mindful approaches in local nature reserves. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, 21(2), 129-138.
Adams, D., & Beauchamp, G. (2019). Spiritual moments making music in nature. A study exploring the experiences of children making music outdoors, surrounded by nature. International Journal of Children's Spirituality, 24(3), 260-275.
Adams, D., and Beauchamp, G. (2018). Portals between worlds: a study of the experiences of children aged 7-11 years from primary schools in wales making music outdoors. Res. Stud. Music Educ. 40, 50–66.
Beauchamp, Davis, Haughton, Adams et al., in Williams-Brown, Z and Mander, S (2021) Childhood Well-Being And Resilience London: David Fulton.
Louv, R (2012) The Nature Principle North Carolina: Algonquin Books.
Nhat Hanh, T. (2013). Love letter to the earth. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press.
Van-Matre, S (1984) The Earth Speaks IL: Earth Education.