How can we help kids FALL IN LOVE with an ecosystem?


Let's assume that our new kind of school can achieve what I set out yesterday, in "Make Naturalists, Not Biologists": get kids learning about and loving nature through mucking about in it. How can we do that? How can we cultivate a love of the natural world?

Scott Sampson — whose powerful How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature I've been riffing on lately — argues that local places can help us.

He suggests that there may be something deep in human nature that helps us fall in love with specific places.

Sampsons suggests a "topophilia hypothesis".

He's riffing himself off of E. O. Wilson's biophilia hypothesis — that humans have an instinctive urge to affiliate with other forms of life. (For how we've responded to that, see our curriculum of animals and plants in the classroom.)

Sampson's idea, though, is a bit more specific. He starts by tracing the roots of the word:

In 1947, poet W. H. Auden coined a similar word, topophilia — literally, a "love of place" — to refer to the affective bonds that people often form with the places they live....

I decided to borrow this neologism to put forth a new idea, the topophilia hypothesis, which proposes that we humans possess an innate bias to bond with local life and landscape, inherited from our foraging forebearers.

Animals need to bond in order to survive: to food, to water, to members of the opposite sex, to anything that can protect them from predators, and so on. Animals are bonding machines, and each species needs to bond to somewhat different things.

What did humans need to bond to, throughout our evolutionary maturation?

Among other things: the particular ecosystems they were living in. 

Now, humans aren't koala bears: we're not just native to one specific ecosystem. So humans would need a general-purpose ecosystem bonding system: a drive that works something like "whatever the environment around you, pay attention to it. Be curious about it. Be prepared to develop affection for it!"

Sampson again:

I've proposed that topophilia evolved to help humans adapt to a diverse range of settings, each with its own unique suite of life forms and landforms.

Humans who bonded to the place of their childhoods — be they a savanna, desert, rainforest, or whatever — tended to understand it better, and hence tended to survive more.

This is, note, only a hypothesis. It's entirely possible that the lust we see for specific places doesn't come from a specific evolutionary source, but has arisen for other reasons. (We must, as always, be on guard against just-so stories.)

But what seems undeniable is that

a deep passion for local place often develops, particularly among those living in oral, indigenous cultures.... Our body, mind, and senses are "designed" to connect with nature.

Humans are designed to connect with specific natural environments.

A school for humans can make good use of that.

But how?

Here an idea from the Imaginative Education community can come to the rescue: Whole-School Projects.

And about that, more anon!

Brandon Hendrickson

Seattle, WA