In the Serra dos Órgãos National Park I took part of one of my teacher training courses. Future Biology teachers had to give a mini-class on Environmental Education, a class impossible to replicate inside a common classroom, dependent and taking advantage of our surroundings.
As students in the Park, we had our traditional “romantic” environmental education, in a “space of rejuvenation, of peace, of wild danger, of inspiration, and of adventure”, as Newbery puts it, appreciating the living beings, gazing at the sunrise, hiking and general being in nature, between the citizens of the Atlantic Forest. As future teachers, we had the mission of looking at the big picture of where the Park was located, how and when it was established, and what were the impacts of its creation, both positive and negative.
Kimmerer says that she lives “in the nation of maples”, because one species of tree stands out. If Canada is the multicultural nation of people, then Brazil is the multibiological nation of trees. The Atlantic Forest is only one of the biological nations inside of it, and the Tupi people some of the former residents of this land.
We are Biology students, me and my colleagues that took that trip. So it was easy for us to get over the anthropocentrism of thinking that the Park was empty land. The trees were companions living complex relationships between themselves and with the animals, fungi and other plants, and providing us with many ecosystem services, “running air and water purification service 24-7” (Kimmerer).
And we did also consider the people that lived there in the 1930’s, when the Park was created, and the people that still live around it. But we did not have our senses and minds set to the indigenous issue. We could see epiphytism – when one plant grows over branches of another – but we didn’t see the colonialism of Western Third World culture growing where indigenous culture once flourished. Our focus was another.
Newbery points out that incursions into nature often have maps, and as everything produced by human beings, “maps are always partial, and what they leave out and what they emphasize tell us a lot about the investments and assumptions of the societies that produce them. ” The same can be said about our classes as future teachers. Being mindful of what is present in the curriculum, what is mentioned, what is shown, what is questioned on a test help shape what kids believe is of importance. Education is never neutral, Paulo Freire would say. Neither are maps, outdoor education classes, not even nature itself.