I just love this sign!

Caution: Future World and Local Leaders at Work and Play

We saw this today when we drove by our local Campfire camp in Oklahoma City: Camp Dakani. The need for young people to spend unstructured time in natural environments to develop self-confidence and capacities for independent decision-making skills is a key theme in Richard Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.” The need for students to have TIME to be creative, to discover, to learn to resolve conflicts, to make decisions independently as well as collaboratively with peers in complex, unpredictable environments is vital– not optional. Dr. Yong Zhao, in his closing keynote at BLC07, mentioned how video game environments now provide some of the only opportunities some young people have to be in these types of situations today (albeit virtual, rather than natural.) Kids NEED opportunities to live life an unscripted contexts outside the constant, direct supervision and CONTROL of adults. With the emphasis in many communities on organized sports and other structured activities led by adults, these kinds of opportunities are often quite rare.

Rather than relegating these types of experiences to after-school, at-home contexts, I think schools need to recognize the need for and provide opportunities for this type of learning as part of the school day. The unstructured nature of learning which takes place in these types of situations are in direct conflict with the hierarchical, controlling, largely teacher-directed environment of school and its formal curriculum, however. That is why I think opportunities for students to creatively play and invent with Scratch software at our kids’ school this year have the best hope in an after-school, club context.

I’m doing lots of thinking along these lines in preparation for my keynote address for educators in Goodland, Kansas, this coming Tuesday. I’ll be remixing and adding to ideas I initially shared at NECC in June in my presentation about School 2.0.This post was blogged from the Oklahoma City Apple Store on a gorgeous new, t h i n 20″ display iMac! One of these would look Soooooo good in our house! 😉

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On this day..

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5 Responses to Future world and local leaders at play

  1. I pity the poor kids who will follow rather than lead. Though there’s no shame in not being a celebrated leader, I have to assume that those kids are fair game for passing cars.

  2. Wesley Fryer says:

    I am not sure what to make of this comment. I think we all wear different hats at different times in different contexts: In some we may lead, but in many others we follow. No one is “always a leader.” I do not agree with the statement that anyone is or should be considered “fair game for passing cars.” I would guess this statement was made as an attempt at humor, but to me it’s sounding pretty crass.

  3. Julia says:

    I think the point Matthew is trying to make is that the sign is taking itself way too seriously. Which is exactly how you took his comment: way too seriously.

    In this day and age, I don’t think anyone needs to be reminded to worship in The Cult of The Child. However, the creator of the sign disagreed, figuring that “Kids at Play” just didn’t have the sufficient gravitas and deterrent value. I suppose I’ll be a little more generous with the breaks from now on, as the next child to fall under my tires might not be just a garden-variety kid, but someone destined to Lead America into the Future! Clearly something more precious.

  4. Wesley Fryer says:

    Ok, thanks Julia… I’m getting Matthew’s point now… and I’m even laughing! Thanks for the clarification. I’m not sure we’re worshipping at the cult of the child tho… Or necessarily thinking about all children as potential leaders for the future. I think quite often people write off kids because of their present context.

    I do like the fact that the sign says LOCAL as well as world leaders. Everyone can be a local leader. It just depends how you define “local.”

  5. Last Child in the Woods ––
    Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder,
    by Richard Louv
    Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.
    November 16, 2006

    In this eloquent and comprehensive work, Louv makes a convincing case for ensuring that children (and adults) maintain access to pristine natural areas, and even, when those are not available, any bit of nature that we can preserve, such as vacant lots. I agree with him 100%. Just as we never really outgrow our need for our parents (and grandparents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins, etc.), humanity has never outgrown, and can never outgrow, our need for the companionship and mutual benefits of other species.

    But what strikes me most about this book is how Louv is able, in spite of 310 pages of text, to completely ignore the two most obvious problems with his thesis: (1) We want and need to have contact with other species, but neither we nor Louv bother to ask whether they want to have contact with us! In fact, most species of wildlife obviously do not like having humans around, and can thrive only if we leave them alone! Or they are able tolerate our presence, but only within certain limits. (2) We and Louv never ask what type of contact is appropriate! He includes fishing, hunting, building “forts”, farming, ranching, and all other manner of recreation. Clearly, not all contact with nature leads to someone becoming an advocate and protector of wildlife. While one kid may see a beautiful area and decide to protect it, what’s to stop another from seeing it and thinking of it as a great place to build a house or create a ski resort? Developers and industrialists must come from somewhere, and they no doubt played in the woods with the future environmentalists!

    It is obvious, and not a particularly new idea, that we must experience wilderness in order to appreciate it. But it is equally true, though (“conveniently”) never mentioned, that we need to stay out of nature, if the wildlife that live there are to survive. I discuss this issue thoroughly in the essay, “Wildlife Need Habitat Off-Limits to Humans!”, at http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande/india3.

    It should also be obvious (but apparently isn’t) that how we interact with nature determines how we think about it and how we learn to treat it. Remember, children don’t learn so much what we tell them, but they learn very well what they see us do. Fishing, building “forts”, mountain biking, and even berry-picking teach us that nature exists for us to exploit. Luckily, my fort-building career was cut short by a bee-sting! As I was about to cut down a tree to lay a third layer of logs on my little log cabin in the woods, I took one swing at the trunk with my axe, and immediately got a painful sting (there must have been a bee-hive in the tree) and ran away as fast as I could.

    On page 144 Louv quotes Rasheed Salahuddin: “Nature has been taken over by thugs who care absolutely nothing about it. We need to take nature back.” Then he titles his next chapter “Where Will Future Stewards of Nature Come From?” Where indeed? While fishing may bring one into contact with natural beauty, that message can be eclipsed by the more salient one that the fish exist to pleasure and feed humans (even if we release them after we catch them). (My fishing career was also short-lived, perhaps because I spent most of the time either waiting for fish that never came, or untangling fishing line.) Mountain bikers claim that they are “nature-lovers” and are “just hikers on wheels”. But if you watch one of their helmet-camera videos, it is easy to see that 99.44% of their attention must be devoted to controlling their bike, or they will crash. Children initiated into mountain biking may learn to identify a plant or two, but by far the strongest message they will receive is that the rough treatment of nature is acceptable. It’s not!

    On page 184 Louv recommends that kids carry cell phones. First of all, cell phones transmit on essentially the same frequency as a microwave oven, and are therefore hazardous to one’s health –- especially for children, whose skulls are still relatively thin. Second, there is nothing that will spoil one’s experience of nature faster than something that reminds one of the city and the “civilized” world. The last thing one wants while enjoying nature is to be reminded of the world outside. Nothing will ruin a hike or a picnic faster than hearing a radio or the ring of a cell phone, or seeing a headset, cell phone, or mountain bike. I’ve been enjoying nature for over 60 years, and can’t remember a single time when I felt a need for any of these items.

    It’s clear that we humans need to reduce our impacts on wildlife, if they, and hence we, are to survive. But it is repugnant and arguably inhumane to restrict human access to nature. Therefore, we need to practice minimal-impact recreation (i.e., hiking only), and leave our technology (if we need it at all!) at home. In other words, we need to decrease the quantity of contact with nature, and increase the quality.


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