The Appalachian Trail: An Environmental Classroom

By Burkholder, Robert E. | Academic Exchange Quarterly, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview

The Appalachian Trail: An Environmental Classroom

Burkholder, Robert E., Academic Exchange Quarterly


Given recent observations about the detrimental effects of alienating children from nature, there should be a similar concern for addressing such effects in college students. "The Literature and Cultures of the Appalachian Trail" is a course that blends work inside in the classroom and outside on the trail as an answer to the effects of what Richard Louv has labeled "nature deficit."

"We do not learn by inference and deduction and the application of mathematics to philosophy, but by direct intercourse and sympathy."

Henry David Thoreau, "Natural History of Massachusetts"


With all of the recent attention on the possible social effects of the alienation of children from nature, one wonders about the ways in which such alienation may affect university students. More than half a century ago, Aldo Leopold, in proposing his Land Ethic, suggested that perhaps the most serious impediment to the evolution of such an ethic is that "our educational and economic system is headed away from rather than toward, an intense consciousness of the land" (223-224). Recently, Lowell Monke, a former teacher of computer skills to elementary school children, critiqued the computer for inhibiting our ability as humans to learn from the nonhuman world. Monke writes that

   Western pedagogy has always favored abstract
   knowledge over experiential learning. Even relying on
   books too much too early inhibits the ability of children
   to develop direct relationships with the subjects they are
   studying. But because of their power, computers drastically
   exacerbate this tendency, leading us to believe that
   vivid images, massive amounts of information, and even
   online conversations with experts provide an adequate
   substitute for conversing with the things themselves.

Maybe the most noticed of recent work highlighting the potential deleterious effects of sequestering our children in front of computers or televisions is Richard Louv's. He writes that in a society that imposes on its children "an artificial environment for which they have not evolved," eventually "children and adults alike would suffer from what might be called nature-deficit disorder, not in a clinical sense, but as a condition caused by the cumulative human costs of alienation from nature, including diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses" (71).

Louv suggests the possibility that not only children but adults as well may suffer in significant ways from the changes our electronic technology has occasioned in the way we learn. His observations seem important to me because universities by and large don't require that graduating students be ecologically literate. We don't require our graduates to know anything about the environment where they live and attend classes, nor do we ask them to be familiar with environmental laws that protect the air and water we all depend on for life.

In my own classes I have asked my young-adult students not to use CD players and cell phones on various outings associated with their coursework, since being out in the woods, even for only part of a day, gives them the chance to listen to natural sounds rather than the buzz and hum and roar that surrounds them the rest of the time. I was amazed to discover the predominance of the I-Pod on a weeklong kayaking trip with students last spring, and I am concerned about all of the students--a vast majority of those in my classes--who are hooked into recorded music or cell phones more than they are to their own thoughts. How can students care about a world that they walk through tied to technologies that distract them from that world? And how should such a concern influence the ways we approach the task of teaching our students, even in disciplines that seem more focused on culture than nature?

The Plan of the Course

I grew up in Washington County, Maryland, where the Appalachian Trail follows the county's eastern boundary as it snakes along a ridge known as South Mountain, so the Trail has occupied a small corner of my consciousness for most of my life. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

The Appalachian Trail: An Environmental Classroom


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.