Rewild Your Students

If you are reading this blog, you are a modern human. You are a Homo Sapien. So am I. We have been around for 200,000 years.  For ninety percent of that time, we were hunters and gatherers. It was only 12,000 years ago or so that some of us picked up a hoe and became farmers. And, it was only about 250 years ago or so that some of us invented machines, launched the industrial revolution, and initiated our great migration from farm to factory.  And, I am going to guess that it was only 60 years ago or so that a large numbers of us decided to fully participate in today’s highly specialized consumerist societies – societies in which we specialize in doing one thing and one thing only and buy the goods and services we specialize out of from other specialists.

Before the emergence of our consumerist societies, most of us did a fair amount of making, building, and constructing. We shared hand-me-downs. And, instead of replacing thing that broke, we repaired them. Before the mall, before the industrial revolution, and before becoming farmers:

  • If we wanted to be warm, we had to know how to build a fire.
  • If we wanted to be dry, we had to know how to construct a shelter.
  • If we wanted to be clothed, we had to know how to sew.
  • If we wanted to drink, we had to know how to fetch water.
  • If we wanted to eat, we had to know how to hunt and gather and cook our meals.

We could not buy our comfort. We had to make it.

We had to know how to carve out an existence in a harsh environment.

If we were going to survive, we needed an education.

So, how did those who loved us most go about getting us to know what we needed to know?

Did they box us up in a room, separate us from reality and hand us a fully articulated syllabus outlining what to do, when to do it, and how to do it? Did they assign us a seat? Did they tell us to sit still? If we started to fidget, did they put us on medication? If we stared out into the horizon too many times, did they assign us a disorder? Did they lecture at us? Did they stand above us? Did they induce us to do our best by using sweet treats? Did they manage us by using a blurt chart?

I do not think so.

I think we learned how to sew, fetch, gather and hunt by doing those things. The classroom and reality were one and the same. It included the woods, rivers, ponds and prairies. And, like reality, the classroom was full of hazards. We made mistakes. We fell down. We got cuts and scrapes and bruises. These things were expected. But, it was also expected that we brush ourselves off and get back up.

We did a lot of exploring. We did a lot of wondering. We had to take actions we did not think we were ready to take. It was early in our history, there were few well-trodden paths. But, our teachers explored and wondered alongside with us. They were comfortable with “I do not know.” Learning was collaborative. Our roles were malleable. We were student and teachers of each other. And, we learned through stories, scars and vulnerability.

“Did it grow? Did it hold together? Did it light?” were our test questions. Reality was our judge. We knew if we passed. No one needed to tell us so.

We felt our education.

I believe that we learned in this fashion for 175,000 years or so.

It worked.

How do I know?

We survived.

So, why did we stop using these methods?

There are number of different reasons. But, I will focus on the following.

The architects of our earliest educational systems were our parents and extended family. It reflected their interests. They wanted to us to survive. They wanted us to grow up strong and healthy. They wanted us to have kids. We needed to know how to navigate a chaotic, dynamic and uncertain natural world. So, they designed an educational system that kept us a bit wild.

However, during the industrial revolution, we outsourced the education of our kids to other people. Other people decided what was worth learning. Other people’s interests rose to the fore. And, what did they want? They wanted obedience. So, they designed an educational system that domesticated us.

That educational system has run its course. It will not work for the future. And, the future is looking like our past. It is chaotic, dynamic and uncertain.

If our young people are going to survive the future, they are going to need an educational system that keeps them a bit wild.

So, let’s look to the past.

Can 175,000 years of learning, surviving and thriving be wrong?


If you liked this post, you may also like the other posts in Rewilding Pedagogy.

Thanks. – shawn

Photograph by Alinde Fojtik, My Shot