Learning by doing


6 March, 2020


The legendary science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein once wrote (in his usual blunt style) that: “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

While we would hope never to have to use some of those skills mentioned, he does make an interesting point. Author Wendell Berry writes in a similar vein, pointing out that “… life is large and surprising and mysterious, and we don’t know what we need to know. When I was a student I refused certain subjects because I thought they were irrelevant to the duties of a writer, and I have had to take them up, clumsy and late, to understand my duties as a man. What we need in education is not relevance but abundance, variety, adventurousness, thoroughness. A student should suppose they need to learn everything they can, and should suppose they will need to know much more than they can learn”.

This week the Year 7 cohort have either been out at the Valley Campus on their Education Outdoors program or have been based at the UTAS School of Architecture undertaking the SOC2CITY program. Education Outdoors has a survival theme where students are involved in bushwalking, raft-building, fire-lighting, shelter-building, group decision making, food preparation, campfire cooking, and sleeping in tents and survival shelters.  Students also undertake activities such as canoeing on the campus lake, high and low ropes challenge courses, community service, Indigenous and environmental education, team games, and initiative activities. During the SOC2CITY program, students learn about the history, geology, flora, fauna, and notable sites of Launceston, as well as water and waste management. Some overarching themes are “What makes Launceston a livable city?”, and “How could we make Launceston more livable?”.

So how do the Education Outdoors and SOC2CITY programs fit into the larger learning ethos at Scotch Oakburn?

The concepts of a broad education, a life-long love of learning, and becoming competent in a wide range of skills are central to the learning ethos at Scotch Oakburn College. Every new thing learnt, no matter how small or seemingly trivial, broadens perspectives, teaches more about how the world works, and helps our children make better decisions in their lives. This is why the Year 7 Education Outdoors and the SOC2CITY programs are so valuable. The programs not only teach students a wide range of skills, knowledge and perspectives, it ignites their natural curiosity and love of learning and lets them enjoy learning new things in a hands-on, practical way. They also provide a very powerful arena for learning lessons of effective teamwork, good communication, self-discipline, and caring for others, and shows the students that they are capable of far more than they may realise.

Education is not just about learning facts and figures, it is about making sense and meaning out of the facts and figures, and to do this you need to have a breadth and depth of experiences to draw from. Education is also about enabling our students to live lives that are economically, environmentally, and socially responsible. Programs such as Education Outdoors and SOC2CITY provide this and give our students an education filled with the abundance, variety, adventurousness, and thoroughness that Wendell Berry yearns for.

Mark Hassell
Dean of Students / Acting Head of Middle School

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