ERIC Identifier: ED438151
Publication Date: 1999-12-00
Author: Roberts, Nina S. - Rodriguez, Donald A.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small
Schools Charleston WV.
Multicultural Issues in Outdoor Education. ERIC Digest.
The 1990s saw the outdoor education community undergo a process of critical
redefinition as it attempted to address multicultural education issues.
As a result, outdoor education has seen more diverse curriculum, program
agendas, staff and leadership, boards of directors, and students.
This Digest offers a definition for multicultural education, reviews
what we already know about multicultural diversity in outdoor education,
poses new questions for researchers and practitioners, and offers some
suggestions for enhancing students' experiences.
CONNECTING MULTICULTURAL AND OUTDOOR EDUCATION
Because the demographic makeup of the United States is changing, there
are more opportunities to serve students from diverse cultural backgrounds.
To be successful, it is important to develop an understanding of diverse
student needs, attitudes toward the outdoors, and styles of learning as
part of an overall effort to acknowledge and appreciate their various cultures
(cf. Kielsmeier, 1989).
Burnett (1994) draws from the work of Banks, Sleeter, and Nieto to suggest
a three-part typology of multicultural education: (1) content-oriented
programs that focus on the curriculum to increase students' knowledge about
different cultural groups, (2) student-oriented programs that work to increase
academic achievement of certain groups, and (3) socially oriented programs
that work toward increasing cultural and racial tolerance and reducing
bias in schools and communities.
Outdoor activities lend themselves well to the last of these three program
types--addressing social problems such as racial or ethnic bias. Bernardy
(1995) suggests that the power of outdoor education resides in providing
opportunities for diverse participants to cooperate to solve problems,
exercise critical thinking skills, and develop communication within the
group (cf. Wright, 1994).
Kennison (1995) suggests there is consistency between this approach
and the goals of multicultural education:
* Teach children to respect one another's cultures and values.
* Help children learn to function successfully in a multicultural society.
* Develop a positive self-concept in children most affected by racism.
* Help children experience both the differences and similarities of
culturally diverse people in positive ways.
* Encourage children to experience people of diverse cultures working
together as unique parts of a whole community. (Kendall as cited in Kennison,
Underlying these goals is the concept of social justice. According to
Washington (1998), social justice "recognizes the systematic oppression
(e.g., racism, sexism, ageism) based on social identity (race, gender,
age, etc.) that determines a group's access to social power, privilege,
resources and opportunities" (p. 20).
The multicultural challenge raises hard questions for outdoor education
researchers and practitioners: What social justice issues can we address
most powerfully through outdoor education experiences? How do we ensure
that our endeavors are meaningful to all students, as well as fulfilling
for practitioners and researchers? How will we go about creating more inclusive
and multicultural curricula, leadership principles and practices, and management
tools and techniques?
CALL FOR RESEARCH AND PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT
A good place to begin research and development efforts in multicultural
approaches to outdoor education would be in strengthening the collaboration
among school practitioners (elementary, secondary, and postsecondary) and
outdoor education researchers. Horwood (1996), writing about outdoor education
in general, points out that although good research has been done (especially
as evidenced in the thesis and dissertation literature), it rarely informs
practice. Horwood urges an approach that would have theory exercised as
dialogue with practice and less as prescription. Teachers and outdoor leaders
need to be recruited as coinvestigators with researchers. Outdoor education
research should be presented at teacher conferences, and schools and researchers
should be invited to outdoor education gatherings. (p. 12)
He urges research into new concepts and relationships as a way to address
what he and other writers in the 1990s saw as the unraveling of the social,
economic, and environmental fabric in the context of a rapidly changing
global culture and economy.
In light of these concerns, it is troubling that multiculturalism in
outdoor education has received limited attention from researchers.
