Educating for Life on Earth

Special Focus : Roads Less Traveled: Alternative Approaches to Education
Life Skills July 17, 2018

The Deep Green Bush-School (DGBS) was designed to increase the health and well-being of current and future generations, as well as all life on the planet – and this makes us revolutionary. We’re more than just a ‘nature school’. We’re intentionally designed to end all exploitation and injustice by raising youth with a healthy mindset and healthy values.

In order to accomplish this, the DGBS has three foundational elements: 1. social and emotional intelligence; 2. ecological intelligence; and 3. social responsibility, including global solidarity. The three are inseparable.

First and foremost is social and emotional intelligence, since a healthy human and healthy society is not possible without it. This can only be nurtured in the kind of environment humans evolved for: a mixed-age, natural environment which gives youth a large amount of freedom and allows them to learn at their own pace, based on observing and imitating the adults around them, the same way humans have been learning for two million years. The DGBS provides this, including a peacekeeping process which teaches students how to solve conflicts non-violently.

Among the first things parents usually notice after their child starts at the DGBS is that their child is becoming more confident, especially in speaking their mind, as well as becoming more responsible. Students also quickly learn that they don’t need screens. In fact, they learn how simple their needs really are. In the process, they develop their creativity and imagination.

Another significant area of learning is ecological intelligence, which simply means knowing how to live within the Earth’s limits and understanding basic ecology. Some call it biocentrism or deep ecology. DGBS students learn that no civilization has ever been ecologically intelligent[1] – but countless indigenous people, for countless generations have been – and we pay attention to them, as they are our elders and mentors. Students learn what made them so ecologically intelligent and how we can apply that knowledge to the modern world – through daily stories, discussions, hands-on experience and, above all, simply by being immersed in the natural world each day.

Responsibility is extended so that youth have a sense of global solidarity and justice. Our staff have the courage to identify exploitation and oppression, and assist youth in understanding the world and finding solutions. Examples of this can be found in our term newsletter, in which students spend a term discussing a subject that they choose together, and then contributing to a critical analysis of how to make the world healthier, in both the social and ecological sense.

The amazing thing is that when youth have enough freedom, have the chance to play, and aren’t stressed by meaningless work, then they have a greater capacity for deep thinking and contemplating the most pressing issues of our world. Furthermore there is no need to force reading, writing and maths – our students get drawn to these subjects because it’s in their daily lives! Humans evolved to be drawn to what’s culturally important, but the important – and very difficult – task for modern adults is to trust them and allow them to develop in their own time. Again, the key is role modeling by the adults around them.

Ecological intelligence and social responsibility/global solidarity are radical and revolutionary because it means being responsible. Yet modern human living is inherently irresponsible – consumerism, militarism and patriarchy are three obvious examples. The only sustainable cultures that have ever existed were characterized by egalitarianism, the oral tradition, being small-scale and being closely connected with the wild natural world around them[2] – and such cultures defined humanity for the 300,000 to two million years before civilizations arose – in other words, more than 99% of our time on Earth.[3] At the DGBS, our role models and mentors are those who lived sustainably, not CEOs and bureaucrats.

A beginning step for educators is to decide what their priority is – either a livable planet, or more of the same. The fact is, youth need to spend most of their time in nature – period. And they need the freedom to play and socialize, without any screens. Youth need stories rooted in ecology and social responsibility. They need wilderness skills and gardening skills. They need adults to role model responsibility. They need adults to challenge the Western mindset of consumerism, industrialism, capitalism, racism, militarism, competition, greed, and patriarchy. They need adults organizing to collectively challenge the destructive processes and institutions around them. They need adults creating healthy social structures and institutions – the Deep Green Bush-School is one example. Large-scale examples can be found in the Spanish Civil War a hundred years ago, the Zapatistas in Mexico, and the current efforts in Rojava, Syria, just to name a few.

Students raised in this way will be different – healthy and confident, with a deep understanding of the world, and will be able to deal with all that older generations are leaving to them. It’s not just about the environment.

If we care about current and future generations, then nothing short of a revolution will do.


[1] Ponting, Clive.  (2007).  A New Green History of the World:  The Environment and the Collapse of Great Civilisations.  Penguin Books.

Redman, Charles.  (1999).  Human Impact on Ancient Environments.  University of Arizona Press.

Tainter, Joseph.  (1990).  The Collapse of Complex Societies.  Cambridge University Press.

[2] Bowers, C.A. (1993). Education, Cultural Myths, and the Ecological Crisis.  State University of New York Press.

Ong, Walter J. (1991). Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. Routledge.

Scott, James C. (2017).  Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States.  Yale University Press.

[3] Grey, Peter. (2013). Free to learn. Basic Books.

Lee, Richard and Irven DeVore, eds. (1968). Man the Hunter. Aldine.

Sahlins, Marshall.  (1974).  Stone Age Economics.  Aldine Transaction.