Biocitizen Inc.

The Land Organism: Teacher Training in Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic

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We fancy that industry supports us, forgetting what supports industry.

Aldo Leopold


THE Problem:

We are experiencing a paradigm shift precipitated by anthrogenic global warming. Many of the things we have been taught and teach need to be reassessed, re-understood and revised—around the pressing fact that our present way of living is out of synch with the patterns of nature.

Due to federal educational funding requirements, public and other schools “teach to the test,” and students absorb a standardized curricula that prepares them for careers in the industrial economy that is causing global warming.

This is a tragic predicament. The purpose of public education is fulfilled when the older generation trains the younger generation to take over the controls of civilization; but if that civilization is unsustainable—as our industrial civilization is—then that training is a training, ultimately, in hopelessness.

We have arrived at the moment in history where it is reasonable, and responsible, to argue that training students to be industrial amounts to a catastrophic failure that threatens the survival of humanity; as Greenpeace democracy organizer Eva Resnick-May explains:

As a youth movement, we have done our own research, and that is why we are so terrified for the future.  Scientists are saying that we have half the amount of time that we thought we did to tackle climate change before we go over the tipping point. And because of that, youth, the people that are going to have to inherit and deal with this problem, are incredibly worried. What happens in the next four or eight years could determine the future of our planet and the human species.

Our academic-industrial-complex is designed to create functional economic actors. It is not designed to deal with a future where climate change destabilizes the industrial patterns of life that are our jobs, our cities, our means of sustenance, production, trade, and transportation. Eventually it will be re-designed, but until then—our problem is:

if public education prepares us for a world that is increasingly a thing of the past, where and how can we be trained to live in the world that will be?

THE Solution:

A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community.

It is wrong when it tends otherwise.

—the land ethic, as stated by Aldo Leopold

The solution involves teachers who destandardize education by cueing curricula to the living, cyclical systems and processes of local ecologies: who recognize their students need to know where they live, because it is not possible to know who one is, unless one knows where one is.

When a person knows where they are, they can know what to do; they can know what they are doing, why they are doing it, and what they are doing it to. This, the awareness that we are placed, and that the place we inhabit is crucial to who and what we are, is undertaught and even ignored.

Although industrialism thrives by making us placeless (in the McDonaldsland fashion of making every place the same- and finally no- place), we are always capable of reorienting ourselves to “what supports industry”: the biophysical dynamisms of our place, the earth.

Every biome is a unique font of life, of bios—the same bios that is the subject of the biological sciences. By learning and teaching the bios, the life we share with other creatures, it is possible to evolve beyond the strictures of industrialism, and to develop our nascent, un-evoked capacities to be intelligent—to discern our place in the designs of nature.

Teacher Training in Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic—

The Land Organism is a course that introduces teachers—and homeschooling parents, education activists, naturalists and transitioners—to the ecological science and philosophy of Aldo Leopold, by reading and writing together, and by engaging in natural and cultural history field studies of the Nonotuck Biome. This course brings teachers into contact with those histories, while also training them to teach what they have learned. (A fuller description of Leopold’s organicist philosophy is found at the end of this announcement.)

Teachers are provided with source material, practical activities, and teaching strategies they can use to enhance their own science and humanities courses, so their students are more aware of, and equipped to deal with, the rapid changes we are going through—in the classroom, on the job market, and out in the world.

Most importantly, this course provides a conceptual space within which questions can be raised that aren’t typically raised or effectively addressed within the academic-industrial-complex.

Moreover, these questions will be raised with the spirit of reform, even rebellion: with energy, inspiration and courage. Change never comes from the center (for the center is the center because it is insulated by all that surrounds, and is organized by, it). Change always comes from outside, at the edge, the forefront, the threshold. This course will bring you to the cusp, where change is possible—because we are “thinking outside.”

