Oregon Schools Want to Send All Their Kids Camping In The Wildlands

Nov 2, 2016
The Conservation Movement got started over 100 years ago in the Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt and his close friend, Gifford Pinchot, who was in charge of Forestry during the Roosevelt Administration, focused on politics to sell the concept of conservation.

Around the same time, people like botanist Liberty Hyde Bailey, and artist-conservationist Anna Botsford Comstock, were focusing on getting kids outside for hands-on science education, as well as outdoor recreation through learning lifetime sports and appreciating nature by taking kids to camps as part of their schooling. Their efforts resulted in two movements that sought to educate kids about nature: Outdoor Education takes kids camping to study nature first-hand, learn life-long outdoor recreation skills and experience how valuable nature is to people; and Nature Study Education that teaches biology through being outdoors and using natural areas as educational classrooms.

In 1962 the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission report found that 90% of Americans participated in at least one outdoor recreation activity. Outdoor education and nature study education worked.

Earth Day in 1970 launched a whole new direction in education about the environment by focusing on environmental problems like pollution, toxic chemicals and waste disposal. It was so successful, in fact, that today there is more environmental education than ever – but often its science education in classes, which teaches ecological literacy, which is essential, but most of the kids don't get outdoors anymore. And so, with pressures to get high test scores, as they develop a new sixth sense with electronic information technology devices, not nearly enough kids are getting outdoors as part of school, let alone on their own,. This is one reason why the percentage of people who do participate in outdoor sports now hovers around 50%, even though organizations like US Sportsmen's Alliance Trailblazer program and many state natural resources agencies offer programs like Becoming and Outdoors Woman or Becoming An Outdoors Family to educate people about the outdoors.

Oregon is a state with snow-capped mountains, streams with runs of salmon, and dense forests, thanks in part to an abundance of rain. Clearly a place where participating in outdoor recreation is possible for everyone. Oregonians know from experience that getting out in nature is good for people, something that's been proven by research. Over 100 studies have found that wilderness recreation reduces stress and increases vitamin D. Other studies have found that white blood cell counts increase as a result of spending time in national parks and forests.

Oregonians have known the benefits from getting outdoors for a long time, and to insure that kids understand this, for years they have been sending their kids camping as part of school. The Oregon Outdoor School program started more than 50 years ago, and since then more than a million children have gone camping as part of their schooling. At the program's peak, 90% of the sixth-graders spent a week in the wilds studying field biology and just having a good time. Caps on property taxes, plus the recent Great Recession, have forced many school districts to cut the program or whittle it down considerably. Today, about half of Oregon's 11- and 12-year-olds take part in outdoor school programs and a number of Oregonians want to change that.

Thanks to a coalition of organizations, in 2015 the Oregon legislature passed the Outdoor School Bill (SB 439) that called for getting all the kids in Oregon outdoors as part of their schooling. Great idea, but there was a problem. The Legislature passed the measure without requested funding, because outdoor recreation is already having a tough time getting enough money to keep agencies going.http://www.theoutdoorwire.com/features/229516

Nonetheless, SB 439 was step forward, as it set the tone for a 2016 proposal on the ballot in the upcoming election. Measure 99 on the ballot for the upcoming election asks Oregonians to help restore outdoor education as part of their education by taking $22 million a year from the state lottery's economic development fund.https://ballotpedia.org/Oregon_Outdoor_School_Lottery_Fund,_Measure_99_(2016)

If Measure 99 passes it will send every middle school child in Oregon, 50,000 fifth- or sixth-graders, to Outdoor School to go camping for a week. This would make Oregon the only state with state-wide dedicated funding for outdoor education, including students in charter, private and home schools.

To qualify for state funding, programs will have to have a curriculum that includes the study of plants, animals, soil and water; discussion of the role of natural resources in the state economy; and lessons on the relationship between economic growth, natural resources and conservation. And, yes, the kinds will learn about outdoor sports and get to spend some quality time by enjoying nature first-hand.

Supporters of Measure 99 cite a Portland State University study that found students who participated in Outdoor School had improved attendance. Other surveys by the Multnomah Education Service District that currently provides 7,000 students a year with Outdoor School, show the program boosts self-confidence and interest in math and science.http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/oregon-weighs-kids-outdoor-education-43060929

These are not the only studies that show the value of outdoor education. An analysis of 97 studies of Outdoor Education found a positive overall effect on outcomes such as self-concept, leadership, and communication skills.http://wilderdom.com/abstracts/Hattieetal1997AdventureEducationMetaanalysis.htm

The point simply is that by getting kids outdoors for first-hand education, in the long run, it will save money for the state on health care, and make for healthier communities, as well as help boost the outdoor recreation industry.

In the mid l940's, sitting at a hand-hewn pine table beside a field stone fireplace in a cabin made from a converted chicken coop, nicknamed "the shack," set along the banks of the Wisconsin River in Baraboo, Wisconsin, Aldo Leopold hit a bullseye in A Sand County Almanac when he wrote:

"Conservation is a state of harmony between men and the land. Despite nearly a century of propaganda, conservation still proceeds at a snail's pace. The usual answer to this dilemma is 'more conservation education.' No one will debate this, but is it certain that only the volume of education needs stepping up?"

The folks in Oregon understand this. Kids today are overwhelmed by facts, figures, worksheets and electronic information technology devices. Most certainly, they should study conservation in school, but as Leopold says, the volume is not ultimately the issue. Numerous studies also show that to form an "ecological conscience" which Leopold says is necessary to support conservation and appreciate nature, you've got to get out there and experience nature first-hand.https://www.amazon.com/Nature-Teacher-Healer-Reawaken-Connection/dp/0679738797/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1477595002&sr=1-1&keywords=Nature+As+teacher+and+Healer If Measure 99 passes, maybe it will start a movement to restore Outdoor Education to our schools all across North America, so kids will know from first-hand experience why nature is such a powerful teacher and healer.

—James A. Swan