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Ancient Skills Immersion

      “When I walk through wilderness, I become really poetic. I do not say these poems out loud, I only rehearse them in the privacy of my mind. I was never really poetic before, but I found my poetic side listening to the soothing sounds of the tweety birds, the wind, and the distant mooing of the black angus. Before the campout, I really never bothered to listen to my surroundings. I never was in touch with my really soft side, and I never thought that I was poetical. You can learn a lot about yourself when you venture through nature.” -Makenna L.

Ancient Skills Immersion
What Students Learn – In their own Words

Group Shot       Today’s young people are shuffled from one event to the next, without time for introspection, exploration, or self-discovery. When a moment of inactivity comes, they are taught to turn on the television, fiddle with their cell phone, or check Facebook. But take away the clock, electricity, and society’s expectations – even for only a few days – and they open up with astonishing depth and passion for nature, learning, and life.
      Recorded here are some of the reflections of students who attended our 2013 Harrison Junior High Ancient Skills Immersion camping trip. The words of the students speak volumes about the potential within every one of us and the power of reconnecting with the natural world. Take a moment to see what we have repressed in ourselves in the name of progress, and remember what we once were:

Handdrill Fire-Starting       “A plant that I found useful is the mullein plant. The thick soft leaves, when boiled, make a good tasting tea. The second year that the plant grows, it has a stalk that is very useful in many ways. The stalk can be used to make arrows, atlatl darts, bundle bows, and handdrill pieces. The seedhead on the stalk can be used as a torch if dipped in beef tallow.” -Doug C.

      “Mullein was used often on the campout. We used it for making arrows that we could shoot at nature targets. The arrows had to have a root tip on the end so it could fly straight and far. I learned that the mullein arrow flew farther if the stem was thin and light. Mullein was also used to produce tea that we cooked on the fire. It also makes really good kindling.” -Derik D.

Bow and Arrow Game       “It is amazing how you can just use a piece of firewood and a few coals, then it creates a bowl. You get the chunk of wood and chop it in half, then get some very hot coals going and when they get done, put a few of them in the center of the bowl and get a blow stick. You can use a weed with a hollow center, so then you can blow through that on the wood beside the coal where you want the bowls to be on the wood. This whole process takes about one hour.” -Jakob N.

      “Making the burn bowls was meaningful to me because it is so easy to do, and they will last a long time. They are made for many great uses. It was also meaningful to me because they are made in such a clever way, and I would have never even thought of it. I loved the easy process of making the burn bowls, and I also loved the finished product.” -Alexys B.

Cattail Salad       “The cattail plant is a very interesting specimen. On our second day we had freshly picked cattail roots, wild ranch, and wild croutons. It was really yummy! The cattail has deep roots that go far into the muck of the swamp. You have to really pull sometimes! I found out something very interesting about the cattail plant. The roots seem to be connected in one big circuit. Maybe not with every plant, but I pulled up one and ended up getting three plants that were connected. I also found out that when you cut the cattail near the bottom, a really cool design is made. The outer layers of the flat leaves are hard to cut. The are very sturdy. I chose this plant because you can eat it, and you can also use the leaves to cook in a steam pit.” -Makenna L.

      “Before the campout, I saw a cattail and said, “There’s a cattail.” After the campout, I saw a cattail and said, “Food!” I take notice of plants instead of just passing by them. Trees and other plants can make good shelter and keep you dry. I also stop and listen to the bird songs. I stop and close my eyes to listen. Their songs are different from day to night. At first I was scared to sleep in the wikiup. On the second and third nights, I liked sleeping in the wickiup.” -Josie H.

Mullien Bundle Bow       “We made bows and arrows out of bamboo and twine. Mine broke, so we had to make adjustments. I think that our ancestors had to make changes to make a reasonable bow to hunt with. We did not hunt with our bows. We had enough food, but we did stalk trees with them and practiced our aim. If we had run out of food, I believe that we could indeed stalk and shoot something with our modified bows. Our ancestors gave us skills that humanity still uses. They probably modified those skills and techniques, and we have thrived by using those skills and techniques. Thank you, ancestors.” -Makenna L.

      “Using knots to lash multiple pieces of wood or bamboo together was difficult, but with the help of a partner, I managed to make a bow. A lot of experimenting went into trying to shoot string, and make arrows. Practicing shooting the bow and arrow will help me later in life by allowing me to make good shots with a bow to provide food for my family and me. The foam-tipped arrows and the bow wars helped develop the skill of shooting moving targets and being able to shoot on a moment’s notice. Making arrows out of willows was interesting because the wood is stronger than mullein, and it can be used for hunting big game. I learned many new skills that will be with me for the rest of my life.” -Doug C.

