Wild Pedagogies Discussed – Pathways Spring 2020 32 (3)

 In Wild Pedagogy


Wild Pedagogies Discussed
By Bob Henderson

“If your words are dull, then your thoughts are dull.” Nils Faarlund

“If some people don’t hate your work, you’re not doing it right.” Kate Tempest, Hold Your Own, Picador 2014.

“Why would you determine one thing by means of study and reflection, and then, when you go to practice, practice something else.”  Dave Jardine

Wild Pedagogies (WP), as a phrase, began as a way to describe Lakehead Professor Bob Jickling’s desire to disrupt university education. Jickling taught a course in 2012 that explored opening the spaces for more student control in order to advance the complexity of thought and power of the spontaneous teachable moment with full attention to the ecological crisis and challenges we all face [my words]. I’m certain, on many levels, students in that course were presented with the following challenge: “The question is only: are you going to take part and if so, how?” (Derby 2015, 22)

Personally, I would have loved to have taken such a course as an undergrad back in the mid 1970s. Perhaps the educational environment wasn’t ready for WP and Bob Jickling back then. Perhaps I wasn’t ready.  Perhaps many are ready now. I think so!

Now, in 2020, there have been many academic articles, theme issues of journals, a WP book and six and counting professional WP gatherings framed as colloquium, dialogues, workshops and international travelling (self-propelled) conferences. 

Through the 1970s to the present, there has been a steady set of programming touchstones of outdoor educational reform guiding one slowly to a 2014-2020 WP understanding to go along with the realized Anthropocene.  Steve Van Matre’s acclimatization work, forest bathing and forest schools all come to mind. Like a realization of the Anthropocene, a new epoch denoted by human impact on the earth, WP calls for a realization of advancing our understanding of education towards intentional culture change! This will demand changes to education, schooling and culture.  

For decades, (one might argue since Arne Naess first coined the phrase Deep Ecology—rather than Shallow Ecology in 1972), there has been a brewing subculture attention to “cultivate ecological consciousness.”  This has been my go-to-phrase, among many, and is derived from sentiments like John Holt’s, “school is structurally antithetical to learning.” Or, David W. Jardine, who in the first issue of the Canadian Journal of Environmental Education called for schooling to be, “…reconceived as deeply ecological in character and mood.” (1996, 47) School—and all education, really— has been a fertile ground for critique given schooling’s adherence to a certain industrial growth status quo of society. And this adherence prevails when it is clearly emerging that to do so is an exercise of denial of ecological realities. The shift has been evolving such that the idealist is now the one who is intent on preserving the status quo. That’s a big shift.

So, “the times, they are a changin.” WP and the Anthropocene are here. There is now a sound WP textbook written from a collegial dialogue developed over time. Okay, textbook is the wrong word. Let’s call it a guide. It can represent a guide to comprehend and evaluate one’s practice as an outdoor educator. It is challenging. On a personal note, the Wild Pedagogies guide represents the best descriptor of what I always thought my career as a university professor was all about…though not so well articulated.

Within this theme issues of Pathways we will: hear from WP colleagues who have attended various WP gatherings; consider the six WP touchstones presented in Jickling et al (2018) Wild Pedagogies: Touchstones for Renegotiating Education and the Environment in the Anthropocene (referenced throughout this issue). I will explore pre and post thoughts from the 2019 Finse, Norway WP gathering. Gary Pluim and Kory Snache share a travelling course model and Maurie Lung shares a health counselors perspective with program activities  both well suited to WP. Chris Peters gives the WP touchstones a try in his class time in Newfoundland. Student Nicole Strader considers a WP reflection concerning the wisdom of the hearth from a school winter field trip. Joshua Bennett considers WP and tourism outdoor guiding. Chris Beeman plays with our “visual Imagination” rendering a WP image to consider. 

This theme issue of Pathways is meant to promote a developing “updated” description or packaging of ideas (some perhaps new), to outdoor environmental educators in an emergent Anthropocene epoch . Do we need a new label or packaging for outdoor education? 

The working premise here is that we do. For many, the case can be made that outdoor education is a “tired” term. I, for one, fear outdoor education implies, to all too many people, outdated ideas and activities we may do but not as perceived. For example, one may teach canoeing skills so as to function on a canoe trip alone BUT also to be “one with the water” in an ecological relational understanding.  One might wonder if there are ideas and activities that are part of Outdoor Education that are not connected to the label?  Perhaps WP can be added to one’s repertoire as needed. Perhaps it can serve as a rallying cry in the Anthropocene.  Perhaps it can serve as a springboard in a dawning of relational nature and culture education. Or perhaps it is merely a term that keeps us playing in our own little sandbox, comfortable with our own little lexicon when we should be calling good outdoor experiential environmental education simply good education. 

Whichever the case, Wild Pedagogies enters the arena of Outdoor Education in ways that confirm or even celebrate, reform or challenge. If the label gains cultural and institutional merit it can only add to the “may the forest be with you” dynamic of Outdoor Education, contemporizing our work to the times.


Derby, M. W. (2015) Place, Being Resonance: A Critical Eco Hermeneutic Approach to Education. New York: Peter Lang.

Jardine, D. (1996). “Under the Tough Old Stars: Meditations on Pedagogical Hyperactivity and the Mood of Environmental Education.” Canadian Journal of Environmental Education. Vol 1, Spring. 47-55.

Wild Pedagogy Theme Issue. Pathways: The Ontario Journal of Outdoor Education. Summer 2016, 28 (4) 4-36.

 Bob Henderson works on a variety of outdoor education projects and in a variety of settings. He is a Resource Editor for Pathways, and the Guest Editor of this issue.

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