Wapalanne: A Glance Back,
and Guidelines for the Future
During Easter weekend in 1949, The Gadfly, then a
young schoolboy, visited the site of an old CCC camp in Stokes State
Forest in northwestern New Jersey. He was brought to that site by his
father, the President of Montclair State College, who was to establish
there the New Jersey School of Conservation. In the fifty years which were
to follow, the School has served over a quarter million students and
On October 17, 1999, The Gadfly had the
privilege of presenting at the School of Conservation the following
keynote to the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of its founding.
(The first section is excerpted from "Wapalanne: Contrasts and
Continuities," Journal of Environmental Education, Summer, 1982. Portions of
the remainder were "borrowed" from the two Hulings lectures and "Yes
Virginia, there is a Real World," on the safe assumption that the audience
was not acquainted with these unpublished items. We apologize to our
readers who might thus experience deja vu "all over again").
To tell the truth it didn't look like much that Easter weekend of 1949 -
our first encounter with the old Skellinger farm and the CCC camp at Lake
Wapalanne. Too late in the winter season for the crisp clean mantle of snow
and too early for even a hint of the coming spring, neither the weather nor
the season had arranged an auspicious introduction. Slabs of broken ice
quilted the lake; clods of old windblown snow and drab patches of weedy turf
marked the overgrown fields. A gray sheet of sky and gust of bone chilling
wind reminded us of nature's indifference to our arrival.
Then there were the buildings. On the near side of the lake we found rows of
standard, government issue, pine clapboard barracks abandoned by the CCC
"What's all this?" asked the bewildered teen-ager.
"The college is going to set up a camp next summer," replied his father,
The director's assenting disappointment was ill-concealed by his silence.
As another cold breeze chilled his bones, the teen-ager stamped his feet,
buttoned his collar, and shoved his hands deeper into his coat pockets. The
very last thing on his mind that day was that he might some day be
addressing the fiftieth anniversary celebration of the School of
The initial letdown was eased somewhat when we inspected the other side of
the lake. There, the buildings were thoughtfully placed alongside the
mountain, away from the busy road and on the quiet arm of the lake,
carefully crafted and sited to have minimum physical and visual impact upon
the natural environment. We began to suspect that the place might have
possibilities after all.
Two months later, on Memorial Day weekend, nature had performed her routine
annual miracle. With the oaks, maples, birches, lindens, and beeches leafed
out, the cabins receded into the woods. In this context of life renewed and
life in process, nature was prepared to offer her lessons - much more to the
point, we were ready to learn. The most profound and enduring lessons, we
were to discover, were not in the curriculum.
During those first few years, the founding director -- correction, the
co-directors, De and Nell Partridge -- and his staff set themselves to the
tasks of building a field campus, a curriculum, and a tradition. Significant
parts of those tasks were "rebuilding," "unbuilding," and "non-building" as
some CCC structures were landscaped and redesigned, the row barracks were
razed and their sites returned to the forest and temptingly "developable"
plots were deliberately left in their natural state. The initial shock of
disappointment was forgotten as the attractive campus evolved on the field
side of Lake Wapalanne. The curriculum was built out of the accumulation
insight, experience, and, be sure, trials and occasional errors of the staff
and students. The building of the traditions was unplanned - and
irresistible. Traditions thus built are the only traditions worth having.
In August of 1977, after a decade of absence, I returned for a visit.
After a warm greeting and briefing, Director John Kirk wisely left me with
my leisure time, my good two feet, and my memories. The greatest changes, I
gratefully discovered, were wrought by nature, not by developers. The
wooded, residential side of the lake seemed indistinguishable from what I
had known decades before. On the field side, nature's work was more evident.
The trees at Piney Point, planted by the CCC, were approaching maturity. A
previously footworn meadow, now sectioned off, was displaying plant
succession and hosting a rich variety of wildlife. And the forest's repair
of the site of the row barracks promised a climax stage that would deceive
the most acute archeological eye.
Nature was also politely altered to make room for a few
additions. Noteworthy among them was a carriage house, first built in 1813
and saved from a farm believed to be doomed to inundation by the
subsequently deauthorized Tocks Island Dam. After patient negotiations,
Director John Kirk arranged to have a group of Montclair State College
Industrial Arts students dismantle and move the building, and then, using
pegs and pioneer tools, meticulously match the 5000 pieces and reassemble
the structure at the edge of the activities field. No state appropriation
could have accomplished what devoted attention and persistence brought to
that site. And across from the carriage house, but a bee-line spanning the
activities field and, in a sense, the history of the school, stood
"Chief's," the craft house - a sow's-ear of a CCC shack, transformed in
those early years into a silk purse of a cabin by the skilled and dedicated
old hands of the late Joseph "Chief" D'Angola.