Bow and arrow wars       “I used to think that birds were annoying, trees were a waste of space, and nature was just ridiculous. After our four day campout, I have a new perspective. I have realized that all those plants have a purpose, and that nature does too. You can use the plants to make a bow string and a bow! You can also use plants to make tea and to make kindling for a newly-made fire that started from the hands of friends and the branch from a willow. You see, plants have many uses, and I have a new perspective on nature and plants.” -Makenna L.

      “I have a different perception on nature and wildlife and have better knowledge of them. I have learned to watch around me and pay attention to the minor details. There are a lot of different skills I learned, like learning how to make a bow and arrows out of natural materials and different techniques of hunting. I learned how the Native Americans hunted and what they gathered and now have a different look on the way they were.” -Kali C.

      “I learned that you don’t have to be some sort of expert in order to know and identify the different types of plants and animals. This camping trip has changed me by teaching me how to use many different aspects in nature. It also taught me that everything in nature has a purpose and a use – no matter how big or small that thing may be. This camping trip has definitely inspired me to teach others about nature and its value.” -Alexys B.

Matt with bow       “The campout changed me personally. I’ve become much more of a nature person. Before we started getting ready for the campout, I did not know much about plants. I did not have many skills for being outdoors in the wilderness. I have learned how to identify different kinds of plants. I’ve become more comfortable being in the wilderness. I’ve become more aware about different kinds of animals. I learned how to be more quiet to listen for dangerous animals. I also learned the different alerts from the birds.” -Matthew S.

Walking the balance beam       “Stalking was something that I really like to do and seem to be not too bad at. I like to sneak up on somebody, shadow walk them, and keep them from knowing that I am behind them. I also learned that I could trust myself out in the woods and be able to stay alive for a couple days. I learned that I sleep well in the outdoors , which would help me stay alive.” -Lane B.

      “The stalking games we played were meaningful to me. I learned how to use more of my peripheral vision and use my ears to hear what is in the trees and the area around me. I can be very quiet and try not to disturb the birds so they do not make an alarming sound. The birds warn the other birds and animals of danger. Fox-walking can prevent this alarm from happening, so it does not scare the critters we are stalking.” -Derik D.

Making Bundle Bows       “My most memorable experience had to be the marshmallow war. It was amazing getting to talk to Kenna and eating all the marshmallows. From the beginning, Kenna and I took our flag and went in a tree and just talked for awhile. Kris came, and then we ran out of there as fast as possible. We made it out. We ran and ran, but Kris caught up and got the flag from Kenna. The next game I took the flag and had Derik as a bodyguard, but then he got attacked. I ran for like a mile thinking I was being chased, but Sam was the other team’s flag person. Everyone went after her so I was running for like a mile with no one behind me. Awkward!” -Shelbi L.

      “We all had positive attitudes about everything, even when it rained. Nobody wanted to go back to the wickiups. We all wanted to work on the arrows for the bow and arrow war the next day.” -Zach J.

Wickiup: The girls' shelter.       “It rained a lot, and we all had to go into our wickiup. The girls first were cold. We changed into our PJs, crawled into our warm sleeping bags, and we snuggled really close. We talked some after we warmed up enough to speak. We talked about who we liked, what clothes we would and would not wear, our favorite moments at the campout, and heck, we messed around some, too. We were pretending that we were zombies eating the brains of a captive. Then I was a sunflower being planted into my sleeping bag, and then I bloomed!” -Makenna L.

      “I was sort of a shy person when I started seventh grade, but after the campout, I opened up, and it made me stronger mentally and physically. This year’s campout made me stronger, quieter, louder, and faster. Also, after not eating or drinking unhealthy foods and liquids for four days, I feel great. I am keeping up on not eating unhealthy foods.” -Zach

      “Staying there for a couple of nights has shown me that instead of being what people make of you, you can just be you. That is why when you go and hear birds singing, or you see deer feeding, you noticed that they did not have peers to change them. They grew up as themselves, and that makes me think about our society. So, if you happen to want a day out of this life, or a day of peace, go to the camp out and find the inner you.” -Samantha T.

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Filed under Education Reform, Uncategorized, Wilderness Survival

Profiting from Gun Violence

Corporate Greed and the American Bloodbath

Advertisement for the Bushmaster AR-15. It isn’t difficult for the gun industry to capitalize on the natural insecurities of young men who want to feel more powerful.

Advertisement for the Bushmaster AR-15. It isn’t difficult for the gun industry to capitalize on the natural insecurities of young men who want to feel more powerful.

