My Developing Pedagogy with Mother Earth School
May 28, 2019
Organizing for social justice has become such a dominating motif ofmy personal story, that I have difficulty giving any reflection withouttelling the collective story of our time. The social justice issues that Ihave been most engaged with are climate change and education.Within these two very broad umbrella issues, there are countlessinjustices that require the detailed attention of strategically organizedpeople tending to each one. How I have chosen to align and organizemyself has been a source of my personal growth, as well as my growthas an organizer. I have organized to raise awareness about climatechange, and offer a resisting force against it. Within that work, myfocus has ranged from obstructing the natural resource extraction thatclaims so many of our forests, rivers, and oceans, to advocating forthe poorest of the poor whose lives become exponentially more at riskas the climate changes. Alongside that work, educational advocacyagainst the privatization of public education, and the socioeconomicinequities within that system was another frontline that I aligned with.
There was also the incessant and exhausting need to continuouslyaddress the toxic relationship between the corporate power structureand the politically corrupt system of government that allow for theseinjustices to be inflicted in the first place. During these years I grew,and stretched, and expanded, and then I admit, I got tired. While thiswork may have met my need for agency and contribution, it wasneither regenerative nor supportive for all aspects of my life. Anotherneed began to surface, the need for efficacy. The need to feel strategicand intentional with the way I spent my life energy. I took a hiatus,and used that time to reevaluate my frontline, objectives, andstrategies. Through the mentorship and teachings of John Young,Starhawk, Steiner, Dewy, Richard Louv, David Sobel, Bob Liebman,Peter Gray, and so many others, I was able to understand how natureconnection and early education could be woven together to nurturesocial stewards; children who would grow to be adults with qualities ofcompassion and empathy not only for the land, but also for the peopleof the land.
This expansion of consciousness helped me see the gap betweencultures of resistance, and cultures of creation, and asked me to adjustmy efforts so that I could be in right relationship and balance with mywork. So thoroughly exhausted from a life of resistance that so oftenrequired social and political martyrdom, I embraced this request.While I cannot over emphasize the need for civil disobedience, directaction, and other forms of resistance, I also want to giveacknowledgement to the work of liberation by way of culturaltransformation. The work of shifting the dominate paradigm can onlybe done by planting seeds of future possibilities, and co-creating amodel to live by that honors and holds sacred all forms of life, rather than exploits it. In my quest to merge the many front lines of mywork, I was referred to Mother Earth School and found a model foreducation that I deeply resonated with. In Mother Earth School, Ifound educators creating a learning environment that merged Waldorfeducation, and Permaculture. After a lot of work to create thepathway, I was able to secure this CLAS Internship with Mother EarthSchool and gain PSU academic credit.
At the start of the fall quarter, Ilisted my personal learning objectives as:
• Observe and familiarize myself with an established model for outdoor,
• Gain skills for engaging children in nature exploration and ecological
• Deepen my relationship with permaculture food systems and gardens
• Connect and develop relationships with practicing educators
Final reflection on the effectiveness of this internship
As this quarter wraps up, my understanding of the “learningobjectives” I had set has expanded so that I think of this learningprocess more as a learning path, rather than a set of accomplishableobjectives. I can also feel myself, albeit slowly, adapting to a lifewhere protecting forests from the chainsaws looks more like playing inthe forest with children who are falling in love with nature spirits,rather than blockading them. And perhaps a more regenerativeresponse to the oppression and exploitation of our people is inmodeling and guiding children into ways of being that hold kindnessand compassion as the most valued form of human capitol that onecan possess.
However, even within this ongoing process, I can feel and measure thesubstantial growth that I have undergone as an educator, and theeffectiveness of this internship in supporting that growth. The work Ihave done with my community partners has offered me so muchpractical experience, as well as a framework for teaching and learningthat is so much more in alignment with my world view, and the workthat I want to do post graduation. While PSU teacher educationdisproportionately focuses on preparing students for a career in publiceducation, working with Mother Earth School offered me theexperience of observing and learning how to educate children in a waythat I am authentically motivated to educate. My experience with my othercommunity partner, Planet Repair, was exceptional. The content oftheir Permaculture Design Course has given me extensive knowledgeof permaculture principles, and skills for building not onlypermaculture gardens, but also a whole food system. Learning thisalongside learning how to use permaculture systems as theenvironment and curriculum for education was a highly effectivelearning/teaching model that I think should be available to all studentsin any teacher-training program.
Last notes on Mother Earth School curriculum and pedagogy
Mother Earth School offers an educational model that provides ampleopportunity for nature connection, and nurtures the developmentalneeds of the whole child. The prioritization given to the social andemotional needs of the students was evident in the pedagogy that Iobserved over the term. For example, when a student was having adifficult day, they got the patient presence of a teacher to talk withthem through whatever was going, until they felt better. And therewere never any further behavior issues with that child for the rest ofthe day. Another example being that everyday, before the end of theday, the class took time to offer gratitude for something nicethat they observed someone do that day. Most days, everyone wouldbe appreciated and acknowledged for some kind action. This built aculture that valued kindness. When contrasted to pedagogies I haveobserved in public school settings, where the child’s academic needsare given prioritization, one can easily make the connection betweenteacher pedagogy and the behavioral problems that plague so manypublic schools. I’ve drawn this connection not to ignore the fact thatmany of student’s behavioral challenges stem from traumaticexperiences and/or living in poverty, but to examine the way in whichpedagogy that prioritizes the child’s social and emotional developmentcan be a positively oppositional force to those behavioral challenges. The arguments can be made that Mother Earth School is only able tooffer that much time and attention to the social and emotionaldevelopment of their students because of the low student to teacherratio, the students abundant opportunity to run and play, or theexemption from standardized curriculum and testing, or the fact thatdemographically, Mother Earth School enrolls predominately studentsof privilege. I agree with all of these arguments and the many, manymore that can be made. While I deeply resonate with the model ofeducation that Mother Earth School provides, I also feel that it issocially unjust that it is available to and only accessible by such asmall demographic of students. I can only dream of a world in whichour public education system were to adopt the Mother Earth Schoolmodel, and make it available to students of all demographics. I canonly imagine federally funded teacher-training programs that equipped teachers with pedagogy to nurture a child’s whole being, like that ofthe Waldorf teacher training programs. Though they may be dreams ofwhat could be, I also believe that doing so would be the socially justthing to do. Not just for the health of our society, but for the health ofthe planet that holds us all.
My final thought goes to the effectiveness of Mother Earth Schoolcurriculum and pedagogy to teach to social justice issues such asinstitutional racism, poverty, or gender violence. When I first beganexploring Mother Earth School, I was surprised to find that they areonly a pre-k through 2nd grade program. However, when the mainobjective is nature connection, I have found that this is thedevelopmental age during which our relationship with nature and placeis established. In its first priority and objective, which is to help youngchildren establish a deep connection with nature, I see Mother EarthSchool to be wildly successful. For third grade and beyond, there is stilla lot of work to do in developing a model of education that offers ourchildren an understanding of the previously mentioned oppressiveforces, nurtures democratic engagement, while still nurturing theiremotional development, as well as their relationship with the naturalworld. It is my deep held belief that the paradigm of the public education system needs to shiftdramatically to embrace priorities such as these.