Thursday, February 9, 2012


I've been thinking about the significance and importance of environment.

There are two main types of environment that I've been thinking about: a person's "natural" environment, meaning the place where they live, and the environment that they create, or that is created for them.

As I was growing up, we moved a lot. Even so, there wasn't a huge difference in the various places we lived, in some ways. We lived in a small town, and moved to smaller towns. For a while, we lived "out in the country" meaning pretty rural. I have not ever lived in a large, inner city type of environment.

Since my oldest child was four years old, we've lived in the same place. This is something I wanted for my kids, to "grow up" in a particular place, rather than moving all the time. In my first 18 years, I lived in about 13 different houses or apartments. My daughter, at age 18, has lived in the same place her entire life.

This means that city things, for the most part, aren't part of my reality most of the time. Certainly not part of my comfort zone, and not at all for the past 20-something years. No public transportation, professional sports teams, no high rise buildings, big apartment buildings. No choice in delivery food, either. Low crime rate, no fear walking around our "neighborhood" alone in the middle of the night. On the flipside, there's a creek that runs through our yard, and we are surrounded by fields and woods. We regularly see a large variety of wildlife in our yard, including a bear once. It's dark at night and we can see the stars.

Other people have very different environments. Some live in places with high crime rates, a lot of illegal activity including drug usage, very little privacy, very little "green space" or access to nature- totally different from here.

People readily see that such a difference in environments makes a difference in what people do in their lives. What they see as possible affects their choices in life. It affects what they have access to, and what they aspire to.

So why is it that people don't recognize the profound effect different educational environments can have? Why don't they see the importance of the emotional environment?

Why would anyone send their child, every day, to a place that stifles their curiosity, or to a place where they are bullied?

I frequently see stories of bullied kids, and yet, the parents keep sending the child to school. I don't get it.

One of the reasons I teach has to do with creating an optimal learning environment. Years ago, when I observed my mentor teaching a class, I was struck by the supportive and respectful environment. I saw a gymnasium full of children who exhibited self-discipline, who were focused and interested, and who were willing to trust everyone in the room enough to get up in front of the group to do something they weren't entirely sure they knew how to do. Most people would have been too afraid of embarrassment.

Since then, I've learned how to intentionally create and maintain such an environment. It wasn't a huge stretch, but some of the details dealing with a large group were new to me.  The short version is that trust is earned, and vitally important. People don't learn in an environment of fear.

Why is that so hard for people to recognize?

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