Like sweeping sand in a sandstorm, gun control efforts are well intentioned but futile, even if enacted. Gun control advocates propose outlawing specific types of guns and increasing background checks for the people who buy them. They might as well try to outlaw sand or try to regulate where the wind takes it. Real reform cannot happen until we sequester the storm at its source. Gun manufacturers make and market millions of guns, and like all corporations, their purpose for existence is to expand markets and attain the highest possible rate of return for their shareholders. It isn’t a gun rights issue at all. The issue that matters is corporate greed. Like the tobacco industry, the gun industry will exploit consumers and profit from death as long as it is economical to do so.
Guns were traditionally marketed as tools for hunting, but sales waned as Americans migrated into the cities and suburbs and lost interest in hunting. With guns no longer needed as tools, gun manufacturers adapted to the changing demographics and began manufacturing new guns and cultivating new markets. These guns are not like your grandfather’s hunting rifle. To increase the appeal of guns, the industry began manufacturing civilian models of military and police guns, promoting gun use as symbols of power and masculinity. These guns are marketed to young men to make them feel more powerful, and then to homeowners and women to protect them from people who shouldn’t have guns, and even to children for “recreation.” It is a successful strategy. This market has ballooned at a 27 percent annual rate in just the last five years.1
One study commissioned by the shooting sports industry suggested recruiting children ages 8 to 17 years old, who already have shooting experience, to serve as “peer ambassadors” to entice other kids into the sport. The industry-supported Junior Shooters magazine has featured the Bushmaster AR-15 as a great weapon for target shooting. Children were encouraged to share the story with their parents, enticing them with this teaser, “Who knows? Maybe you’ll find a Bushmaster AR-15 under your tree some frosty Christmas morning!” According to the editor, Andy Fink, semiautomatic firearms are not weapons unless they are used against other people, and there is no legitimate reason why children shouldn’t learn how to safely use an AR-15 for recreation.2 The AR-15 is the assault rifle used by Adam Lanza to gun down twenty children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012.

Boys-becoming-men grow up on the couch, spending thousands of hours immersed in simulated warfare and murder, learning how to blow people away without remorse or emotion. [Photo credit, Get Gaming Now]

Boys-becoming-men grow up on the couch, spending thousands of hours immersed in simulated warfare and murder, learning how to blow people away without remorse or emotion. [Photo credit, Get Gaming Now]

      Urbanization has made men like Lanza increasingly vulnerable to exploitation by savvy marketing firms. Young men do not have the opportunity to build rippling muscles and self esteem by doing traditional work – building fences, swinging an axe, or taming a wild horse. Instead, boys-becoming-men grow up on the couch, shooting people in video games, using virtual guns that are often the same or similar to actual models pushed by gun manufacturers. They spend thousands of hours immersed in simulated warfare and murder, learning how to blow people away without remorse or emotion. I have met young men with that background, and they often talk of becoming Army Rangers. They want to go to war so they can use their “skills” in the real world.

"Alexa." An "ex-girlfriend turned zombie" on display as a target at the NRA convention. Source: New York Daily News

“Alexa.” An “ex-girlfriend turned zombie” on display as a target at the NRA convention. Source: New York Daily News

Adam Lanza had no prior criminal record. But he spent a great deal of time alone in his basement immersed in Call of Duty, scoring points for kills. Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President of the National Rifle Association, quickly and publicly blamed the video game industry for the Sandy Hook tragedy. But behind the scenes, the gun and video game industries are often in bed together. Gun manufacturers have allowed video game producers to portray real-life gun models in video games, and video warfare gaming sites have featured advertising for gun and ammo manufacturers. Restless young men, having spent hundreds of hours immersed in simulated warfare, were tempted by advertisements to buy real weapons. The direct advertising was discontinued after complaints, but video games still feature authentic gun models and condition users to kill.
Even without marketing, men are susceptible to the false sense of power that comes with a gun. I still remember listening to the stories in the boys’ locker room in junior high. Kids bragged about how they blew away some coyote or varmint with a gun. The bigger the gun and the more they decimated the creature, the bigger the brag, as if there is something profoundly manly about being able to squeeze a trigger. Hunting to feed one’s family is one thing, but guns can distort a user’s personality, contributing to a fundamental disrepect for life. As a hiker, I often encounter “sportsmen” who go out in the woods to drink beer and blast away at the trees, rocks, and wildlife for entertainment.
The gun industry knows how to capitalize on the natural insecurities of young men who want to feel more powerful. Fortunately, most young men, confined to the cities, don’t have the opportunity to exercise their manliness on the local wildlife. Unfortunately, the gun industry is flooding our cities and towns with weapons and ammunition, putting them in the hands of testosterone-hyped young men with no outlet to use them, except against other people.

