Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Community, Caring and Outdoor Education

Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Community, Caring and Outdoor Education

Article excerpt


In this article we discuss the close ties that exist between the concepts of community and caring on the one hand, and the teaching and learning strategies which are relevant to these concepts in the area of outdoor education on the other. We begin by gauging the extent of our human need for community. The existence of this need leads into an exploration of the ways in which this need can be met in our Western society, which tends to favour the individual. Caring is identified as a major method for achieving community. Ways of educating for caring and community are then revealed through the literature and these are placed, as one would a template, over the existing view of outdoor education to look for any connections and commonalities. These commonalities are identified.


The caring person is one who is genuinely other-regarding, who perceives
and responds to the larger ecosystem in an empathic, nonprejudicial way.
He or she acts in ways that will strengthen, both in themselves and in
others, a developing capacity for the healthy expression of life.
(Fuller, 1992, p. 74)

Our need for community (and individuality)

Human beings have a need for esteem and a need for belonging (Maslow, 1970). Human existence may be described, on one plane, as a balance between these two fundamental human needs: humans have an existential need for community as well as an existential need to be recognized as individuals. We have a need to identify with the larger purpose of the "cosmic process" as well as feeling the urge to be unique (Becker, 1973). These two human needs may create a tension because by meeting one we often feel that we are detracting from our ability to meet the other. A lifelong process seems to exist through which we are attempting to find an appropriate balance between these two needs so as to reduce this tension. The balance point between these two needs will, of necessity, be shifting as we mature through our lives (Fuller, 1992).

Contemporary literature is replete with claims that the balance between individuality and community is not supported at its optimal point by Western culture. The use of community as a motivational factor in advertising, and the existence of individuals who experience feelings of alienation, are exemplars of this imbalance (Bellah et al, 1996; Nisbet, 1953; Schwartz, 1997). The Australian context does not go un-noticed, with relevant comment from social researcher Hugh Mackay:

  The story of Australia in the past 20 years has been a story of
  declining emphasis on personal relationships; a declining importance
  attached to being part of a family, a neighbourhood, a community; a
  declining awareness of shared culture. (Mackay, 1993, p. 271)

This perspective on the Australian version of events is further amplified when we consider the young people in our society, as espoused by Richard Eckersley:

  The three features of modern western [sic] culture that I have
  discussed--our chosen dominant values, the rate and complexity of
  change, and the lack of a shared vision of society and its future--all
  tend to isolate individuals from each other and from society,
  increasingly leaving people with only their own personal resources to
  deal with life. These flaws mean young people, who are establishing
  their identities, values and beliefs, lack a social and spiritual
  context, a set of clear reference points, to help them make sense of
  life and their place in the world.
                                           (Eckersley, 1995, p. 16)

A yearning for community, to complement our emphasis on individuality, seems close to the hearts of many people living in our contemporary society.

Searching for a definition of community

The concept "community" has been defined in many different ways. It can pertain to a place, a way of living, a social system, a social unit, a condition of relationship, and a territorial unit, (Poplin, 1972; Sanders, 1975) and this list is probably not exhaustive. …

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