Walking, Doing And Learning

Ready For A Walk

I’ve got a book from 1972 called The Walk Of The Conscious Ants, by Taylor Morris, that tells the true story of a college professor and his students who decided that instead of taking a semester of regular courses, they would walk from their school in southwestern New Hampshire to Nova Scotia. It’s an interesting read for many reasons, especially with regard to experiential education. Below are the opening paragraphs:

The idea of a long walk, in place of a semester of courses, came to me as accidentally as most other ideas, great or trivial. My wife had driven me to school, Franklin Pierce College at Rindge, New Hampshire, from Peterborough – a 15 mile stretch – and there was a desultory argument about what time she could get back to pick me up.

“Forget it, I’ll walk home.”

So I did, carrying a bag of books in one hand, a jacket in the other, on leather soles over a hot highway – a stretch I had driven at least thirty times – and saw more in that walk than in all of the trips by car, saw more, thought about more, realized more. I couldn’t help wondering what it would do for a group.

Next day in my classes I put it to them: “Which way do you think you’d learn more, by taking a semester of courses, or by taking a walk for one semester?”

“Taking a walk, of course!”

This answer, or some version of it was not only unanimous but given as if no other choice were possible.

At the end of the book, one of the students reflects on the experience in comparison to his previous academic experience:

The problem with schools is not at all how they might teach more; it might even be that students are learning too much, to the detriment of something much more important. The missing ingredient is being. Living the learning, instead of reading the “learning” – which, no matter how beautifully it may be put down on paper, is not theirs.

The book is openly critical of standard educational practices. Given, it was written during the turbulent Vietnam war era, but the premise of learning more from actually doing something rather than reading about it is profound.

What are your most memorable learning experiences? My guess is that whatever they are, they didn’t take place in a classroom.

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