For the gun industry, it is a win-win marketing situation. By aiding and abetting gun violence, the gun industry (and it's non-profit affiliates) bolsters the market for yet more gun sales, but now on the pretext of security.

For the gun industry, it is a win-win marketing situation. By aiding and abetting gun violence, the gun industry (and it’s non-profit affiliates) bolsters the market for yet more gun sales, but now on the pretext of security.

For the gun industry, it is a win-win marketing situation. By aiding and abetting gun violence, the gun industry bolsters the market for yet more gun sales, but now on the pretext of security. As Wayne LaPierre, vice president for the National Rifle Association, said after the Sandy Hook massacre, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”3 What the gun industry wants is for every law-abiding citizen to own a gun, or better yet, a whole gun collection. Be trained and prepared for self-defense. Keep one behind the counter to defend your business. Keep a gun in your car, or get a permit to carry a concealed weapon and keep it on you at all times. Arm our pilots, our teachers, and our taxicab drivers. Legalize guns on college campuses, and make sure everyone has one for self-defense. Because a world that is awash with guns requires that everyone be armed to defend themselves against people with guns.
There are already an estimated 310 million guns in the United States,4 approximately one gun for every man, woman, and child in the country. The problem with the gun industry, as with all corporations, is that there isn’t an end to it. It wouldn’t matter if there were 310 billion or 310 trillion guns in the country. The nature of corporations is to expand and sell more products this year than they did last year. A banner sales year for guns only requires newer and better marketing schemes to con people into buying yet more guns the following year. But more guns will never make us safer, and gun violence doesn’t necessarily turn people against gun ownership.

Mass murder is good for business. Sales of guns and ammunition spiked after the Sandy Hook massacre, even before the bloody corpses of the children were laid to rest.  Top row: (L-R) Ana Marquez-Greene, Caroline Previdi, Jessica Rekos, Emilie Parker, Noah Pozner. Second row: (L-R) Jesse Lewis, Olivia Engel, Josephine Gay, Charlotte Bacon, Chase Kowalski. Third row: (L-R) Daniel Barden, Jack Pinto, Catherine Hubbard, Dylan Hockley, Benjamin Wheeler. Fourth row: (L-R) Grace McDonnell, James Mattioli, Avielle Richman, Madeleine Hsu, Allison Wyatt.Image source: MercuryNews.com Original source: REUTERS/Handout

Mass murder is good for business. Sales of guns and ammunition spiked after the Sandy Hook massacre, even before the bloody corpses of the children were laid to rest.

Top row: (L-R) Ana Marquez-Greene, Caroline Previdi, Jessica Rekos, Emilie Parker, Noah Pozner. Second row: (L-R) Jesse Lewis, Olivia Engel, Josephine Gay, Charlotte Bacon, Chase Kowalski. Third row: (L-R) Daniel Barden, Jack Pinto, Catherine Hubbard, Dylan Hockley, Benjamin Wheeler. Fourth row: (L-R) Grace McDonnell, James Mattioli, Avielle Richman, Madeleine Hsu, Allison Wyatt.
Image source: MercuryNews.com Original source: REUTERS/Handout

One would think that gun violence and massacres like Sandy Hook would be bad for the gun industry. Publicly, industry representatives lament such tragedies, and privately, they must worry about the impact on the corporate bottom line. But strangely, even mass murder is good for business. Sales of guns and ammunition spiked immediately after the massacre, before the children’s bloody corpses were laid to rest. Presumably, consumers buy additional guns and stock up on ammunition because they fear new gun control legislation.
Fear of gun control is perhaps the gun industry’s best marketing tool of all. The NRA fans these flames of fear, manipulating gun owners until people wildly exclaim that, “The government is going to take our guns away!” even though no such legislation has been proposed. I’ts absurd.
As one fed-up gun-toting Wyoming mother lamented, “I am tired of going to the local ammo supplier and finding out that every bullet they had sold out as quickly as they put them on the shelves. I am tired of listening to hateful rhetoric about how the President is coming to take everything down to our pea shooter away. It’s ridiculous. We know that the only people who stand to profit from this are the ones who sell guns and bullets. They have motive, means and opportunity. All they want is our money.”5
Keeping gun control in the news as much as possible is good for business. And fortunately for the gun industry, it’s a win-win situation, whether or not gun control legislation is enacted. If defeated, the battle continues. If approved in some miniscule way, the battle continues. And even if specific gun models and clip sizes are banned and background checks required, the impact to gun sales and gun violence won’t be significant.

Adam Lanza wasn’t an outlaw, and his mother had a permit for the gun he used to kill her and everyone else.

