Monday, June 15, 2009

The Importance of Teaching Place

The summer 2009 issue of Rethinking Schools (Vol. 23, No. 4) is dedicated to ecological teaching. Indeed, it is titled, "Teaching for Environmental Justice." In this issue, Ann Pelo, an early childhood teacher and author from Seattle, WA, has an excellent article dealing with teaching children "place" as a fundamental component of ecological education. The pithiness and clarity of her article is well worth the read.

In short, Pelo argues that "our work as teachers is to give children a sense of place--to invite children to braid their identities together with the place where they live by calling their attention to the air, the sky, the cracks in the sidewalk where the earth bursts out of its cement" (p 31, all references are to the above mentioned issue of Rethinking Schools). Pelo goes on to outline the components necessary for teaching students this sense of place, which include attentiveness to one's surroundings, sensual experience of place, and learning how to talk about one's place using language that identifies the specific elements of that place.

Fundamentally, Pelo's argument regarding the importance of teaching place is that when children come to know a place, they also learn to love it. Furthermore, by learning how to love the place with which they are in the most frequent and intimate contact as children, they learn how to come to a knowledge and love of other places in which they may live. Therefore, learning about and loving a specific place does not lead to a narrow provincialism, but provides students with a way for loving and knowing any place they inhabit. Pelo also contends that through this knowledge of and affection for a place, children (we) become more likely to defend the health of that place.

If you have the time and access, I recommend getting your hands on a copy of this issue of Rethinking Schools for your own pedagogical and personal enrichment.

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