Got a gripe with rote learning, marketing to children and junk food in the cafeteria? Sick to death of driving from school to soccer to tutoring to Chuck E. Cheese birthday parties to "play dates"? Resentful of kids pimping chocolate bars, wrapping paper and magazines for the PTA? This talk by writer Richard Louv, author of the best-selling Last Child in the Woods, is for you. Sure, environment-based education might seem hard to square with the failure to fund public schools, the odious testing regimen of No Child Left Behind, the struggle beginning in preschool to secure a spot for Junior at the UC, and the general industrialization of education to fit the presumed needs of our corporate masters. But if you grew up playing with pill bugs, climbing trees, fishing or camping or hiking, laying in the grass or getting lost in the forest, then Louv may articulate your deepest suspicion: "Imaginative play," often denied kids today, is as important as homework.
Nature, argues Louv, has become the manicured lawns of sports fields or Discovery Channel shows. Kids don't play outdoors; instead, they doodle with the paraphernalia of the virtual life—battery-operated toys, computers, cell phones—even as parents and other uptight grown-ups frighten them with Global Warming and shoot mountain lions. Kids, Louv says, lack a spiritual, psychic, human (call it what you like, campers) connection to Mother Nature and are denied a real childhood.
Happily, research proves that re-enrollment in the natural world is antidote to childhood depression, obesity and ADD. Locally, the nature-centered pedagogy provided by Louv's host, the OC Department of Ed's innovative Inside the Outdoors program, improves student performance on standardized tests, raises GPAs and develops problem-solving skills, and I don't mean deciding which crappy plastic movie-tie-in superhero action figure from Burger King to choose.