Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

'Dreadful Things Can Happen': Cautionary Tales for the Safe Practitioner

Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

'Dreadful Things Can Happen': Cautionary Tales for the Safe Practitioner

Article excerpt

Student safety, juxtaposed with outdoor education's dynamic aims and vision, creates a tension for primary school teachers. The tension plays out in teachers' pedagogy, language and practice. This paper examines how some New Zealand primary school teachers' claims about children's safety challenge opposing calls for adventurous and somewhat risky outdoor education experiences. Data is highlighted which demonstrates the work of competing discourses of safety and adventure. Teachers' talk is often produced in the context of "the safe child" and the risk anxiety debates of recent decades (Jones, 2004; Scott, Jackson, & Backett-Milburn, 1998; Wilkinson, 2001). How the tension is understood by teachers is investigated by focusing on teachers' discursive practices when talking about children's safety and outdoor education. The analytic approach employed, interpretative repertoires, provides insight by explicating teachers' systematic constructions of safety and enjoyment in outdoor education.

As educators and parents we are curious about the ways that ubiquitous safety discourses are impacting on children's and teachers' outdoor engagement. This paper focuses on how teachers interpret the linked tasks of both keeping children safe and enabling children to experience the joys of participation in outdoor activities. Our discursive analytic approach emphasises the formation of teachers' safe practice within the broader context of risk society.

Education outside the classroom

Educating students in the outdoor environment is part of New Zealand's national curriculum's vision, a vision that "cannot be achieved inside classrooms alone" (Ministry of Education, 2009, p. 7). Curriculum based experiences that occur outside the formal classroom feature in both primary and secondary schools. Education outside the classroom (EOTC), the generic term employed in New Zealand to describe teaching and learning out of doors, offers learning opportunities to broaden students' understanding of the wider world (Ministry of Education, 2009). While EOTC encompasses a wide range of activities, by contrast outdoor education focuses more particularly on outdoor pursuits or adventure activities (Ministry of Education 2009, p. 71). Outdoor education is a key area of learning in New Zealand's current Health and Physical Education Learning Area of the New Zealand Curriculum (Ministry of Education, 2007). In this paper both terms 'EOTC' and 'outdoor education' are used in accordance with the New Zealand Ministry of Education's (2007, 2009) curriculum and EOTC guidelines.

Learning in outdoor settings enables development of students' confidence, curiosity and active participation. Rich learning experiences are available to children during outside the classroom activities. Yet, we suggest a tension exists in outdoor education when the state's and teachers' visions for outdoor learning experiences conflict with teachers' responsibilities for children's safety. The EOTC guidelines (Ministry of Education, 2009, p. 4) highlight safe learning as of paramount importance; while positive learning outcomes are the aim, programmes need effective safe management.

There is a potential for mishap in EOTC, and it is this possibility of harm that directs teacher attention toward children's safety. Accidents and fatalities produce safety policies and practices and, in school outdoor education, these include risk analysis management and safety systems. Safety has become an important aspect of education outside the classroom, a focus we suggest, that can work against the stated vision for outdoor learning.

Public concerns about schools' outdoor education safety escalate when there are children's fatalities or serious incidents. A safety focus has been increasingly evident since a number of serious accidents and fatalities during school outdoor education programmes in 2000 and 2001 when there were six drownings. These prompted a review of risk-management in education (McDonald, 2000). …

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