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.


Leave a Reply