a sense of place.

So I’ve been at the Audubon Center for the Northwoods for two months, but really it only feels like two weeks. Time flies here, partly because we’re so busy, and partly because I don’t own a watch. But the experiences I have had have been so amazing so far. It’s really a learning and growing experience that I need. Actually, I think everyone needs these kinds of experiences. Really.

I’ve been canoeing in the Boundary Waters and I’ve gone on a five day canoe trip down the Mississippi. I’ve met some incredibly nice and talented people, and some people who just aren’t the nice folks in the barn (including a farmer who hates educators and women). I’ve seen a Rendezvous of voyageurs and helped facilitate teambulding for a teachers retreat (where all the adults were older than me and far more experienced). I’ve challenged myself in more ways than I could count, both physically and mentally. I’ve climbed up a high ropes course without breaking down into a mess because of the height, and I managed to survive five days with a group of high schoolers in the middle of nowhere with no bathrooms and little sunshine.

I don’t want to leave. December is coming too fast. But everything happens for a reason and this has been a wonderful experience I will never forget. I don’t think fall block should be limited to Outdoor Education majors. Everyone should be given this chance. It’s amazing.

And that’s it for now. Quick update and nothing more. Hope all is well out there in space!

Fall Block!

So I’m going on hiatus for awhile since I’ll be off campus for four months doing the Fall Block thing (which means I’m in the middle of nowhere jumping off rocks and learning about trees and having a good old time being outside as much as I can).

Though I’ll leave you with a joke that I found hilarious and you’ll probably just think I’m a freak or something:

“Alice Algae and Freddie Fungus took a lichen to each other and now their relationship is on the rocks.”

Mwahahaha. Yeah, I’m probably the only one who would find that funny. GO NATURAL HISTORY! I’m a nerd.

Back on topic, you won’t see me for awhile so I hope you enjoy the beautiful fall season and the changing of the leaves and remember to live. It’s good for the soul. I’ll see you in January.

GLBT Inclusion in Outdoor Education

So I posted a version of this awhile ago, but I just completed my seminar and I thought I would post my revised presentation “Inclusion of GLBT Youth into Outdoor Education” here for your reading pleasure. The biggest change was that I made it more personal for my place of work (the Hartley Nature Center) Feel free to comment and let me know what you think.

The seminar itself went well and I got very positive feedback. I had a powerpoint with it as well, but eh. Keep reading to see my thoughts on this subject.

Click here to continue reading this article.

Importance of Outdoor Play

A child’s need for free play is important to their early development. It’s even more important that this free play takes place outside where one can feel the grass between their toes, hear the wind through the trees, smell the moist dirt of the earth, and see the many wonders of the world.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen as much as it used to because of the fear parents have that something terrible will happen to their child if they so much as blink.

Children’s Outdoor Play and Learning Environments: Returning to Nature by Randy White & Vicki Stoecklin is a phenomenal article about why children need to be exposed to nature. They give in-depth research on biophilia and how to design outdoor play areas for kids. If you’re a parent, a teacher, or even a kid-at-heart, you’ll want to read this.

I think I’m going to go climb a tree.

(I apologize for the amount of posting lately. I’ve been doing a lot of research and I tend to blog about things I get excited about. We’ll talk about muttaburrasaurs at a later date.)

Creating safe spaces for Gay Youth

I’ve been doing more research for a seminar I’m conducting on Friday and I just thought I’d make mention of this because it’s such an important topic. Safe spaces (in schools and other organizations) are needed wherever you may be.

“Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender young people are increasingly visible in our schools. Why? Probably partly because young people in general are reaching puberty at younger ages than they did in generations past. And probably partly because sexual minority young people are growing up in the midst of a civil rights movement, feeling both an urgency and an increasing sense of community in their normal adolescent quests for identity and integrity. Recent studies have shown that, on average, lesbian and gay youth first become aware of their same-gender attractions at an average of 9-10 years old and first identify as lesbian or gay at an average of 14-16 years old. “

Safe Schools Coalition.

