Jack Mountain Bushcraft University

I saw an ad for a college today and in the photo they had as their centerpiece was a student in a lecture hall looking toward the front and acting interested. That’s a negative for me. I remember sitting through a bunch of lectures, some great, some not, but what I took away from the experience was that I wasn’t involved. I was a passive observer, reading about the work and research of others. Were I to be applying to school again, I’d want to see an ad featuring people doing things, not just listening to people talk about things or reading things, to be impressed. Our bodies are built for action. To simply sit and take in information isn’t learning. This is why I’ve spent the last ten years developing and running our hands-on semester programs and am currently expanding them into a yearlong program. But there is another part to the learning experience.

My most positive academic experiences were in graduate school. Gone was the lecture format, and in it’s place were a bunch of motivated learners. We would read a lot, write a lot, and engage in meaningful discussions about the topics we were covering. We would share our writings with one another via email, and comment on each other’s work. Such is my goal; adding an academic component to a practical endeavor.

For much of the knowledge of bush lore, background study is required for mastery of the practical skill. It’s not necessary to successfully accomplish the skill. However, it adds a great depth of knowledge which enriches the experience, and is a prerequisite to being a competent instructor.

I think we’ve reached a turning point in education. Modern universities charge a lot of money for a piece of paper saying that you did the work and met the lowest common denominator of their program. But the cost has grown so much that many are looking for an alternative. Our approach will be different. It will be open to everyone and the work will speak for itself through a peer and facilitator-reviewed portfolio and logbook assessment system.

This program will not replace our hands-on, residential programs, but it will complement them, and allow us to serve many people who are unable to come to us for a course. There is no way to replace direct, hands-on instruction. But if that instruction is complemented with a rigorous course of academic study, the result is greater than the sum of the components. It results in a depth of practical and theoretical knowledge unattainable by other means.

The difference between this and simply studying alone is in actually doing the work, documenting it, and having it peer-reviewed. Putting in your time with field guides. Spending time on focused study. In a world inundated with information, the temptation is to approach information like many people watch television – flipping through the channels with the remote control. But flipping through things like this isn’t learning. It isn’t even studying. How much have you learned from the magazines in your bathroom?

Our goal is to create a community of lifelong learners who understand that focused study is the route to knowledge and comprehension, and ultimately mastery. The tools and the technology are all available for free or at a very low cost. What’s left is to actually do the work.

Tuition Cost:
The tuition cost for JMBU is twofold. First, you have to do the work. Second, you have to review the work of your peers.

Requirements: Participants are required to actually do the work and document it. In order to avoid having it turn into something that people just blow off, if the work isn’t done people are dropped from a course.

Facilitators: We’d encourage anyone who had successfully completed a course to stay on as a facilitator. We’d try to get as many people involved as possible, so as to spread the workload.

Assessment: Keeping Track Of What You Do. If you don’t document your work, it didn’t happen. Your documentation of your work is part of your portfolio, as explained in the student handbook, and is reviewed by peers and the course facilitator. But it’s not like school. You don’t get grades. Your work speaks for itself. The purpose of the review process is to make sure you’re on the right track, and to ensure you’re not making outlandish, untrue claims (ie. “I made five full-sized birch bark canoes today before lunch.”) Documentation is public and kept on the web so everyone can read it. This way it can also serve as a peer-reviewed resume if someone wanted to use their logbook as proof of what they’ve done in applying for a job, etc.

Academic complement to a hands-on training course
Create an open-source, peer-reviewed model of education
Develop critical thinking skills
Create a community of lifelong learners who value traditional knowledge for it’s own sake

How We Do It:
Each student starts a blog on a free service such as blogger to host their logbook and work. On their bio page on the Jack Mountain Network, they add the blog feed. This allows their posts to be commented on by others without having to spend hours navigating the web. We’ll provide links and a short how-to explaining how to set this up. They can set up the blog and their account with us under a pseudonym as long as the other people on their course know what their real name is (because it sucks trying to have a rational discussion with “bushmaster007”).

The lesson is posted on the web with start and finish dates, along with an abstract of what the course will entail. People sign up, get set up, and start working. Each course becomes a separate group on the network to facilitate communication.

Weekly expectations are set by the facilitator. People can comment on either the blog or the Ning network page saying they’ve read it, and ask any questions that are necessary.

Upon the completion of the course, the logbook (in this case, the blog) is printed out and mailed to the facilitator, who signs off on it in ink. It’s then mailed back to the student, and is a record of the completed course. Student pays for postage. If this turns into a huge pain (ie. shipping overseas), we’ll look into other ways of doing it.

If you’ve got comments about this, let me know by posting them in our online network at:


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Western Colorado University
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Maine Wilderness Guides Organization Quality Endorsement Award

Life Member – Maine Professional Guides Association
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Life Member – Maine Wilderness Guides Organization
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