One of the defining movements of the early 21st century involves a re-focusing on our local communities. In terms of food, the word used is “locavore.” A locavore tries to eat food that is locally produced, which is often defined as being grown either in one’s own garden or purchased from a farmer operating within one hundred miles of its point of purchase or consumption. The benefits include knowing the origin of one’s food, that it’s grown without any or excessive amounts of chemicals, and is super fresh; environmental benefits such as avoiding the pollution involved with transporting food long distances; and support for local economies. Locavorism is part of a larger trend toward shopping locally, from small, neighborhood businesses rather than large, multinational chains – indie booksellers versus Amazon, the corner coffee roaster versus Starbucks, and so on.
“Through place-based education, students use their local
communities as resources for learning by doing.”
“Through place-based education, students use their local communities as resources for learning by doing.”
Through place-based education, students use their local communities as resources for learning by doing. Young people and adults work together, often with local agencies, to solve community problems and develop what is known as a “sense of place.” Many philosophers believe that knowledge of the history, culture, and ecology of one’s immediate surroundings is a stepping stone to understanding broader international issues.
Gregory A. Smith – associate professor in the Graduate School of Education, Lewis & Clark College, Portland, Oregon – notes in a 2002 article in the Phi Delta Kappan magazine that one of the primary strengths of place-based education is that, through its adaptation to the unique characteristics of particular places, it can “help overcome the disjuncture between school and children’s lives that is often a characteristic of school.” He describes it as putting learners in charge of their own learning agendas, with adults as “experienced guides, co-learners, and brokers of community resources and learning possibilities.” Smith also points out that place-based education allows students to “become the creators of knowledge rather than the consumers of knowledge created by others,” in much the same way that graduate schools do.
Although place-based education theory, along with Smith’s commentary, refers to school environments, it all sounds very much like life learning to me!
Place-based education is usually hands-on, project-based, and always related to something in the real world. It involves kids in solving real-world problems. And that’s perfectly suited to life learners, who populate their communities during the day when others are in school. If they’re old enough, in many communities they can volunteer at local institutions such as libraries, hospitals, or nursing homes. Or they can assist entrepreneurs and researchers in their real-life work. Or they can create their own projects, often with an environmental or social aspect – helping monitor the health of a local body of water, cleaning up a park and figuring out how to keep it that way, documenting local flora and fauna as citizen scientists, or exploring local history by interviewing local residents, for instance. One well-known place-based project is the Appalachian Foxfire movement of the 1970s, where young people documented their parents’ and grandparents’ life experiences working in the coal mines and living a hardscrabble life on small, rural properties.
Because such projects connect kids to the economic, civic, and social lives of their communities, they can lead to entrepreneurship opportunities and internships/apprenticeships with local businesses as they begin to pursue career ideas.
One of the criticisms of home-based education in general, and
unschooling in particular, is that families whose kids aren’t in school
have scorned their civic duty, resulting in their kids becoming
self-centered and unable to participate in a democracy. I have always
argued that the opposite is true; life learners, with their place-based
education, have plenty of opportunities to become aware of their status
and responsibilities as residents of their neighborhoods and
communities. And that leads to a stronger commitment to recognize and
solve problems as they arise. That’s the focus of an article in
this series, published in the January/February 2015 issue of
Life Learning Magazine.