Out of Class: Education is so much more than 3 R’s

In the midst of the quiet majesty and serenity of the natural surroundings, you can sense the transformation taking place in the students.

This article was originally published in October of 1996 in the Waterloo Region Record.

By Michael Redfearn

If you don’t think teachers can make learning boring, you underestimate the power of education.

“O.K. class, turn to page 59 and together we’ll read about how the Algonquin Indians lived hundreds of years ago.”

A holistic and relevant education must incorporate some real-life adventures. Invariably, this sometimes involves risk-taking outside the boundaries of traditional school buildings and school hours.

When asked their favorite memories of elementary or high school, many adults point to experiences outside of the four walls of the classroom. They fondly remember field trips run by caring teachers who all had one belief in common – that education was much more than a basic understanding of the three R’s.

With all of the cutbacks occurring in education these days, one has to wonder if the learning which takes place outside of the confines of the classroom will also fall victim to the axes of the political czars in the Ministry of Education.

In my teaching career, I have been privileged to have accompanied students during some of the most valuable learning experiences of their lives. One such event was our school’s four-day, Grade 12 canoeing camping trip to Algonquin Park.

Algonquin Park by Paul Bica

Algonquin Park by Paul Bica

The knowledge gained by generations of high school students, who’ve experienced wilderness trips over the years, cannot be gleaned from a textbook. Booklearning alone cannot adequately prepare our children for life or truly convey the daunting physical hardships endured by our forebearers.

Only after they actually feel the oppressive weight of a 16-foot canoe or heavy pack on their backs, after hours of strenuous hiking, do students come to appreciate the comforts they often take for granted. Four days and nights of vigorous canoeing, portaging and camping in the autumn wilderness quickly spawns a keen yearning for a hot shower and cosy bed.

The haunting call of a loon at daybreak or rhythmic sound of autumn leaves rustling in the wind must be witnessed first-hand to be truly appreciated. Not even the most sophisticated computer or CD ROM technology can begin to capture the profound natural beauty of a mist-shrouded morning lake or star-studded night sky.

In the midst of the quiet majesty and serenity of the natural surroundings, you can sense the transformation taking place in the students. Having spend most of their lives in suburban comfort, they are awakened, in part, to the stark reality and natural beauty of the life of their ancestors.

The students quickly learn to work together out of necessity to overcome the many challenges posed by the natural world. Rocky, uneven, mud-soaked terrain, narrow, twisting waterways and beaver dams must all be navigated with care if the obstacles are to be overcome.

When pushed to their limits, shy, insecure students often surprise themselves with new-found talents and innate resources they never knew existed. To paraphrase the German philosopher, Nietzsche, these students begin to see that, that which doesn’t destroy them, makes them stronger.

They also learn that in order to live in harmony with the environment, they must respect its sheer power and nurture its awe-inspiring beauty. They begin to see what their ancestors understood – that they are part of a greater, divine force which emphasizes they sacredness and interconnectedness of all living things.

Though the winds of change are dramatically revamping the face of the education system in Ontario, one can only hope that those who truly value education will never abandon the struggle to expand the minds, hearts and spirits of students beyond the limits of the traditional classroom.

If we want our children to be prepared for the many obstacles they will encounter in life, then we must also continue to demand that the education system be both relevant and meaningful. Failure to do so would rob our children of the opportunities many of us have benefited from and of fond memories of their school years.

Related Links:  St. David students safe, but exhausted after night in the woods

Photo Credit: Paul Bica

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