Thursday, September 23, 2010

How Outdoor Education Honors our Intra-indigenous Consciousness

I have a whole collection of thoughts that have been swirling around in my head, all centered on trying to figure out why my son Ryan struggles to learn in a sterile, public school building. In the past, I have come to the conclusion that some of the reason is because Ryan has a visual spatial learning style while schools teach using a sequential, linear learning style. But just recently, I have come to believe that there is something else at work as well that makes Ryan hate typical school and it is rooted in the genes of his early, early ancestors.

Ryan's early school life began in a school that focused on outdoor education and within that setting he thrived. Spending his days hiking in the woods or splashing in streams, riding horseback and watching chickens peck their way through his schoolyard. This time outdoors suited him well but before long, I sent Ryan off to a typical public school where he spent much of his day indoors. This lasted for four years at which time Ryan began to rebel against going to school and I began to try and understand what was going on. A recent Wall Street Journal article called "I hate School Extreme Edition, What School Refusal Means and How to Fix It" talks about school refusal and suggests putting an immediate stop to it, suggesting that some sort of psychiatric disorder is lurking for those young people whom hate school. There is no mention of what may be wrong with our schools, resulting in this dissatisfaction.

Rather than put a stop to Ryan's school refusal, I tried to understand it, pulling him from the public school setting that seemed to be causing all of his frustration. The freedom which resulted from not attending school allowed Ryan to spend more time outdoors visiting nature centers and hiking or biking along trails in natural areas. What I didn't realize at the time was that I was re-engaging Ryan's Intra-indigenous consciousness. Getting him to spend time in the natural world of which he and his ancestors had come from. Here is a definition of Intra-indigenous Consciousness taken from James Neill's website on Psycho-Evolutionary Theory of Outdoor Education:

Intra-indigenous Consciousness (IIC) is proposed as the cumulative psychological knowledge of human evolution which is genetically stored. It is the vestigial indigenous psyche within each person which can be activated through direct experiences with nature and natural processes and systems.

Basically, it is saying that we as humans have come from the natural world. It only makes sense that we are most comfortable there to both live and learn. By separating ourselves from nature as we have in the modern world, we have stepped away from an important part of ourselves.

Ryan just started high school at an alternative school in Pennsylvania (yes, we have moved again, which explains my recent lack of posting). The act of learning is achieved in both a natural environment and in an natural experiential way. Maybe Ryan's connection to his indigenous way of living and learning was much closer to the surface than mine as he has seemed to know what he needed in the form of education all along. It appears the act of learning outside, feeling the wind when it blows, or watching the dragonflies and bees fly by invokes something in him that allows him to learn in a way that works for him. In a way that would probably work for all of our children.



Intra-indigenous Consciousness (IIC) was a phrase I was not familiar with. But your explanation untangles it very well for me and your readers, Ryan sounds like a child of the woods and fields. May he fly with the wind and hug all the trees. -- barbar

Wendy said...

It's wonderful that you've been so willing and open to exploring what works best for your son. Many people would just do at the WSJ article recommends and try to nip the behavior in the proverbial bud without trying to understand why it's occurring. Richard Luov did some research and wrote a book on a similar topic (he called it "nature deficit disorder").

I'm incredibly thankful that we get to homeschool and that a large part of our homeschooing experience involves the outdoor's skills classes we're taking. It's fun for the whole family, and hopefully is helping us connect with our "ancestral selves" :).