Robbie Nicol


22 Mar ‘ 23

Why I got involved in the project

Perspectives from Place-Based Education

Perspectives from Place-Based Education

My current involvement as a director of the Shieling Project can be traced back to a day in 2007 when its founder Sam Harrison arrived at the University of Edinburgh to start a PhD.  As one of Sam’s supervisors it was my privilege to watch his ideas develop, shift shape and continually transform into new things.  It was no surprise therefore that he chose to do an action research project where the idea of theory and practise were always closely aligned.  And it is this relationship between theory and practice that is the next reason for my involvement with the Shieling Project.  This is because I believe that human survival depends not just on us knowing about the twin emergencies of climate change and biodiversity loss but doing much more about them – a bringing together of knowing and doing, of theory and practice. 

There is a saying, often attributed to Immanuel Kant, that ‘theory without practice is empty; practice without theory is blind’.  One way to avoid theory being empty, and practice blind, is by teaching and learning through places that consciously bring theory and practice together.   Place-Based Education at the Shieling Project brings together some pretty important theories related to health and well-being, transhumance and sustainable living and then works with them through hands-on practices related to farming, building, crafts and food projects, for all ages.  The inspirational 20th Century American educational reformer John Dewey who did so much to bring theory and practice together would no doubt have been extremely pleased to see how these global challenges have come to be translated into localised practices for the 21st Century through the Shieling Project and its undertakings. 

To ‘come alive’ places need projects and projects need people.  To return to Sam and his PhD, he was a joy to supervise.  If truth be told he supervised himself such was his keen academic mind, his clear vision for developing something new and edgy, the very something that has become the Shieling Project and so many of the practices that now emanate from it.

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