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Professor promotes place-based learning

PULLMAN – David Gruenewald, associate professor at WSU’s College of Education, believes that everyone benefits when students are engaged in their communities. That approach, sometimes called “new localism,” is the focus of his new book, “Place-Based Education in the Global Age” (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2007), which he co-edited with Gregory Smith, a professor at Lewis and Clark College in Portland.

It’s a shame, Gruenewald said, that students are often encouraged to look elsewhere for work and fulfillment.

“They’re taught to think of their community as a place to get away from, that they’ll never amount to anything if they don’t go somewhere else,” he said.

From his perspective, ideal teachers are those who connect students with their community, and meld those experiences with classroom lessons. For example, high school students in Seaside, Ore., collected information that went into an urban renewal grant, sought by their city to purchase and restore a former mill site. In Lubec, Maine, students put their ideas and muscle into aquaculture projects that might help replace declining ocean fisheries.

Gruenewald included those and other examples in his book. Different chapters written by various authors, including Gruenewald, make the case that place-based education is part of a broader movement that has arisen in response to globalization.

“The new localism recognizes that economic globalization under corporate capitalism is, potentially, economically devastating, culturally homogenizing, and ecologically destructive to local communities,” they write in the book’s introduction. The authors are quick to add that they don’t reject capitalism, but embrace democracy.

Gruenewald is helping organize a symposium, called “Palouse as Pedagogy,” which will focus on how the unique Pullman area landscape can be used in lesson plans. The spring event will be sponsored by WSU’s new Center for Environmental Research, Education and Outreach.

Place-based education is also called service learning, contextual learning, citizenship education, experiential learning. Gruenewald approves of all the descriptions.

“My goal is not to quibble over language, but on how we can find common ground and share the task of creating meaningful educational experiences

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