That land is a community is the basic concept of ecology.
That land is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics.
That land yields a cultural (aesthetic) harvest.
The Leopold Education Project (LEP) deals with Part I of The Almanac, which records observations and events throughout the seasons. By means of 21 essays, this section chronologically guides the reader through the months of the year and describes Leopold’s activities at his Wisconsin farm where he and his family escaped the modern world of Madison.
These essays help people to “read the land” through outdoor explorations and inform readers about tracking animals in the snow, predator/prey relationships, local history correlated with the growth of an oak, returning Canada geese, river floods, spring flowers, bur oak ecology, woodcock mating rituals, upland plover migration, trout fishing, watching daybreak arrive, and many other outdoor explorations and events.
Educating for Environmental Values
The LEP was developed mainly for use by teachers, although other educational groups and private citizens can benefit from the materials. One major premise of the LEP is that Leopold’s writings are both sound science and excellent literature, and that they can be used as a springboard for meaningful environmental education. Whenever possible, students should experience the essays as part of each lesson, either before, during, or after the main activities. Although the over-riding purpose of the lessons is to promote responsible decision making regarding our impact on ecosystems, the developers do not advocate particular positions on value-sensitive issues such as hunting, using wetlands, applying pesticides and herbicides, or any others. The LEP’s underlying theory about these controversial topics is that given a supportive classroom climate to study a variety of positions and viewpoints, students will develop responsible environmental values on their own. Responsible values include the sustaining of natural cycles, the preserving of plant and animal species, and the exercising of caution before changing ecosystems in major ways without careful study of future consequences.
Appreciating & Understanding the Land
Leopold believed that people should learn how to discover beauty in commonplace events and places. He saw aesthetics as a measure of how we view the rightness or wrongness of our actions and believed that people were motivated to act by both beauty and duty in natural communities. When we view the components of land: soil, water, plants, and animals (including humans) as members of the same community, we are more likely to make decisions that allow natural cycles to continue to renew themselves.
Leopold advocated a harmonious relationship between humans and the components of the earth as a way to achieve land health. When we extend moral considerations beyond humans to include soil, water, plants, and non-human animals, we develop a personal environmental ethic. With this type of ethic, we are more likely to choose a lifestyle that continually re-examines our relationship to the land, and by placing rational restraints upon ourselves, the critical earth cycles are more likely to be preserved. Through reading about Leopold’s recorded discoveries and participating in meaningful activities, students will expand their awareness and appreciation of nature and their ecological understandings.
Providing Direct Experiences – Teaching outdoors
Another major premise underlying the LEP is that educators should provide students direct experiences with the natural and cultural worlds outside the school. One way to accomplish this is to make greater use of the outdoors as a learning laboratory. Whenever possible, the developers recommend first-hand contact with human and non-human nature. Modern learning theory supports an experimental approach that allows students to construct meanings from their activities and to develop concepts and skills based on their past knowledge.
In order to promote critical thinking, teachers should provide students with opportunities to explore the world directly. Even in heavily populated suburban and urban areas, a wide array of useful resources can be found outside. Leopold believed that “…the weeds in a city lot convey the same lesson as the redwoods.” The LEP encourages teachers to adapt lessons to suit not only particular students and settings, but also various teaching and learning philosophies. In order to be effective, the LEP lessons must be viewed as flexible guides to important knowledge about how the world works and how we function on the planet. We encourage creativity and experimentation in using these lessons in a variety of subject matter areas.