2. Other Inspirations

The Seton Society program has drawn on many other sources for its activities, philosophy and skills. The two other principal players are both still living, writing and practising their craft. They are Tom Brown Jr. and Steve Van Matre.


When Tom Brown Jr. was a small boy of eight, one day he was looking for fossils with his native indian playmate, Rick. They were searching the shore of a river near his home in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. An old man, named Stalking Wolf, wandered out of the forest and was recognized as the playmates grandfather. For some people there is an instant in time that is all important; -a time when their destiny shifts and the world changes forever. For Tom, this was just such a time.

For the next ten years, Tom and Rick spent all of their free time in the Pine Barrens, learning everything Stalking Wolf could teach them. On the back cover of The Search, Tom sums it up by saying, "I was privileged to live every boy's dream, to be raised by an indian, -and an Apache at that."

During this apprenticeship, Tom learned wilderness survival skills, animal tracking, native indian customs and values, and awareness. Having said that, I realize that I don't do it justice. Having met and studied under him, I have to say that the range and amount of information learned from Stalking Wolf can only be glimpsed through Tom Brown's books. At points in his life, Tom has disappeared into the wilderness with next to nothing, for periods as long as a year. That is what he would like to do most of all. He makes it clear when he teaches that he has no love for modern society, or, for that matter, teaching. If he could follow his heart, he would live a primitive life with his family in the wilderness.

But you don't follow your heart. You follow your vision. Stalking Wolf's vision was to pass on his knowledge to someone who could bridge the gap between red and white. Tom Brown's vision is to teach those skills and beliefs to all elements of our modern society before we cause irreparable damage to our Earth. His school in New Jersey is attended by hundreds of students each year. His survival field guides are unique as they present both the skills, and the philosophy behind them. A dozen volumes of biographical material give us a thorough understanding of this complex and often controversial man.

The philosophical foundation of Tom's program can be summed up in a few points:

- honour, respect and revere Mother Earth

- be aware of the here and now (unlike our society of robots)

- living close to creation brings you close to the Creator or the Great Spirit

According to Tom Brown, the Native People viewed themselves as the caretakers of the Earth. They might harvest what was provided by the Great Spirit, but only after considering the implications and effects on their environment. In their harvesting, they would try to leave their landscape in better condition than what they started with. They would thin out the weak and strengthen the strong. They would only take when there was plenty.

One of the best summaries of Tom's views can be found in a three page preface in The Search.

"There is a place I know where everything lives in harmony. Nothing is envied, stolen, or killed. Instead, everything is shared. The land is everyone's and no one's. Life is sacred there. A dweller in this place thinks highly of human life because he lives so close to the earth. He understands his part in the scheme of nature and is not lost or searching for himself."

Tom divides his survival skills into several categories. The first is awareness. This includes stalking, fox walking, wide angle vision, and a host of other ways of moving and perceiving in the wilderness. The second is technical survival, including shelter, water, fire and food. The third category is tracking, which becomes a detailed science of reading information from the terrain. These categories are not, however, independent, but rather interdependent. Each type of learning draws on the others, and they all draw on the lessons of the philosophical foundation.

Our modern society has created a materialistic reality which is slowly devouring our environment, while a respect for Mother Earth recognises the forces and elements of the earth which provide for us. As Tom writes:

"We ... tend to remove our children from the elemental forces of nature and life. We keep our children in controlled environments such as houses and buildings, were temperatures are set at 68 F and the humidity is artificially adjusted. They are cut off from outdoor reality. We take our children through the environment in automobiles, which are in themselves contained, controlled environments. We overdress our children in an attempt to fight nature, teach them to wear heavy clothing, heavy shoes and otherwise try to keep them warm, dry, comfortable and essentially untouched. We tell our children to stay out of the dirt, to stay dry. Thus we remove them from the reality and the intensity of life."

The Seton Society is not a comfortable program. One of its goals is to strip away the encapsulation which insulates a child from reality.

Tom once asked Stalking Wolf why the cold didn't bother him. His response was, "Because it's real."


Steve Van Matre's most recent incarnation is through the Institute For Earth Education. In the past he has been well known for his Acclimatization and Sunship Earth programs. Throughout all of his programs and institutes, one thing has always remained constant. Van Matre's programs are designed to present nature on a holistic level. It is highly sensory. It is highly active. It has always tried to relate the lesson back to every day life. An It has always had very hight standards of presentation. (I heard Steve say many times, that if you're not going to deliver the program thoroughly and properly, then don't do it at all. The half-way job does more damage than good.)

Van Matre's ideas can be summed up in a series of "We believe..." statements to be found in his Earth Education... book (p. 87-88):

1. We believe the earth as we know it is endangered by its human passengers.

2. We believe people who have broader understandings and deeper feelings for the planet as a vessel of life are wiser and healthier and happier.

3. We believe earth advocates are needed to serve as environmental teachers and models, and to champion the existence of earth's nonhuman passengers.

4. We believe in developing in people a basic comprehension of the major ecological systems and communities of the planet.

5. We believe in instilling in people deep and abiding emotional attachments to the earth and its life.

6. We believe in helping people change the way they live on the earth.

7. We believe in building complete programs with adventuresome, magical learning experiences that focus on specific outcomes.

8. We believe in including lots of rich, firsthand contact with the natural world.

9. We believe in providing individuals with time to be alone in natural settings where they can reflect upon all life.

Van Matre was the "hug-a-tree" man, -one of the biggest stereotypes of the new age, cosmic muffin educational philosophies. But he was very misunderstood. To him, hugging a tree was part of a larger, integrated program, with specific goals. It was meant to create a bond between nature an man, -to break down barriers! As Goethe says, "A man doesn't learn to understand anything unless he loves it." Loves it! Not names it!!

One of Van Matre's many important educational principles is that concepts are more important than labels. It's too easy to get caught up in labels, and the tendency is to think that once you've labelled something, you fully understand it.

Another principle is to never talk (instructionally) unless there is a focus or a purpose (preferably both). Another is to always pay attention to detail and the little things which make activities special. Yet another is to be perfectly clear on the conceptual vehicles and tactics you are going to use to get to your desired learning destination.

The Seton Society program is certainly not an Acclimatization program or an Earth Education program, in Van Matre's strict sense of the terms. But the inspiration and organizational contributions which he has made to the program are important. Anyone looking for a clearer picture of environmental education, or new program ideas and approaches would be wise not to ignore this rich source.