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An Interview with Crow’s Path Executive Director Teage O’Connor

6/15/2016

teageHow did you become interested in nature education and what led you to the founding of Crow’s Path?

I realized I wanted to be a teacher before I was fully aware of my passion for learning about the natural world. In high school, some of my friends were on academic probation or on the verge of failing out of school, which meant that their parents wouldn’t let them go surfing or skateboarding with me. I made deals with the parents of a few of my friends that if I could tutor them and help them raise their grades then they would let us go to the beach during the week before school. At first I was mostly interested in it for selfish reasons, but then I started seeing the joy and excitement when a friend would truly understand the quadratic equation or the intimate relationship between the pressure, volume, and temperature of a gas. They became motivated more by the understanding than by the grade, and I saw the beauty in facilitating this learning. Plus, I got to spend more time at the beach myself. 

I went to college in Chicago where I had the opportunity to apprentice with Beth Wilkins, a high school Environmental Science teacher. During breaks between classes she would ask me questions about things I had observed while biking to work. Most of her questions seemed to pull my attention to things I considered too common to be interesting, things like geese, squirrels, and pigeons. But her questions emphasized the world around me, not some distant concept of nature. They illuminated a secret world that I couldn’t help but be drawn into. I learned to identify starlings, tanagers, and mergansers, I got to know the personalities of the different squirrels that fed out of the dumpster in the alley behind my apartment, I tracked coyotes along the rail road to kill sites, all while the 3 million people around me were asleep to the thriving metropolis of wildness living in the shadows. Crow’s Path in many ways is the intersection between sharing the joy of learning and finding wildness in one’s surroundings, whether in the city or on an isolated mountain in Alaska.

Crow’s Path serves both children from public schools and home schools:  what is the core of your educational philosophy?  How has Crow’s Paths program evolved over the last six years and why?  

Curiosity, connection, and community are the three pillars of our programs. We use the art of questioning to help participants find the answers to their own questions, point them to resources that will help them find answers, and of course help them find new questions to follow down into the rabbit hole. Our staff are all highly skilled in a wide range of earth skills (tracking, pottery, sing, storytelling, archery, basket weaving, foraging, etc) and use direct engagement – primitive skills, play, observation – to cultivate a curiosity about the world around the kids. We find that the understanding of the natural world that comes from this direct engagement engenders an abiding respect for and connection to the natural world as their understanding of “nature” and “the environment” shifts from the abstract to a specific cast of characters, each playing out their own unique lives. While our programs have certainly grown over the years, our approach to education has remained the same.

For more information on Crows Path, email Teage 

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