David Sobel, speaking at the 2017 Robert and Augusta P. Finkelstein Memorial Lecture Series, presented a model called “place-based education.”

Education is meant to broaden the horizons of young minds. But sometimes, according to David Sobel—an instructor at Antioch College New England who has been elected to serve on school boards in Harrisville and Nelson, New Hampshire—that is done at the expense of alienating young minds from their surroundings.

Speaking at the 2017 Robert and Augusta P. Finkelstein Memorial Lecture Series in Adelphi University’s Thomas Dixon Lovely Ballroom on October 25, Sobel presented a model called “place-based education” which emphasizes hand-on class projects and lessons grounded in the school’s community. The model also employs a strong ecological component, teaching students to care about, and care for, the place they live.

Following these theories, some school administrators are “tearing up the asphalt, naturalizing the playground and helping them, by the time they get to high school, become active, local shapers of the community and the ecology,” Sobel said.

Sobel’s lecture, titled “Place-Based Education: Making School More Like a Farmer’s Market,” outlined four ways grade school education could be seen in terms of buying locally grown food.

  • First, he said “You go to the farmers market and you will see products that you’ve never seen before. We want schools where new things are happening.”
  • Secondly, a trip to the grocery might be faster, but when you go to the farmers market, you end up talking to the people who grew the food. You learn about their work and you learn about the community you share.
  • Likewise, shopping at the farmer’s market supports the local economy. A school should similarly support the community it’s in.
  • The fourth parallel, he said, was that “stopping at the farmers market is time consuming. If you want to take on the sorts of projects, it’s going to be time consuming, and worthwhile.”

To drive home the point, Sobel showed a video made by 6th graders in Vermont about a class trip to the local farmers market where they learned about eating locally grown foods. The video ended with the students planning to use their school grounds to grow and harvest food.

The overarching effort, he said, involves “providing the real world experience that gets kids engaged. Once you’ve got kids engaged, they’re motivated to write about stuff. And there’s lots of academic research to show that when kids are motivated, they get better grades.”

Sobel also praised the Finkelstein Lecture Series, which began in 1981, for promoting a “compassionate, engaging, healthy education for kids.”

In introducing Sobel, Robert A. Linne, Ph.D., professor and director of the Ruth S. Ammon School of Education, stressed that the point of the lecture series was to find ideas to put into practice. “We do not want this to be a lecture series where we have good ideas and that’s the end of it.”

Booths outside the Thomas Dixon Lovely Ballroom, a sort of information market with people passing out information about sustainable agriculture and environmental responsibility, demonstrated that this commitment went beyond the podium.

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