Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Outdoor ed: reality check

I've posted here, here, and here about nature-based science investigation programs in the Seattle area. They're happy posts. But what's needed to scale these sorts of programs up and out for lasting, systematic change seems impossible.

Here's what I saw there that I don't see here:
  1. Public policy and public leaders acknowledge the existence of nature, whether in the city or elsewhere, and prioritize it. Washington State has environmental ed standards. The M. Ed. program at University of Washington in Seattle has a partnership with Islandwood. School and county officials press forward with environment-focused budgeting despite political risks. And the public acknowledges and prioritizes these things, too: Brightwater and Homewaters were movements started by teachers and other citizens who saw that incorporating natural resources into education plans was hard work worth the fight. Things weren't perfect with the folks I talked to in the Puget Sound area--not all the schools have the support, capacity, or will to address the environmental ed standards and the Brightwater project was not going swimmingly for a while--but there appears to be a remarkable basis of understanding and support, a critical mass in terms of understanding and prioritizing that doesn't exist here.
  2. District and city leaders trust school leaders and teachers with the time and space needed to manifest and implement new education programs related to those public priorities. There seems to be a relatively clean line from "What do children need?" to "Here is reasonable curriculum, instruction, and assessment." It's likely some of the rosiness of this view is based on my status as a visitor--doubtless there are many frustrations and obstructions. But a noxious gas of stinky, turgid politics does not seem to have descended there at this point.
  3. And then there's money. Money money money money. As I mentioned in the IslandWood post, that amazing place exists because a wildly wealthy person decided she wanted it, and, fortunately for the Puget Sound region, she was as thoughtful and compassionate as she was wealthy, so her vision was executed well and built to last. In this country, and maybe everywhere in the world, nothing happens unless it aligns with the interests of a super rich and/ or powerful person.  Sometimes, we're awfully lucky and those interests are also in the interest of the public, or of children, or of our natural resources. This seems an inescapable reality. This is very deflating. Is the only way to create another Islandwood to find someone with tens of millions of dollars and a remarkably centered conscience?
I would like to think that public policy can solve problems facing the public good but that seems a laughable notion. And we've learned that private policy is not appropriate for a public good like education; so where does that leave us?

We do have some neat content in the Chicago area. Posts on that to come. The question is, how to implement that content, integrate it, and make it part of our educational and political priorities.

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