Literacy Matters Vol 24 Winter 2024

created an unofficial understanding that the National Parks are recreation grounds for healthy white people only. Some of the most popular and revered conservation organizations, such as the Sierra Club, have similar histories of exclusionary practices, and historical documents from early leading environmentalists such as John Muir and President Theodore Roosevelt reveal blatant beliefs of white supremacy (Fears & Mufson, 2020). Even outside of the park systems, access to green spaces that offer significant health benefits is “determined by race, class, and place. When compared to White Americans, Black Americans and other communities of color are nearly three times more likely to live in nature-deprived areas” (Roberts, 2023, White Wilderness section). The history of city planning based on racial segregation has resulted in disparities in access to natural resources so that people in poverty and people of color disproportionately live in areas with less clean water and shade coverage, which have significant effects on residents’ health (Schelhas, 2002). Hicks et al. (2021) describe “green inequities” that deny marginalized communities basic human rights such as clean water (p. 534). Structural social barriers, a history of discrimination, and fear associated with past mistreatment in natural settings keep people in marginalized communities from reaping the benefits of outdoor recreation (Shores et al., 2007). White (1995/1999), in her essay “Black Women and the Wilderness,” offers a personal account that supports the research. She says, “I believe the fear I experience in the outdoors is shared by many African-American women and that it limits the way we move through the world and colors the decisions we make about our lives” (p. 316). In her essay, “Touching the Earth,” hooks (1993/1999) links the heritages of African Americans and indigenous North Americans through their love and respect for the land. She says their separation from the land has caused “a growth of nihilism and despair in the black psyche” (p. 173), one that has “made it all the more possible for black people to internalize white-supremacist assumptions about black identity” (p. 172). To heal, according to hooks (1993/1999), “black people must reclaim a spiritual legacy where we connect our well-being to the well-being of the earth” (p. 173). The legacy of exclusionary policies has shaped which stories of nature are deemed canonical and taught in schools. The pedagogy surrounding American nature writing, up until the late 20th century at least, has been shaped by white males’ views of nature, which leaves out many other views and reinforces the notion of natural habitats as the province of the privileged. In 2019, Moss noted that “most nature writers still come from a close-knit group who, with a few notable exceptions, are mainly middle-class, middle-aged and white” (para. 8). In her editorial for the New York Times , Finney (2021) counters the idea that nature writers of color do not exist by listing the names of current environmentalists who are “working to rewrite the traditional outdoors mythology and reimagine nature as ‘a great equalizer’” (Finney, 2021, para. 20). If nature writing and nature itself are portrayed as white male spaces only, and I, as an ELA teacher, continue to offer only a white male perspective on nature to students of diverse heritages, then I perpetuate the harmful idea that certain bodies are not welcome in the very spaces that have been shown to offer them health benefits.

Theoretical Framework Students need to see themselves in texts they read in class; representation matters. More than 30 years ago, Bishop (1990) wrote about books as “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Door.” Her words have proven true over and over again in our classes: “when children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read, …they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in the society of which they are a part” (para. 4). Modern nature writers affirm the veracity of Bishop’s (1990) commentary. Nezhukumatathil attributes some of her motivation to write World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments to the fact that she “barely ever saw any books with Asian Americans enjoying the outdoors. You’d think there weren’t any Asian American nature writers at all while browsing the nature section of a bookstore. I guess I internalized that - which I hate to even admit here - but it’s the truth, and it’s a kind of violence that has been done” (The Ohio State University College of Arts and Sciences, 2021, question 1). My instructional decision to teach Nezhukumatathil’s nature memoir is grounded in my attempt to follow Bishop’s call for texts that provide mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. I hoped some students would have a mirror to see themselves as nature writers because they identify with Nezhukumatathil while other students would be able to look into an unfamiliar world and learn something new from the treasure box of information and beauty that is World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments. Finally, I hoped these new perspectives would serve as sliding glass doors into a healthy relationship with nature, especially for those who might have been hesitant to venture out. Finney (2021) calls for us “to reimagine the landscape in a way that radically reconsiders who African Americans are - and what we are capable of in the outdoors - from our own perspective” (para. 22). Teachers answer Finney’s call when they develop a culturally sustaining classroom where students see themselves in the characters of outdoor adventure tales or hear their own voice through writers of nature memoirs. Therefore, I will examine student responses in this study through the lens of culturally sustaining pedagogy (CSP), as described by Paris and Alim (2014), but I will begin with culturally relevant pedagogy (CRP) as defined by Ladson-Billings (1995), as CRP serves as a starting point for CSP. First, CRP focuses on teaching inclusively, which means students should be prepared to meet or exceed recommended academic standards, but academic success should not come “at the expense of their cultural and psychosocial well-being” (Ladson-Billings, 1995, p. 475). Ladson-Billings (1995) establishes three central indicators of a culturally relevant classroom: “students who can achieve academically, …students who demonstrate cultural competence, and… students who can both understand and critique the existing social order” (p. 474). After observing and interviewing eight exemplary teachers, Ladson-Billings (1995) developed the concept of CRP as a grounded theory that values classroom research from teachers who can serve all students in a diverse setting. These teachers value the communities where their students live and believe students can “use their community circumstances as official knowledge” (p. 477). CRP centers student-generated

Literacy Matters General Articles

| 8 | Literacy Matters | Volume 24 • Winter 2024


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