In my nightly philosophical ponderings, I have been especially discontented with my understanding of one of Kurt Hahn’s beliefs. Hahn’s goal was “to produce young people able to effect what they see to be right, despite hardships, despite dangers, despite inner skepticism, despite boredom, despite mockery from the world, despite emotion of the moment.” The confounding component is ‘boredom.’ It struck me as a concept that was out-of-place amongst the rest. If I see fighting for people’s rights (let’s say the legality of same-sex marriage) as right, I can understand that I may encounter hardships, perhaps be mocked, and possibly encounter danger. But boredom?
And this last weekend, a thought struck me. I was having a marvelous time standing on an upright cinder block, trying to pull a rope out of a fellow teacher’s hands, who was also standing on a cinder block. We were camping at a local State Park as part of our school’s annual ‘Staff Retreat;’ the physical landscape of the park itself was made up of grassy fields full of lots of RV’s, with a lake apparently somewhere nearby beyond distant rows of tall bushes. I realized, all of a sudden, that the scene was the type that may have been labeled ‘BORING!’ by a contemporary kid who prefers to spend time playing games on iPads or PlayStations, but living our ideals (there’s no such thing as ‘boring,’ only boring people), we were excitedly watching birds, making up games, and playing.
And that’s the thing – I think that in today’s technology-worshipping culture, laden with dopamine spikes from media designed to give pleasure rather than enjoyment, it would have been easy for us to make ourselves bored, or to say there is nothing productive or new to learn here. But in creating the simplest game possible, with two random cinder blocks and a rope we had in the back of our gear van, we had a blast. And gained serious skills in the realms of balance, patience, strategy, and vestibular awareness!
It is my belief that often, we trick ourselves as human beings (or more appropriately, our evolutionarily-minded brains trick us) into thinking that whatever the more complex, shinier, easier, more technological path available is, it is the ‘better’ one. In reality, the simplest, most challenging, or most ‘boring’ path is often where the magic happens. Without a PlayStation 18 (or whatever version the system is on), people generally take the simplest items and make them great fun. Similarly in terms of difficulty (added to the monotony), the 535-mile Colorado Trail by bike is a lot simpler and harder than doing lift-serviced DH laps at a ski resort, but is far more life-changing in terms of temperament, perspective, and gratitude.
And sometimes, we do the same thing in schools. We plan ‘field trips’ to Costa Rica to allow our beloved students to experience the very best the world has to offer, when, in fact a 21-day backpacking trip through rough and rugged terrain could facilitate more significant learning for these adolescents. We try to set students up with a more advanced piece of technology to help them succeed, when what they really need is an adult who will both listen to them and supply them with an inspired narrative that gives purpose to schooling. I know it’s boring, old-fashioned, un-original. But, to return to Hahn, “In education as in medicine, we must draw from the wisdom of a thousand years.” Maybe we should just make our kids go outside, and get inspired the old-fashioned way, because sometimes in boringness lies opportunity. How will you spend your next boring moment?
P.S. If you happen to spend it by creating another strange, overly-simplistic game, please do tell me the rules.
Cousins, E. (editor). (2000). Roots: From Outward Bound to Expeditionary Learning. Dubuque, IA: Union-Hoermann Press.