If the founding Director [DeAlton Partridge] were here tonight, he would
be getting impatient with his son. "Enough of this looking back," he would
say. "What of the future? After all, that's where all of you will live the
rest of our lives! Besides, after all that we invested in your education,
surely we are entitled to some of your philosophical reflections on
environmental ethics and education."
Very well, I will try not to disappoint the shade of De Partridge.
Tonight I propose to you that a sound environmental education should
address the following five themes. Surely more, but these at least:
Homo Sapiens is a natural species.
Homo Sapiens is a species with a difference:
Science and scholarship are the best means of finding truths - but not
The virtues of humility and tolerance are vices in excess.
That which can best be learned in the outdoors, should there be
taught. (L. B. Sharp)..
Homo Sapiens is a Natural Species.
Now that even the Pope has given Charles Darwin absolution and has
accepted evolution, it behooves us to seriously consider the implications of
our natural endowment.
I submit that our naturalness is beyond reasonable dispute. We breath
natural air, we are nourished by natural food, we respond naturally to the
rhythms of life, and eventually give back to the earth the matter which it
gave to us.
And yet the larger significance of our naturalness has only recently been
examined in depth and with appreciation. The biologist, Hugh Iltis writes
that "like the need for love, the need for [the] diversity and beauty [of
nature] has a genetic basis." He continues:
... the best environment is one in which the human animal can have
maximum contact with the type of natural environment in which it evolved
and for which it is genetically programmed without sacrificing the major
advantages of civilization... Every basic adaptation of the human body, be
it the ear, the eye, the brain, yes, even our psyche, demands for proper
functioning access to an environment similar, at least, to the one in
which these structures evolved through natural selection over the past 100
More recently, the eminent Harvard biologist, Edward O. Wilson, has given
the theory the name of "biophilia. He writes:
The brain evolved into its present form over a period of about two
million years, from the time of Homo Habilis to the late stone age of Homo
sapiens, during which people existed in hunter-gatherer bands in intimate
contact with the natural environment. Snakes mattered. The smell of water,
the hum of a bee, the directional bend of a plant stalk mattered. The
naturalist's trance was adaptive: the glimpse of one small animal hidden
in the grass could make the difference between eating and going hungry in
the evening. And a sweet sense of horror, the shivery fascination with
monsters and creeping forms that so delights us today even in the sterile
hearts of the cities, could see you through to the next morning...
Although the evidence is far from all in, the brain appears to have kept
its old capacities, its channeled quickness. We stay alert and alive in
the vanished forests of the world.(3)
Biophilia lends depth and credence to the notion that we are
natural creatures, for it adds to the unquestioned biotic requirements for
human life, the intriguing notion that nature is required to satisfy
genetically programmed emotional and psychological needs as well -- since,
as Iltis suggests, nature has selected our genes.
But the "nature" that effected this selection, is a nature that is fast
disappearing due to our carelessness and greed, so that we may at length
find ourselves in world to which we are ill-adapted. Thus it may be a deadly
error to treat nature solely as a mere resource for our use, for to do so is
to commit the deadly sin of pride -- the hubris of regarding our
artificial needs as of more fundamental value than the nature which, in
fact, is continuous with ourselves. Science tells us otherwise. We are
nature, and nature is us -- "the world is our body."
However, an environmental ethic based exclusively upon the principle of
human naturalism to the exclusion of the next principle, moral agency, will
demoralize and devalue our humanity. If we, like the late B. F. Skinner,
contend that we are different from his laboratory rats only in degree, and
not in kind - that we are in toto the sum of our "contingencies of
reinforcement" - then we must conclude, like this behaviorist, that we are
"beyond" (he should have said beneath) "freedom and dignity."
Homo Sapiens is a species with a difference:
Mark Twain once said that "Man is the only animal that blushes - or needs
to." That observation was more wisdom than wit. Blushing is a response to
the moral sentiments of shame and guilt. These sentiments,
along with the positive sentiments of pride and approbation,
issue from our concept of self and from our knowledge of good and evil -
from the bite of Eve's apple.