Adam Lanza wasn’t an outlaw, and his mother had a permit for the gun he used to kill her and everyone else.

As gun advocates like to say, “If you outlaw guns, then only outlaws will have guns.” But Adam Lanza wasn’t an outlaw, and his mother had a permit for the gun he used to kill her and everyone else.
Nancy Lanza was not a bad person for buying a semiautomatic rifle. She never could have predicted how the weapon would ultimately be used. And that’s the problem. Merely buying and owning the AR-15 made the Sandy Hook massacre possible. And it will happen again. The gun used in the next massacre may be properly locked away in someone’s gun safe right now. No person can absolutely gaurantee that their gun won’t be used to commit murder, any more than they can guarantee that they themselves won’t one day suffer from severe emotional stress and mental illness. Even well-trained and properly certified police officers and soldiers go rogue now and then and start killing people.
As long as our society is awash in guns, we will be plagued by gun violence. An estimated half million guns are lost or stolen every year in this country.6 By merely owning guns, well-intentioned gun owners are unintentionally putting guns in the hands of criminals. Ultimately, we are not suffering from a lack of gun control, we are suffering from an excess supply of guns. Out of 12,664 homicides in the U.S. in 2011, 8,583 were committed with guns. Guns were also used in 19,392 suicides in 2010, accounting for about half of the total.7
In response to gun violence, Chicago enacted the nation’s strictest gun control laws, but to little avail. Guns can be purchased legally only by properly trained and certified, permit-carrying, law-abiding citizens. Everyone else buys guns through the black market, imported from elsewhere or sometimes stolen from law-abiding gun owners. A handgun can be purchased on the streets of Chicago for $40 or $50, or a semiautomatic for $100.8
Twenty-nine students from Chicago’s Harper High School were shot in just one year, eight of them fatally, which prompted Public Radio International to do an in-depth story for This American Life. Three reporters spent a semester in the community, interviewing students, staff, and parents. For the students, just walking home from school each day required strategy to stay alive. They often walked down the center of the street, blocking traffic, to avoid close quarters with trees or other obstacles along sidewalks where gunmen might be hiding. They walked close enough to each other to benefit from group security, but far enough apart to avoid implying any affiliations that might get them knocked off by one gang or another.9 This is daily life in Chicago, USA, and it is a potential harbinger of things to come as gun manufacturers flood our cities and towns with millions upon millions of new guns. As noted in the story, the superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools in Florida has attended funerals for forty-four slain children in just four and a half years.10

More than 60,000 people have died in the drug war in Mexico, yet American gun makers have done nothing to prevent the flow of guns into the country, nor expressed any concern. Why should they? It is all profit for them. Illustration by Matt  Wuerker

More than 60,000 people have died in the drug war in Mexico, yet American gun makers have done nothing to prevent the flow of guns into the country, nor expressed any concern. Why should they? It is all profit for them. Illustration by Matt Wuerker

The gun industry, like the tobacco industry, is driven by profit, and both profit from death. The drug war in Mexico, for example, is partly fueled by American-made guns flowing across the border. Between government agents, rival drug cartels, and innocent civilians caught in the cross-fire, more than 60,000 people have died in the battle.11 Murder has become so commonplace in places like Juarez, that residents have been known to yawn while passing by yet another murder scene. Young children routinely witness the mopping up of blood on the street. The American gun industry quietly profits from the bloodbath and has done nothing to stem the flow of guns and ammunition to Mexico. Every bullet fired ultimately translates to more profit for corporate shareholders.
Mexicans have responded by glorifying the drug cartels on television, glamorizing a lifestyle of guns, drugs, sex, and money, which ultimately recruits yet more gullible young men into a life of violence. As the violence spills across the border, our southern states are becoming increasingly ghettoized and everyone is in prison. Those with limited means put bars on their own windows. People with more money lock themselves into gated communities, but no one is free.

A .50 Caliber Flintlock Pirate Pistol purchased by the author.  The manufacture of traditional hunting rifles is not the concern, nor the cottage industry of small-time, custom gun makers.

A .50 Caliber Flintlock Pirate Pistol purchased by the author.
The manufacture of traditional hunting rifles is not the concern, nor the cottage industry of small-time, custom gun makers.

It is a stark contrast to the world I grew up in here in Montana, where many people didn’t bother to lock their doors at night. Some didn’t bother to lock their doors when they went away on vacation. But the world out there is steadily encroaching, making Montanans live in fear like everyone else.
If we are to reverse the trend and regain our security, we must deal with the superstorm at its source. To have any hope of reducing gun violence, we must first stop flooding the marketplace with cheap, mass-produced guns. The manufacture of traditional hunting rifles is not the concern, nor the cottage industry of small-time, custom gun makers. But any type of gun that regularly shows up at crime scenes needs to be addressed. What would happen if we were to apply a crime tax to problem gun types, both real and virtual?

