Cripping environmental education means disrupting the able-bodiedness within the field

Schmidt, J. . (2022). Cripping environmental education: Rethinking disability, nature, and interdependent futures. Australian Journal of Environmental Education.

Current research in environmental education rarely focuses on disability issues. When it does, it generally reflects a medical model of disability. This model “pathologizes disabled and mad [mentally ill] people as defective, and in need of treatment to fix and ideally cure the individual of their abnormalities”. Interventions focused on inclusion and accommodation are typical reflections of the medical model. This approach privileges a particular way of learning.

This theoretical article calls for a shift from the medical model approach in the field of environmental education to one that “disrupts the compulsory able-bodiedness within the field and enables new ways of knowing and connecting to nature”. Such a shift is referred to as the “cripping of environmental education”. The term “crip” (as in cripple) is generally regarded as a derogatory term for people with disabilities. Disability in environmental education today operates as a hidden curriculum. Cripping environmental education means revealing this hidden curriculum and enabling new ways of knowing, being in, connecting to, and understanding the natural world. This approach requires a radical rethinking of notions about nature and embodiment in nature. It also requires a re-imaging of eco-futures.

The academic literature addressing disability in outdoor education and environmental education includes four thematic areas of concern: overlap between disability and environmental/outdoor education; best practices for inclusion; disability and madness as the cause of human/nature disconnection; and constructing nature as “out there”.

Cripping environmental education calls for a different approach – an approach the recognizes disability “as valued difference, not deficiency”. This approach requires not only the removal of barriers to access but also a “push back against notions of normalcy that deem some bodies as abnormal, undesirable, and disposable.” The goal of this approach is to dismantle the ableist assumptions built into the entire philosophical and pedagogical system of environmental/outdoor education

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