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Racing for the Bottom…

Thousands of years of schooling, learning and education should have provided society with the most intellectual humans ever seen.  The philosophy of ancient Greece, the mathematics of Babylonia and the nuclear science of CERN should make us superbly intelligent.  So why do we choose to ignore them..?  It’s because we race for the simplest way or the lowest common denominator…

There are many business phrases to represent this such as ‘low hanging fruit’.  Here we pick the easy options to make the fastest and greatest impression, but surely life is worth more than that.  Surely we should not be educating people the bare minimum needed to do more than survive..?  On the flip side to this, I’m  constantly astounded by people hold a degree and yet are unable to carry out the simplest tasks in life.  They might be able to draw out a complicated theory or formula, but can’t cook, budget or think for themselves.  Educators need to educate, rather than maintain the status quo.

Much of this is down to one of the most dangerous words in the modern world – convenience.  Society has become obsessed with it – whether it ordering fast food on an app, driving to within 10 feet of the school gate or sending a text message.  It’s convenient, but also cold, isolating and destructive.  Speed, ease and apathy have taken over from thinking, learning and ingenuity.

I’m amazed that Society needs to be told what to do, such as doctors prescribing walking as a help to physical and mental care.  People think that all life’s answers come from their telephone, when they come from within.  They come from an inbuilt spirit to look over the horizon and learn, explore and travel.  That doesn’t mean you have to sail cross the seas like Columbus or Cook, but to expand knowledge by searching, working and fighting for it.

In a society slowly rearing its head to the destructive elements of plastic on our planet, I find it amazing that we need such initiatives as the Patagonia Worn Wear Tour.  Please don’t think I’m criticising them (quite the opposite as I think they’re wonderful), but how did we lose the ability to carry out repairs to our clothing..?  Even with all my fingertips missing I can still sew..!  Convenience has bred a society which will throw a perfectly good item away, rather than carry out a minor repair, in the name of simplicity and fashion.  Recently it was reported by a Professor at Imperial College that surgery students were struggling to sew, which regardless of the modern world is still used to close wounds.  Some years ago I took a lesson in Ski maintenance at the Piste Office in Nottinghamshire.  I was surprised when the owner noted that I was good with hand tools.  It seemed an unusual comment, but he had met many youngsters who were leaving for a season working on the slopes and wanted to wax and edge their own skis.  Sounds fair enough to me, but many couldn’t even hold a screwdriver properly.  Education and families had worked to the lowest common denominator and taught them nothing (I bet they knew how to use their thumbs though).

As a teenager, I walked the moors of Derbyshire armed with the technology of the day – an OS Map, a notebook, a compass (from the local army surplus stores) and a bucket full of Common Sense.  I cut my teeth getting lost, learning to find my way again and heading home at the end of the day.  I made lots of mistakes, but learned to stand on my own two feet when it came to rectifying them.  It was frustrating, but worth the effort in the long run (although I didn’t think that at the time..!)  I admitted my errors, rather than bemoan them and learned huge amounts.  My parents taught me DIY, stone wall building, car maintenance, cooking, gardening and how to run a household. They also took me into the great outdoors and allowed me to experience nature at both its best and worst.

Total price – Nil

Time taken – Years

Learning was and still is a long-term investment, rather than a race.

The outdoors hasn’t escaped the race, as more and more people enter the hills, but with less learned skills, hoping technology will save them.  The press headlines speak for themselves, but a recent story really made people bite.  The story has moved on since then, but the slanging match which followed was due to the convenient world we live in.  It’s easy to malign people when you’re miles away on a mobile device, but quite another matter when you’re face to face.   Then, when comments are withdrawn online, people think they’ve never been seen or existed.  How wrong they are.  One of the issues which caught people’s ears was the use of technology in a difficult outdoor environment.  I spoke about this at the first Derby TEDx event a few years ago…

You may think that I’m an old, grey, moaning fart who doesn’t understand the modern world.  Well, I’m 49 (define that as you will), very grey and a devout realist.  I’ve embraced technology since I was a teenager (I spent hours programming a ZX81 and playing on my Atari in the 1980’s) and find much of it useful and wonderful.  We just need to know when and where to draw the line.  We need to remain human, rather than becoming the machine of our machines.

We shouldn’t bounce along the seabed, hoping for rescue when we could learn to swim.  We need to re-connect with what we have evolved to be – living, breathing beings.  We need to physically engage with the world and others around us, take risks, learn from our mistakes and view life as a journey, not a race to the bottom…

6 thoughts on “Racing for the Bottom…”

  1. So true on many levels. OS map reading, one of life’s true skills. This alone has gotten me out of many a predicament. Thank you scouting I love a bit of DIY and Gardening all of which is shared with our 7 year old. Our true passion – world travel is once again back on the agenda.

  2. Nigel,
    I share your disappointment in the lack of understanding and commitment to learning through engaging with the natural environment, as you know. Let’s talk further about how we pick up on the increasing awareness of nature and the role it plays in health & wellbeing as well as learning & development.
    Thanks for stimulating the debate.

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