We blush, and need to, because we evaluate. We rank things as good
or better, as bad or worse. And when we evaluate morally, we evaluate
ourselves and other selves. Our capacity to evaluate, combined with the
knowledge discovered by our sciences and the capacities gained by our
technology, place upon us the inalienable and portentous burden of moral
Accordingly, to affirm that we are natural creatures, and then to say no
more, is to utter a pernicious half-truth. For we are natural creatures with
a difference: we are creatures who have evolved through and past a momentous
transformation -- the transformation into moral agency. Through our
acquisition of articulate syntactic language, and our accumulation of
culture, we have become self-conscious, deliberative, and thus responsible
for our behavior. Our religious traditions refer to this endowment as
"possessing a soul." In this sense we are, to the best of our knowledge,
unique in this regard. Thus, while we might "retrain" disobedient animals,
we do not hold them morally responsible and put them on trial. Because this
claim of the uniqueness of moral agency to our species has provoked many
long and stimulating discussions in my classes, I am eager to make myself
By "moral agency" I mean a cluster of capacities, including:
sentience, or the ability to feel pain (shared with many animals)
consciousness of external objects and events.
reasoning -- the ability to solve problems.
the capacity to communicate through the use of a complete, syntactic
system of significant symbols (i.e., a language).
a concept of oneself as a being continuing through time.
a capacity to conceptualize and choose among alternative futures.
a capacity to act on principle -- to deliberately govern one's
behavior according to rules.
recognition of the personhood of other persons.
Notice that there is no mention here of biological concepts such as species
membership. There is thus no logical reason why aliens or machines might not
also be moral agents. The "Star Trek" series is lavishly populated by alien
and cybernetic "persons" such as "Worf" and "Data." And we may yet discover
that dolphins or other creatures are moral agents. Given the above list of
criteria, we know how to recognize them if we find them.
The significance of moral agency can scarcely be overstated, for on a
planet without moral agents, there are no rights, no duties, no justice, no
virtue or vice, and no responsibility, though on a personless planet with a
flourishing ecosystem and sentient beings, there will be values and
With our acquisition of moral agency, we have also acquired the capacity
to recognize, celebrate, enhance nature, and thus the responsibility to
protect and preserve the natural values around us. We should be ever mindful
that with these capacities for recognition, knowledge and celebration comes
the burden of responsibility. For as we come to recognize the value in
nature, we also recognize its vulnerability. We are responsible for nature
because our science has given us some understanding of the processes at work
in nature, and our technology has given us the capacity and thus the choice
either to preserve or destroy our natural estate. And finally, as noted
earlier, we recognize the values within nature. These four conditions,
knowledge, capacity, choice and value significance, entail our morally
Responsibility, let us remember, is a burden, since, given
knowledge and capacity, the choice to do nothing is a dereliction; having
taken up the burden of responsibility for nature, we are not morally
permitted to set it down again.
So we are both natural, along with our brother creatures,
and unique in our possession of the capacities which define our moral
agency. I daresay that the gravest errors in environmental ethics arise from
the failure to acknowledge and incorporate both our naturalness and our
agency into a system of ethics -- to settle for either half of this full
truth. On the one hand, by "denaturalizing" ourselves we give ourselves
license to objectify, and thus to utilize and exploit, the nature "out
there." On the other hand, by depersonalizing ourselves, we divest ourselves
of moral responsibility for nature, for we thus come to regard ourselves as
"objects" totally captivated by and helpless in the stream of "natural"
cause and effect.
Science and scholarship are the best means of finding truths - but not
With a tone of dogmatism unbecoming a philosopher, I would propose to you
that science is the crowning achievement of Western civilization. In
science, humanity has, at last, come upon a super-personal and
super-cultural modality for discovering, verifying and accumulating
objective knowledge of the natural world in its chemical, physical, biotic
and cultural manifestations.(4) Unlike the dogmas which it supplants,
science is public (i.e., its procedures are explicit and its experiments
replicable), it is cumulative, it is self-correcting, and it is, in
principle, fallible. That last quality, fallibility, which sounds more like
a weakness than an asset, deserves special mention. It simply states that no
hypothesis has scientific credibility unless we can describe precisely what
it would be like for it to be false -- unless, as the jargon goes, it is
"falsifiable in principle." In other words, scientific verification, as Sir
Karl Popper so brilliantly put it, consists in a relentless but failed
attempt to disconfirm a hypothesis which could easily be seen to be wrong,
if only the world were not the way it is. This quality of fallibility thus
builds a foundation for humility into the very methodology of science -- a
humility which is often overlooked by scientists when they exit their
laboratories to make bold pronouncements on public policy. Science is
not arrogant, although there are some scientists who are.
