All Species Projects by Marty Kraft
All Species projects build a sense of community while reestablishing our connection to the natural world.
GARY SNYDER TELLS in his book "The Practice of the Wild" about riding in a pickup truck in Australia with an aborigine. As they were traveling along, the man was telling stories at an amazing pace, too fast for them to be told properly. Snyder wondered why he would do such a thing. It seems that the important knowledge of the man's tribe is recited as the tribe moves along in the bush. Each feature of the landscape relates to a specific story or part of a story. At the speed of a moving pickup, of course, the stories had to be told faster.
What does this say about the relationship between this man, his tribe and the land they inhabit or that inhabits them? What happens to the 10,000 years of knowledge of the land if these people are moved off those lands? What is the role that the land plays in support of a sense of community for these people? What happens to the stabilizing effect of land and community on people when these connections are broken?
On this continent only a few American Indians could come close to answering these questions. The rest of us have been disconnected from our tribal community beginnings and our multigenerational connection to the land. For hundreds of years we have lived without this knowledge and our disconnection from nature and each other is growing. Few of us today were raised on a farm. Our children grow up with TV and computer games offering an electronic representation of reality. Walking outside they see asphalt or monocultural lawns substituting for rock outcroppings and forests or prairies.
We are further disconnected from the land by the systems we have developed to supply our needs. We no longer gather necessities along the forest trail where we might see the effect of our actions on the environment. We lay our money down on the counter to purchase something and put into effect a set of unknown actions extending half way around the globe. We walk to the light switch and with a flick we see the apparent consequence of our action -- light. What we don't see is the coal strip mining, the railway cars, the mercury entering the atmosphere, the dumping of the ash, etc. These are also consequences of our switch flicking.
The technologies we have created to move ourselves and our ideas make it easy for us to avoid building community connected with the land we live on. With the television, telephone and automobile we can ignore the people next door and build our community with people far away. We know more about the struggles in Moscow or Bosnia where we can have little effect than we know of the struggles of our neighbors where we might make a great difference.
How can conscientious people act in a responsible way in a world where we are so cut off from our actions, the land, each other and ultimately ourselves? How can we help our children find healthy connection with the land and each other? How can we slow down the moving pickup to the point where our stories make sense? How can we get our children to listen? It takes a whole child to raise a community.
We must develop an educational system that can help us learn to live in sustainable community where we are connected with nature, each other and ourselves. We have to help our children learn to listen and recreate stories that value connection and sustainability. We must make time to consider the stories and the facts and fit them into an ever changing world view. Marshall McLuhan said that "we shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us." Our children must be able to test our technologies against our stories so our tools help maintain sustainable community.
IN SAN FRANCISCO, IN 1978, journalist Ponderosa Pine, seeking a way to represent the needs of plants, animals and the Earth to the human community, organized an All Species Parade that marched to City Hall where Mayor George Moscone proclaimed the day All Species Day. Later, Chris Wells, who had studied festival development and tribal celebrations while living in South America, brought the All Species parade idea to Santa Fe, New Mexico. There, with the aid of teacher John Mcleod, elements were added to turn it into an educational program for school and community. Thus was founded the All Species Project -- the culmination of the efforts of many people. In 1987, Stan Slaughter and I brought the idea to Kansas City where we formed the Heartland All Species Project.
The All Species process is an attempt to build a sense of community and understanding of the natural world through the weaving together of old and new ideas from art, science, anthropology, counselling, theater and any other area that seems applicable.
The process makes use of one of the most powerful tools through which students may come to understand community and connect with nature: to adopt a favorite species and build rapport with it. Children seem to come with an innate rapport with other creatures. The simple mention of the word "tiger" has younger children on the floor roaring. Judging by the cars with animal names and the use of outdoor settings in commercials, marketing experts know that this enthusiasm for wild creatures lingers with us into adulthood.
This natural rapport is a great motivational tool, and a very powerful way to foster it is by making masks. Mask making is a nearly universal human activity. Masks are used in celebrations all over the world from Halloween in North America to New Year's celebrations in China to Carnival in Latin countries. Making masks which represent a chosen species evokes emotional ties and leads students to want to know more about their species. It can also lead, through activity and study, to the celebration of Earth Day and an All Species Parade.
Starting in September, students keep a journal on their creature, including newspaper articles, observation notes, haikus, raps, and so on. Armed with knowledge, students can then form a creature congress or council of species to vote on hypothetical human propositions. There may be twenty "animals" and three humans in the council, voting on building a dam or cutting down a forest. The vote comes out differently when ballots are cast from other species' perspectives. Improvisational theater emerges as the animals begin to speak to each other.
