The UK’s education system has become a kind of monoculture agriculture, say the founders of Rewilding Education, a community of teachers who believe that reconnecting children with nature is key to helping them thrive.
Wolves and lynxes roaming the land; vast tracts of forest restored, not for wood, but for flourishing; fields full of wildflowers: these are some of the ideas advocated as part of the reconstruction. It is a progressive approach to conservation, requiring less human intervention in landscapes and ecosystems and instead supports the restoration of natural processes, and has been gaining momentum in recent years.
Efforts to replace lost and missing species, either moose, bears, or mangrove forests – through rewilding, they have stepped up a gear, for example. Meanwhile, a large-scale 3000 acre nature restoration project It has recently been announced for the UK Highlands. A start-up it is even bringing nature back to burial plots.
But now the regeneration approach is also spreading beyond the natural world. Since the 1950s, we have become more disconnected from nature, as researchers have confirmed. So what if letting ‘wild’ processes take over again was an approach that could not only allow ecosystems, but people as well? What if, in fact, our educational system went through a rebuilding process?
That’s what the founders of Reconstruction of education – a small and ambitious organization founded during the shutdown last year – they set out to find out.
Rewilding Education wants to help children reconnect with nature. Image: Vitolda Klein
“There is something about rebuilding that fits very well with education,” says co-founder Dr. Max Hope. The current educational system is very structured and does not benefit everyone equally, he believes. “So rebuilding in this context is about bringing more creativity, freedom and flexibility, as well as more humanity. We want to improve education, and by improving, we are talking about fairer, healthier and wilder. “
This could mean incorporating nature into general lesson plans, through extra lessons or games outside of school, for example.
Rowan Salim used to work as a teacher in London, but now runs a nature-based children’s community called Free We Grow, as well as a community garden. She says that a renewed education is the one that best connects children with the world around them; They are given the freedom to direct themselves and they are allowed to follow their curiosity.
Rewilding has something that fits very well with education.
“We are looking for children who are happy, well, capable of learning, capable of trusting themselves and their instincts, and of pursuing their interests,” she says. And for Salim, spending time in nature is key to that.
A practical example, Salim says, is when he took a class of children to see the River Thames for the first time. “[They] could answer a geography question about what a river is, but none of them had ever felt a river, smelled a river, felt a river, or cared for [one], “she says.” There [was] a disconnection with the world around them. “
Similarly, in Free we grow, Salim encourages children to know and love the local forests. When one of the trees had to be cut down, the children wrote a letter to the town hall in protest. “This opened the dialogue to improve the habitat, including the idea of planting a native oak in its place,” he says.
Rowan Salim with Luca, participant of Free We Grow. Image: Rewilding Education
Rewilding Education offers an educator program consisting of a five-day nature immersion camp, regular Zoom calls, a training manual, tutoring, and resource materials. Participants are also encouraged to connect with their ‘inner wild self’, in other words, their authentic, fun and curious nature, and to become part of a like-minded community.
“A runaway person or system is one that is in balance,” says Salim. He is someone who is in touch with his authentic self and therefore better able to connect with nature and other people, he explains.
Hope agrees. “It’s about being able to be authentic; leading to self-acceptance and a sense of self-worth, ”she says. “And if we feel that for ourselves, we can extend it to others, be it a tree, a water vole, a cat or a dog.”
Throughout the program, participants discuss and explore what a renewed education might look like. Hope offers an example of a particular line of questions in this regard: “In ecological terms, there is a lot of talk about the reintroduction of species, like the wolf or the beaver,” he says. The impact of [these species] it has been spectacular and powerful. If we translate this into education, what if, for example, freedom, trust or equality were [similarly ‘reintroduced’ as central values underpinning] our educational systems? What would be the impact of that? “
The letter the children of Free We Grow wrote to their council
The program culminates with the five-day camp, which consists of discussing, playing games, spending time in nature, and sharing stories and gifts, such as music and books. Educators are encouraged to go back and incorporate what they discovered into their own educational practice.
“We are inviting people to go on a journey,” says Dr. Dan Ford, co-founder of the program with Hope. “It is an adventure. And although there is a guided process and the intention is serious, being together is usually a lot of fun. “
Even after the program ends, the community continues to support each other. “It’s a starting point for many,” says Ford.
So how could a baffled generation really be?
“This is a difficult question to answer,” admits Hope, “because we don’t want to reinforce traditional ways of measuring the effectiveness or success of education, for example by suggesting that grades would go up or that behavior would improve.”
Rather, the pair explain that ultimately those who are part of a crazed generation are healthy, confident and self-assured, with no tendency toward self-destruction. Then they would be less likely to inflict destruction on the planet.
“We hope our community is like the reintroduction of a lost species,” says Ford.
The The Rewilding Educators program, a guided adventure to rebuild ourselves and create healthy and thriving educational practices, runs from October 2021 to May 2022 and is open to all types of educators. Learn more and sign up here.
Lead Image: Meritt Thomas