ISBN: 978-94-6209-213-6 (paperback), 103 pages
Like many who work in outdoor education, my introduction to John Dewey was through the idea that an experience only becomes educative when it is reflected upon. As I learnt how to be an outdoor educator I learnt I had a responsibility to provide students with a good quality experience in the outdoors, which had to be followed by some form of reflection if they were to learn from that experience. This Deweyian "fact" was presented as a given. Over the years working with groups I did begin to think the relationship between experience, reflection and learning was more complex and nuanced than the "do and reflect cycle" that underpins outdoor education. It was not until I started to read the work of John Dewey that it became clear that "do and reflect" was a highly distilled and oversimplified version of one small component of his educational philosophy.
Given Dewey is heralded as one of the founding fathers of outdoor education, it continues to surprise me that there is not more work in the field that engages directly with Dewey's ideas. John Dewey and education outdoors is a very welcome addition to the small body of work on Dewey in outdoor education.
The premise of this book is that outdoor education, as with education generally, suffers from what Dewey called educational confusion. This is the persistent dichotomies between subject matter and method, or as Dewey referred to it, between curriculum and the child. In addressing this confusion the authors do three things. First they "explain how Dewey's theory has been approached wrongly" (p. 63). Second they "discuss how Dewey situated his theory in recent human history" (p. 63), and finally they "describe the educational program Dewey developed on the back of these ideas, in which experience and education are unified" (p. 63). They do this through Dewey's concept of occupation.
Quay and Seaman start the book by locating outdoor education in recent human history. They confine their discussion to the development of outdoor education in the USA, profiling key reformers and the ideas they promulgated from the 1900s. Outdoor education or, open-air or out-door schools were opened in response to the health needs of children. The potential that these out-door schools held for bringing alive the curriculum, particularly with regard to nature studies, was seen as self-evident by early reformers. Nature study was outside the norms of education at this time, which focused on memorization and spelling, reading, writing and arithmetic. But nature study was "gradually subsumed within the system" (p. 16), transforming into botany; subject matter that could be chunked for sequential delivery and assessment.
In another round of reform where there was an attempt to put the interests of the child ahead of the curriculum Cap'n Bill Vinal advocated for nature-lore; knowledge gained through experience in the outdoors. He promoted camps as an appropriate setting for this type of education. But as the camp movement grew, Quay and Seaman point out similar conflicts between the perceived needs of the child and the curriculum emerged. It is here that the authors delve into the outdoor education as method or as subject matter tension that has bedevilled the field in detail. The emergence of adventure-based education in the latter part of the 20th Century only exacerbated this tension.
In the following chapter the authors chart how the environmental crisis has been mobilised in outdoor education and how this intersects with a desire for adventure. As with the previous chapter the argument turns on the tensions between outdoor education as subject or as method. Quay and Seaman pay particular attention to what they call the period of experiential education because direct experience became a central pillar of outdoor education during this time. It is here they bring Dewey directly into the conversation because of his concern with experience. …