Adventure Based Learning took me on another trip to a new place. A road trip to the Oregon Coast. A magical place. A place where you hike through the forest to get to the beach. A place where you wear multiple layers of clothing, including a stocking hat and warm gloves before you walk to the beach to see the sunset. A place where a clash of cultures lives harmoniously with a mutual appreciation for the beauty of the great outdoors.
Ten high school students, most of whom had not left the state much less seen the ocean, two adults and the little red bus on the road again. Camping in tents on the layover nights and in yurts on the beach in a state park. In March. Ergo, the adventure part. It was not warm, but it also was not raining a lot of the time. Just some of the time.
It’s not easy being a high school student. We had one grown up mature student who could take care of herself, manage her time and money and be a leader. The rest; not so much. It is similar to herding cats or having three-year olds, cats or three-year olds who really care about how they look.
I was walking back from the bathroom to the campsite at the first campground near Hood River when I heard an unusual noise. Not something I recognized. Then I saw two of our girls heading to the bathroom. Our state park campground had flushy toilets and hot (luke warm) showers. The girls were walking with their roller bags. I heard the sound of the little wheels rolling on the rough pavement. A sound I’d never heard while camping. A sight I’d never seen. As if I were camping with a group of flight attendants. This preening and primping was important to them even while camping.
There are many life lessons to be learned when traveling with a group of teenagers. For me and for them. We had a diverse group of students. Many different backgrounds and stories. Most stories they keep to themselves, afraid to be vulnerable, afraid to be a freak. Hiding their secrets while trying to fit in. It’s exhausting. They slept a lot.
Most interesting observation for me was to watch the dynamics of the group while in a commercial setting such as a mega gas station or town and a natural setting such as an undeveloped beach or hiking trail.
In the commercial setting the students created a hierarchy of the haves and have-nots and the pretending to be a have with not. The struggle of money burning a hole in their pockets, all of the things on the shelves screaming to be bought, their friend buying a sweet sugary latte at the coffee stand and caving into the same desire. The desire for the sweet, sugary caffeine or the desire for the stigma of carrying that double layer cardboard cup with plastic sippy cup lid back to the bus. Wanting to look the look. I warned them half way through the trip to make sure they were budgeting their money. We provided all of the meals except for the meals on the road. They still needed money for the ride home. After my budgeting speech, one of the girls told me she was leaving her money on the bus so she wouldn’t be tempted to spend it. That’s how powerful commercialism is.
In the natural setting everyone was on the same level. Sloshing through the wet forest trail. Slipping in the mud. Laughing. Helping. Playing on the undeveloped beach, trying to get into the cold, cold ocean. Dancing. Running. Napping. Being themselves and not caring how they look. A meditative break from the stress of being a teenager. A chance to live in the moment with nothing but nature surrounding you.
Nature binds. Commercialism divides. Finding a balance is part of the adventure based learning that can’t be taught in a classroom.
The book selection is “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi. I finished this book a week ago and it continues to play through my head. The story covers over 300 years of two African half sisters and their decendents. One who stays in Africa and one who is captured and sent to the United States on a slave ship. Each chapter is its own story. There are so many characters that it is not easy to keep them all straight in your head, in fact, it proved to be impossible for me. I had to read the book as if it were a collection of short stories. Short stories whose characters were all related. I had to believe in my memory to bring back who each character was when they were referenced in a later chapter at a later time. As the stories and characters weave through generations you find yourself having more compassion for the character who becomes a heroine addict in Harlem. You understand why the Stanford student is afraid of water. It is multiple generations of history that have created this person. It is the unthinkable treatment of man by man over the centuries that creates hatred and violence. This books takes walking in another man’s shoes to the extreme. Three hundred years of stories that create a new generation born with an unknown weight that haunts them.
Maybe you look at the homeless guy differently now. Maybe you have compassion for the meth addict; what is he trying to forget? What story is he hiding?
Maybe you get irritated with the teenage girl who walks slowly on the trail. Maybe you feel like she’s lazy while she holds the whole group up. You probably would have yelled at her to pick it up or light a fire under her ass. But you know her story. She was recovering. Recovering from her secret story that she was hiding behind. A secret too horrific to talk about with her peers. A secret no woman, and certainly no seventeen year old girl should have to carry with her. Bruises still healing.
But I would have yelled at her. I would have had no compassion. Had I not known her story; I would have yelled.
Let’s stop yelling. We don’t know the stories that make a person who they are.
Compassion without knowing the story. That’s the challenge.
I highly recommend the book “Homegoing” and spending time in nature.
More great book recommendations and adventure stories can be found at Wild About Books.