In the face of these manifest strengths, the philosopher has long-since
ceased to be a rival of science and has, instead, become its admirer,
commentator and collaborator. In addition, the artist, the historian, and
the humanistic scholar all have an important role to play in the advancement
of science, for art, intuition, literary perspective and practical
experience have all proven to be extra-scientific sources of scientific
insight. For example, James D. Watson reports that his childhood encounter
with the staircase in a New England lighthouse led him to the double-helix
model of the DNA molecule. And we all know about Newton and his apple. But
extra-scientific insight is one thing, and scientific verification is quite
another, and it is an essential objective of both scientific and liberal
arts education to understand the distinction.
But if science is the crowning achievement of our civilization, then the
technology born of science is the greatest threat to that civilization. For
technology, which has enriched and extended our lives beyond calculation,
now threatens us with either the bang of nuclear annihilation or the whimper
of ecological collapse. Through the cumulative insights of a few geniuses
and the piecemeal work of an army of ordinary men and women extraordinarily
trained, science has transformed our world and our world-view. And because
our moral vision and social institutions have proven to be woefully unequal
to this accomplishment, scientific technology, fueled by our greed and
acquisitiveness, threatens us all.
If, through recognizing the technological threat to the natural world, we
elect to turn our backs on science, we will be making a grave tactical and
even moral miscalculation. For if the champions of ecological sustainability
and environmental morality turn their backs on science, they will surrender
the field of debate and public policy to their adversaries, and hand over
their most powerful weapon in defense of nature and the future. As we noted,
science does not entail arrogance: the arrogant feed selectively on science,
and they ultimately subvert science. Scientific knowledge, combined with an
acknowledgment of human incapacity, leads not to arrogance but to humility
and forbearance. It was the emerging science of wildlife management that
taught Aldo Leopold his Land Ethic. Hard science combined with literary
skill in the hands of Rachel Carson slowed the chemical assault upon the
biotic community. List the most significant figures in the environmental
movement and the most robust arguments in behalf of environmental restraint
and sustainability, and you will encounter the names of scientists such as
Aldo Leopold, Barry Commoner, Garrett Hardin, Paul Ehrlich, Rachel Carson,
Edward Wilson, and James Lovelock. Clearly, scientific evidence and
methodology provide us the strongest foundation for the case for
environmental responsibility which we present before our fellow citizens and
However, science does not encompass all knowledge. Science, born of
particular observation, is abstract, general and theoretical. Literature and
art informs and inspires through particulars. And science, by its
fundamental rules, is value free in content (though not in
methodology - a point which I cannot elaborate here). Therefore, since
science cannot of itself yield ethical conclusions, it cannot, of itself,
settle policy questions. It cannot do these things not because science has
failed to master these fields of human inquiry but because the very logic
and language of science forbids it. What science does, it does supremely
well. What science does not do, namely evaluate, it forbears due to the
rules and the conceptual vocabulary of the scientific enterprise.(5)
The virtues of humility and tolerance are vices in excess. (Aristotle).
Here I speak of an alarming development in education and scholarship:
"post-modernism," also known as "deconstruction." This attitude, however, is
scarcely new. It is the same sort of radical relativism and skepticism that
were rampant among the sophists in the time of Plato, and ever since.
It seems that one cannot teach the humanities in any institution of
higher learning, except perhaps a seminary, without encountering that
universal undergraduate shrug, "Who are we to say?" For example, I have
often asked my students, "Is it true, as the seers of India claimed, that
the Earth rests on the back of an elephant?" "Well," they reply, "its true
for them!" That response, affirming what is not at issue, namely the
existence of an ancient belief system, totally evades the issue and even the
concept of objective truth. Or again, "The ancient Aztecs thought it was
their civic duty to sacrifice their first-born sons to the Sun God. Was this
Good?" Reply: "Well, it was good for them!" Again, while we agree that the
Aztecs approved of sacrifice, the relativist abolishes the issue of morality
by fiat -- paradoxically exhibiting a kind of dogmatism by means of
Unfair? Then consider these authentic questions and remarks from students
at an "environmental college" that I recently served:
"Perhaps it is only our thinking that makes things real. For example,
how do we know that the earth was round before we devised the thought that
it was not flat? Do concepts such as gravity exist only because we think
"Wouldn't reality be what each individual perceives as being real?"
