Biocitizen - Westhampton, MA

School of Field Environmental Philosophy

About Biocitizen?

Biocitizen was incorporated in 2009 to provide educational services within the field of environmental philosophy, including operating a school that teaches this subject in both traditional indoor classroom settings and outdoors at local, national and international sites. To ensure its educational services are of the highest quality, and reach as large an audience as possible, Biocitizen conducts scholarly research, develops curricula and syllabi, trains teachers, and performs public outreach through a website, the giving of lectures and presentations, and through the creation and dissemination of educational materials in print and other media.

The school admits students of any race, color, and national or ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at our school and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, and national or ethnic origin in administration of our educational policies, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other school administered programs.

Biocitizen is based in Westhampton, Massachusetts.

Fact:

Biocitizen is the only school in the world that is fully dedicated to Field Environmental Philosophy
Located

Westhampton, Massachusetts

President

Sam Taylor

Founded

2009

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What is Biocitizen?

The word “biocitizen” is a contraction of “biotic citizen,” a term Aldo Leopold (1887–1948) used in A Sand County Almanac. One of our nation’s first wildlife managers, Leopold co-founded the Wilderness Society and is widely celebrated for conceiving the “land ethic“:

A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.

Leopold reached this conclusion while serving as the Forest Supervisor of the Carson National Forest in northern New Mexico. Following the standard game management practices of the early 20th century, he exterminated wolves to increase the deer population for hunters. Without predators, the deer population skyrocketed—and crashed due to overgrazing and desertification. Leopold was shocked to see what he had done. When the thunderstorms came, he watched fertile topsoils wash down from the mountains into the rivers, there being no living plants to stop the erosion. Knowing the management strategies he learned at Yale had failed, a chastened Leopold looked upon the wolf with profound respect, appreciative of its key role in sustaining the “biotic community” he was paid to care for. The wolf, he realized, was a better wildlife manager than he was!

This discovery (made outside, not inside) led him thereafter to question untested assumptions about how humanity fits into the designs of nature. He used what he learned to help his culture to discover and value biodiversity, and the larger family of life on earth that we belong to.

Leopold distinguished between two ways Americans relate to nature, one typical of pioneer culture and one newly emerging that is dedicated to inhabiting land sustainably.  We “see repeated the same basic paradoxes: man the conqueror versus man the biotic citizen; science the sharpener of his sword versus science the searchlight on his universe; land the slave and the servant versus land the collective organism.”

His biotic citizen is our biocitizen, a person who enacts the land ethic in everyday life, behaving as a “plain member and citizen” of a biotic community that “include[s] soils, waters, plants, animals, or collectively: the land.”

Drawing upon Leopold’s legacy of ideas and intentions, which in turn are rooted deeply in Western philosophy, Biocitizen provides students a hands-on introduction to the “ecological interpretation of history” at sites where they can perceive themselves and the land as a “collective organism.”

What We Teach

Biocitizen school is a Leopoldian school that specializes in teaching the “land organism” via Field Environmental Philosophy (FEP). The word “biocitizen” is a contraction of “biotic citizen,” a term Aldo Leopold (1887–1948) used in A Sand County Almanaca text that forms a foundation for Deep EcologyOne of our nation’s first Federal wildlife managers, Leopold co-founded the Wilderness Society and, in response to the environmental impacts of our culture, is widely celebrated for conceiving the “land ethic”:

A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community.

It is wrong when it tends otherwise.

The biocitizen is a person who abides by this ethic. Our school creates them through an inquiry-based FEP curricula that combines book-learning and teacher instruction with directed exposure to environmental subjects, anywhere.

We inculcate students with the ecological, cultural and existential information they need to understand that 1) “where they are is who they are” and 2) that their place is alive, a part of a land organism (a watershed-, ecoregion-, biome- habitat). With that understanding, the land ethic makes sense and can be abided by.

How We Teach

We teach in classrooms with texts in the traditional manner, but what makes our school special is our FEP curricula takes students into outdoor classrooms— “places”—and, through the peripatetic method, investigates its biocultural history.

No matter the age of our students: we are on a treasure hunt; we are detectives; we are hunter-gatherers; we are story-tellers; we are active, interpreting the place physically, intellectually, aesthetically, emotionally. We can raise the subjects and inquiries, or we can let the students raise them—but teachers must orient the investigation so it reveals the biocultural history our students’ own story is nested in.

Biocitizen teachers are masters of the story of the place the class investigates. Teachers must know as much of the biocultural history of the place as they can, and part of that knowledge is knowing: what is the best, most interesting and challenging, way of walking through it? Where will our students discover the most? That is where they are taken.