Gun manufacturers make and market millions of guns, and like all corporations, their purpose for existence is to expand markets and attain the highest possible rate of return for their shareholders.

Gun manufacturers make and market millions of guns, and like all corporations, their purpose for existence is to expand markets and attain the highest possible rate of return for their shareholders.

For example, placing a significant crime tax on handgun sales could reduce demand enough to eventually make them scarce. How much tax would be required on legitimate handgun sales to raise the black market price of a handgun from $40 to $400 in Chicago? Would there be less gun violence if cheap guns were not being passed around the neighborhood? Would there still be an incentive to rob a convenience store if it necessitated a $400 investment instead of a $40 investment? And what if this crime tax were used by law enforcement to aid gun buy-back programs? At what price would gang members be more interested in cashing out gun collections for quick, easy, and legitimate cash? What would happen if we also taxed violent video games and included the revenue in the gun buy-back program?
Alternately, what would happen if the gun industry were held accountable for crimes committed by their products? If a particular type of gun were implicated regularly in crime scenes, then perhaps the manufacturer should re-examine the gun style, marketing campaign, and/or customer screening associated with that model. If a corporation fails to address the issues, then it should be held indirectly accountable for the resulting crimes. How might a gun or ammunition manufacturer adjust its product lines, consumer screening, education, and tracking, if the company were fined a million dollars for each person murdered by their brand of gun?

Although he sometimes uses guns, Thomas J. Elpel prefers to hunt with sticks, rocks, and bows and arrows, which engenders deeper respect for one’s quarry.

Although he sometimes uses guns, Thomas J. Elpel prefers to hunt with sticks, rocks, and bows and arrows, which engenders deeper respect for one’s quarry.

I don’t know the best answers for reducing gun violence. What I do know is that the best-intentioned gun control laws won’t make much difference as long as the gun industry retains the incentive to flood the marketplace with millions upon millions of cheap new guns. If we are going to make meaningful change, we must shift the debate from the end user to the true source of the problem: corporate greed. We will never be safe as long as there is profit to be made by conning people into believing they need more guns.

Thomas J. Elpel is the author of six books and the founder of Green University® LLC. Tom is admittedly not a big fan of guns, but he does use them as needed. Tom kills only what he will eat, and he prefers hunting with sticks, rocks, and bows & arrows, which engenders deeper respect for one’s quarry.

Learn about nature. Respect nature.
Check out Tom’s book:


Participating in Nature:
Wilderness Survival and Primitive Living Skills


Footnotes
1. Jonathan Thompson. “Which way will the West go on guns?” High Country News. February 04, 2013. http://www.hcn.org/issues/45.2/which-way-will-the-west-go-on-guns.
2. Mike McIntire. “Selling a New Generation on Guns.” The New York Times. January 26, 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/27/us/selling-a-new-generation-on-guns.html?
3. Wayne Lapierre. NRA Press Conference. December 21, 2012. http://home.nra.org/pdf/Transcript_PDF.pdf.
4. Jonathan Stray. “Gun Violence in America: The 13 Key Questions (With 13 Concise Answers).” The Atlantic. February 4, 2013. http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/02/gun-violence-in-america-the-13-key-questions-with-13-concise-answers/272727/.
5. Sarah Zacharias. “Gun Owner Holsters Her Weapon, Challenges NRA.” The Big Slice. April 16, 2013. http://thebigslice.org/gun-owner-holsters-her-weapon-challenges-nra/.
6. “Fact Sheet: Stolen Guns.” The John Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. http://www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and-institutes/johns-hopkins-center-for-gun-policy-and-research/publications/guns_theft_fs.pdf
7. Jonathan Stray. “Gun Violence in America: The 13 Key Questions (With 13 Concise Answers).” The Atlantic. February 4, 2013. http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/02/gun-violence-in-america-the-13-key-questions-with-13-concise-answers/272727/.
8. Ira Glass. “488: Harper High School, Part Two.” This American Life. Public Radio International. Originally aired 02.22.2013. http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/488/transcript.
9. Ira Glass. “487: Harper High School, Part One.” This American Life. Public Radio International. Originally aired 02.15.2013. http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/487/transcript.
10. Ira Glass. “488: Harper High School, Part Two.” This American Life. Public Radio International. Originally aired 02.22.2013. http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/488/transcript.
11. “Q&A: Mexico’s drug-related violence.” BBC News. December 24, 2012. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-10681249.

