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Experiential Learning: A Living Education
My brother recently sent me this article from The Atlantic. As a parent of three young children, my wife and I constantly dialogue about the right balance of protection to provide our children. We were both children of small, rural towns that felt incredibly safe. Our parents allowed us to roam around on our bikes, walk to friend’s houses over a mile away and be gone for hours at a time without checking in. There were no cell phones, no text messages telling them when we would be home or if we had run into a problem. Looking back, I cherished this upbringing.

But now as a parent, my perspective is very different. I constantly ask myself, “Could my son get hurt doing that?” “Is someone going to be watching him if he goes to play over there?” “Should he climb that tree, or could he fall?”

As a school, we must ask ourselves these same types of questions. We must avoid placing our students in danger, while at the same time allowing them to explore their world. We know there is no better way to learn than to live, and there is no better way to build confidence and courage as a learner than to navigate calculated risks.

We seek to provide a living education, not an observational education.

We want our students to be in the Costa Rican rainforest watching carefully to not step on poisonous native species, not just reading about the creatures in a textbook. We want our students to be the ones pulling in the rigging in a powerful Atlantic storm as they experience first hand the weather patterns and nautical navigation needed to sail a schooler a thousand miles. We do not just want them to watch a documentary about it.

We want our students traveling through Europe, learning how to navigate city streets and communicate in a foreign language with complete strangers as a means of language acquisition. We do not only want them completing language exercises in a classroom. We want our students to meet recent immigrants at the Annunciation House while studying border issues. We want them to hear people’s stories, struggles, and dreams from their own mouths, not just read articles about immigration policy in national publications.

To make education personal is not an easy task, but it is perhaps the most important gift we can give our students. Just as I struggle to ‘let go’ of my young children at times, we as a school must remind ourselves to do the same. Hanna Rosin, the author of the aforementioned article, notes, “One common concern of parents these days is that children grow up too fast. But sometimes it seems as if children don’t get the space to grow up at all; they just become adept at mimicking the habits of adulthood.”

She adds, “There is a big difference between avoiding major hazards and making every decision with the primary goal of optimizing child safety (or enrichment, or happiness). We can no more create the perfect environment for our children than we can create perfect children.”

There is no question we must create learning environments that keep our students safe, but that does not mean we want them to be risk-free. Isn’t parenting a wonderful thing!
While we want to protect our students, we also want them to live their education.
Off-campus programs, like Mountain Classroom, provide opportunities for students to take calculated risks while surrounded by support.
It's hard to quantify the gains in self-confidence and courage obtained through an education focused on living, not just observing, but after a conversation with a Proctor student upon completion of an off-campus program, you'll understand.
There's a reason why our school motto is Live to Learn. Learn to Live.