In Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, Michael Rosenberg (2005) puts forth his philosophy of nonviolent communication; also known as compassionate communication and abbreviated as NVC. The author advocates for a shift in the ways we communicate with ourselves, friends, family, and strangers. Rosenberg has successfully trained many to use this form of communication in diverse situations from personal relationships to violent conflict zones. In this book, he outlines the nonviolent communication model, which can be described in four primary components: observations, feelings, needs, and requests.

The first aspect of effective nonviolent communication is observing without evaluating, or simply stating the facts. Rosenberg describes this as developing the skill of describing a situation or event without “the use of moralistic judgements that imply wrongness or badness on the part of people who don’t act in harmony with our values” (p 15). This is first step is important because it sets the foundation for a dialogue that does not create a sense of blame or judgement; thus, neither person in the conversation needs to defend themselves. In conversation based on evaluation, our ability to remain accountable for our own actions, feelings, and needs without taking too much or too little responsibility is diminished. Rosenberg elaborates: “For example, instead of “Violence is bad,” we might say instead, “I am fearful of the use of violence to resolve conflicts; I value the resolution of human conflicts through other means.” (page 17). This can be difficult because in a culture where the language contributes to the use of moralistic judgement, a statement such as this might come natural. However, if we decide that “violence is bad” then the next logical step is that people who use violence are bad. When in fact these human beings are only trying to meet their own needs - as we all are - through what ever means they deem necessary.

The second and third step in the nonviolent communication process requires us to be deeply in tune with our feelings and emotions and what needs, values, and desires are contributing to those feelings. Rosenberg (2005) offers many examples where individuals are not as able to express their true feelings as they believe they are. To this end, Rosenberg offers a small list of some of the many feelings we might experience as well as a sample of needs we have that create these emotions within us.

After expressing the first three aspects - observations, feelings, needs - it can be beneficial to develop a specific request which will help better fulfil the needs we have just described. It’s important not to take for granted that the other person will know what we want. The clear statement of our requests, which should be distinguished from a nonvoluntary demand, is not a burden we are placing on another. In fact, it is helpful for ourselves and the other person; we are more likely to get our needs met and relieves the other person of any expectations that they are responsible for knowing and fulfilling our needs.

Following his thorough discussion on each of the four parts of nonviolent communication, Rosenberg talks about how NVC can be applied not just in our words, but how to use NVC to receive others when they are not familiar with this way of communication. To describe this practice, Rosenberg uses the term “receiving empathically” so that we can hear and help to draw out the feelings and needs of others, even when they are unable to do so themselves. The process requires that we first empathize with the other person in order to understand what they might be feelings/needing. Through practices such as asking for more elaboration, paraphrasing for clarity, and reflecting back what we hear it can be possible to bring about an awareness of what they are truly trying to express.

Even skeptical readers might appreciate the core sentiments of Rosenberg’s ideals, such as empathetic connection, non-judgemental observation, and emotional literacy. At first glance, the formula for nonviolent communication might appear forces, awkward, or otherwise contrived. However, the simple essence of nonviolent communication can be practiced at any level.

Rosenberg communicates his message through the consistent use of personal stories of his own or that have been shared with him by others. These series of short stories give the reader a tangible and relatable example of how nonviolent communication is used in a variety of situations. Often times these will include stories of individuals, couples, and groups who were not using nonviolent communication and how they expressed themselves, followed by a dialogue of how they were able to use NVC to better express their feelings and needs and the response they received. The example and practice exercises are key to Rosenberg method of modeling nonviolent communication in a way that is practical and experiential. Readers will find the book most effective if they are able to use these tools to envision nonviolent communication in their own lives.

David Sobel has been a prominent figure in the place-based education movement. In Sobel’s book, Place-Based Education: Connecting Communities and Classrooms, he describes the place-based education movement, the numerous advantages of such programs, and model strategies for how to implement place-based education initiatives. Sobel (2005) begins by painting a picture of a school day where place-based education is being used; one portrait of students who are engaging in their communities outside of the classroom. This description lays the foundation for the case studies presented by Sobel (2005) later in the literature. The initiatives he cited are generally from his home New England region, but nonetheless presented so that the reader can see how place-based education programs have been implemented successfully. The way in which the information is presented points out the diverse application of such programs.

Sobel (2005) argues that place-based education not only connects children with nature and their local community, but that place-based education programs continually increase standardized testing scores for students; both positive outcomes of place-based education are discussed in depth. Sobel (2005) points to the SEER (State Education and Environment Roundtable) Report as an example of what can be achieved in schools that used the environment as integrating context (EIC) method. This report shows improvements in standardized test scores across all subjects - not just science - as well as, better attendance and better behavior - seen through lower rates of disciplinary actions such as referrals and suspensions (pp 25 - 26). While the standardized-test score based outcomes make an excellent argument for place-based education, there are many, less tangible benefits. While introducing these non-academic benefits Sobel (2008) writes: “All of the above sounds reasonably persuasive - unless you don’t really think that academic performance is the true measure of program success” (pp 32). Although these gains are more difficult to measure there are several studies we can look to as indicators. A 1989 study by Margarette Harvey found that:
When compared to their peers from schools with undeveloped school grounds, students who had been exposed to more vegetation and landscape features showed higher scores for pastoralism (the enjoyment of the natural environment in an intellectual fashion) and lower scores for human dominance (the belief in humans’ rights to use technology to adapt to and dominate nature. (Education Development Center, 2000) (Sobel pp 33).
Although presenting primarily positive outcomes of the discussed place-based education programs, Sobel (2005) does attempt to address some of the struggles and negativity around the topic. For example, the political connotations of certain terms like environmental education. As a possible solution, Sobel entices the reader to think about place-based education beyond the context of environmental education. For environmental education to secure its place is global education standards, it must be vital to the community itself. In addition to making the topic more relevant to the daily life, this new vision de-politicizes environmental education. 