I’m currently talking to my boss about creating our Nature Center into a known safe space here in Duluth, MN. Wish me luck. It’s looking like it is very likely. Safe Spaces are simply places that acknowledge, actively support, and challenge discrimination for QLBT youth. I believe that more programs and organizations, including schools (from K-college), should be trained in having safe spaces and in knowing more about the unique individual needs of GLBT youth. It shouldn’t be that hard right? So why is it that so many places don’t feel the need to speak up about this? FIGHT! We need Safe Spaces.

Also, for more information on creating safe spaces and tips for organizations and communities who want to become more involved with the inclusion of GLBT youth, download this: Creating Safe Spaces for GLBTQ Youth: A Tool Kit. It’s a great document to have with you, very informative and helpful. Why not show your boss or head of your favorite organization?

Every step helps.

We are all a bit batty – Bat Education!

Yesterday was Blogathon day, and as you can see, I did not participate. I already had plans yesterday with my girl because two years ago I wrote her a letter asking her out. I don’t think she would have forgiven me if I ditched out on our plans to write in my blog every half hour.

Anyway, I did keep up on my Lee’s blog, which has always proved to be a large storehouse of information for paleo-nerds. Or, really, any nerd interested in the nitpickings of science. Sometimes I feel really smart when I read her blog. Other times… ha.

I wonder why she stays friends with me.

Anyway, it got me thinking a lot about my intentions when I first came to Northland. My plan was to major in Biology and slowly become a Bat Biologist. I love bats. I am a bat freak, I guess. My favorite are the flying foxes, named for their dog-like faces and large ears. They are true fruit bats, found in the Order of Chiroptera (or “hand-wing”). These true fruit bats are actually split into two groups: the Microchiropter (“small hand-wing”) and the Megachiropter (“large hand-wing”).
Click here to continue reading this article.

My Educational Philosophy.

This is my Credo.

I have a number of memories of my experiences outside. I have seen wolves in the wild, I have been close enough to a wild black bear to touch, I have slept on a beach under the stars and let the waves lull me to sleep. I know what it’s like to dance in a cornfield and howl at wolves and have them howl back. I have played with wild fawns while their mother watched with no worry, and I remember what it’s like to hold a spider in the palm of my hand for the first time without fear. Most of my twenty-one years of living has been spent out of doors, and I can only hope to pass down what I have learned and experienced with others.

It wasn’t until I came to Northland that I discovered you could actually major in something called Outdoor Education. To me, outdoor education is experienced-based education. It is a field of education that is very hands-on about the natural world. L.B. Sharp said, “That which ought and can best be learned inside the classroom should be learned there; and that which can best be learned through direct experience outside the classroom, dealing directly with native materials and life situations, should there be learned.” That is outdoor education. It is a combination of this experiential learning, adventure education, and environmental concerns. It’s not all about canoeing, hiking, or mountain climbing. Outdoor education is about finding a connection with nature, a deeper relationship, and working with others to see the beauty in the world around us and to protect it. It combines such skills as leadership and teamwork, survival skills and problem solving, and uses this to create a sense of spirituality and growth within a person. It is up to that person to take that and share with others.

I believe that an effective educator is able to do this, to learn all this and create that connection, and than successfully share that knowledge with the world. My own style works best with children. I find that the most beautiful things are the simplest. Jim Henson said, “Life is simple,” and I agree with that. Children, I find, respond to this philosophy well. The life cycle of a monarch butterfly may seem complex, but put in the correct terms, to a child it can be the simplest idea. Watching even a small insect grow and live is beautiful – and the people that I have experienced to understand this best have been the kids I’ve worked with, not the adults. Kids can teach kids as well. Maria Montessori was a firm believer that older children should teach younger children and that kids should learn at their own pace. Her philosophy has helped shape my own: watch kids! They know a lot more than we think they do. I hope to help this by instilling this sense of wonder within children at such an early age that, as they grow, they will want to share it with others and the cycle will continue and spread. It is their role to learn and live and share. It is as simple as that.