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Filed under Economics, Gun Policy, Politics

The Power of Experiential Education

“I saw my friends and classmates in a new way. They acted much more caring and considerate. We never talked about who saw that movie and if it was good or not. We talked about what remarkable event had taken place during the day, and I personally liked that better.” –Taya D. – 2011 Junior High Camping Trip.

Thomas J. Elpel

Working with Kids - From the Junior High Camping Trip, 2011

Working with kids, I can tell when they are having a good time and excited about learning. But I consistently underestimate the true depth, insightfulness, and heart of our young people.

My work with public school kids began in the mid-1990s, when my daughters, Felicia and Cassie, were in elementary school. I volunteered to take them and their classmates out for an all-day field trip every spring. We built shelters, started fires with flint and steel, told stories, did crafts, made ashcakes and wild tea, and played some stalking games. It was lots of fun, and a chance for the kids to get out of the classroom and have some fun at the end of the year. But it wasn’t just an excuse to “get out of school” for a day, as the kids were truly learning, and very importantly, they were learning about the world directly, instead of just reading about it in a book.

We upped the ante a bit when my daughters entered junior high, taking their classmates out for overnight camping trips on a local ranch. Lacking any tents or tarps, we built shelters out of sticks and bark… and survived more than an inch of rain (on multiple occasions). I taught the kids how to start fires with the bow and drill, basically a simple mechanical device for “rubbing two sticks together.” I demonstrated how to do it, then provided a couple of sticks to each group and had the kids figure out how to replicate the bow and drill and start a fire. We harvested edible wild plants and mushrooms, cooked a stir-fry dinner with hot rocks on a slab of bark, practiced stalking skills, observed wildlife, and played games. It was great fun, and the kids ate it up like it was the greatest thing in the world.

That was ten years ago, and my daughters are now in their twenties. But I still do the junior high camping trip every spring, and we now take the seventh and eighth graders out for three days and two nights, charging a small fee to make the program sustainable. Every year we look at new ways to fine-tune and improve the experience for the students, to make it more educational and more memorable.

The seventh and eighth grade teacher at Harrison School is Linda Ehlers, who was bold and adventurous enough to try this wild idea in the first place, and after doing it for a few years, began to realize just how deeply and positively the experience impacted the kids. She has the students for nearly nine months before I see them, and I am told that the kids talk about the junior high camping trip all year long. Two weeks before the campout, she finds it impossible to focus on anything else, so she structures her lesson plans around the upcoming trip, covering skills like plant identification, fire-starting, and knife safety in the classroom. She talks to these same students in the hallways as they continue on through their high school years, and the way she tells it, they never stop talking about the experience and the memories. But sometimes I have trouble believing it. I have trouble believing that three days of hanging out in the woods doing skills and playing games could impact these kids so much.

It isn’t until I see the written comments – in the students’ own words – that I began to get a sense of how deeply they have been touched by this little camping experience. On a purely academic level, it is obvious that they are truly learning, and they resonate with the lessons in a way that could not be achieved by reading about it in a book:

“I think our Indian ancestors were awesome because they lived how we did, but we only stayed three days. I think it is amazing how they lived, and when they killed something, they used everything off of the dead animal. It is also fascinating that they used everything that they found or killed. The coolest thing was all the cooking utensils and how they used fire and coals to cook.” –Brett P.

“The life we lived out there for three days is what our ancestors’ lives were like year-round. I see that my ancestors routinely did what I struggled to do once. It makes you stop and think about how technology has changed our way of living. This experience has changed the way I see people back then.” –Britt C.

Sometimes I try to get in the heads of the kids while we are out in the field, and I imagine them to have little depth beyond the desire to have fun. Yes, I can see that they are excited about learning, but I rationalize it as “excited compared to sitting in the classroom.” After all, this is technically a school trip, and they are conditioned to follow instructions and do whatever I tell them to do. And yet, when the kids have started some game of their own – and it is obviously a healthy and satisfying activity – I hesitate to interrupt them. I experience a moment of self-doubt, thinking that they will be disgruntled at the interruption – that they won’t get excited about learning some stupid stalking skills or playing some dumb stalking game. But when I finally make the call, I am shocked to see their game break up immediately as the students come streaming over, excited for the new activity:

“My most meaningful experiences were Wolves and Deer and the Stalking Game. These were meaningful because they are games that everyone was involved in. We were having fun and enjoying ourselves. Wolves and Deer was meaningful because it involved paying attention and being knowledgeable. The Stalking Game was meaningful because we had to be quiet and know the placement of our feet. I enjoyed this because when I got out, it was very fun watching everybody else try to get the bag of candy.” –Colton C.