Multicultural pedagogies. Most of the research literature and training
continue to be based on traditional models designed and taught by European
American professionals and educators to primarily European American audiences
(Rodriguez & Roberts, 1999; Warren, 1999). Multicultural issues have
received less attention than gender in the literature (Warren, 1999; Roberts,
Although in recent years outdoor education has made progress in meeting
the multicultural challenge, few researchers and practitioners have moved
beyond a basic recognition of the need to be culturally inclusive. A more
profound level of inclusiveness will take place when outdoor educators
allow elements of diverse cultures to reshape basic concepts, theories,
and practices of outdoor education (Ewert, 1996).
Outdoor education is beginning to see this level of change. For example,
Goulet (1998) describes a Canadian teacher education program in which classes
model methods of confronting racism with critical thinking. She notes barriers
to such programs: lack of culturally appropriate materials, school and
community resistance, and the need for personal and professional coping
strategies. DeGraaf (1992) describes attempts at Camp Algonquin (Illinois)
to bridge cultural, ethnic, and socioeconomic gaps among campers and between
campers and staff.
Respectful and accurate cultural elements. Some observers have also
questioned practitioners' understanding of cultural elements they include
in programming. For example, Kennison (1995) wonders how many outdoor education
programs present information that is historically accurate and respectful
of Native Americans. She says there is a need to examine current instructional
materials for negative stereotypes and historical distortions and to develop
programs that are culturally inclusive. Other culture-based challenges
include increasing awareness of opportunities to include multicultural
elements in activities, increasing leaders' understanding and appreciation
of participants' cultural values, and increasing understanding of traditional
uses of outdoor and experiential learning by various ethnic and cultural
groups (Magill & Chavez, 1993).
Outdoor environmental programs. Incorporating multiculturalism into
outdoor education includes additional challenges related to environmentalism
and the value placed on using nature as a classroom. With these challenges
come opportunities to seek common ground. Outdoor education provides a
unique forum for sharing environmental concern among diverse participant
populations (Matthews, 1993; 1994). However, there remains much work to
be done in this area. Wright (1994) calls for rigorous research and experimentation,
along with creative programming and quality evaluation to enhance multicultural
Impacts on diverse participants. There are other questions for researchers
and practitioners to consider. For example, to what extent do minorities
believe that outdoor programs are meaningful, interesting, and educational?
What influence do outdoor education activities have on personal growth
and social development? Are we making assumptions about the design and
worth of outdoor education based on our experiences with European American
students from predominantly suburban or urban settings?
HOW CAN WE BRING ABOUT CHANGE?
Kielsmeier (1989) notes that establishing multicultural collaborations
will not be an issue of figuring out how to recruit "them" but an issue
of organizational change to become culturally diverse. Such a move requires
facing more hard questions, such as "How can we change first?" (p. 15).
The following 10 strategies and principles (Roberts & Gray, 1999)
can be adapted for use in a variety of programs to help teachers, managers,
directors, and outdoor leaders address issues of multiculturalism:
1. Hire and train teachers and leaders who understand cultural issues
and are sensitive, knowledgeable, and ethnically competent.
2. Conduct an internal audit of racial/ethnic representativeness in
3. Operate a holistic recruitment and training program, and promote
attention to cultural representation and understanding.
4. Actively recruit and train teachers and/or program staff from the
populations and cultures the program serves.
5. Include in training modules activities to increase personal awareness
of conscious and unconscious prejudices and assumptions leaders might hold.
6. Balance and accommodate different learning styles, and organize the
curriculum to include goals of social awareness, knowledge of multiculturalism,
and action-oriented behavior.
7. Give multiculturalism the same level of importance as a good safety
briefing prior to a class going out into the field. Step "outside the box"
of traditional outdoor education concepts and integrate a multicultural
curriculum into the program.
8. Attend to social relations in the outdoors. Instruction should help
participants recognize behaviors that emerge in group dynamics and improve
interpersonal communications, without blaming or judging.
9. Use reflection and personal history/background as tools for experiential
learning. Program instruction can begin using the participant's worldview
and experience for dialogue and/or problem solving.
10. Allow contradictions and tensions to emerge. Often overlooked is
the fear of leaders to allow tensions and personal anxiety within themselves
or participants to materialize. Teachers and leaders should allow themselves
to experience the discomfort as well as encourage participants to step
out of personal comfort zones.
