On this week’s podcast, Claire Dobie and I talk about one of the first things outdoor educators learn to say:
As a teacher, saying “I don’t know” positions us with our students as fellow-seekers of knowledge. One of the cardinal sins of teaching is to become the “sage on a stage,” the person with all the answers. Naturalists can fall into that role even more quickly than classroom teachers, since we tend to have a lot of specialized content knowledge. It’s tempting to respond every time someone asks “What’s that bird?” or “What’s that flower?”
It (probably) doesn’t matter what that flower is called.
It is more important to pave the way for the child to want to know than to put him on a diet of facts he is not ready to assimilate.
- Rachel Carson
Here’s the funny thing: naturalists don’t care so much that you know the name of that flower. We want you to think about why it’s blooming now, what animals visit it, what happens when it goes to seed, how its species adapted to this habitat. We want you to observe that the flower is growing only on this side of the trail and not that and wonder why. Notice. Wonder. Record. Repeat.
Really, that’s why I prefer to call myself an outdoor teacher rather than a naturalist – I’m not the guy who memorizes all the local species lists so I can regurgitate them for you. I’m going to model and guide you to listen, to smell, to sit and watch, to journal… not to just name stuff.
So, if you ask me what something’s called and I don’t know the answer, I’m going to say “I don’t know.” The funny thing is, even if I do know the answer, I might also say “I don’t know.”
Because… let’s find out together.