Walking with Aldo at Maple River; A New Climate Change Book for ELA Teachers

Posted on October 21, 2017


Yesterday I attended the Michigan Council of Teachers of English conference in Lansing. After the conference, I drove up to see my sister in Alma, but on my way, I stopped at the Maple River wetland for a short hike and a sit on the wildlife viewing platform. My mind turned to Aldo Leopold, my work on Land Ethic in the ELA classroom, and the new resource available to ELA teachers who want to incorporate ecology concepts in Language Arts classes.


This is the moment when the trills and chatter of redwing blackbirds, water birds, and leaves on the wind grow louder than US-127–and when I start to breathe a little deeper, feel a little freer. Just as I snapped the photo, I heard deer hooves on branches behind me in the woods to my left. I turned in time to see its white tail bobbing as it bounded away.


As I near the turn on the trail, I miss photographing the majestic, silent rise of the blue heron only a few feet from me. By the time I’m ready to snap, the bird is on the other side of a large field. I’ve missed it at least 5 other times, even though I walk slow and keep my hand on my camera, even though I’m determined that “I’ll be ready this time.”


“Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language.” ― Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There. If you look at the far tree line, to the right of the midpoint, you can see the windmill in the distance. We human MUST move much more quickly to sustainable energy. I am deeply disappointed that the many of the movements toward land health that were made in the 1970s were destroyed by the deregulating of the 1980s on mining, drilling, agriculture, building, and pollution. It is so personal for me, I think, because the first Earth Day was my kindergarten year; my early education caused me to believe that we had really learned that there has to be balance for the health of the planet–and for human survival. BUT by my high school graduation in 1982, Reagan was president, and the ramp up of earth abuse was in full swing, along with my heartache and grief.


“We shall never achieve harmony with the land, anymore than we shall achieve absolute justice or liberty for people. In these higher aspirations the important thing is not to achieve but to strive.” ― Aldo Leopold, Round River: From the Journals of Aldo Leopold


“Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question whether a still higher ‘standard of living’ is worth its cost in things natural, wild and free. For us of the minority, the opportunity to see geese is more important than television.” ― Aldo Leopold


“Examine each question in terms of what is ethically and aesthetically right, as well as what is economically expedient. A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” ― Aldo Leopold


“Is education possibly a process of trading awareness for things of lesser worth?” ― Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There


“The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant: ‘What good is it?” ― Aldo Leopold


““The modern dogma is comfort at any cost…..One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds.” ― Aldo Leopold

I took my first Leopold Education Project workshop in 1999, and I’ve spent a lot of my teaching career re-introducing students of all ages to the wonder and beauty of the natural world. Leopold’s concept of Land Ethic is always at the front of my mind–when I turn on the tap, when I eat, cook, drive, and buy.

A couple of years ago, I had the pleasure and privilege of working with David Kangas, Dr. Allen Webb, and Dr. Richard Beach to present a workshop titled, “Climate Change in the ELA Classroom: Joining the Conversation.”

The proposal for the session stated,

“English teachers can address the most important problem facing the planet Earth: climate change.  Drawing on literature from Frankenstein to the Hunger Games, environmental writers, “cli fi,” documentaries, student research, multigenre writing, and community action this session provides models, resources, and an opportunity for discussion….There are many potential entrance points for this topic in language arts.  All literature has a setting – settings are environments that we can study and connect to.  There is a long history of writers who are concerned about nature and the environment that we could be teaching, from pastoral poetry, to the Romantics like Wordsworth and Coleridge, to the transcendentalists like Thoreau and Emerson, to modern environmental writers from Aldo Leopold and John Muir to Gary Snyder, Stephanie Mills, Rachel Carson, Wendell Barry, Edward Abbey, E.O. Wilson, John McPhee, Michael Pollan, and Bill McKibben. Given Common Core emphasis on bringing informational text into English, and on developing critical reading and persuasive argument, the topic is relevant to standards-based instruction. We have also created a wiki where we will post information – and invite session participants and teachers to help make available ideas and resources for secondary English teaching.

After the session, Allen and Richard worked with Jeff Share, and the three of them curated work from classroom teachers from around the country and turned it into a book. I am proud and pleased to have been a small part of this amazing team of ecologically-minded educators who collaborated to put this resource into the hands of classroom teachers.

As a citizen, as a teacher, I have no more urgent concern than the health of the planet. I hope that with the publication of this resource, many other language arts teachers will come to see the value of taking students outside, to “see land as a community to which we belong, [and teach them] to use it with love and respect” (Leopold, A Sand County Almanac.) The book is available in the NCTE bookstore .



Related Blogs:

Teaching At the 21st Century Intersection of LEP, NWP, and IB: People, Pedagogy, and Planet

Weaving Together Writer’s Workshop, Reader’s Workshop, and Land Ethic in ELA9