Daring to Care? Humans, Nature and Outdoor Education

By Martin, Peter | Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education, July 1, 1999 | Go to article overview

Daring to Care? Humans, Nature and Outdoor Education


Martin, Peter, Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education


Outdoor educators allege a difference from outdoor recreation based on the intent of the programs they run. That outdoor education seeks outcomes beyond introduction to leisure activities, social involvement, or personal enjoyment seems clear enough.. However within outdoor education, ideology and outcomes are still quite diverse. Outdoor educators variously lay claim to personal empowerment, group development, environmental stewardship, team co-operation, rehabilitative powers, and more. I have previously argued for the uniqueness of a socially critical outdoor education which examines human-nature relationships (Martin 1998).

Within the diversity of outdoor education, one of the commonalities which I believe may bind the profession is an ethic of care - care for humanity and non-human nature. The practices predicated on an ethic of care for humanity are not strangers to traditional outdoor educators - but what of an ethic of care for non-human nature? How might an ethic of care for nature influence the practice of outdoor education? Of the contributions that outdoor educators can make to education and global well being into the next millennium, developing an ethic of care for nature must surely be significant. In this viewpoint article I explore some of the philosophy and resultant practices suggested by an ethic of care for non-human nature.

Caring

Caring translates to action to improve the lot of the Other', be it nature, other person, or self.

When I look at and think about how I am when I care, 1 realise that there is invariably this displacement of interest from my own reality to the reality of the other (Noddings 1984 p.14).

Noddings (1984 & 1990) is a feminist philosopher who has examined the notion of caring. She argues that caring exists on a continuum from natural to ethical. In natural caring people experience a powerful subconscious obligation to care and act, such as that commonly experienced for immediate family or partners. In ethical caring more choice creeps in - obligation and intensity to act decrease until the imperative yields to the suggestion 'someone (else) ought to do something'. Noddings (1984 & 1990) argues that what determines the imperative to act out of care, is a combination of three factors: relatedness, reciprocity, and particular modes of thinking. For outdoor education practice there are some potent implications from her work.

Relatedness

Proximity is the most powerful determinant of caring behaviour, proximity is a precursor to relatedness. Despite encouragement of global egalitarian attitudes, people most actively care for those to whom they feel closely related. If outdoor education seeks caring outcomes then relatedness must be deliberately built and fostered. In caring for nature, students need to understand their relatedness to the bush. Caring demands subject to subject relatedness, individual to individual. This is an immediate challenge to outdoor education that interprets the bush as an external generic object rather than an individual subjective identity. Nature caring outdoor education must see nature as an 'ecology of individuals' with whom students develop specific personal relationships. Relationships for example with: that big snowgum in the saddle, the possum that lives in the hollow near the creek, that airy but welcoming ledge on the second pitch which lets you look across to the falcon's nest. Outdoor education seeking caring outcomes must recognise that one-off tourist-like visits to remote places are in essence voyeuristic one night stands with unpredictable outcomes. Building relatedness demands students get to know specific individual nature over extended time and in multiple contexts. Most importantly this suggests that revisits to the same location,, to meet again the 'nature individuals met previously, is essential. I have experienced the growing relatedness, bond and resultant caring that has developed with multiple visits to Mt Arapiles to climb, ! …

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