Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Teaching Geoscience in the Context of Culture and Place

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Teaching Geoscience in the Context of Culture and Place

Article excerpt


[Our world] is highly diverse in almost all senses-physical, biological, and cultural-and although this produces problems for society and even conflicts and war, would we really want a less diverse and interesting home?...The broad diversity of places, materials, living things, experiences and peoples not only makes the world a more useful and interesting place, but probably also stimulates creativity and progress in a wide range of ways. (Gray, 2013, p. 4-5).

Across the Earth, an anthropic cultural landscape coexists with and interpenetrates the physical landscape (Sauer, 1925). The cultural equivalents of the landforms, hydrologic or oceanographic features, and ecosystems that comprise the physical landscape or seascape are places: localities that become imbued with intellectual meaning and emotional significance through human experiences in them (Tuan, 1977). The sense of place, a construct well-characterized in theory and research (e.g., Stedman, 2003) incorporates the meanings and attachments we individually or collectively affix to places.

Naming and making places in our physical surroundings is inherent to human nature. The dynamic Earth-system processes (natural and anthropogenic) that form and reconfigure landscapes and environments through deep time have cultural parallels in human actions and events, situated in specific places, that have changed cultural landscapes through human prehistory and history (Schama, 1996). Geoscientifie inquiry and exploration are valid, if comparatively recent, examples of these transactions. The activities of geoscientists contribute to place-making, and this includes geoscience education, because we teach in and by means of places. Conversely, our cultural worldviews and experiences-which include our senses of place-directly influence (Lee and Luykx, 2007), and render context and meaning to (e.g., Morton and Gawboy, 2000) the ways that we observe, document, interpret, and teach about Earth features, processes, and history. As they construct factual and conceptual knowledge and skills, geoscience students also leverage and enlarge their senses of the geologically illustrative places that they study (Semken and Butler Freeman, 2008). Place-based education (a term introduced by Elder, 1998) refers to an approach that engages the sense of place by emphasizing local and regional surroundings, issues, and knowledge (i.e., place meanings); integrating experiential or service learning in the field or community if possible; foregrounding local relevance; fostering respect and concern for places (i.e., place attachment); and promoting environmental and cultural sustainability.

[T]he first way of thinking and knowing has to do with one's physical place. That is, one has to come to terms with where one physically lives. One has to know one's home, one's village, and then the land, the earth upon which one lives.. .For Indigenous people, this first type of thought begins the extension and integration of connections with Nature and other people in the community. (Cajete, 1994, p. 47).

Indigenous and other historically rooted groups, communities, and nations typically retain rich and enduring senses of the places of their traditional homelands, whether or not they continue to inhabit these places (e.g., Kelley and Francis, 1994). Their uniquely place-based systems of knowledge, variously referred to as traditional knowledge, traditional ecological knowledge, indigenous knowledge, or indigenous science, incorporate valid and significant geoscientific observations and ideas, which have been referred to as ethnogeology (Murray, 1997). And, as attested by the above excerpt from a book by Santa Clara Tewa scholar and science educator Gregory Cajete (1994), as well as by numerous other culturally valid sources (e.g., Kawagley and Bamhardt, 1999; Deloria and Wildcat, 2001), Indigenous philosophies and practices of education are similarly placebased: specifically attuned both to their home landscapes and to the sustainability of their people. …

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