Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Students Caring for Each Other: Outdoor Education and Learning through Peer Relationships

Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Students Caring for Each Other: Outdoor Education and Learning through Peer Relationships

Article excerpt


Caring is an action oriented value that can provide a way forward beyond the dualism prevalent between the concepts of individual and community. This investigation focused on school students' understandings of and experiences of caring. It comprised a comparison of Year Nine students' perceptions of outdoor education and their other classes at an Australian secondary school with respect to their experiences of caring. In order to achieve this it was first necessary to determine a student derived understanding of the meaning of caring, a very broad term. A survey instrument was constructed following analysis of the interview data which enabled this comparison to be made. The results indicated that caring between students was more likely to be experienced in the outdoor education context than in the school classroom context.


School promotional material consistently espouses caring as an important value within schools. From an educational perspective the question can then be asked, "How well is this value (caring) enacted within schools?". This study approached this question via a comparison of students' experiences of caring at school with their experiences of caring in outdoor education, which while a part of school, is conducted outside many of the institutional constraints of the school (Brookes, 1989). This comparison also involved distinguishing between the caring experienced with close friends and that experienced with other students who were not close friends.

The aim of this study was to determine whether there was any difference between students' experiences of caring situations in outdoor education and in their other classes at school. Very specifically, this caring was between students and did not include experiences of caring that existed as part of the teacher-student relationship or that were influenced via direct exhortation by the teacher. This was "caring in the peer group".

It was hypothesized that: (1) caring for close friends in outdoor education would not be the same as caring for close friends in other classes at school; and (2) caring for other people (other students) in outdoor education would not be the same as caring for other people (other students) in other classes at school.


Being human involves finding a balance between one's need to belong, to be a part of something larger than oneself, and also one's need to be recognized as an individual (e.g., Becker, 1973; Fuller, 1992; Maslow, 1970). Forces of modernity have complicated the relationship between these two needs, stretching the boundaries of the self and our understandings of community beyond what were once very local domains, so that "for the first time in human history, 'self' and 'society' are interrelated in a global milieu" (Giddens, 1991, p. 32). The task of finding appropriate balance points in our lives continues to increase in difficulty with fundamental questions being raised regarding the way in which contemporary society affects our ability to do so (e.g., Bellah, Madsen, Sullivan, Swidler & Tipton, 1996; Mackay, 1993; Putnam, 1995).

For most young Australians a major part of this tension is played out in an institutionalised context: the school. The hegemonic character of most schools with respect to the relation between teachers and students makes the task of resolving this tension even more complex for the young person. Whilst searching for that larger "something" with which to connect themselves, to belong, beyond the family, they also need to be respected as individuals with rights as well as responsibilities. The ability of the school to engage young people in this task has been questioned (e.g., Jackson, 1968/1990; McLaren, 1998) and some have pursued the improvement of the sense of community within schools as a priority (e.g., Calderwood, 2000; Sergiovanni, 1994). This quest seems to run parallel to that of the call for more democracy in schools, which urges a more inclusive participatory framework allowing students to be more fully involved in the institutional decision making processes, both collectively and individually (e. …

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