Course of Study and Class Schedule:

Taught by Biocitizen director, Kurt Heidinger, the Land Organism is a training course that gives teachers an opportunity to gain ecological literacy by studying Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac and by getting hands-on training in field environmental philosophy (FEP), a locally-focused, placed-based, “direct encounter” method of teaching natural and cultural history that increases, quickly and dramatically, students’ knowledge of where and how they live, and who they are, and who they will be.

—We will have five, 2 1/2 hour classes devoted to reading & discussing the Sand County Almanac. Teacher trainees will keep a journal, and will receive writing prompts and assignments, which will be used to inform discussions.

—Teacher trainees will gain hands-on experience teaching FEP, by participating in five days of Our Place Summercamp. There is no substitute for this on-the-job training, because the conversion of Leopoldian theory into practice happens only in real time, via FEP teaching.

—The course will conclude with a field environmental philosophy summit, that will include a shared dinner enjoyed near the Dead Branch Brook in Chesterfield, and feature lectures and discussions led by leading FEP educators Eugene Hargrove, director of the Center for Environmental Philosophy and editor of the journal Environmental Ethics, and Ricardo Rozzi and Francisca Massardo, founders of the Parque Etnobotanico Omora, the Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve and the Cape Horn Sub-Antarctic Research Center. Kurt has worked with Eugene, Ricardo and Francisca for over a decade, establishing the Tracing Darwin’s Path program together, which provides the inspiration and precedent for Biocitizen’s Now Voyager programs in central Chile.

—Teacher trainees will be invited to collaborate with Biocitizen to create FEP curricula at the schools they work for, and/or communities they live in. This is the most important component of the course, because it solves, in practical terms, the problem (explained above) our educational system is facing. The goal is to open the doors of our schools and link education to place.

—Teacher trainees will also receive priority attention to be interviewed for job openings at Biocitizen School. We are growing!

The schedule:

Teacher-trainees are required to attend at least 4 of the 5 Sand County Almanac text-discussion classes which will be held on these Sundays from 1:30 – 4 pm, at a place to be determined in or near downtown N’hamp:

July 10, July 17, July 24, July 31, August 7 or August 14

Teacher-trainees are required to participate in 5 days of Our Place Summercamp. These days can be staggered over the summer, or done as a single block.


The Sand County Almanac will be provided. The FEP training requires weather appropriate clothing and river shoes (not flipflops); Keen’s are the best.

The tuition for the course is $300. and can be paid either here via paypal, or by check sent to Biocitizen, 1 Stage Rd., Westhampton, MA 01027. Biocitizen is a 501(c)3 educational institution and is eligible to receive teaching -training and -development funds.

So who is Aldo Leopold, what is the Land Organism, and why is it important?Aldo Leopold (1887–1948) was one of our nation’s first wildlife managers and a co-founder of the Wilderness Society. He was also a philosopher who strayed beyond the boundaries of ecology to speculate about how humans suffered when their ways of inhabitation conflicted with the patterns of nature. In A Sand County Almanac, his most celebrated work, he conceived the “land ethic” which laid out in simple terms the difference between right and wrong ways of inhabitation.Leopold distinguished between “man the conqueror versus man the biotic citizen; science the sharpener of his sword versus science the searchlight on his universe; land the slave and the servant versus land the collective organism.” Our present global environmental crisis is caused by the industrial way we inhabit the earth, behaving as if humans are conquerors of nature, which is treated like a slave. Science reveals humans are not conquerors of the earth, however; and, instead are “biocitizens”: “plain members and citizens” of a “biotic community” that “include[s] soils, waters, plants, animals, or collectively: the land.”Leopold imagined nature as a democracy when he described the “biotic community”; and when he used the allied term “land organism” he imagined it also a “long body” that is one giant bios, shared through the eons of evolution by all forms of life:

*The outstanding scientific discovery of the twentieth century is not television, or radio, but rather the complexity of the land organism. Only those who know the most about it can appreciate how little we know about it. The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant: “What good is it?” If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”

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