Teachers in the Wilderness
I teach at a school in the middle of Silicon Valley. It’s an amazing school filled with students that are serious and dedicated. They are focused on getting into colleges that will help them to get good jobs that their families will be proud of. I’ve been teaching there for a decade, and during that time, I have been continually amazed by their curiosity and desire to try and make the world a better place, but typically this is in the context of becoming a doctor, a lawyer or an engineer.
Silicon Valley is an intense place to live and I think a particularly intense place to grow up. There has been much written about the challenges of growing up in the shadow of successful tech entrepreneurs. Many would say that these are first world problems, and they wouldn’t be wrong, but these students are growing up in a stressful environment with few opportunities to disconnect from that stress. It is a world that is difficult for many adults around them to identify with, myself included.
These kids are connected to each other via phones and other technology 24 hours a day. Many have never been on a hike, and most have never slept in a tent. And they aren’t connected to the natural world in a way that makes them worry about issues like climate change. I recently led a book discussion on “This Changes Everything” by Naomi Klein with a group of students, and one of the participants said, “I just don’t empathize with people that are currently being threatened by climate change, like on Nauru (one of the places that Klein describes in the book).”
It wasn’t that she didn’t care. She just couldn’t fathom the life of people living on a remote island in Micronesia, that had been stripped of all its resources and faced drowning by rising sea levels. Our young people need to connect to places and people that are different from them.
When I arrived for the teacher training at the Hobbit Hole, it was just after the end of the school year, and I was looking forward to disconnecting from all that technology for the first time in many years. And disconnecting was exactly what I was able to do. The time at the Hobbit Hole allowed me to relax and find perspective that I rarely get the time to find in my daily life. During our days at the Hobbit Hole, we were able to focus on the present and simple decisions like “am I going to hike to Magic Beach or am I going to go out and lay on the dock watching marine life float by?” As healing as these days were for me, I imagine the experience being transformative for my students.
One of the things that I see as especially important at the Hobbit Hole is that it provides students and others with that chance to disconnect but still retain some of the comforts that I think will make them more receptive to experiencing nature. For students that haven’t spent much time outdoors, this is an amazing way to immerse oneself in a magical place. We know that people need to feel a connection to place to care about it, and I believe that my students and others around the world will benefit in countless ways from getting to experience the Inian Islands. As a science teacher, I am so thrilled about the possibility of being able to teach my students in this place, but I’m even more excited about giving them the chance to disconnect from their crazy lives and spend a few days here.
If we are to accomplish rapid action on climate change, we need talented, passionate students to dedicate their energies to the cause. Bringing groups to the Hobbit Hole and other such locations is a key element to creating the connection necessary to prevent catastrophic changes to our planet.