School in and with nature

Is school in nature a temporary fallout from covid? Is it just an approach to more or less privileged wounds? Sylvain Wagnon and Corine Martel show in a new work (School in and with nature, ESF Human Sciences) that the idea comes from far away, from Freinet, from Decroly, from new education. Above all, they form the link between this appetite for nature and an educational “velvet revolution”. Bringing children closer to their environment also means rethinking the form of schooling, building a liberating school. Because school in nature is also a political project, an ecological school. The highly argued and convincing work is not only theoretical. It provides concrete ways to initiate a change in the School. Sylvain Wagnon explains it to us in this interview.

The book’s first contribution is to show that teaching with nature is not a new issue. It’s not a 21st century bobo whim. Does it come from far away?

In this book, we put into perspective what seems to be a craze today, especially with the health crisis. We want to show that this school in nature has a history attached to the new Education. Freinet, Decroly, for example, thought of an education in the classroom, but also outside the classroom. Freinet had his hiking lessons. Decroly talks about the school of life.

For you, school in nature is an educational revolution, a fundamental movement. You say it’s a global reflection on education. What do you mean ?

By using the term “educational revolution” we mean a velvet revolution. It is not a question of turning the table, but of letting active methods develop thanks to the idea that one can teach when one needs it in the field. There is resistance to transforming education. Through the school outside, we can transform the relationship between the teacher and his class and also the relationship to knowledge. Freinet had already shown that his walking class has a transformative value in education and connections between students and teachers.

There are still things in the book that deserve to be explained. For example, this sentence: “school outside implies a new pedagogical relationship as well as a redefinition of the school form”. Or this: “It is a way of dematerializing knowledge to confront the environment through your senses and your body”.

It is the idea that going outside changes things. For example, school outside forces people to leave the classroom: it is a complementary form of schooling. Decroly said “it’s classy when it rains”. It showed that the class is interesting at times, but is not the exclusive place for learning.

Outside, we realize that new elements are coming into play. It is the idea of ​​integrated education, in the sense of the libertarian educator Paul Robin, that proposes to go outside because it automatically allows the development of emotions and senses. Students have emotions. Their emotions develop in relation to learning. It is not the pedagogical marvel. But it can be a lever for more active education.

Do we not burden education in nature with all pedagogical utopias such as learning effortlessly “through the senses” or a very gentle teacher-student relationship? And suddenly we do not forget the sad realities of education: school inequalities, social inequalities, school failures? Is the school outside the school of the privileged?

One of the questions in the book is how to make this school a school of common bond, difference and liberation. It is not because we go outside that the strong issues of the education system no longer exist and that we solve all the problems. The book shows step by step how to change. It’s a book that makes you think.

For example, there is a passage in the book that shows how to green the playground. When we do, we encounter the issue of gender in court. These are very gendered spaces. Vegetation is an opportunity to rethink the farm and go beyond the observation of current inequalities, where boys have often taken over a large part of the farm through football. Teaching outside is an interesting tool to reflect on these issues. It does not solve all problems, but it is not a utopia for wounds. To grow the farm is to take into account the ecological and educational challenge.

What knowledge can we acquire with the school outside?

To go outside is not to deny knowledge. It learns differently. We take advantage of being in the field to acquire knowledge. We show in the book that we can have more effective learning at certain times than in class in all disciplines. In history, for example, you can see a monument. In geography we can analyze a landscape. In mathematics, there are also successful examples. In the literature, a poem said outside gives a different impression. And we let children who have less attachment to the book think differently.

How to get started in school outside?

We go there modestly groping. In the book, we show the small steps we can take up to the overall project involving our school. You can also go outside in urban areas. Starts with the playground. And it is possible by following the programs. The book tries to show simple things and not only at primary level but also at secondary level.

Is this book also about encouraging ecological awareness?

The classroom outside is an eco-educational challenge. It is indeed a political choice in addition to an educational choice.

Is it a detour to a more emancipatory school?

Of course yes. Teaching is not an end. This means moving towards values ​​which are liberation, otherness and also public service. When we say creating a relationship with the living, it is a political vision for education.

Interview by François Jarraud

Sylvain Wagnon and Corine Martel, The School in and with Nature. The 21st Century Education Revolution. ESF Human Sciences, 2022, ISBN 978-2-7101-4442-7, € 21.

Summary and excerpts from the book

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