An English friend working abroad visits home occasionally. After a recent
trip he commented that it should not be outdoor education any more but
outdoor educations. His point was that the practice has become so diverse
it is no longer a single idea and has even lost touch with it˘s roots.
When I spent some time as an outdoor management trainer I was introduced
to a model of leadership I was meant to use. It was cheekily known as
John Adair˘s three balls, three overlapping circles representing the
task, the team and the individual as the elements in the leader˘s scope.
For years I presented this model placing whichever of the three elements
came to mind first in the top circle. It was only when I was asked to
use the model to teach other trainers that I went back to the text book
to find that there is a right way up to draw the model and a good reason
for it to be that way up (task on the top if you˘re wondering. I˘ll
leave you to check out why!). From one point of view you could say I
had lost touch with the thinking behind the model and misrepresented
it all those years. In my ignorance I had disempowered the model˘s voice.
From another perspective I had noticed that my groups often got into
conversations about the uppermost circle and why it should be the one
it was (whichever I had placed there). Some useful insights were generated
and some new ideas set running that were not to be found in the original
Modern outdoor education is just over 50 years old, the normal life
expectancy for a social movement I˘m told. Several generations of leaders
have passed through in that time. For some programmes you might argue
that they have lost touch with their roots, as I had lost touch with
the ideas behind John Adair˘s model, and they are going through the
motions with no connection with that which made the work speak to the
participant. The multi-activity course runs the risk of falling into
this category. For others you would conclude that their distance from
those roots has been liberating and their niaive approaches have led
to some exciting and radical new projects.
These new roots have taken us away from the technological approach of
the last ten years; all that programming, sequencing, processing and
framing that made it all feel like a production line set up to deliver
the pre-determined outcome - guaranteed. The new projects I˘m coming
across emphasise the imagination rather than thought. Some have already
appeared as case studies in Horizons.
There was Eden Community Outdoors working with principles of sustainability,
camping in yurts and creating environmental arts work, vibrant youth
led youth clubs and adventure camps with a difference.
We also reported on Swedish work with primary school children using
fantasy stories outdoors in which the children became involved. These
programmes were delivering curriculum content six fold faster than classsroom
approaches. The latest news is that the retention of learning seems
also to be enhanced.
We have also reported on the contempory rites of passage for young people
project combining adventure and environmental education with the arts,
music and traditional ritual. They are determined to contribute to a
reduction in youth suicide and will be piloting this year.
In September I took part in a Hero˘s Journey for senior managers. After
days of preparation the group set out on a fantastic coastal traverse
to reveal the hidden secret of the coast and the hidden treasures of
their own learning. I will long remember one man who thought heroes
were only found in armies who discovered in himself the desire to become
a hero as a father, a decision that kept a family together he had contemplated
Tom Price said it for me. ░Outdoor education is simple. That doesn˘t
mean to say that it˘s easy.˘ The technological approach was necessary
time for us to rationalise our work. It certainly needed a defence.
This time coincided with Lyme Bay and drastic changes in centre funding
that led some of us to say ░outdoor education is dead.˘ But of late
the creative spirit of our field has transformed us again. Centres are
full and imaginative projects are turning up all over. There is even
hope for funding through teenage summer camps, a return of OE to the
Scottish curriculum and a revitalised youth work agenda. I think we
can now say ░long live outdoor education!˘ We can revisit that simple
formula of helping people to find a dream and supporting them to learn
the skills to realise it.
There are still issues. As we explore the many meanings that can be
attached to experiences in nature the question will be, ░who˘s dream
is being realised?˘ We have published critical pieces that have named
some of the dreamers; the market place commodifying the outdoors and
the activities in them; society attempting to create good citizens to
their own design; academics interpreting our world in terms of personal
efficacy or adreneline hits as though that were the whole story; the
profession tied to its institutionalised badges and sports. All have
a dark side to their good will for outdoor education.
Outdoor education is a political world and these politics will occupy
our minds and consciences in the years ahead. Let me nail my politics
to the mast. I˘ll use a quote to help the source of which is unknown
░If you have come to help me then you are wasting your time but if you
have come because your liberation is bound up with mine then let us
My own research has touched on the core experiences that motivate outdoor
leaders to be in this work. After some five hundred interviews all but
one had no hesitation in naming a profound moment in a remote location,
usually in solitude and wrapped up in a deep sense of nature and self
combined in one.
I have a feeling that these many outdoor educations still are one field
and that in many new ways we will make sacred again the people we work
with and the places we work in. We will allow enough time for the dream
to emerge, we will have enough compassion to help people to realise
these dreams and we will have enough heart to celebrate with them when
they are achieved.
Sail on outdoor education.