It used to be that it was enough just to get outside. We remember it as kids. Get a little dirty, connect to nature a bit, and get back to your life. But today, young people don’t have it so easy. It’s becoming clear that if the onrushing generation is to turn around the myriad of global challenges we face, they must not only get outside, but also carry what they learn with them always.
We’re talking here about environmental education, and, no, I don’t mean tree hugging. It’s clear that no isolated movement, no fractional part of our global community getting on board, will be enough. These days we have a challenge to make it both cool and mainstream for young people to connect to nature, advocate for their planet, and not just view it from the window of an SUV.
The good news is that change is happening. An awareness is slowly emerging that "green" doesn’t have to be an extremist view. That what we need is everyone advocating in their own way for this small piece of cosmic real estate that we share.
We see the change every day when students take to the field. When they see a chunk of glacial ice fall from the front of the Exit Glacier in Alaska’s Kenai Fjords National Park, it’s no academic exercise. It’s a real experience of the importance of what is happening, and informs in a gut-level way that no DVD or textbook can. When students witness bleaching of pristine corals off the Kona coast of Hawaii’s Big Island, or hear about tundra changes in Alaska’s Denali Park, they know that this is real, that the world is changing, but also that they have the power to help shape the future.
Active is good. More than that, getting kids active is an essential part of what will help us turn the corner to make this generation, and future ones, different from our own. In the past two decades operating hands-on programs, we’ve found time and again that "doing" leaves a deeper, more lasting impact that hearing, or seeing. The old truism that "what touches the hand reaches the mind" is something that can’t be denied. And doing it is a powerful force for motivation and change. Maybe the best tool that we have.
I for one am optimistic about this generation. Inspiration and idealism is certainly not a thing of the past. Young people energized through active experiences in nature are a powerful force for real change. Among our students we’ve seen it inspire leadership, and advocacy. Our students have gone on to share their experiences with friends and family, and incorporate the knowledge gained into their lives.
There is an urgency now that never existed before, of course, but it is a challenge that I believe young people can handle. If I feel like getting inspired and hopeful, I know what to do. I join a group of young people mixing it up with nature. I always come back in a better mood.
Labels: active learning, education, environment, learning, nature, outdoor education, students, teachers, travel, young people