As the students become comfortable with their acting roles, they can begin writing and performing short skits on the environmental problems the animals face. These skits fit nicely into an Earth Day celebration in which each class performs for the whole school, parents and community.
The masks and the making of costumes, flags, banners, and signs lead naturally to the All Species Parade, which you may want to take into the community surrounding the school. Non-motorized floats and giant puppets can be created for the parade. A float could represent a prairie, forest or a coral reef environment. These events are very media-genic, so be sure to invite the press to reach community members who can't attend. By hosting a large community event, the students receive, beyond their grades for schoolwork, the public's seal of approval for their efforts. They are also offered an opportunity to communicate about issues they believe are of utmost importance.
BY BUILDING rapport with other species in this way, students have a chance to shift their perception and take a larger view of the Earth. They begin to see the Earth as a whole rather than as isolated parts. By "becoming" their animals, the students shift from a self-centered perspective to one that includes other viewpoints. We can then help them look at the power of diversity and how diversity helps a species, or life itself, to survive. Once the benefits of biological diversity are understood, the students can then look at the advantage of economic diversity to a city when hard times come. The next step is to show the advantage of cooperative relationships with those from diverse cultural backgrounds.
The same way that students develop their knowledge of a species, they can also develop knowledge of a manufactured product, tracking it from where its raw materials were taken out of the Earth, through its use by humans, and on to how it normally goes back to the Earth. Where does the student's chosen species fit into this process? A similar study can be done with a fruit or vegetable, weighing its economic, social and environmental costs as it moves from farm to market to table. As part of the Earth Day celebration, the gym can be set up with displays and demonstrations where students present what they have learned. Skits can also describe situations where people mine or harvest, or consumers ponder their responsibilities toward sound ecology.
The pageantry of a culminating celebration such an as All Species Parade or play helps students to focus research for their displays or theatrical productions. And in the process of each individual's artistic struggle to articulate meaning, enthusiasm and altruism begin to take the edge off cynical reserve. Pageantry is a means of reminding ourselves of the values we share with our fellow humans. Using pageantry to strengthen our connection with the Earth, nature and fellow humans is not new; but until the advent of Earth Day in 1970, modern Western culture had no celebration to remind us of the relationships that allow us to survive on this rare and beautiful planet. Such events create community that does more than supply basic needs: if we choose, these activities can create and maintain neighborhoods that are friendly, supportive and sustainable.
OTHER ENVIRONMENTAL education tools can also be used to involve the school and surrounding neighborhood in the process of creating sustainable community. Stream teams of students and residents can clean up streams and stencil warning signs to "Dump No Toxics" in storm drains. Students can go door to door educating residents about the watershed to which their drains lead. Wouldn't it make a difference if people began to think of themselves as living on a watershed as well as on a street?
Composting -- a process accomplished by organisms working together -- is a metaphor for community that goes right to the root of living things. Compost bins can be set up behind the school and the students can rake the yards of the elderly in the neighborhood to feed it. Gardens can be planted on school grounds with the aid of neighborhood gardeners who share their knowledge with the kids. Sharing the bounty with the neighborhood at a fall harvest party would bring the growing cycle to a close. Student-neighbor teams can plant trees on school grounds or out in the neighborhood. Many cities' budgets have been cut back so they cannot replace the trees that die, and students can perform a valuable service by transplanting trees that are growing too close to foundations or other areas where they are undesired. Students can conduct home energy audits, learn how to conserve resources and, as a community service project, offer to help other residents conduct their audits too.
In education we talk about the value of cross-curricular efforts but we are often held back by our traditions in education. We were taught subject by subject in schools that were modeled after efficiency standards of mass production in factories. We need to dig down past our training and mind-sets, past the requirements of standardized tests and ask ourselves what kind of education is good for the Earth? What kind of education is good for us two-leggeds living in community with the wings, fins, four-leggeds, crawlers and rooted folk?
The All Species process attempts not to be bounded by the walls of the classroom or the walls of the school. Nor is it bounded by the disciplinary restrictions of science, art or social studies. I have been working with the process for seven years and I'm just beginning to get it. My thinking is slow to develop. All Species Projects strive toward the big picture, toward wisdom, toward community sustainability. We certainly don't know it all. We just feel like we are pointing in a good direction. Good luck.
Marty Kraft, a former science teacher, is co-founder and director of the Heartland All Species Project, an environmental educational organization in Kansas City, Missouri.
Marty Kraft has organized eight city-wide Earth Day celebrations and related school curricular material. From this experience and with a little help from his friends he has written a 120-page study and activity guide titled Earth Day in Your School and Community: The Economy and the Environment, an online adaptation is available here. Email:
Heartland All Species Project, 5644 Charlotte, Kansas City, Missouri 64110 USA, 816/361-1230