Teaching to embrace the spirits of a more-than-human world: self, others and environment as an alliance of wills

A/Prof. John Quay1
1University of Melbourne


Wildness is an important element in all education. Yet teachers often strive to remove wildness from the educational setting: both wild child and wild nature. The effect is to cement the will of the teacher as the dominant will: teacher-centered pedagogy; often contrasted with student-centered pedagogy. Dewey problematized this way of conceiving education because it suggests an either/or choice, a potential conflict: either student or teacher should be at the center of education. However, considering education in relation to wills can support an alliance. Achievement of such an alliance is dependent primarily on the desires and capabilities of the teacher: to listen and hear the wills of young people, and to design pedagogy which enables both the teacher’s will and the students’ wills to be authentically engaged. Nature-centered pedagogy can be understood in a similar way. The many non-humans who co-inhabit a shared, more-than-human-world, also have wills. Yet comprehension of these wills is not a noted desire or capability of contemporary teaching practice. Many challenges must be confronted before non-human wills can be included in an alliance with those of teacher and students, however the first step is to listen and hear them. Younger children retain this propensity. Some adults recognise this, as well as a yearning for older ways of being-in-the-world which embraced such propensity into adulthood. These are key messages of movies My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away. Listening to and hearing the wills of non-human nature draws attention to will as spirit. For teachers this has a threefold meaning: listening to and hearing one’s own will and spirit; the wills and spirits of other humans; the wills and spirits of non-humans. These three fold together and are difficult to prise apart. The suggestion is that desire and capability to listen and hear wills is bedrock for teaching.

John Quay likes an adventure, but seems to be having more and more in administrative circles than outdoors! He likes to contribute to challenging accepted ideas about education, teaching and learning, by writing, and sometimes speaking. Having said that, John does like a good conversation about education, one that gets into the philosophical aspects. A perfect time and place for such conversations is while on an adventure, preferably one outdoors. However, most of the time John is to be found working at the University of Melbourne, in the Graduate School of Education. Please search for him there – and make a time for a conversation.

About OEA and Outdoors NSW

Outdoor Education Australia (OEA)  was established in 2006 as a national network of outdoor education associations. The organisation facilitates communication between state and territory outdoor education associations about the practice and delivery of outdoor education; advocates for outdoor education across primary, secondary and tertiary education; and provides policy advice.

Outdoors NSW is the go-to place for all things outdoors in NSW.

The peak body for the outdoors in NSW, the organisation, (formerly known as ORIC), represents the outdoor community, advances outdoor standards, safety and practices, and fosters greater participation in the outdoors.

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