This thesis puts forward a philosophical and educational justification for experiencing nature directly rather than indirectly, vicariously or symbolically through practices that essentially remove and distance us from nature. I argue that schools ought to provide direct experiences in nature, a conclusion supported by many benefits reviewed in the literature. An analysis of nature study/environmental education, place-based education, biophilia education and deep ecology informs the identification of three types of direct experiences in nature: initiation, immersion and intimacy. A philosophical inquiry examines these three types of direct experiences in the context of an affinity with nature. In particular, selected writings from Rachel Carson, Barbara McClintock, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Thich Nhat Hanh inform qualities for each type of direct experience. Additional pedagogical perspectives flesh out my thinking and provide an educational justification for experiencing nature directly. Lastly, four vignettes illustrate human beings experiencing nature directly as proposed. I draw from Carson’s writings to identify two important qualities for initiation to direct experiences in nature: sensing and feeling in addition to knowing nature as well as having a companion in nature. The second type of direct experience, immersion, includes repeated experiences to help one become more observant and more connected to nature. This second level attends to the challenges of experiencing nature directly. I draw from Csikszentmihalyi’s research to conceptualize a sense of flow experienced during immersion in nature. Carson’s writings also help in articulating a sense of wonder from immersion in nature. These three aspects, repeated experiences, flow and sense of wonder, deepen our affinity with nature. Finally, I examine the importance of intimacy, the strongest affinity with nature that we can develop during direct experiences in nature. I address two aspects of intimacy with organisms in nature: a feeling for organisms, human and non-human, drawing from McClintock’s research as well as the notion of inter-being, explored by Nhat Hanh. I suggest that these three types of direct experience—initiation, immersion and intimacy—develop different levels of affinity with nature that can inform the way we think about place-based education in schools.
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Thesis advisor: MacKinnon, Allan
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