Gemma tells how bringing experiential environmental education into schools is helping to create a healthier outlook for tomorrow.
“Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that my child. Remember you are half water.” [Margaret Atwood]
Before our birth, in our mother’s womb, we were surrounded by the water. It kept us safe, it gave us life. Let’s always remember that water is our greatest resource and our connection to it is imperative. With that in mind we must begin to challenge, encourage and help young people value this gift. We must begin embedding an understanding into their minds that they’re privileged to have what many don’t have access to. This must begin in the 21st Century classroom where our choice of novels, excursions, and courses should reflect what is important to all generations – including the ones not yet born.
In his novel Blueback, Australian author Tim Winton explores the relationship between the ocean, a boy named Abel, and a fish named Blueback. We are privy to nature’s abundance, the tyranny of those who devalue and exploit the ocean and those who fight to save it. It is a reminder that what we carelessly destroy cannot give back to us that which we need. Nature and humans are intertwined in a meaningful and complex dance which needs nurturing. If we listen to her song we can hear her pain and grief as she is slowly being polluted.
A visit to the wetlands
I recently accompanied a group of year seven students on an excursion to Glen Iris Wetlands (mid-suburban Melbourne). Nestled between busy streets and close to the freeway, is this place of verdant calm and beauty: a balm for the soul and a step into an ethereal world where the lullabies of birds can be heard, despite the hum of city life.
This was a fortunate opportunity for these students. They had the rare chance to be out of the school grounds and into the universe’s classroom. Through observation, curiosity, and a series of questions they were able to see first hand what we as humans do to contribute to the destruction of the planet, through carelessness, impartiality, and ignorance. What they read in a text book did not match what they experienced by the river. The immediate connection to their environment is where their knowledge morphed into understanding and then into action.
In this case experience was the learning that allowed these young students to open their eyes to nature’s gifts. This experience enabled them to participate and become a steward of the earth. At the wetland’s entrance is a board that states that the wetland, “serves an ecological and educational role as well as recreational role.”
During their time at the wetlands the students interacted with members of the community who were out walking dogs and basking in the sunshine. The students chatted to each other about their tasks and sought the help of a teacher when they needed clarity with a concept they were grappling with. There was robust discussion, the postulating of ideas, and the peals of laughter from being together.
Without realising it, the students were practicing mindfulness as they quietly observed wildlife. They read information boards and listened intently to the cacophony of sounds around them. Ducks, birds, frogs, barking dogs, and more vied for there attention, and they were completely present. Without distractions they were engaged in a meaningful conversation, one narrative at the time.
The students became more acutely aware of the connections that bind us all with Mother Earth. They spoke about needing each other to survive, realising that nothing can exist in isolation.
There was a huge spike in their curiosity. Being at the foot of the river, looking and listening and not sitting behind a computer screen. The students came up with their own theories rather than merely accepting the views of others.
Our planet. Our future.
The students looked at some of the items in the river, which included plastic bottles and food wrappers, and recognised that their future depends on their actions today. Our current behaviour impacts so overwhelmingly on the environment, that these students realised a more diligent participation on their part was needed to secure the ongoing health of the planet. We discussed that it was each person’s small behaviours (littering) that accumulated and became a much bigger problem (litter flowing into the ocean which kills fish).
Regardless of all the reports brought out by the Education Department, by ministers and experts, and despite all the testing and new approaches to learning, surely nothing can be more important than teaching young people about the fragility of the planet and our duty to protect it. Children who use the lens of their heart, learn how to live wisely on this (Wurundjeri, in my area) land, to love and to nurture it. They will go into the future with confidence and ability to reap its benefits while defending and witnessing its majesty.
“We come from water, she whispered. We belong to it, Abel.” [Blueback, Tim Winton]
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