The Voice of . . . Inspiration

January 20, 2010

Michelle Knapik, Environment Program Director

VOICES from the land

I think I need to give over to the voice of inspiration, or at least give it equal billing with the voice of reason. What does it sound like, you ask? Well, the version that is resounding in my head and heart comes from the “Voices from the Land”  project of Educational Information and Resource Center (EIRC) and The Monarch Teachers Network. The heart part is particularly interesting, in fact, a key part of the message was that emotion is something we need to tap into and express, it is part of inspiration and motivation, and it may even be something that we need to measure (I’m thinking Dodge assessment work here).


How do we get there – to that point of creative expression, to what is possible, to a state of cognitive play? The Voices project creates the conditions for this extraordinary journey  – and it also just happens to integrate three core areas of Dodge’s grantmaking (arts, education and environment), as well as the Dodge themes of Creativity & Sustainability. Currently, the project takes the form of teacher training, and it is a poetic combination of collaboration, the creation of art in and of nature (in the vein of artist Andy Goldsworthy), and story. The masterminds behind the Voices project, EIRC’s Erik Mollenhauer and Brian Hayes, looked all the way back to our Paleolithic past to explore human survival skills that are deeply anchored in the rhythms of nature, as well as in our roles as listeners and storytellers, and then found ways to bring them forward.


It all starts with a sense of place whether it is in a field, a forest, a park, or a beach. The living classroom of your choice provides diverse entry points for observation and discovery; it offers a diversity of materials; it sparks a creative force; and it offers the space to take risks. These program elements result in shared learning and growth, and a deeper connection to nature and to the group (the exercise takes the form of groups of teachers, teachers and students, etc.). EIRC then adds language, story and performance to help participants convey their experience. This ancient recipe of “landscape and language” taps into our emotions – and it is from here that we develop a sense of caring that can inspire positive social change.


Erik and Brian left me with the following quote from Howard Thurman, an author, theologian, educator and civil rights leader:

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”


Clearly, the images of student work shown in this post are evidence of youth who have come alive in nature. Where do you find your voice of inspiration?

For more information visit the Voices from the Land Program and sign-up to attend the upcoming Voices training session on March 22nd and 23rd. You can also contact Erik Mollenhauer at or Brian Hayes at to learn about the Voices from the Land Learning Activities guidebook.

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