Despite living for two years in the natural wonder that is New Mexico, I’m still a bit more Nordstroms than nature. That alone is enough to make me fascinated by outdoor education and its potential impact it has on individuals. This weekend, the Washington Post Magazine published a piece chronicling the journey of nine teens plucked from a notorious juvenile detention center and transplanted for eight days in the red rock canyons and rapids of Arizona and Utah.
“This journey, he’s been told, is supposed to expand his horizons beyond the streets of D.C., to transform his sense of possibility. Jerome has always fancied himself an opportunist, and he says if somebody is going to offer him eight days of vacation -- eight days without curfews, eight days in a group without a rigid disciplinarian, eight days where he can stare at girls and smoke cigarettes -- then, yes, he’ll take it, because only a fool would run from fun when it’s chasing you down. But Jerome also thinks of himself as a realist, even a skeptic, and he dismisses the underlying goal of this trip -- to enact profound change. Eight days, he reasons, can’t overwrite 16 years. “A teaser,” he calls the trip. A bunch of adults take you from Oak Hill, treat you well -- maybe you land in trouble, maybe you don’t -- but then you’re back inside the walls, and the experience recedes into a memory, and then a blip, and then nothing.”
I know a lot of folks my generation get involved with formal and informal outdoor education. whether it’s through the outdoor rec center or programs like Outward Bound and NOLS. One of my good friends left classroom teaching, because she preferred teaching in the experiential setting that outdoor education revolves around. In this day and age when we’re often pressed for time just to teach the prioritized standards, how do teachers incorporate experiential learning into the classrooms? I refuse to believe that traditional classroom teaching can’t at least model itself partly on the meaningful learning experiences that people find from outdoor ed.
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