The traditional outdoor education community shows increased awareness
of ethnic and cultural diversity. Yet the strategies offered in this Digest
and by others offer even more chances for improvement. Inquiry into the
questions raised here for researchers and practitioners could shed light
on how to address persistently low minority participation in outdoor education
despite genuine efforts at recruiting and training minorities. A commitment
to change must include an examination of program practice and design to
find ways to increase the appeal of outdoor education for diverse cultural
Bernardy, M. (1995). Educating multicultural groups outdoors. (ERIC
Document Reproduction Service No. ED 397 999)
DeGraaf, K. (1992). Camping: Cross-cultural issues. Camping Magazine,
Burnett, G. (1994). Varieties of multicultural education: An introduction
(ERIC Digest). New York: ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education. (ERIC Document
Reproduction Service No. ED 372 146)
Ewert, A. (1996). Research in outdoor education: Our place on the porch.
In L. McAvoy, L. Stringer, M. Bialeschki, & A. Young (Eds.), Coalition
for Education in the Outdoors Third Research Symposium Proceedings (pp.
7-8). Cortland, NY: Coalition for Education in the Outdoors. (ERIC Document
Reproduction Service No. ED 413 123)
Goulet, L. (1998, April). Culturally relevant teacher education: A Saskatchewan
First Nations case. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American
Educational Research Association, San Diego, CA. (ERIC Document Reproduction
Service No. ED 425 044)
Horwood, B. (1996). Outdoor education and the schools. In L. McAvoy,
L. Stringer, M. Bialeschki, & A. Young (Eds.), Coalition for Education
in the Outdoors Third Research Symposium Proceedings (pp. 9-13). Cortland,
NY: Coalition for Education in the Outdoors. (ERIC Document Reproduction
Service No. ED 413 123)
Kennison, J. A. (1995). Multicultural programming primer for outdoor
educators. Pathways to Outdoor Communication, 5(1), 6-8.
Kielsmeier, J. (1989). Growing with the times: A challenge for experiential
education. Journal of Experiential Education, 12(3), 12-16.
Magill, A. W., & Chavez, D. J. (1993). Difficulties with multicultural
communication. In A. Ewert, D. Chavez, & A. Magill (Eds.), Culture,
conflict, and communication in the wildland-urban interface (pp. 119-134).
Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Matthews, B. E. (1993, July). Multiculturalism: Implications for outdoor
and conservation educators. Paper presented at the annual conference of
the Association for Conservation Information, Portsmouth, NH. (ERIC Document
Reproduction Service No. ED 369 584)
Matthews, B. E. (1994). Does outdoor and environmental education have
a role in multicultural education? Pathways to Outdoor Communication, 4(1),
Roberts, N. S., & Gray, S. (1999). The impact of diversity issues
on risk management. In J. Gookin (Ed.), Wilderness Risk Managers Conference
Proceedings (pp. 8-11). Sierra Vista, AZ: National Outdoor Leadership School.
Roberts, N. S. (Guest Editor). (1996, December). NAALA in experiential
education: Beyond participation (Special theme issue). Journal of Experiential
Education, 19(3), 117-118.
Rodriguez, D. A., & Roberts, N. S. (1999). The association of race/ethnicity,
gender, and social class in relation to outdoor recreation participation:
An annotated bibliography of research. Unpublished manuscript, Colorado
Warren, K. (1999). Unpacking the knapsack of outdoor experiential education:
Race, gender, and class sensitive outdoor leadership. Unpublished doctoral
dissertation, Graduate School of The Union Institute, Cincinnati, Ohio.
Washington, S. (1998). Exploring diversity through adventure: Feeling
good or making change? Ziplines: The Voice for Adventure Education, 35,
Wright, A. N. (1994). Multicultural education through shared adventure.
In A. Ewert, L. McAvoy (Eds.), Coalition for Education in the Outdoors
Second Research Symposium Proceedings (pp. 33-42). Cortland, NY: Coalition
for Education in the Outdoors. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No.
ED 383 485)