I think that Outdoor Education is at a turning point. Formally, we’re still a very young field, only a few decades old, and we still struggle with justifying our existence and methods to those outside the experience. But as anyone who is paying attention will know, the outdoor education community is gaining momentum, power, and numbers. Just last month, the US Senate and House of Representatives passed the Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Impact Act. This unanimous and bipartisan act is expected to be signed into law by President Obama before he leaves office, and will include the multibillion dollar economy of the outdoor recreation industry in the GDP. Not only does this give the outdoor recreation and education community more political clout to wield when we advocate for the conservation of the places we work and play in, but also tells us that national attitudes toward us are changing.
Just as the perception of outdoor education and recreation is changing at a national level, so too are the demographics of those participating in this rapidly evolving field. Universities are producing a diverse array of graduates with majors such as adventure leadership, recreation and leisure programming, wilderness therapy, and environmental education to name a few. Social barriers that prevented racial and ethnic minorities from participating in outdoor recreation are being dismantled, and outdoor education is becoming available to people of many backgrounds, abilities, and socioeconomic statuses. As the industry adapts to a new generation of professionals and participants, it is vital to maintain the personal narratives of those involved, and to learn from their stories how to become better outdoor professionals.
In this day and age of accessible information, it is becoming easier to experience stories from across the globe with the flick of a finger. This opens up a world of possible learning opportunities for outdoor professionals to discuss what they are doing and how they are doing it, allowing for shared knowledge and inspiration. I hope that this blog will let me chronicle and reflect on my own experience as an outdoor educator, and allow me a platform on which to share my view of the outdoor education community. I want it to be a place of connection, where I can share the stories I encounter, and where my friends and colleagues can disseminate their own thoughts and ideas about the field.
I don’t claim to have all the answers for outdoor education, nor do I think that any one person, philosophy, or program has a full comprehension of what they are working with. I believe that by trying to understand as many perspectives and stories about outdoor education as we can, we can come to a more complete idea of the field in which we work.
These perspectives include those of people who have worked in outdoor education for years, who know where the field has been, and those who are just entering the professional community now, diplomas hot off the press. We have to listen to the needs and advice from the populations we serve, and remember to look behind us to see who our worldview and cultural or personal ideals are excluding. We have to remember that while empirical research and case studies can indeed be enlightening, there are some components of outdoor education experiences that resist analytical comprehension, and are best conveyed personally, face to face over the crackling flames of a fire.
Above all, I think that what connects outdoor educators and professionals is their love of the land. From the rugged coastline along the wave-sculpted shores of Lake Superior, the secretive sagebrush flats, haunted by lizards and jackrabbits, to the snowy, knife-edge cornices of the Rockies, and the fecund, teeming mangrove mazes of the Everglades, we all have places that call us home and inspire us toward right action and compassion. It is from these places we know and love that I believe we can be the most powerful teachers. I seek to discover and share ways of discovering, connecting with, and teaching from the land.
It is my goal to spark discussion with this blog. I welcome comments, suggestions, and critiques, as well as guest writers. If you have something to add to this conversation, please contact me and we can discuss how to share your story.