possible pedagogical responses


Abram (1996) suggests that the development of phonetic languages has distanced us from the sensuous earth of which we are a part, and Berry (1999; Berry & Tucker, 2006) suggests we have become autistic to its voices. Yet my (and many others') experience suggests the Earth is animate and has much to communicate. Often all that is needed is to ask and learn to listen with careful, respectful, attention (Buhner, 2006; Montgomery, 2008; Smith, 2004). If carefully attended to, the knowledge received can significantly change the way one moves and acts in the world.


For students (and researchers) to move beyond their autism to 'hear' the 'voices' of animate Earth, the pedagogical tasks could include,

  • acknowledging more-than-human persons as holders of knowledge which they may be willing to share (Harvey, 2006a, 2006b; Montgomery, 2008; Smith, 2004)
  • more explicitly acknowledging the place of both intuition and intellect in the production of knowledge and reading of texts
  • providing outdoor experiences in the presence of animate Earth, with the above assumptions in the foreground, so both students and researchers may have easier access to the "shadow knowledge" available there (Abram in Abram & Jardine, 2000, p. 176; see also, Smith, 2004; Montgomery, 2008)
  • providing opportunities to name and disrupt anthropocentrism and anthropocentric language (Bell & Russell, 1999, 2000), and to place what are often assumed normative ways of knowing within historical and cultural contexts
  • including discussions of anthropocentrism, along with similar discussions of oppression in courses focusing on social justice (Russell, Plotkin and Bell, 1998)
  • teaching and learning methods that support access to wisdom from the more-than-human world
  • reconfiguring academic protocols (Harvey, 2006b), to support inclusion of insights from more-than-human persons in academic texts
  • in some instances, reclaiming the word 'spirit' within the context of knowledge production and decision-making
  • moving beyond assumptions of cultural appropriation placed on non-Aboriginal animists, while at the same time recognizing the historical and ongoing violence done to Aboriginal and other peoples who practice these ways of knowing.

Acknowledging the role animate Earth can play in human knowledge-making might mean giving up investments in Western ways of knowing in schools and curriculum design as privileged and normative. For instance, science education may look different (as in bi-cultural curricula or science education that promotes the kind of "two-eyed seeing" suggested by Elder Albert Marshall of the Eskasoni Mi'kmaq First Nation).


Furthermore, previously marginalized subjectivities/identities and ways of knowing would have to more fully acknowledged and supported. Taking up these ideas might create more comfortable spaces for those who engage with and/or live through an animist ontology. Perhaps Aboriginal students (and those non-Aboriginal students who are silently living animist worldviews in Western cultural spaces) would find schools much more comfortable places to be.


Furthermore, by acknowledging animism as a legitimate ontology, those who work in outdoor education can provide a wide variety of languages and experiences to their students to open the possibility of the earth as animate (see for example, Council of all Beings). The possibility of learning from Earth by being outdoors in a state of open awareness can become (re)valued. This may 1. shift the kinds of educational opportunities valued in the outdoors and  2. offset the current trend in many educational contexts to support outdoor experiences only if they meet cognitive or skills-based learning objectives, and 3. disrupt the anthropocentric dominance that is so prevalent in both language and educational programs.


Perhaps the persistent gap between spoken desire and actual achievement of social and environmental sustainability might be more achievable.

(spoken words from the Earth Charter)