What Is Place-Based/Place-Conscious Education?


Place-based education is a pedagogical reform movement focused primarily on K-12 public education in the United States. With pedagogical and philosophical roots in the Progressive education movement of John Dewey and other American Pragmatists, like William James, place-based education is the “process of using the local community and environment as a starting point to teach concepts…across the curriculum” (Sobel, 2004). Place-based educators believe that centering instruction on students’ “local civic issues, history, biology, economics, literature, and so forth” (Brooke, 2003, p. 6) will help “infuse general education classes with a sense of relevance” (Conz & Diana, 2015, p.3) in way that “increases academic achievement, helps students develop stronger ties to their community, enhances students’ appreciation for the natural world, and creates a heightened commitment to serving as active, contributing citizens” (Sobel, 2004, p. 7). Beyond these pedagogical goals, place-based educators also often hold overtly political and civic goals as they believe that this reorientation toward the local will foster “the dispositions, understandings, and skills required to restore and democratize humanity’s adaptive capabilities” (Gruenewald & Smith, 2008, p. xx).

Unlike some pedagogical movements, place-based education, despite its connections to Progressive education, really lacks any “specific theoretical tradition” (Gruenewald). There are many movements and efforts which could fall under the label of place-based.

Place-Conscious Education in College

In a college or university setting, place becomes a bit more complex. In K-12, it is usually safe to assume that many students come from and live in the same communities in which their schools operate. For many colleges, students come from across the state, across the country, and across the world to learn in our institutions. Students do not always have direct connections to, or even spend much time in, the communities and places where their schools operate. Because of this, it is important to take into consideration the diversity of students’ local experiences and to handle place with a bit more abstraction, at least to start with. This consideration is represented by the shift toward the phrase “place-conscious” education.

The goal of the resources available on this site is to give you a foundation for making your writing programs and composition classes more place-conscious, even if it does not necessarily mean focusing your programs and classes on the specific cities or towns in which the institution operates. Regardless of the places your choose to address, a shift toward considering the impact of your curriculum on any place and the choice to center places and learning’s application to places can potentially make your program stronger.