By. Evan McDoniels


What if a fallen osprey feather could have as much educational impact as 1000 textbooks?  What if there were stories to last 1000 years in one sedimentary rock?  Could a child in motion, dynamically moving and engaging in the natural environment, be empowered toward overcoming the challenges of attention deficit problems, screen time addictions, traumatic childhood experiences, learning disabilities, and/or autism-spectrum experiences?


As the profession of teaching and the overall global society reaches an essential crossroads in environmental education, these questions are not poetic, pretentious dreams to ponder; rather, they are vital inquiries towards determining our species (and countless others) survival on the planet.  They form essential questions about priorities, use of resources, and how to evaluate learning and successful teaching methodology.


As I left the No Teacher Left Inside (NTLI) conference in Land O’ Lakes, Wisconsin for the Sylvania Wilderness, I remembered why I had gone from a non-formal environmental educator at a non-profit to a licensed educator.  I had seen, working at the Sixteenth Street Health Center, the way the diabetes and obesity epidemic was not only real but truly haunting impoverished peoples’ lives.  After canoe trips to revitalize the 7th most endangered river in the United States (Milwaukee’s Kinnickinnic River about 8-10 years ago), I was ordering adult XL t-shirts for several 4th graders in a class of 30.  The clinic was surrounded by fast food restaurants and the kids’ fear of dirt, germs, and nature was well beyond the socialization of my city upbringing.  This fear combined with toxic food sources and inactivity levels never before seen in our history portrayed Richard Louv’s “nature deficit disorder” almost hauntingly accurately.


Fast forward 5 years later and 3 years spent in a traditional school environment followed by the project-based learning of Escuela Verde and I’ve seen a lot of public crises played out as scapegoating education for the problems of society.  These problems often interconnect with nature deficit disorder and the ability to cultivate further environmental education.  Urban teachers today are practically raising many of the students they teach.  They’re required to teach challenging students social values and basic ethics, not only out of sheer altruism but at times to bring their classrooms and school environments to a manageable level for instructional purposes.


In becoming a licensed teacher, I wanted to reach more students who had never been on water or rarely walked to a park to experience more environmental education.  All these experiences of my previous career influenced the epiphanies and ability to utilize the tools we engaged with in NTLI.  In other words, to reflect on NTLI is to reflect on one’s history from our ancestors up through to the future of 7 generations in front of us.


NTLI brought together teachers of various environments and subject buy ambien cheap online areas into an enriching case-study-focused, interdisciplinary experience.  Centered on the historic “Wisconsin Walleye Wars” as a case study, teachers from rural environments gave urban teachers vital insights and vice versa while all of us experienced the discussions and tours of resident experts.  Metaphorically, it is light which symbolizes the Walleye Wars from the process of illuminating the dreary darkness of ignorance and hate to the origin of spearfishing as a cultural story passed on among Ojibwe people.  As educators, can we see the old man with the torch on the water, the one doing something different, the blind man who carried the first torch as a harbinger of a culture of environmental education to come?  Just as a major component of the Ojibwe’s way of life was created by the old blind man’s story of using the torch to innovate spearfishing, the environmental educator must innovate education as a whole to thrive in the 21st century.


To do so, we have to be humble enough to realize all facets of nature are our greatest teachers.  That each grain of sand that makes up a soil strata or rock can teach us more about ourselves and our world than a million worksheets or formal assessments can.  To be environmental educators, we must tie these lessons into our socio-emotional connection to nature as epitomized by the end of Bob Dylan’s song “Every Grain of Sand.”


I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea
Sometimes I turn, there’s someone there, other times it’s only me
I am hanging in the balance of the reality of man
Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand


What “ancient footsteps” do we need to illuminate in the respective case studies of our local environment’s story?  What environmental health crises do we see “hanging in the balance” that are pivotal to our grandchildren’s vitality?  What will be your “one grain of spiritual sand” to leave behind?


Evan McDoniels seeks to bring renewed wonder, creativity, and inquiry into the field of education. After experiencing a personal renaissance of vitality and exploration, Evan believes students can overcome immense obstacles in our cities to gain one’s essential truths in the path to self-actualization. With 10 years experience living and serving his community on the near south side of Milwaukee, Evan’s culture has taught him to give back when he has been given so much. The exchange of knowledge and experiences between student, teacher, and environment is an infinite cycle which provides Evan immense bliss amidst great challenge. Ultra-marathon runner, yogi, poet, guitarist, gym rat, self-taught artist, and master gardener are all interconnected worlds Evan explores for fun in his own odyssey of self-actualization. You may see him running wild with his brindle-colored, pitbull-lab dog on the trails of Milwaukee.