By sharing knowledge and spreading awareness, the broader community will want to take part. I was talking to Sarah Lerohl, the school-programming director at the Hartley Nature Center, and she said that the reason they had adults come to the Center, was because their children wanted to come. The adults usually ended up coming back because they became as interested as their children. So by teaching kids, it will not only get passed down generations, but passed up them as well. And the more people who know and learn, the more the community will become involved. I have heard of communities who have gotten together, and through active contributions and development, created more parks and more green spaces for kids to play in. The amount of power a community has is often grossly underestimated.

I am very much a naturalist. I find pleasure in places, in learning about the features of the landscape and what creatures and plants reside in that area. I was drawn very much to Northern Wisconsin. When I was younger, we would take trips up here and I decided at an early age that I wanted to live up here. But it isn’t just this area; I find wonder in nature wherever I go, and I think too many people pass by something beautiful and never see it. I see my role as an educator as being someone who can point out this beauty to people and to show them how to see it every day and care for it. I want to create a deeper connection between people and the earth. I think too often people forget the feeling of dirt between their toes or the sound of the wind through the trees. I think schoolteachers forget that there is much more outside the classroom and that children need to touch and interact with their environment to really learn. Not all kids are the same and each learns in a different way and I feel that in this field, it is easier to see the personalities of children come out when given a more active role.

I believe in the power of nature. I believe that given a nudge, children will find a relationship with this great big world that’s much deeper than the one many share with their video games. Children need nature; this thought is amplified in Richard Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods, a book that reflects my own thoughts on nature in detail. Children are not getting into the woods enough; they need it. And by getting them outside, they will want to spend more time there.

I believe I can make this world better by simply showing off all its wonderful details: its smallest spiders to its biggest trees. I believe that children have something within their minds that allow them to easily understand things that adults have problems figuring out. I think that’s what makes them so important: we aren’t just teaching them, they are teaching us as well. I want to work with children on showing the rest of humanity that the world around is full of awe and wonder. Everyone and everything is connected; we just have to recognize this and realize that we really are apart of something beautiful.

Inclusion of GLBT Youth in Outdoor Education

I gave a speech on the Inclusion of GLBT people into Outdoor Education the other day and I thought I’d share. We’re celebrating GLBT Awareness Week on our campus now and I got to participate in a panel discussion and a lecture of GLBT History (I talked about Walt Whitman, Adrienne Rich, and a few others). Anyway, here’s the presentation I gave on Wednesday.

What do you want people to know about? What do you expect people want to know about you? What is and isn’t appropriate to say about yourself to a stranger? And what should be kept silent?

Homophobia is defined as an irrational fear and hatred of homosexuality and homosexuals. Because it is hard to decipher who is homophobic, many in the gay community choose to hide in silence rather than be subjected to his fear and hatred. But what does this silence do?

In the article, “Outdoor Education and the Reinforcement of Heterosexuality,” Annie Dignan of the University of Otago says:

“It is imperative that outdoor educators understand the silencing effect that their attitudes, demonstrated through their language and behavior, has on all participants of their groups. This behavior can include the assumption of heterosexuality and the implied validation of the heterosexual desire. I would suggest that most (if not all) outdoor programmes actively reinforce heterosexuality as the norm and homosexuality therefore as deviant. This situation forces homosexuals to remain silent for reasons of emotional and physical safety. The message this gives is that there is only one ‘right’ form of sexual desire and alternatives should be abhorred, silenced or at best tolerated and certainly not flaunted.”

