Exploration as an extreme vehicle for active pedagogy

As a little bedside reading, I just completed the book by well-known explorer Mike Horn. His book, dating from 2005, is in fact an expedition tale to Bylot Island, in the Canadian Far North. But what makes this expedition interesting to me is certainly due to the fact that it takes place with his two daughters, aged 11 and 12, as well as with his wife. Horn organizes this expedition as being one where his daughters take the initiatives and that the latter, assumes an advisory role by providing them with the information necessary for the smooth running of the expedition of 200 kilometers of journey from one end to the other of the island located in Nunavut, off Pond Inlet. The renowned explorer therefore acts as a guide who allows his children to reveal their potential and their character in order to push their own limits.

Although many people around him have ridiculed his educational initiative, he remains an apostle of the importance of children being placed in the heat of the moment, at the center of different situations where they will have to seek their knowledge in order to apply in an empirical context. He did not believe he was saying so well since he transposed these pious wishes which animate the world of Western education to an extreme context of expedition under the midnight sun! As he argues, some degree of measured and calculated risk-taking must be part of education (p. 12) . Despite these risks, with the confidence that he shows in the abilities of his daughters as well as in his own qualities as an educator, Horn fully understands that quality learning has its share of risk, and therefore a cost to bear.

The company remains the best place for the realization of learning and its validation in active field. The school remains a nursery for ideas, a place a laboratory where we germinate the minds of tomorrow under controlled conditions. Watching my daughters in action, I see them, hour by hour, learning more about nature, about life, about themselves… and receiving an education that no school could offer them (p. 83) ).

In an empirical context, Horn offers two lessons to his daughters and, de facto, to all the cohorts of students who will attend school. These lessons all take their essence in a hostile environment where survival depends on its actions and its ability to anticipate challenges:

  1. Never blindly listen to someone, even the person you trust the most, and never lose your critical thinking (pp. 100-101). It will remain important to listen to what the teachers (in the broad sense of the term) transmit to us as information, but to validate how they are transposed into practice. In short, the development of critical thinking is only possible by allowing students to question the teaching they receive. We have to admit that the conventional school does not allow this kind of questioning on the part of its students …
  2. It is always helpful to remind children that you cannot have everything right away (p. 75). In the age of instantaneous information, students want to immediately understand what the time they devote to a subject or subject is used for. Everything must be reinvested immediately. However, the journey of the two young teens in the Far North shows us the virtues of pedagogical patience and of the strategy which must flesh out the reinvestment of all this knowledge.

What’s interesting about the Horn Family Expedition Story is the pedagogical lessons we can learn from it. Although not in the Far North, climbing glaciers, our students are nevertheless in a hostile environment, which does not forgive and where ignorance becomes prey to exploitation. Being able to be active in their learning allows students to measure their achievements and apply them concretely in an environment managed by a teacher. The student becomes active, just like his teacher, whose experience and skills are finally recognized other than through the lectures with book content that he delivers. Because, as for all children, the impossible is for them an abstract notion, since they have no sense of the realities that experience gives to adults.(p. 149).

The experience turned out to be positive. So much so that Anika and Jessica Horn became, two years later, the youngest to reach the North Pole in complete autonomy. At the same time, Mike Horn created the Young Explorers program, allowing school-aged children to participate or follow his expeditions.

For our part, when will we be able to claim to allow our students to conquer their own North Pole by providing them with the winning conditions to do so?

HORN, Mike, At the school of the Grand Nord , Paris, XO éditions, 2005, 177p.