School-based friluftsliv (i.e. outdoor education) is a significant part of the Swedish school curriculum in physical education and health [PEH] (Swedish National Agency for Education 2011), and consequently, also a significant part of the professional development of PEH teachers (Backman and Larsson 2016). However, drawing on the findings from my PhD dissertation (Mikaels 2017), I argue in this paper that the dominant pedagogy of school-based friluftsliv is inherently conservative and underpinned by an activity-based instrumental rationality. The dominant practice of school-based friluftsliv is conservative in the sense that it embraces a view that is not up-to-date with what is happening globally, such as environmental degradation and climate change.
A potential risk of overemphasizing outdoor activities, such as orienteering in educational practice, is that activity becomes all-embracing and teaching for the sake of the activity itself becomes the sole purpose of learning. In response to the call to question the philosophical ideas or ‘drivers’ shaping our epistemological understandings of outdoor learning (Gray 2018), this paper offers a place-responsive pedagogy (Mikaels 2017) as a possible alternative. This includes educating for an environmentally sustainable future, as the primary goal for school-based friluftsliv.
Despite efforts to enhance friluftsliv as a learning area in PEH in the Swedish school curriculum, there is seemingly a decline in school-based friluftsliv (Swedish School Inspection 2018). This is particularly prominent as pupils reach high school and secondary school (Swedish Friluftsliv 2016). Therefore, if we want school-based friluftsliv to be about learning for sustainability and fostering a sense of stewardship for the natural world and truly aim to contribute to our pupils’ becoming creative, curious, competent and nature caring individuals, then we need to re-imagine the educational practice of friluftsliv in Swedish high schools.
The focus for this paper is to examine how friluftsliv is conceptualised as a learning area in the Swedish school curriculum. The aim is to question the legitimacy of these understandings, by bringing place as a previously marginalised discourses to the fore. For the paper in hand, I bring together Deleuze and Guattari’s (1987) concept of becoming and the concept of place-responsiveness, to create becoming-place as an analytical tool. I begin by providing an overview of friluftsliv in the Swedish curriculum. This is followed by a description of the conceptual and theoretical framework used in this study. The remainder of the paper focuses on the analysis and discussion of the findings and implications for practice.
Friluftsliv as a concept and cultural phenomenon in Sweden
The term friluftsliv translates into English as outdoor life, or literally free-air-life. In Sweden, as well as in the other Scandinavian countries, friluftsliv is a contested term that generally refers to the cultural phenomenon of dwelling or spending time in nature for recreational purposes. In other words, the notion of friluftsliv as leisure and outdoor recreation, is deeply rooted. Sandell and Sörlin (2008) suggest that the development of a Swedish friluftsliv tradition, is related to two major societal changes in the late 1800’s, industrialisation and urbanisation.
Inspired by Romantic ideals, the return to remote, uncivilised and magnificent nature, was regarded as high status leisure for the white, predominantly male, urban cultural elite, in societies all over Europe in the early twentieth century (ibid). In response to a revival of nationalism and Romanticism, Swedish nature and connection to the land was regarded as important characteristics of the development of Sweden’s new national identity in the early 1900s.
A century of outdoor learning in the Swedish school curriculum
In various forms, outdoor learning has been part of Swedish schooling for more than 100 years. The term friluftsliv first occurred in the Swedish curriculum documents in 1928. At this time, with the intention that several subject areas should provide the opportunity for the students to get to know their home ground, and to learn about the natural and cultural history of their local environment. Some sixty years later, along with the 1980 curriculum, friluftsliv went from being of common concern for the entire school, to becoming part of physical education, or PE. Consequently, the educational aim for friluftsliv became more skill-focused (Backman 2010).
Friluftsliv as learning area in the Swedish curriculum, has had a similar development to that in other parts of the world, where outdoor education has become part of physical education (PE). For example, Zink and Boyes (2006) suggest that outdoor education in New Zealand took on the form of an activity-centred practice, and became more skill-focused, when imbedded in PE in the early 1980s.
With the Swedish curriculum reform in 1994, there was a shift towards standards-based curricula, in the form of a goal oriented educational system. Similar changes in the education system can be seen in many parts of the Western world, towards the end of the twentieth century (Apple 2001). Influenced by market-driven ideas, neoliberalism is a feature of postmodern society based on the dominant principles of the free market and consumerism.
In an educational context, these neoliberal ideas work to create an increased decentralisation and privatisation. Redelius et al. (2015) suggest that these neoliberal tendencies led to the state handing over full responsibility for the running of schools to the municipalities, although the Swedish state remained responsible for the national curriculum. Along with the 1994 curriculum reform, an emphasis on health was added to PE, thus changing its name to today’s physical education and health (PEH).
In the national 1994 curriculum, sustainable development was introduced as a core concept. This new content knowledge signals a shift from emphasising the value of skill in various outdoor activities as a way to a healthy life style, towards fostering environmental care and ecological understanding, as the aim for school-based friluftsliv. However, there was nothing in the 1994 curriculum documents to suggest how PEH teachers should go about teaching this new content knowledge.
Despite the introduction of sustainable development as a key concept for friluftsliv within PEH, the learning objectives remained rather narrow and instrumental (Sundberg and Öhman 2008). Consequently, the introduction of learning for sustainability as the aim for friluftsliv in the 1994 curriculum, was weakly framed within a subject underpinned by an even stronger tradition of friluftsliv as outdoor recreation activities. The conclusion we can draw from each national review concerning the quality of teaching in school-based friluftsliv, and each new curriculum that has been introduced in the Swedish school system, is that very little has changed in the last twenty or thirty years.