Embodying education: performing environmental meanings, knowledges, and transformations


“When I say ‘nature,’ I mean…” is the seemingly simple prompt for a pedagogical free write exercise developed by Tema Milstein  (Milstein, Alhinai, Castro-Sotomayor, Griego, Hoffmann, Parks, Siebert & Thomas, 2017) to illuminate and open up for questioning and transforming our cultural assumptions, embodied meanings, and social constructions associated with the idea of “nature.” A free write is an activity that channels one’s stream of consciousness. Once given the prompt, you write without self-editing. Nonstop. No pauses to think. Keep the movement flowing. Feel it going through your fingers up to your wrist. Consciously embody your meaning, if only for a short while —the exercise lasts between three to five minutes. In Milstein’s exercise, participants then read over what they have written, looking for one term they feel answers what “nature” means to them, and they then recite that word aloud each after the other in a river of words. The exercise’s goal is to foster learning about sustainability that starts from within and moves outward. The river of words that results allows participants to identify their own ways of knowing “nature” and then to explore diverse and similar ways of thinking, feeling, and representing “nature,” including those that perpetuate dominant Western and industrial societies’ human/nature and society/nature binaries and those that represent lesser heard but ever enduring and reviving ecocentric ways of knowing.


José Castro-Sotomayor, Jeff Hoffmann, Melissa Parks, Maggie Siebert, Mariko Thomas and Tema Milstein
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