Time to make nature studies a compulsory school subject – before it’s too late

Time to make nature studies a compulsory school subject

The UK government is reported to be seriously considering making “nature studies” a compulsory subject for all pupils. It’s a move that was recommended in the recent government-commissioned Dasgupta review, a detailed analysis of the “economics of biodiversity”.

The review is long and technical, but in among the tables and statistics, there are some radical suggestions that go beyond a focus on economics alone, recommendations designed to transform our relationship with the natural world before it is too late. Among options for rethinking supply chains, measures of economic progress and financial regulation, right at the end is a brief focus on education:

“Every child in every country is owed the teaching of natural history, to be introduced to the awe and wonder of the natural world, to appreciate how it contributes to our lives.”

The review calls for environmental education programmes from primary school all the way through to university.

Rediscovering our connection to nature

Would it really make any difference? As an academic who teaches, writes and undertakes research on the social and psychological significance of contact with nature, especially in the context of our ongoing ecological crisis, I believe there’s good reason to think it could.

Introduced to the ‘awe and wonder of the natural world’.Introduced to the ‘awe and wonder of the natural world’. Monkey Business Images / shutterstock

Take the idea of an “extinction of experience”, which refers to how each subsequent generation has less sensory contact with diverse natural environments. As meaningful connection disappears, our sense of what is normal is gradually redefined – the “shifting baseline syndrome”, to borrow a related concept. As standard experiences of nature become increasingly narrow and empty, the fear is that we also lose our ability to understand, care for and defend the natural world, and a rapid cycle of mutual decline is underway.

Experience-based environmental education could be an important tool for reversing this shift. Recent research confirms common sense in this regard – repeated, positive (which does not mean unchallenging) experiences of natural environments in early childhood underpin a deep and lifelong attachment to nature into adulthood.

To counter the extinction of experience, it makes sense to proactively design an education system that will foster an attachment to nature. There are positive precedents here already, not least the growth of Forest Schools, which originated in Scandinavia but are now a global movement advocating the social and educational value of spending part of the school day in nature. Continuing the study of ecology into adulthood also seems like a necessary step if we are to collectively address the shifting baseline syndrome, by actively facing up to what is being lost.

Nature studies for the Anthropocene

Nature studies should not shy away from the fact that natural environments are in retreat as a result of human activities. In that sense, natural history is also social history, and nature studies is social studies. Many areas of a secondary curriculum could recognise this fact without necessarily introducing compulsory natural history lessons, but while still incorporating experiences of being in nature.

Also, when we start to think about human history and the kinds of activities responsible for the biodiversity and climate crisis, things get a little more complicated. Empire, colonialism, the slave trade, industrialism, capitalism, communism and intensive agriculture are all central to how “we” have transformed natural landscapes across the planet in the age of the “Anthropocene”.

Along the way, important practices and worldviews that have sophisticated and deeply held understandings of nature have often been trampled upon and marginalised. These traditions continue in many indigenous communities, and inform collective resistance to environmentally destructive activities and a defence of the rights of nature.

“Nature studies” could learn a lot from these longer, deep-rooted and ongoing connections to nature, just as it could from people working with nature in different ways such as farmers, rangers, conservationists and activists. A key lesson we must learn is that nature is alive, and something we are a part of and depend upon – not an external and inert resource to plunder without consequence. Again, for me this seems to require a radical approach to education across the curriculum – science, history, literature, geography, economics, psychology, even religious studies – rather than something that can be contained within a compulsory subject.

Despite these reservations, I still think an experience-based nature studies education, woven into a progressive curriculum, is a fantastic idea. Meaningful human-nature interactions are a much stronger foundation for action than lecturing people about why they should care for nature.

It could be part of an essential toolkit for a sustainable future, and for creating a groundswell of people willing to care for and actively defend nature. If it really were compulsory, who knows how powerful the collective nurturing of a childhood sense of awe and wonder, and a deep, secure, attachment to nature might be, were it allowed to bloom and flourish?

About the AuthorThe Conversation

Matthew Adams, Principal Lecturer in Psychology, University of Brighton

Related Books


The Human Swarm: How Our Societies Arise, Thrive, and Fall

0465055680by Mark W. Moffett
If a chimpanzee ventures into the territory of a different group, it will almost certainly be killed. But a New Yorker can fly to Los Angeles--or Borneo--with very little fear. Psychologists have done little to explain this: for years, they have held that our biology puts a hard upper limit--about 150 people--on the size of our social groups. But human societies are in fact vastly larger. How do we manage--by and large--to get along with each other? In this paradigm-shattering book, biologist Mark W. Moffett draws on findings in psychology, sociology and anthropology to explain the social adaptations that bind societies. He explores how the tension between identity and anonymity defines how societies develop, function, and fail. Surpassing Guns, Germs, and Steel and Sapiens, The Human Swarm reveals how mankind created sprawling civilizations of unrivaled complexity--and what it will take to sustain them.   Available On Amazon