"If I make the statement, "I know," then I know. Why would someone
make the statement if they didn't?"
"Isn't reality what is real to us, even if it isn't accurate
"Don't questions of morality have to be answered by how people
"If a person does something which he or she believes to be morally
right, is it so?"
"Even if psychic visions are self delusions, wouldn't that make them
real and true for the people experiencing them? And if so, wouldn't this
count as knowledge for them?"
"How can you prove or disprove a [psychic] channeler's "knowledge" if
s/he believes it? It is true for him/her and it is justified for him or
her. Is one's subjective experience enough to know something?"
When I encounter such radical relativism and skepticism, I think of
Aristotle's ethics, wherein virtue in excess can become a vice. From this
perspective, an exuberant youthful rejection of dogma combined with an
unconstrained embrace of the virtues of humility and tolerance, can lead to
a denial of all knowledge, and of all grounds for preferring one course of
action to another -- which is to say, a morality. But of course, radical
relativism and skepticism are more than undesirable: they are impossible.
The most determined skeptic applies the brake, not the accelerator, when he
chooses to stop his vehicle, and everyone has some pattern to his
preferences, which is to say at least a rudimentary ethic.
Need such radical relativism concern us, as environmental educators? I
submit that it should. As a referee for a few educational journals, I
frequently encounter radical relativism in its current guise -- as
"deconstruction." It appears that more than a few scholarly camp-followers
seem to think that relativism is still the "in thing" to do.
Recently I refereed (and rejected, of course), a strange piece (but,
alas, not untypical), which contended that "post-modernism" was just the
thing for training "environmental leaders and educators." So as to leave no
doubt where he or she stood (it was a blind review), the author opened with
this remarkable quotation from Paulo Friere: "Education ... denies that the
world exists as a reality apart from men." I demurred, of course:
Suffice it to say that "post modernism" has little to offer
environmental educators, seeking to prepare their students to deal with
the environmental crisis. Quite the contrary. According to the author of
this piece, no warnings about the deteriorating condition of the natural
environment -- pollution, extinction, population -- are to be taken
seriously, since no such "stories" are to be regarded as "truer" than the
reassurances of the cornucopians. Scientific expertise, we are advised,
must be dismissed as "oppression." "The Land Ethic" and the ecological
conscience, by this account, can claim no moral superiority over the views
of the most ruthless exploiter and polluter, since these are all "valuable
contributions to be respected," and values are not to be evaluated, much
less criticized and rejected, only "clarified." [Quoted words are those
used by the author].
There is a different view which, I submit, the environmental
educator should defend: namely, that it is his task to present hard data
from an independent real word -- data about conditions that threaten the
biotic foundations of our very lives, and the shared and mutually
validated values of our culture and tradition -- conditions which demand
intelligent, principled and collective (which is to say political) action.
The so-called "environmental leaders" emerging from the program sketched
in this paper offer our endangered species, and its coming generation, not
a shred of scientific, technical, or moral foundation for their putative
"Deconstruction" promotes the disease of which environmental
education should be the cure. Educators should be the curators of all that
is precious in our civilization, and worthy of transmission on to the next
generation: our sciences, our arts, our literature, and yes, our loyalty
to the planet. The approach to "environmental education" presented here
deprives us of any grounds whatever upon which to identify and cherish our
heritage, or to regard it as of any value to our students.
Of late, I have become much more tolerant of radical relativism and
skepticism, as I have come to regard them a useful stages in intellectual
growth -- awkward, painful, but instructive nonetheless. But let us be
alert: there is a danger that by opening one's mind, one's brains may
evaporate. Radical skepticism and radical relativism, as final states of
mind, are not expansions of the intellect: they are abdications of
intellectual responsibility and integrity. If they fail to move on, the
students' relativistic shrug, "Who are we to say?" is a cop-out -- just a
precarious step away from "Frankly, I don't give a damn!" since to give a
damn is to have, at least implicitly, an ethic. If I were an exploiter of
the Earth I would ask no greater favor than that all my environmentalist
enemies be radical relativists. For then my opponents would have no ground
whatever on which to stand, and no leverage of argument from which to demand
reform. If there is no reform, then things stay just as they are and
continue in the same direction, and this is all that the exploiter asks for
-- to be left alone.
