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Inspiring the Bioregional Imagination

Originally appears in the Fall 2015 issue

Every day teachers are challenged to design creative learning activities connecting kids with the places they live.  We are finding interesting ways across the curriculum to deepen students’ relationships with their larger living communities. In suburban and rural schools, this may mean exploring the biotic community through outdoor learning, wilderness and field trips.  In larger urban areas, student and teacher interest may lean toward schoolyard clean ups, gardens, establishing safe play areas and beautification projects.  No matter the activity or the place, rural or urban, wild or densely populated, each community belongs to a specific bioregion.

Literally, the word bioregion means life-place. A bioregion is definable by natural boundaries with ecological and climatic characteristics that support distinctive human, plant and animal communities. Bioregional thinking and imagining provides another way to understand our reliance on the places we live and to appreciate the plant and animal ecosystems, the watersheds, the landforms (mountains, prairie, coastal zones) and the human cultures connected to these regions.

Bioregionalism, a term coined in the 1970s, offers a more human scale to ecological issues that impact communities. Often large environmental crises can overwhelm us, and teachers understand that children, particularly, can be affected negatively by dire predictions of global crises. Bioregionalists prefer a more positive approach by imagining our local places as communities where we live sustainably by learning to “re-inhabit” our places and by getting to know our places more deeply.

My interest is in how literature; story, poetry, visual, and digital representations of a bioregion can broaden and deepen the imagination and our understanding of what it truly means to live within a place.  When we become attuned to our places, our neighborhoods, the issues, history, biology, literature, and art we point away from ourselves to know the world as filled with a variety of locally interdependent places.  In this sense bioregionalism leads out into the larger world for a deeper understanding of the place of the local community within the world.

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Patrick Howard is a former middle and high school teacher. He is currently Associate Professor of Education at Cape Breton University in Sydney, Nova Scotia.



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