Why are people silent? Is it out of fear? If so, what is there to be afraid of? The idea of fitting in often leads to conforming to certain social norms. I’m sure most kids experienced what it’s like to not fit in. What happens? Getting picked on is not pleasant. And when you don’t have the right lunch box, you might end up spending recess hiding in the library. But id doesn’t end in elementary school. Fitting in is something ingrained in our minds at a very early age. So why do some people “choose” to be deviant? Isn’t it easier and safer to be silent?

Homophobia works because of silence and a lack of understanding that not everyone is the same. Silence feeds homophobia. Fear of the unknown dates as far back as the first conscious thought. But what is homophobia really? A phobia is an irrational fear, something that is beyond the control of a person. But, according to Dignan, this insinuates that it is not the responsibility of the person to change it. This is where the term heteronormality comes in.

Heteronormality is just as it sounds. It is the reinforcement of the heterosexual norm. What has caused this conformity? Why do people want to be the same? Well, our western cultural history has made a big impact on how we view the outdoors. Our outdoor “legends” have included Paul Bunyan, Pacos Bill, Davy Crockett, Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, and a whole slew of straight, white males. Does that mean that those who don’t fit into that stereotype shouldn’t participate in the environment? Sometimes it certainly feels like it.

Recent research “notes verbal and physical harassment as being the reality for a large number of school students (and staff) labeled as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Do we think for a moment that this unjust treatment would stop when they are taken into the outdoors?”

Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a lot of development in the needs of GLBT people within Outdoor Education. This is surprising, considering the large amount of attention that the community has been getting in public awareness. The political debates have been raging about equal rights in marriage, adoption, and civil unions. But the context has yet to focus on Outdoor Education. Why is this?

Yet again we are led to silence. It is hard for anyone to change perceptions if no one speaks up. There is a very inspiring article called “Sharing Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Life Experiences Face to Face” by Mary McClintock. She has some great insight on why she is an activist and why she peaks out about who she is.

“I choose to speak on panels for a number of reasons. Speaking up is a self-empowering act in a world that continually tells me I should hide and be ashamed of who I am. I speak about my experience of being a lesbian in a homophobic world because it is one way that I can break the silence about our lives.”

I have been fortunate enough to have been given the chance to sit on a couple of panel discussions. Panel discussions are one way to have your voice heard. Being a part of a speakers’ bureau is another way. Either way, sharing experiences is important to spreading awareness. They say knowledge is power. Fear is commonly caused by ignorance; when we don’t know or understand something it makes us afraid and angry. In her article, McClintock mentions an experience she had after a panel discussion in a college classroom. Two students, a sixty-year-old woman and a twenty-year-old man, came up to her and thanked her for coming to speak. What they had learned during that time had changed their perception of gays and lesbians and made them question what they had previously heard about that community.

Like McClintock, I have had a similar experience. I became friends with a man about two years ago who had had very little experience with the GLBT community. After many a conversation with him, he admitted to me that simply by knowing me, I had helped him overcome his own internal homophobia. His is now as much of an activist as I am about equal rights. Does anyone else feel they have been influential in changing someone’s mind? Do you feel you’ve made an impact in someone’s life?

We’ve touched on it some, but why is speaking up and coming out important? Why should we not remain silent? Well, for one, it spreads awareness and teaches people about differences, which fights ignorance and anger and can help everyone understand each other. Another huge reason, though, is that GLBT youth need role models.

Every child needs a role model, whether it is a family member, a teacher, or a friend. Unfortunately, not many GLBT youth will come out for fear of what the reaction will be of their peers and the adults in their lives. This is why being active in the community is important. In a 1994 report by Hetrick Martin Institute, it was found that “Gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth are two to three times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers.” Not only is this because of physical and verbal abuse by others, but it is also because of the internalized homophobia that they suffer from. It is taught from an early age that heterosexuality is the norm and anything else is bad, or, in some cases, sinful. Many youth grow up to adulthood attempting to pass as a straight person, creating a very small amount of “out” role models for the next generation to rely on. In an article by Arnold H. Grossman called “Lessons from Greg Louganis,” the author points out the reason for role models:

“All youth can benefit from role models who are heterosexual, bisexual, or homosexual. Non-gay role models are easily observable and offer realistic goals and behaviors for heterosexual youth; however, the same is not true for gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth. These youth need adults who publicly identify their sexual identities, and who demonstrate what it means to live as homosexual or bisexual persons. It is of these adults that youth can ask questions, talk about their feelings, find resources they need, and seek help in times of distress.”

