From the First Nations Principles of Learning: Learning is Exeriential

From the First Nations Principles of Learning: Learning is Experiential

Learning is Experiential, by Rob Wahl

It's a matter of frequent discussion, among Christian scholars and those who read their work, as to what it means to know. Biblical knowledge is always knowledge-as-experienced, and sometimes we use the words 'book learning' or 'academic learning' to make the distinction. Although I have no particular First Nations heritage, I would like to share on this portion of my essay, my own experiences upon which I base my understanding of experiential learning. The First Nations Principles of Learning states that learning is experiential. This is wonderful because we can all greatly benefit from experiential learning.

I became a teacher too young, having been granted a lifetime certificate at the age of 23. My immaturity was something of a grievance to my Faculty Supervisor. I was meeting all the requirements; but, it just seemed wrong to her that this overgrown child should be so soon admitted to the profession. The result was that she challenged me endlessly, nearly driving me to exhaustion. I, being both stubborn and conscientious, met every demand and completed my program, and it was life-changing, not because of the content (much of it would now be wrong or irrelevant), but because of the experience.
In my early career as an Outdoor Education teacher, between the ages of 23 and 27, it began when I was a student. I was offered a rare opportunity to take six weeks out of classes to be part of an emersion program in the newly minted BC Conservation and Outdoor Recreation (CORE) program. I learned mountaineering, rappelling, canoe racing, survival, cooking and wild foods, fish and wildlife identification. I was quite a thing to rappel from the side of your school’s gym roof. That was life-changing, that was experiential learning.

In church also served as a leader in Christian Service Brigade. It was something like a blend of Awana, Scouts, and Cadets, with a strong leadership training component. The paramilitary-style program has largely fallen out of use, but it’s a powerful learning experience intended for boys and men. There I earned “Woodsman” credentials on my way to graduating from their achievement program. I planned and executed my trips, typically three or four days. I learned maps and compass, wilderness safety, and regular backpacking skills.

It was no wonder then that I was able to gain seasonal employment as a teacher in various outdoor programs in West Vancouver. I guided children through the forests and into the mountains. I taught them to canoe, pace themselves on an eight-hour hike, and collaborate on planning, food, clothing, and equipment. Together we faced the bears, the rain, and the terrain. We faced wet, cold, heat, fatigue, blisters, and even sickness. Together we forded rivers, stood on the peak of Mount Frosty, stood overlooking the Upper Stein River Valley. These years were formative for me as much as they were for my students. I was learning through experience.

Experiential learning carries with it the real risk of failure. It is more than driving to the Firehall or getting a guided tour of a museum. Experiential learning is gut-wrenching, heart-pounding, and exhausting. I won’t soon forget the sound of an avalanche on the mountain above or the earth-shaking rumble of a landslide just a few kilometers across the valley. It is the learning that takes place when at times we do not know what will occur until it does, and we have a problem to solve, and we do, and we steal success from failure. Experiential learning stretches and enlarges that wagon called self, and in so doing expands was passes for things we ought to know, and skills we want to have. It makes so many other things relevant, meaningful, interesting, and desirable. Such are the stories you may hear from your First Nations friends. People whose lives and culture are fully interwoven with the local environment, a context for stories of personal journey and growth. We do well to connect with the journey's others take, such that we might share our own and grow by them all, for we too are people who believe that the Creator Spirit will meet us there.

So my point is this: although we are not all First Nations by heritage, we can all place value on learning as experienced, and in so doing, share this in common. I will say this, that a truly educated mind can express and share what they know through writing, speaking, and various art forms. And as home-schooling folks, we truly have the advantage in appreciating the benefits of both experiential learning and the sharing of it. I certainly have asked if learning we can't share or express truly learning? Perhaps it is, we could call it tacit learning, and there's plenty of it, but let's not settle for that. We in the homeschooling lifestyle have many great opportunities to enjoy experiential learning and to share it. I would encourage us all to do it with energy and passion.