An FEP curricula can be executed anywhere, in wilderness or the city; because it is a reading of signs expressed naturally and symbols expressed culturally. The story of the place is articulated through these signs and symbols: that is what biocitizens (learn to) read.

We teach the environment the same way English teachers teach literature: by reading it with students, and getting them to write about it (i.e., to re-present through symbols what nature expresses as signs). The environment is not a book, though. It’s reality itself. And when we teach it, we curve everything back to the land ethic, imagining and fashioning the story we want to live in, because we live in stories as much as we live in the land organism. We teach as readers, and writers, of reality; that’s how we teach. That is what makes us and our school special.

Why we Teach

Biocitizen exists as a non-profit corporation to employ teachers who are capable of using it as a conceptual space for heuristic, pedagogic and educational experimentation, to achieve the Leopoldian goal of promoting a biocultural, historical way of understanding reality while culturally instilling the land ethic.

At this time, our nation’s epistemology (its structure of knowledge and values) is disintegrating, and Biocitizen can play a leading role in developing and executing FEP curricula. FEP is important because most people do not know where they are (e.g, where their essential resources come from, what the history of inhabitation is, etc.). As the megamachine, our current blend of humanity and technology combined, falls apart, the bioregional perspective we cultivate will be very valuable. To survive in a place once meant knowing it; biocitizens (will) know their place.

We teach to learn.

What are people saying about Biocitizen?

  • My high school English class—American Literature and Nature: Claiming the Self—and I were lucky enough to have Kurt Heidinger of Biocitizen visit us for a talk on the roots of Transcendentalism in the United States and our particular region of Western Massachusetts. I was exploring the work of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau with my students. Kurt’s expertise in this area helped make the material more accessible to my students. He included new characters into the cast: painters, writers, preachers and anecdotal stories to make this particular history and philosophy relevant for today’s students. Using visual images and well chosen passages from a wide range of transcendental thinkers, Kurt kept all of my students engaged. Fortunately for me, Kurt piqued their interest in such a way, that they remained enthusiastic about the material right up until the end of our unit. Kurt is a fun and personable speaker/educator. He relates to young people and they sense it. He is able to take what could be difficult concepts and distill them into ideas that are at once clear and relatable. In addition, the importance of the natural world and our responsibility as stewards is a vital message for young people, and one that Kurt weaves through his presentation. Thanks so much, Kurt!

    Tracey McCormick
    English Teacher, Amherst Regional High School
  • Dr. Kurt Heidinger has been a tremendous inspiration in the conception and teaching of the concepts of the Field Environmental Philosophy and Biocultural Conservation courses that are taught by the Sub-Antarctic Biocultural Research and Conservation Program coordinated by the University of North Texas in the US, and the University of Magallanes and the Institute of Ecology and Biodiveristy in Chile. Kurt taught the inaugural course of the “Tracing Darwin Path” series at the Omora Ethnobotanical Park, and succeeded in engaging the students to produce their own “naturalist diaries”. I also have enjoyed the pleasure of stimulating research and co-writing with Kurt. See for example:

    Ten Principles for Biocultural Conservation at the Southern Tip of the Americas: The Approach of the Omora Ethnobotanical Park. Ecology & Society 11(1): 43. (Rozzi, R. F. Massardo, C. Anderson, K. Heidinger & J. Silander Jr., 2006.);

    or

    Field Environmental Philosophy and Biocultural Conservation: The Omora Ethnobotanical Park Educational Program. Environmental Ethics 30 (3): 325-336. (Rozzi, R., X. Arango, F. Massardo, C. Anderson, K. Heidinger & K. Moses. 2008.

    I look forward to continue our fruitful research, and educational collaborations with Dr. Heidinger, and his new Biocitizen School of Field Environmental Philosophy.

    Ricardo Rozzi, Ph.D.
    Associate Professor, University of North Texas
  • “Words in the Woods: A Site Dedicated to the Cultivation of the Literary Mind” was a site offered within UConn Mentor Connection, an enrichment program that allowed secondary students interested in literature, creative writing, and environmental studies to explore their interests under the supervision of then doctoral student, Kurt Heidinger.

    Every summer the group shared common interests and talents and the students thrived as they read the authors’ works, hiked in similar environments, and were inspired by their studies (and one another)! They shared their writing and absorbed the feedback from their peers and mentor. At the end of the program, they would happily report that both their writing skills and confidence in themselves soared as a result of the experience. It is a most unique, invigorating and rewarding experience for young people interested in the earth, the environment, and writing.

    Heather L. Spottiswoode
    Program Manager, UCONN Mentor Connection

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Biocitizen 1 Stage Rd.
Westhampton, MA 01027
Telephone 413.320.0522
kheidinger@biocitizen.org