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How Might Self-guided and Instructor-Led Nature Education Serve as a Gateway to Appreciating Non-human Agency and Values?

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Traditional field-based nature education, including self-guided learning and instructor-led sessions, typically embrace non-humans only as objects. Furthermore, learning outputs often focus on human uses of non-human nature, bolstering the objectification of other-than-human life. This chapter presents an alternative to this traditional framework, drawing on both the existing literature and the author’s experience as a nature educator. In particular, the chapter explores how educational activities can be enriched to help inspire an appreciation for non-human agency and values in learners, and, in doing so, it presents a number of practical suggestions for implementation. As the challenges facing human and non-human Earth citizens escalate—in a period of time so different from what has come before it that some scholars now consider it a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene—there has never been a greater urgency for re-evaluating the praxis of nature education.


  • Ecocentrism
  • Intrinsic value
  • Natural history
  • Nature education
  • Non-human agency

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  1. 1.

    Instructors on nature courses and creators of materials to support self-directed learning may wish to bear this point in mind in shaping their approach to supporting learners.

  2. 2.

    Here, if we turn to consider instructor-led nature education ahead of the main section that covers it in this chapter, it is worth noting that, in the case of this arboretum, a skilled tutor would still be able to help students discover agency by looking at the trees as individual living beings and exploring the community of denizens that make each one a great temple of life.

  3. 3.

    Even literature primarily expounding the virtues of nature-rich places in regard to human mental health—controversial though this is to challenge in today’s world—may serve to perpetuate the objectification and instrumentalization of non-human organisms.

  4. 4.

    In certain cases, such as in specialist education aimed at upskilling people for the task of conducting biological surveys, there may be a need for a strong focus on simply transmitting facts and providing instruction in techniques. But in educational activities of a more general nature, this same requirement does not exist.

  5. 5.

    One can imagine a cartoon, if and when the concept of non-human teachers becomes mainstream, in which a rabbit is running away from a human who is holding a notepad and pencil. The caption is: It isn’t enough to try to eat me? Now you want me to be your teacher too!

  6. 6.

    I wonder if activities that involve young students converting, say, a wild scattering of dead wood on a forest floor into rudimentary shelter-like structures might not be followed by a reverse exercise to restore the habitat to its pre-activity state? This would enact a respect for the habitat as habitat rather than a mere outdoor classroom.


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Correspondence to Joe Gray .

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Gray, J. (2022). How Might Self-guided and Instructor-Led Nature Education Serve as a Gateway to Appreciating Non-human Agency and Values?. In: Paulsen, M., jagodzinski, j., M. Hawke, S. (eds) Pedagogy in the Anthropocene . Palgrave Studies in Educational Futures. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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