Sobel (2005) also outlines how to get started and finding a place to start and various strategies and methods for creating effective place-based initiatives. In the section titled “Creating Place-based School: Core Strategies” (pp 52) Sobel lists five strategies: 

  1. put an environmental educator in every school - these individuals serve as in-house resources for topics that teachers new to place-based education have not been trained in as well as support in the new responsibilities that teachers have been given

  2. create SEED teams to provide vision and guidance - teams include “two or three teachers, an administrator, the environmental educator, two or three community members (not only parents), a schools staff person... and one or two middle or high school students” (pp 55).

  3. build connections through community vision to action forums - use these meetings as an opportunity to involve the community into the community-based education

  4. tread lightly when you carry a green stick - this hints at the difficulties that place-based initiatives might experience; these programs should be sensitive to their communities and aware of opposition

  5. nurture continuous improvement through ongoing professional development - training educators in this new perspective is a long-term, continuous process; professional development is a form of support necessary for sustainable, effective programs

These concrete suggests offered by Sobel (2005) are a valuable resource to anyone interested in putting into practice place-based, community-based education reform. The material in Place-based Education: Connecting Classrooms and Communities goes beyond discussion, encouraging the reader to tackle problems they see in their community in the same way that place-based education encourages students to get involved.
Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods is a phenomenology piece discussing what is identified by Louv as nature-deficit disorder. According to Louv (2008), nature deficit disorder “describes the human costs of alienation from nature, among them; diminished use of the sense, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illness” (pp 36). Nature-deficit disorder, so named after the widely diagnosed Attention-Deficit Disorder, is Louv’s proposed remedy for this same condition (ADD/ADHD). In addition to advocating natural experiences in education and the benefits of place-based education programs, Louv also writes about the many non-academic benefits of time in nature of youth and children. Louv claims that increasing children’s time in nature has numerous health benefits, emotional/spiritual, and environmental benefits.

In addition to the emotional and mental health benefits such as reducing instances of ADHD that Louv covers, he also explores the many other benefits of a society that connects children with nature. From education and health, to religion, Louv (2008) advocates that all institutions, groups, and individuals would gain from an increase in time spent outdoors. From a religious perspective - far from being skeptical of environmental movements of worshiping nature that can be seen in some religious groups - should seize the opportunity to participate as stewards of creation instead of seek domination over all of nature. The place of religion environmental education could be significant when re envisioned as each one being supportive and vital to the other.

Louv describes the nature-deficit phenomenon in depth, including the characteristics, its negative impacts (especially on children) and put forth his proposed process for addressing nature deficit. His position is that in the United States children are being raised detached from nature. Louv discusses the possible factors leading to increase detachment from nature - such as the criminalization of natural play (pp 27), liability for property owners and outdoor program organizations, and fear of ‘stranger danger’ and nature itself - classified by Louv under the term “Bogeyman syndrome” (pp 123). Also, the belief that nature is something “out there” - beyond the bounds of cities. However, we should be finding natural environments (or building them) within our local communities.

But Louv (2008) affirms throughout his work that nature is worth the time and effort - it is worth preserving and it is a worthwhile effort to mend our relationship with the natural environment. Louv describes today’s youth experience of nature as the third frontier characterized:

a severance of the public and private mind from our food’s origins; an increasingly intellectual understand of our relationship with other animals; the invasion of our cities by wild animals (even as urban/suburban resigners replace wildness with synthetic nature); and the rise of a new kind of suburban form (pp 19).

Louv (2008) suggests that it is time to “open the fourth frontier” and re imagine our relationship with the natural environment and child-nature relationship we foster for our children. Louv provides many methods for approaching this process. The first is recognizing the importance of natural play and a healthy, balanced relationship with the environment. This means making time for natural experiences in our daily lives and making space for them in our communities. Creative models of urban planning, such as New Urbanism, are seeking to redesign the way we build cities and towns to be more sustainable and inclusive of natural spaces. These such communities would encourage natural play for children by making it locally accessible. Entering a new frontier also means recognizing the relevance of the environment as that which sustains us; this involves promoting a new understanding of our food system and fields like ecology and natural sciences from a local, experiential framework.

In the education system, Louv (2008) see an urgent need for school (and after-school) reform possibly through nature school models and bringing back nature camp programs for youth. David Sobel, suggested by Louv (pp 207), is a particularly useful resources for educators, school administrators, community members, students, and parents who are interested in learning more about place-based/community-based education reform. As a part of this reform, naturalist intelligence must be recognized as a valid learning style. Howard Gardner, professor of education who developed the theory of multiple intelligences, added naturalist intelligence among his list of seven other types of intelligences such as mathematical, musical, linguistic and interpersonal and intrapersonal (2008, Louv, pp 203).

Unfortunately, reader’s might find that Louv’s focus is too broad and tends to jump from point to point in an effort to capture all his many beliefs, experiences, and suggestions. Louv (2008) introduces the reader to the many, diverse aspects of natural play, but this attempt to cover all the talking points means that readers might get lost in the vastness of the literature. Throughout his writing, Louv heavily references many resources, which I highly suggest readers investigate further. These resources can prove invaluable to anyone who is unfamiliar with natural play, place-based education, and environmental education movements. I found the resources extremely useful - especially as someone living in San Diego; but it does make for dense and slow reading. The Last Child in the Woods is written as a balance of case study literature, first-person accounts and interviews with students, teachers, parents, and community members, with his own experience. Louv (2008) creates an image for the reader, inviting them to visualize the world he is proposing.