Introducing, and please welcome, Biocitizen NYC (!!!)

Dear New York Friends,

Biocitizen will conduct a soft opening during the summer of 2019 and is hoping you will be interested supporting us, and sharing our announcements, as we introduce our Field Environmental Philosophy (FEP) programming to your communities.

Biocitizen is the only school in the world that is devoted solely to teaching FEP. FEP brings students into the field to investigate natural and cultural history while raising existential questions.

We do this because most people do not know where they are: where their water, food and electricity come from, where their garbage and sewage go, the creatures (plants and animals) that are their neighbors, how and why their neighborhood looks like it does, etc. If we do not know where we are, it is very difficult for us to address the environmental challenges we face. “Nowhere”, “anywhere” and “everywhere” are not places that can be saved, because they are not places; only places can be understood, cared for and saved. If we do not know where we are, we do not know who we are—for so much of who we are is constituted by our environment (think of how different people are simply because they live in the North or South). When we know where we are, we know who we are, and what we have to do to make our place better, healthier, more equitable and enjoyable.

Biocitizen has developed vibrant FEP programs in the sublime wilderness region of Cape Horn, Chile, in the desert urban sprawl of Los Angeles, in the verdant river-laced mountains and farmlands of Western Massachusetts, and now here in NYC.

Though these environments are drastically different, our FEP curricula is consistent. It reveals how they are constructed by biophysical dynamisms (“nature”) and by us (“culture”). Students are encouraged to read the environment for clues that, added together, tell the story of the place; environment is a technocrat term that denotes “that which encloses”, place is a familiar term that indicates “where we happen”. We don’t make dates to meet at an environment; we meet at a place.

In NYC, our FEP programs take students into the field to answer the question “What is New York”? Of course the answer is as complex as the city itself, but it is also self-evident as what students are experiencing in the very act of investigating, and gathering clues.

New York is alive. We examine and celebrate this life, and figure out why—of all places—it is so alive. We look to the past and rediscover traces of the earliest human presence, learning of the Lenape indigenes and then Dutch and then English invaders. We walk the edges of city to witness and feel the power of the maritime biome, to be close to the river estuaries and they flow and swirl just like they did thousands of years ago.

Instead of just reading about why NYC is where it is, we feel it, and this feeling is combined with natural and cultural history education, and with the joy and fun of rambling with a group of energized curious peers. By combining adventure with academics, FEP lessons sink deep into students’ memories: thoughts are combined with emotions, sensations, flavors and smells, new friendships. FEP opens up new facets of self that were otherwise dormant or undiscovered. By showing students how the world—their place—is constructed, FEP also shows them that they are not just bystanders; they and their families and friends are participants in the construction, co-creators of place that is always being built. In this way, FEP empowers students to have confidence, be intelligent and friendly and helpful, and build the world they want to live in. We have found that once students know their place is a work in progress, they feel moved to assist in that work.

NYC is an ecological system, and our goal is to bring students into contact with it as much and as safely as possible. We’ll have one beach day every session, so that we share at least one deep biotic immersion together. We will also take advantage of any easily accessible water parks so we can cool down and have fun. In the future, when we have grown a bit, we’ll take students out of the metropolitan area for overnight Claws trips that bring us into the wild. We’ll also have student exchanges so students from NYC can spend a week with a W MA Our Place School host family and vice-versa.

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