In his Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle teaches us that there is a
mean between the extremes of dogmatism and relativism. That mean resides in
what the American philosopher Charles Peirce called "fallibilism," whereby
we claim entitlement to our beliefs if they are grounded in evidence and
strong inference, and if we are in principle prepared to admit ourselves
wrong in the face of better evidence. The fallibilist position is available
to us as we become acquainted with scientific method, with the canons of
critical thinking, and come to appreciate the progressive liberation and
expansion of the human mind through the course of history. All these lessons
and skills are securely sited in the tradition and curriculum of the liberal
arts. Fallibilism, which is both a product of liberal education and,
as we have seen, a fundamental tenet of scientific method, appropriately
liberates us from the opposing traps of close-minded dogmatism and
That which can best be learned in the outdoors, should there be taught.
(L. B. Sharp).
In a celebrated and oft-quoted letter, Wallace Stegner writes:
Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the
remaining wilderness be destroyed; if we permit the last virgin forests to
be turned into comic books and plastic cigarette cases; if we drive the
few remaining members of the wild species into zoos or to extinction; if
we pollute the last clear air and dirty the last clean streams... So that
never again can we have the chance to see ourselves single, separate,
vertical and individual in the world, part of the environment of trees and
rocks and soil, brother to the other animals, part of the natural world
and competent to belong to it.(7)
Just what will we have lost? Nothing, replies Martin Krieger, in his
notorious paper, "What's Wrong With Plastic Trees?" After all, we are
"plastic people" -- that is, infinitely malleable. We can adapt to anything,
and like it:
My guess is that there is very little wrong with [plastic trees]. Much
more can be done with plastic trees and the like to give most people the
feeling that they are experiencing nature. We will have to realize that
the way in which we experience nature is conditioned by our society...(8)
If Krieger is right, then perhaps Governor Byrne should have shut down
this School in the early eighties. And you know I don't believe that!
In rebuttal to Krieger's de-naturalized humanism, we presented the
biophilia hypothesis of E. O. Wilson - the contention that, in the words
of Hugh Iltis, "like the need for love, the need for nature, the need for
its diversity and beauty, has a genetic basis." The biophilia hypothesis is
compellingly plausible. If true, it tells us that a human life entirely
detached from nature suffers an experiential amputation. Moreover, biophilia
bears profound educational implications, for it supports the contention that
an artificialized education comprised of abstract and isolated facts,
confines the understanding and the imagination. To illustrate this point,
consider something as ordinary as a rock.
When tossed on a table in a geology lab, the student will appropriately
attack that rock with an iron nail and a piece of glass to determine its
hardness, then a couple of drops of HCL to test for calcium, following which
he will reach for other diagnostic chemicals, then take it to a water tank
to measure its specific gravity, and so on. If he is a competent student, he
will correctly identify its mineral content. If he aspires to become a
mining engineer or even a concert pianist he will likely have spent the hour
most profitably, for he will either have moved closer to professional
competency, or will have been "liberally educated" in the methods of
But let him encounter the same rock where it was found - on a mountain
ridge, or by a brook, or on a talus slope at the based of a cliff. Once he
has applied the nail, glass and acid, the student might then explore the
natural contexts of his discovery, whereupon he will become more than a
student of geology. What formation did the rock fall from? What are the
immediate neighbors of that formation? Where did they come from? How? When?
How do the materials in this rock affect the soil, the plants, and the
wildlife of the area? How does the mountain from which it came alter the
prevailing weather conditions? How have the wind in his face and the water
by his feet carved the mountain to this shape? In the laboratory, the
student will duly mark the word "sedimentary" and, if asked the age of the
specimen, will put down some digits with several zeros after them. At the
site of the discovery, he sees the ripple marks of an ancient sea near the
mountain top. Or he looks a thousand feet up a sheer cliff that has been cut
by this little river, calm enough now that the can see the trout poking at
the bottom. In a book, time and space are abstracted and coded into numbers.
In nature, they may be encountered in close interrelationship and with
profound implications. Time is manifested in the spatial depth of this
canyon. Space is measured by the time the light of that star began its
journey to our retina. The immensity of time and space are personal to us in
the wilderness: as personal as hiking across or paddling through a canyon.
