Rewilding Pedagogy

A Day in the Life of a Change-Making Animal

The alarm goes off. We open our eyes. We stare at the ceiling.

“Go back to sleep” our demons say.

We flip back the covers and touch our toes to the ground.

“Get back in bed” they say.

We make our way to bathroom, lean on the counter and stare in the mirror.

“You’re too tired for this today” they say.

We get dressed.

“No one’s paying attention. No one cares. No one shares your work” they say.

We walk, pedal, or ride to that sacred space where we create.

“You suck. You suck. You suck. And, you’re stupid” they say.

We arrive. We sit down. We take a deep breath.

“You’re a fool! You’re going to embarrass yourself!” they say.

We touch pen to pad. We strike the first key.

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Rewilding Pedagogy

Dr. Humphrey, Tear Down this Wall!

I had a wall.

It separated me from my students.

It was constructed out of my understanding of “professional distance”.

Outside this wall laid the expanse of my expertise. Like any other expanse it had its limits. And, beyond its limits, there was wilderness. It was full of the unknown (still is).  I used to give my students tours of this expanse twice a week for an hour and fifteen minutes at a time. I built privacy fences to shield their eyes from the wild places that scared me the most. And, I strategically steered our discussions away from the things I did not know.

Although it was risky, every so often, I would entertain a “What’s out there?”

Honestly, it wasn’t a risk.

I could flip the kill switch by saying “We need to move on. We’re falling behind”. And, the qualifier “You know this is outside my area of expertise” gave me ample cover.

But, there were times when I would join them in pushing the boundaries of the theoretical framework, exploring nuances in the model, and discovering alternative angles in the analysis. It was exhilarating. It was iterative. It was back and forth. We were learning together. And, sometimes the learning would spill out of classroom and into the hallways, across campus, and into office hours. I could feel the hierarchy collapsing around us. I could sense camaraderie. It felt like we were on the verge of something sacred.

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Rewilding Pedagogy


I have trouble articulating Tribal Teaching in traditional pedagogical terms.

I do not see it as project-based learning, service-learning or experiential-learning. Although it is all of these things. I see it as a quest, journey, or an odyssey.

I do not think of it in terms of “learning outcomes”. I think of it in terms of an “awakening”.

You feel Tribal Teaching. And, when it is working, this is how it feels – at least to me. (Warning: The following includes fantastical creatures and music.)

Read more “Agency”

Rewilding Pedagogy

The Arena

As we step out of the Honduran heat and into the blue-tinted shade of a tarp-covered classroom, a wave of fear and anxiety wash over us. It is palpable. It is also understandable.

Our sixteen weeks of talking, planning, organizing, theorizing, assuming and discussing have come to an end. We are here to meet our clients. And, the conditions are cacophonous. Kids are laughing. Dogs are barking. Babies are crying. And, soccer balls are ricocheting all around us. Our personal space is being encroached upon. Multiple people are seeking our attention simultaneously. We are out of our context. We are out of culture.  We are out of our comfort zones. But, we have a job to do.

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Rewilding Pedagogy

What is the Optimal Size of Your Tribe?

We’re no ordinary class. Other classes have structure and definitive standards regarding what constitutes an A, B, C, D, or F. We don’t have that luxury. We operate in the real world.  The real world is chaotic. And, we learned early on that imposing too much structure only handicaps our ability to respond and take advantage of opportunities as they arise. So, we don’t have a grading rubric. We have a code, a culture, and 11 Promises.

Prospective members of our Tribe must commit to our way of life. Now, in the moments leading up to their membership, we know that they cannot imagine anything other than fulfilling their commitment. However, past experience informs us that some students will be tempted to spend more time and effort on classes and projects that have clearer assignments and standards. We know it. We’ve felt it ourselves. We feel it (all the time).

So, we’re left wondering “Is their commitment to our way of life credible?

The answer to this question is intimately connected to the size of our Tribe.

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Rewilding Pedagogy

The Choice

Brian and Kevin were my neighborhood friends. They were also my neighborhood tormentors. Childhood relationships were complex on my small street. We played together on a regular basis. They kicked my ass on a regular basis. Well, that is, whenever my sister Amber was not around. Amber was only one year older than me.  However, in my defense, girls mature more rapidly than boys at this age. And, she had the “do not hit a girl” social constraint working in her favor. Even Brian and Kevin had to adhere to that rule.

On one occasion, in Amber’s absence, Brian and Kevin got the best of me. Well, they always got the best of me. However, this occasion would turn out to be the last occasion.

After receiving my regular ass-kicking, I scurried home in tears. I feverishly yanked on the handle to the screen door. It was locked. My mom was standing on the other side. She looked down at me and said “Don’t ever come back to this house crying again.”

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Rewilding Pedagogy

Hold the Line

NOTE: This post and all future posts are draft sections of my upcoming book titled “Tribal Teaching: Rewild Your Students and Yourself”. Any and all feedback (probing questions, need for additional explanations and cutting critiques) are welcomed! And, all illustrations are my own.

As upright mammals, all of our fighting implements – fists, feet, nails, and teeth – are to the fore.  Our back and sides, unarmored and unprotected, remain exposed and vulnerable during combat.  However, aligned side-by-side, friendly warriors, barring those on the line’s very ends, can protect each other’s flanks and rear.  When one warrior fights, holds her position in line, those around her can focus their effort on striking out at the opponent. Without having to fight any harder, by simply fighting together, every warrior is more effective.

The line is a feature of warfare in all its forms and epochs.  However, its length, shape, continuity, the distance between neighboring warriors, or the number echeloned are relatively un-important characteristics. These geometrical dimensions have varied across societies, through time, and even throughout the duration of a single engagement. The key characteristic of a line is its perceived permanence. Does a warrior believe the line will hold?

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Do's and Don'ts for Do Gooders

What Will We do When there are No More…

world without poverty has been predicted to arrive by 2035. This is a cause for celebration. However, is it also a cause for consternation?

Surprisingly, yes.

A lot of us need poor people. Here are just a few of the ways:

o    Without someone to ladle soup for, how will we teach our children about gratitude?

o    Without a family to adopt during the holidays, how will we assuage our guilt for having it so good?

o    Without community service opportunities, how will teenagers pad their college applications?

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Do's and Don'ts for Do Gooders

The Do-Gooder Industrial Complex

I was in eighth grade. It was a cold spring morning in Ohio. And, I was holding my mom’s hand in a human chain that stretched across the continental United States. We were ending hunger in Africa.

It was my first act as a do-gooder.  And, it was the beginning of my conditioning by the Do-Gooder-Industrial-Complex.

The Do-Gooder-Industrial-Complex spun a particular narrative about the end of global poverty. It fed me a particular set of beliefs, assumptions, and notions about poverty and the poor. It prescribed a role for me in ending global poverty. And, over the years (a lot of years), it motivated me to take a set of actions that I now know were in many cases inconsistent with long-term sustainable development.

I was brainwashed. And, I am not the only one.

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Do's and Don'ts for Do Gooders

The Price of Groceries

She swept the milk, eggs, flour and sugar one by one across the counter, punched each price into the cash register, and hit the total button. Our receipt churned out in a curl. She glanced at us and pressed another button. The receipt lengthened to include a blank space at the bottom. With a quick flick of the wrist, she ripped the receipt away, pressed it against the edge of the counter, and tore off the blank space at the bottom.  In that space, she wrote down our family name and the total amount we owed. On the wall behind her, she taped it in a place for others to see. She handed us the remaining part of our receipt and we walked out with our groceries.

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