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Breaking Down Barriers: Promoting Healthy Environmental Involvement in Our Schools Nicole McCauley University of Florida

Author Note This paper was prepared for ARE6641: 1F57, Contemporary Issues in Art Education, taught by Dr. Delacruz.

BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS Breaking Down Barriers: Promoting Healthy Environmental Involvement in Our Schools The notion that the world is in a constant state of change is not new. In the mid-1900’s, Maria Montessori expressed her belief that education should reflect our evolving world and asserted that the healthy development of an individual, beginning in childhood, requires exploration. Montessori believed that “walking about made man see more things, so should the


life of the child expand and expand” (Montessori, 1959, p. 134). Fredrich Froebel “believed that through nature children would not only learn the secrets of the world around them, they would learn about themselves and their unity with the world” (Strauch-Nelson, 2012, p. 35). Supporters of a contemporary approach in the classroom reflect previous educational theories rooted in the importance of nature study and the interconnectedness of all things. Strauch-Nelson (2012) recalled the idea of an innate connection between children and nature and asserted that “expanding the exploration of nature in the context of art education is an essential way to refocus on the learner and the learner’s intrinsic interests” (p. 69). I have combined this idea with the notion that contemporary education “prepares people to engage, to shape, (and sometimes to preserve) aspects of our ever-changing world” (Gude, 2009, p. 10). It is my intention to employ the contemporary goal of sustainability in our classrooms through the exploration of child and nature-centered educational theories. My goal is to address current environmental issues while promoting healthy environmental involvement within our schools by initiating a school garden program and collaborating with the local community on a Save the Bees campaign. In this paper, I will examine the roots of nature-based education, relevant goals of contemporary education, the growing importance of environmental awareness,

BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS the benefits of school gardening programs and the significance of bees to environmental sustainability. Building Blocks While contemporary educational theories may address current issues of our collective reality, I believe that the foundation of such an approach is rooted in child and nature-centered educational theories from the 19th and 20th centuries. Beginning in the early 1800’s, German educator Fredrich Froebel made a powerful impact on the global field of education. Froebel’s work led him to invent the first kindergarten and resembles the child-centered approach of educational pioneer, Maria Montessori. The ideas of both Fredrich Froebel and Maria Montessori continue to contribute to the state of educational ideals in the 21st century. In his book, The Education of Man, Froebel describes his beliefs about the natural and powerful abilities of man, our innate connection with nature, and the ability of nature to provide lessons for obtaining self-actualization in a collective reality. Froebel (2005) describes that through education the “essence of man should be unfolded, brought out, lifted into consciousness, and man himself raised into free, conscious obedience…, and to a free


representation of this principle in his life” (pp. 4-5). Froebel’s work asserts that nature offers the answers to the mysteries of life and can provide opportunities for children to learn about themselves and their unity with the world. In 1906, Maria Montessori changed the world of education. When she began working in the slum area of San Lorenzo, Italy, where she found young children abandoned, malnourished, and under-developed, she was soon recognized for her ability to revive the neglected children to work independently and in harmony. I believe that Maria would give more credit to the children rather than herself, as she once said in her speech at the official opening of La Casa dei Bambini

BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS in 1907, “[a]nyone who wants to follow my method must understand that he should not honor me but follow the child as his leader”.


I believe the importance of individual development in contemporary theory has remained paired with the need for meaningful participation in life. In his book, History of education in America, John Pulliam (1991) asserted, “[since] the individual is not isolated, intelligence must be directed toward social efficiency or community issues as well as individual needs” (p. 173). This idea can be realized through a contemporary notion of sustainability, defined by Doug Blandy (2011) as “the ability of a place or a community to meet the needs of its current citizens without compromising…future generations” (p. 245). Evolving Theories During the 2010 Studies in Art Education Invited lecture, Blandy expressed his belief that “within the extensive network” of art education there lies an opportunity to explore “sustainability, participatory culture, and [a] performing democracy” as a source for reshaping the education system (p. 244). The reasoning behind Blandy’s concepts of a participatory culture and a performing democracy are shared among fellow advocates for contemporary education. For example, Olivia Gude’s ideas are based on a democratic principle that what we do as individuals can impact the world around us through self-awareness, collaboration, and communication. Engagement with the arts is described by Gude (2009) as a way to teach our “youth to perceive complexity as pleasure and possibility, not as irritating uncertainty” (p. 9). Gude explains that through art education students “recognize strategies for making meaning [and] contemplate and collect ways of understanding, seeing, being in the world” (Gude, 2009, p. 9).

BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS Contemporary education theory supports Blandy and Gude’s ideas and highlights the importance of engaging students with relevant material that develop problem-solving skills


applicable in real life. Addressing environmental sustainability through the implementation of a school garden program or an art project with recycled materials would be in accordance with contemporary suggestions for a quality arts program. Working Together Contemporary education seeks to address current and relevant social, political, economic and environmental notions as a means to prepare our youth to actively participate in a sustainable culture. Notions of contemporary theory define school institutions as an integral part of a working society. I assert that it is time to break down the barriers between our school communities and their involvement in the real world. Art education has been identified by contemporary theorists as an ideal setting for accomplishing this goal, attributing its ability to the characteristics naturally present in a healthy art classroom. I assert it is essential that we, as educators, create a safe environment for the exchange of open dialogue about current issues as well as provide opportunities, for art making, community involvement, and problem solving. “Today, community-based education and service learning bridge school and community by engaging students and teachers in authentic, relevant experiences with the real world. Students can become active participants in service projects that meet community needs directly or indirectly” (Stankiewicz, 2001, p. 78). Sowing Seeds In an attempt to meet this contemporary standard, I would like to incorporate a school garden project at the school where I teach to address current environmental issues. According to Blandy, (2011), “[t]he conversation around the environment is moving from needing to convince

BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS people of the seriousness and significance of environmental challenges to a focus on what can, and must, be done” (p. 245). John and Dick Strawbridge (2010), a father-son team based in England who promote sustainable existence within the home and community stated a similar


notion in their book, Self-Sufficiency for the 21st century. “Until a couple of years ago, all books on living sustainably would start by having to justify the need to do it; now, few people won’t acknowledge that we’re living beyond the planet’s means” (p. 14). A school garden could provide opportunities for experiences in art, science, community involvement, and individual growth, while making a positive impact on our fragile environment. The National Gardening Association (1999-2012) provides research regarding the benefits of school gardening programs, including connections to improved student achievement, social skills, environmental attitudes, group collaboration, fruit and vegetable consumption, selfunderstanding and communication of knowledge and emotions. (Retrieved from In addition to a school garden, I believe that collaborating with a Save the Bees campaign would not only improve local dwindling bee populations, but also promote community involvement. Saving Bees While there are many reasons to promote healthy bee populations, some advocates place emphasis on the life lessons to be learned from bee culture. In his book, Maria Montessori: Her life and work, E. M. Standing recalls a conversation with Montessori about the ability of nature to provide relevant learning experiences surrounding sustainability, a notion that is still favored by contemporary education advocates. “When we look at a hive of bees what do we see? We behold a society in which the whole energies of the adult population are devoted, with

BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS unremitting self-sacrifice, to the task of building up a prepared environment for the coming generation” (Standing, 1957, p. 157). Simon Buxton, an author, educator and beekeeper based in England, studies ancient shamanic bee practices. His first bee master taught him that between the early existence of man to the present, “we have come to treat this small creature with considerable respect, so much so that the bee is often used to represent purity, integrity, industry, and a host of other virtues” (pp. 29-30). By offering metaphors for a meaningful life, Buxton’s book provides countless reasons to support the presence of the honeybee as a key component in creating environmental sustainability. Concluding Remarks Through my exploration into contemporary education practices informed by earlier


educational theories related to nature and the child, I have attempted to explore the possibility of employing the contemporary goal of sustainability in my own classroom. I believe that the organized implementation of a school gardening program will break down the barriers within our local community, promote environmental sustainability, improve student achievement, provide opportunities for art experiences, and create a positive impact on our collective reality.

References Blandy, D. (2011). Sustainability, participatory culture, and the performance of democracy: Ascendant sites of theory and practice in art education. Studies in Art Education, 52(3), 243-255. Buxton, S. (2004). The shamanic way of the bee: Ancient wisdom and healing practices of the bee masters. Rochester, VA: Destiny Books.

BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS Froebel, F. (2005). The Education of Man. (W.N. Hailman, Trans.). New York: D. Appleton and Co. (Original work published 1826).


Gude, O. (2009). Art education for democratic life [NAEA Lowenfeld Lecture]. Retrieved from National Gardening Association (1999-2012). Research supporting the benefits of school gardens. Retrieved from Pulliam, J.D. (1991). Modern philosophy of education. In J.D. Pulliam, History of education in America (5th ed.) (pp. 161-191). New York: Macmillan Publishing Company. Standing, E.M. (1957). Maria Montessori: Her life and work. London: Hollis & Carter. Stankiewicz, M.A. (2001). Every day a festival. In M.A. Stankiewicz, Roots of art education practice (pp. 67-83). Worcester, MA: Davis Publications. Strauch-Nelson, W. (2012). Reuniting art and nature in the life of the child. Art Education, 65(3), 33-38. Strawbridge, D. & Strawbridge, J. (2010). Self-sufficiency for the 21st century. New York: DK Publishing.