America's Ancient Teachers: Exploring Old-Growth Groves in Secondary English and Biology Classrooms

America's Ancient Teachers: Exploring Old-Growth Groves in Secondary English and Biology Classrooms

Scott R. Honeycutt (East Tennessee State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-6364-8.ch005

Abstract

Over the past 200 years, most of the forestland growing in the eastern United States has at one time been logged for timber, cultivated for agriculture, or developed into urban and suburban spaces. Though millions of wooded acres still exist in national forests, parks, and preserves, very little of that land should be considered undisturbed or old-growth. Given these realities, it may be surprising to learn that pockets of old trees, or groves, still survive near American suburbs. This chapter argues that the responsibility of forging a relationship between students and nature should not be the charter of one discipline; instead, teachers should work in concert through combined interdisciplinary efforts. In secondary schools, the most organic teaming for nature study are the biology and English departments. This chapter provides specific locations for teachers and students to discover and offers practical and inspiring assignments to help students develop of love for America's ancient woods.
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The Forest Close At Hand

Over the past 200 years, most of the forestland growing in the eastern United States has at one time been logged for timber, cultivated for agriculture, or developed into urban and suburban spaces. Though millions of wooded acres still exist in national forests, parks, and preserves, very little of that land should be considered undisturbed or old-growth. Given these realities, it may be surprising to learn that groves of very old trees still survive in American cities and suburbs. According to author and biologist Joan Maloof (2011):

Old-growth is a difficult concept to pin down […] there is no single definition for it. For our purposes, we will be content with the notion that old-growth forests are places that have been left alone for a very long time (p. XIV).

Maloof’s broad definition will serve in this chapter, too. Indeed, the woods that the chapter showcases have been “left alone” to grow very old.

This chapter will highlight three of these ancient groves–one in Georgia, one in Tennessee, and one in Ohio–in an effort to illustrate how teachers and students in secondary schools could study these distinctive places. In addition, this chapter hopes to illustrate how a knowledge of these places could foster an appreciation for both scientific curiosity and reading and writing about American landscape.

Why study old-growth woods and introduce students to their marvels? From the inception of the United States, American writers have been fascinated with the fecundity of this continent’s landscape. In the late eighteenth century, St. John De Crevecoeur penned lines whose spirit would serve as a rallying cry for new emigrants:

After a foreigner from any part of Europe is arrived, and become a citizen, let him devoutly listen to the voice of our great parent which says to him, ‘Welcome to my shores […] bless the hour in which thou didst see my verdant fields, my fair navigable rivers, and my green mountains. (p. 89)

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