“I felt everything I stepped on as I walked in the all-leather moccasins… Stalking to get that candy was so intense. It shows how patient you have to be to get your food in the woods. From the birds chirping to Koby running through the trees, all the natural sounds really made me open my ears and listen.”  –Alecia P.

I am always surprised at how much the students comment on the importance of teamwork, friendship, and appreciation of each other, especially because our schedule doesn’t have include any specific team-building activities or agenda. But from the kids perspective, it is all about teamwork:

“My most meaningful experience was being able to work together to start a fire with the bow and drill. The campout taught all of us that we had to work together or you wouldn’t get anything done.” –Gabie A.

“The bowdrill is one of the best ways to make a fire. It takes teamwork and passion. When my group was making fire, Britt was working the bow, then she said, ‘Help!” I grabbed the other end of the bow and helped her through it. We were the first group done because of the teamwork we did.” –John E.

“Friendship and teamwork are priorities above all others. Without these I would have never been able to start a fire, find Kris, or even fix the wickiup. You need friends and partners to survive in the real world, and without them, we are lost.” –Jon S.

More surprising to me is that the kids truly connect with the natural world. I often imagine our young people as being totally into the social scene and not really interested in nature, beyond the excuse to be out of the classroom for a few days. I imagine them to be patiently tolerant at best, when we wake them up early in the morning to go stalking through the woods in the hopes of seeing wildlife:

“Another meaningful experience was when we went on a morning wildlife walk. This time, I could hear the animals waking up. That morning was very peaceful. I felt proud that I was on this walk seeing animals, not disrupting them, and making my way through the great outdoors.” –Taya D.

“Before I went on the campout, I did not take the time to enjoy all of the experiences that are out there. I would walk to the bus each morning with my headphones in my ears, ignoring all of the natural music around me. The birds sang their songs each and every morning, and I ignored their exquisite music. Now, when I walk to the bus in the morning, I try to listen to each and every song that the birds have to offer. I slow my pace as I indulge the sound of the songs. I allow myself to ‘stop and smell the roses’ when I stroll along the twisting, winding road to the bus.” –Michaela J.

Most of all, I am surprised at the depth, reflection, and insightfulness of many of the comments. These comments come from young teenagers, yet sound more like adults:

“For three whole days, we were shut off from the TVs, the iPods, and even the world famous cell phone. It is hard to believe, even now, that we could survive without these advances. Now, new things can replace this “junk” that has taken over our lives. Instead of watching TV, we can play the real live video game of marshmallow wars, instead of being stuck on a couch with a joystick in hand.” –Britt C.

“It has always seemed to me that nature is like a piece of artwork, fragile, but only to be admired through the gentlest of hands. We go walking on a weather-beaten path that so many have followed, but never step off to travel farther into the heart of the forest. I now know what it is like to go into the depths of the forest, experiencing the full force of the wild. Nature is not a picture. It is much more than that.” –Chas B.

Seeing feedback like this from the kids makes me realize just how deeply they are affected by this one-time experience in nature. And they are definitely hungry for more. In his book Last Child in the Woods, author Richard Louv called the nation’s attention to the growing problem of “Nature Deficit Disorder,” a concern that was shockingly brought to life in the documentary Play Again: What are the consequences of a childhood removed from nature? The book and the movie highlight the crisis that faces our young people and the future of our society. How can society function if we raise an entire generation of kids who are plugged into something like Second Life, while lacking a First Life in the real world?

I never imagined that our little camping trips would turn into cutting edge work that could make a critical difference to the future of our young people. But while Last Child in the Woods and Play Again have called attention to the problem, we have apparently stumbled into a critical piece of the solution. The experiential model that we have created resonates with the students and reaches them at a deeper level.

It is my greatest hope to expand our programs to many of our other local schools to share similar experiences with the kids that are currently missing out. More than that, I hope that our work can become a role model for other people seeking to introduce experiential outdoor education to the young people in their lives. As one student wrote this year:

“The outdoor classroom experience has given me a more in-depth look at nature and our ancestors than any movie or text book has or ever will. Living in the outdoors has shown me that nature is full of surprises and that it provides everything that we need to survive. If more schools took their students on outdoor trips like we do, humans might learn to be more conservative and save our world.” –Spencer O.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

For more information about the Junior High Camping Trip, be sure to read Outdoor Classroom (Bozeman Daily Chronicle, 2011) and more comments from students of the 2011 camping trip. Also, take a look at our Classroom in the Woods DVD, and please check out our Stone Age Living Skills Programs for Schools for more information about our classes.

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