Environment: The Science Behind the Stories

by Jay H. Withgott, Matthew Laposata
0134204883Environment: The Science behind the Stories is a best seller for the introductory environmental science course known for its student-friendly narrative style, its integration of real stories and case studies, and its presentation of the latest science and research. The 6th Edition features new opportunities to help students see connections between integrated case studies and the science in each chapter, and provides them with opportunities to apply the scientific process to environmental concerns. Available On Amazon


Feasible Planet: A guide to more sustainable living

by Ken Kroes
0995847045Are you concerned about the state of our planet and hope that governments and corporations will find a sustainable way for us to live? If you do not think about it too hard, that may work, but will it? Left on their own, with drivers of popularity and profits, I am not too convinced that it will. The missing part of this equation is you and me. Individuals who believe that corporations and governments can do better. Individuals who believe that through action, we can buy a bit more time to develop and implement solutions to our critical issues. Available On Amazon


From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

More Articles By This Author

You May Also Like


group of healthcare professionals standing around a desk or table
Why Quality Healthcare May Not Be As Difficult As It Seems
by Robert Jennings, Innerself.com
The means to achieve quality healthcare for all is there. All that is lacking is the people's will…
panorama of the Northern Lights in Norway
Horoscope Current Week: October 25 - 31, 2021
by Pam Younghans
This weekly astrological journal is based on planetary influences, and offers perspectives and…
a glowing orb in a pendant with a copper wire wrap
Finding Our Own Definitions of Beauty
by Allison Carmen
Definition of beauty, Merriam-Webster dictionary: "that which gives the highest degree of pleasure…
young white man wearing  a suit standing in from of closed doors
Mentors, Men, and Leaning Into Closed Doors
by Areva Martin
In an excerpt from her new book, Ladies, Leadership, and the Lies We've Been Told, women's rights…
medical practitioner holding a beaker of blue liquid
How Authority Wanes: Incurable Disease or Lack of Knowledge?
by Pierre Pradervand
When I was a child, what the family doctor said was gospel, and no one would even have thought of…
smiling mother, sitting on the grass, holding up a child
Loving Relationships and a Peaceful Soul
by Marie T. Russell, InnerSelf.com
All of us, even animals, need to love and be loved. We need it for basic survival, we need it for…
internet company logos
Why Google, Facebook and The Internet are Failing Humanity and Little Critters
by Robert Jennings, InnerSelf.com
What is increasingly obvious is the dark side that is engulfing the internet and is spreading…
girl wearing a Covid mask outside carrying a backpack
Are You Ready to Take Off Your Mask?
by Alan Cohen
Sadly, the Covid pandemic has been a rough ride for lots of people. At some point, the ride will be…
Practicing Acceptance with The RAIN Method
Practicing Acceptance with The RAIN Method
by Choden and Heather Regan-Addis
There is a lovely teaching (or ‘Sutra’) of the Buddha that clearly illustrates the importance of…
What Does Our Authority Rest Upon?
Transitioning from Authoritarian "Outer" Authority to Spiritual "Inner" Authority
by Pierre Pradervand
For thousands of years, ever since mankind started settling in cities, we evolved in rigid,…
Bernie Sanders Responds With The Truth To President's Speech And Massive Con
Why We All Need To Expose The President's Cunning Hidden Agenda
by Robert Jennings, InnerSelf.com
That the American electorate is fed up with business as usual is not in dispute.


How Living On The Coast Is Linked To Poor Health
How Living On The Coast Is Linked To Poor Health
by Jackie Cassell, Professor of Primary Care Epidemiology, Honorary Consultant in Public Health, Brighton and Sussex Medical School
The precarious economies of many traditional seaside towns have declined still further since the…
The Most Common Issues for Earth Angels: Love, Fear, and Trust
The Most Common Issues for Earth Angels: Love, Fear, and Trust
by Sonja Grace
As you experience being an earth angel, you will discover that the path of service is riddled with…
How Can I Know What's Best For Me?
How Can I Know What's Best For Me?
by Barbara Berger
One of the biggest things I've discovered working with clients everyday is how extremely difficult…
What Men’s Roles In 1970s Anti-sexism Campaigns Can Teach Us About Consent
What Men’s Roles In 1970s Anti-sexism Campaigns Can Teach Us About Consent
by Lucy Delap, University of Cambridge
The 1970s anti-sexist men’s movement had an infrastructure of magazines, conferences, men’s centres…
Honesty: The Only Hope for New Relationships
Honesty: The Only Hope for New Relationships
by Susan Campbell, Ph.D.
According to most of the singles I have met in my travels, the typical dating situation is fraught…
Chakra Healing Therapy: Dancing toward the Inner Champion
Chakra Healing Therapy: Dancing toward the Inner Champion
by Glen Park
Flamenco dancing is a delight to watch. A good flamenco dancer exudes an exuberant self-confidence…
Giving Up All Hope Could Be Beneficial For You
Giving Up All Hope Could Be Beneficial For You
by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.
If you're waiting for a change and frustrated it's not happening, maybe it would be beneficial to…
An Astrologer introduces the Nine Dangers of Astrology
An Astrologer introduces the Nine Dangers of Astrology
by Tracy Marks
Astrology is a powerful art, capable of enhancing our lives by enabling us to understand our own…

follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration



New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.