I didn’t come out until I reached college because I suddenly found that I was not alone. Not only were there friends who supported me but there were also professors that I was able to identify with and find relief in. I had role models who I could open up to and for the first time I felt completely accepted for who I am. I want to be able to do that for other people too.

So what can we do to open up Outdoor Education for more people? How can programs become more inclusive to the GLBT community? When you first introduce yourself to strangers, whether in a leadership-status on a camping trip or as a student in an outdoor education classroom, the automatic assumption is that you’re straight – unless you’re wearing a Pride Conference t-shirt and have a rainbow ribbon pinned to your backpack. How can you comfortably introduce yourself without scaring off too many people before they get to know you?

Well one idea is that you just say it and get it over with and if they want to get to know you, great! If they don’t, it’s their lose. Or you could not say anything at first, let everyone feel you out, get to know the other parts of your personality, before you casually slip in that you’re an activist, or you have a girlfriend, or some other subtle hint. The answer to this is really subjective; you introduce yourself however you have comfortable. Maybe it takes awhile for people to catch on, or maybe it takes awhile for you to let them know. It’s hard to say for sure when not everyone has the same amount of security in their sexuality or the same amount of straightforwardness in their personality.

But what about in the Outdoor Education context? I know that there are some programs that say right on their brochures or applications that they welcome everyone equally. And there are some programs that are exclusive to the GLBT community (the Colorado Outward Bound Program for GLBT youth, Camp Trans, and the EcoQueers in Canada are a few that come to mind). But what are the problems with these? Sure some programs welcome all equally but that doesn’t mean the other participants will. And while having exclusive programs for the GLBT is helpful, it’s also separating the homosexuals from the heterosexuals, which doesn’t do a great deal for either side in equality.

So what does help? Grossman has a few ideas for us. One, “learn the facts about gay, lesbian, and bisexual people so as to be able to dispel myths and stereotypes about them.” Another way is to challenge those who attempt to discriminate in any way about GLBT people. Don’t just ignore put-downs and prejudice; fight it actively by talking about it out in the open. Grossman also says that creating a safe space or environment where acceptance and support is openly encouraged is highly important. Be consistent when displaying positive behavior and be an accepting role model, even if you’re just an ally. Have resources on hand to help with any questions. Creating programs that deal directly with GLBT issues is also a big step in the right direction. These programs are open to not just gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people, but to all people. Grossman also says that in Outdoor Education:

“Recreation activities that focus on youth participation and empowerment, peer and leisure counseling, and cooperative games and hobbies can be effective in helping gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth and their heterosexual counterparts to learn about living in a diverse society and accepting differences.”

By not actively defying the heterosexual norm laid down by our predecessors, we cannot hope to change the idea of the outdoors being ruled by the rugged male lumberjack. Homophobia and heteronormativity need to be broken down by the voices of those who believe that this assumption is wrong. Silence is not golden in any way. Activists are needed as prominent and positive role models for GLBT youth, and there need to be more programs that address the issues of sexuality in Outdoor Education. Ignorance is the fuel for oppression. If we don’t get out there and start talking and start increasing the awareness of our differences, than that fear and hatred and anger will continue to grow.

I am going to end on a quote by an activist that goes by the name Wes: “If silence is death ignorance is the weapon, and education is our only hope.”

Yes, long. I know. Deal, it’s an important issue. Any questions? Comments? Feel free to discuss.