As personal as gazing at the starlight in the moonless mountain night sky.
The rock, encountered where it lay for millions of years, belongs to no
department. With it, from it, one feels the immensity of geological time;
but one also learns of weather, of plants, and of resources. One sees nature
as a community in which a change in one part changes the whole.
Science has enormously and permanently expanded our knowledge of nature.
It is a lens and an analytic grid which makes sense of that which,
encountered naively, is full of sound and fury, yet signifying nothing. Aldo
Leopold makes the point vividly when he contrasts the modern scientist's
encounter with nature to that of Daniel Boone, who's reaction to the
depended not only on the quality of what he saw, but on the quality of
the mental eye with which he saw it. Ecological science has wrought a
change in the mental eye. It has disclosed origins and functions for what
to Boone were only facts. It has disclosed mechanisms for what to Boone
were only attributes.... We may safely say that, as compared with the
competent ecologist of the present day, Boone saw only the surface of
Science, then, is indispensable to our understanding of nature - but it
is not, by itself, sufficient. For science is an artificial construct of
technical vocabularies, of theoretical structures and of methodologies. To
paraphrase the philosopher, Immanuel Kant, the artifice of science without
the natural is empty, while nature encountered without scientific hypothesis
(or artistic expression) is encountered blindly. Nature is nothing less than
the pre-existing and co-existing reality from which the scientist endeavors
to abstract his knowledge. And nature is a reality which the artist proposes
to interpret and express;. Homo sapiens is necessarily and at times
gloriously artificial. However, as we human beings directly encounter,
respond to, elaborate, and glorify our natural dimension and estate, our
artifice becomes powerful, profound, and marvelous.
Herein I refer to the simple distinction between
appreciation. Yet the educational implications of that distinction are
clear and compelling, and provide a philosophical foundation for outdoor
education. We must restore and enhance our contact with the Earth both by understanding the earth through the sciences, and by
the Earth through direct encounter outside our artificial doors. Knowledge is intellectual, and
appreciation is the esthetic,
emotional and moral supplement to the knowledge that leads to action. The
heavy smoker knows that he is taking a risk: appreciation comes too late,
with the diagnosis. We know that the tropical rain forests are disappearing
at the rate of an acre a second, but do we appreciate it? The National
Geographic will teach us that the Grand Canyon is a mile deep and
two-hundred miles long; appreciation comes from sitting on the south rim,
feet dangling over a thousand feet of sheer drop, looking across to Bright
Angel Canyon. Books will tell us of the eras and periods of geological
history; appreciation comes as we leave the rim of that canyon and walk down
through the strata of frozen time toward the Phantom Ranch in Granite Gorge.
Star Trek's Spock and Data have knowledge, but lack appreciation. Captains
Kirk and Piccard have both, and thus they are appropriately in command. The
same can be said, of course, for Director Kirk.
In my environmental ethics classes and in throughout my publications, I
discuss the theory of Biophilia -- the theory that we have a genetically
coded affinity with natural landscapes. But it was my own biophilic
appreciation, nourished during my youth in these New Jersey forests, and
later in the rivers of Colorado, the deserts of Utah and the mountains of
California that led me to my career and thence to those classrooms and
pages. And it was the same appreciation, nourished in that same Utah and
California wilderness, that inspired and motivated the founding directors of
I rather doubt that any amount of scientific knowledge, or scare stories
about the consequences of our environmentally evil ways, will suffice to
save our natural world and thus ourselves. If we preserve nature, and with
it ourselves, it will be due to our love for it and not simply our
need of it. And that love must come from direct encounter.
And so we have at last, but by no means least, articulated what is
potentially the most important, if insufficiently valued, of your
contributions to Education here at the New Jersey School of Conservation:
the humanization and activation of knowledge through appreciation..
Sadly, the need of our youth to encounter nature directly is increasing,
just as the opportunities, the demand, and the places for such encounters
are shrinking. We need in the public, and especially among the youth, a
constituency for the earth, and for that we need professional educators to
lead the youth away from the tube, out of the classroom, and into nature's
realm.. "In wildness," wrote Thoreau, "is the preservation of the world."
May your good work, and that of your students and theirs, continue so
long as the rivers run to the sea, and there are moral agents worthy of our