Evolutionary thriving entails that organisms find their ways in existing life-worlds or innovate new ones; it also often involves stunning cooperation. Education can help. All organisms learn throughout their lifetimes and humans are gifted students. I’ve facilitated human learning in the following, interconnected fields:
Among educational priorities, ecological literacy needs to be ranked with or above literacy—both oral and written—and numeracy. Understanding the basic principles of ecology and living by them is as important for success as everyday literacy skills like correctly reading and following road signs, or numeracy like tracking and keeping an acceptable sum of money in a bank account. The quality of this education directly impacts individual and collective health.
I helped students study and apply basic ecology through gardening and cooking. Cohorts learned that what one organism considers waste material, another eats as food; that matter such as water, carbon, and nitrogen cycles through living systems; that the sun powers these cycles; that diversity can help safeguard an ecosystem from collapse; and that organisms collaborate and compete with one another. We tended compost piles, grew thousands of pounds of food, and made delicious recipes. I taught in schools, community centers, and shelters, working with hundreds of participants of diverse ages.
I facilitated with UC Berkeley’s “Cal Adventures” for several years. Participants developed mind-body and social coordination skills, and ecoliteracy through sit-atop kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, high ropes challenge courses, teambuilding games, meditation, and nature-walks.
I’ve taught extensively about wilderness from within a city—after all, wildernesses were designed as counterparts to modern cities. The two depend on one another. The residents of cities provide fiscal and political resources to governments that construct wildernesses, and wildernesses provide ecosystem services—including some psychological ones— to residents of cities. I worked on refiguring that design so it functions more equitably among city-dwelling humans.
Along with other celebrations, the United States Forest Service (USFS) marked the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Wilderness Act—as well as the Civil Rights Act which also passed in 1964—by setting up an Urban Ranger Station and inaugurating the annual Visions of the Wild Festival in Vallejo CA in 2014. Vallejo houses one of the ten USFS regional offices and is considered the most racially diverse city in the United States. I served as an intern for both endeavors, then as a contractor with the Forest Service to sustain the first and only Urban Ranger Station for an additional six months after the festival. For 18 months, the Station functioned as Festival headquarters and a community hub. I chose to volunteer with subsequent Visions of the Wild Festivals and the eventually-Mobile Urban Ranger Station until I moved from Vallejo in 2018.
This community worked to end the endangerment and erasure of people of color in wilderness, two significant aspects of the construction of the first wildernesses. We worked toward empowerment. Ohlone activist and leader Corrina Gould, Winnemem Wintu Chief Caleen Sisk, author Audrey Peterman, and Outdoor Afro founder Rue Mapp presented memorable films, talks, and keynote lectures. We built culture around remembering history and forming respectful relationships with ecosystems near and far, spanning lands designated industrial to wilderness.
In the keynote address to the first Festival, Corrina Gould reminded the audience that Chocheno speakers had no word for wilderness, nor a particular need for one, “because it was everywhere” prior to colonization. Indeed, the Wilderness Act designates land that will remain “untrammelled by Man.” To trammel means to restrict or impede the free action of something. Many ecosystems in North America flourished with human versions of ecosystem engineering for thousands of years, blessedly untrammelled. Clear-cutting, paving, strip-mining, swamp-draining, toxin-dumping, and fire suppression are the ecological impediments of concern, with settlers as the most common and egregious perpetrators. This isn't even to mention attack on and exclusion of people who tend the land. Wilderness is best part of deciding if, when, or where to perform the list of mechanical engineering activities. It is one legal tool available for the coordination of healthy ecosystems.
I presently facilitate a study group for Capra Course, which uses The Systems View of Life as a textbook. This undergraduate level class covers the biological, cognitive, social, and ecological dimensions of life and highlights some of their implications for economics, design, spirituality, law, and politics. It advances ecoliteracy. As a facilitator, I help students from diverse intellectual backgrounds integrate the interdisciplinary material, including the conversational fluency in mathematics, physics, biology, and chemistry.
This season, students study in four languages, in eleven study groups, in dozens of countries.
Enrollment is now open for Fall 2023, with tiered pricing as well as scholarships available to make the course widely accessible.
I wish my participants all the best as we work to build worlds of mutual flourishing.