ANZAC Day is a special day for Australians and our close New Zealand allies. It’s a day born out of one of Britain’s greatest military mistakes. However, when faced with enormous adversity, our Australian and New Zealand troops literally dug in and bravely held their position for 8 months before a carefully planned withdrawal was carried out. At this point, I should add that it was the ANZAC’s ingenious creation of a counterweight trigger mechanism that kept firing the guns at random intervals to give the impression that they were still there whilst secretly they withdrew.
Many lives were lost on both sides at Gallipoli, on the Western Front, in the Middle East and throughout the stalemate that lasted years. Even as the world tried to move on from the horrors of a war that shattered so many lives and devastated our country towns, the next massive conflict was already in motion.
It’s easy for us to look at conflicts and demonise those we fought. In fact, a quick look at propaganda from the time, that’s exactly what was done to encourage so many to enlist and fight. However, those we fought against were not savage looking demons hell-bent on destroying the world. Their experiences of war and the stories of soldiers from both sides of these global conflicts, as reflected in personal journals and letters home, show how similar the experience and loss was no matter on which side they were.
The story of the soccer game in no mans land between the allies and the Germans on the Western Front at Christmas time, just goes to show the conflict wasn’t between the individuals. In fact, given other circumstances, amazing friendships could have emerged from such experiences.
However, all the conflicts in which our nation has been involved since the dark days of WWI have been driven by our values and beliefs in what is right and wrong in this world. As Australians, we don’t tolerate political tyranny in any form. It’s always been in our DNA as a nation and a global leader to fight for what we believe is right. The sacrifices our soldiers made and continue to make, are to ensure we can live in a society that’s free of tyranny, dictatorship and oppression and filled with opportunities for everyone to live a long and enjoyable life of their own making.
The world is far from perfect and conflict rages on throughout the globe, driven by twisted ideologies, desire for power, influence and greed. Not everyone has the same opportunities we’ve had as Australians, but all of this comes down to those who have given their lives, so we may live free. This is an impossible debt to repay and we can never truly understand the losses that so many families and communities suffered as a result of war. Every year on ANZAC Day, we as a nation get the opportunity to say thank you to those who have so selflessly given their lives to protect us and our way of life from tyranny.
Lest We Forget.
I’m always amazed at people who can speak multiple languages. I mean two is awesome, but on my recent travels around Europe, I’ve run into so many people who speak 3-7+ languages and they transition from one to another so smoothly.
As a native English speakers, we tend to be rather lazy when it comes to learning other languages and rely on the fact that someone else has learnt English wherever we go. However, as I found in Japan, the further away from Tokyo, the less likely this is and you find yourself pointing at pictures on menus and smiling a lot.
Europe is quite different though, as it’s a rich mix of cultures and languages due to the open boarders of the EU and the fact that national boarders have been quite fluid for centuries due to trade and of course constant warfare between church and state and state and state and frequent incursions by barbarians, the French and the Germans.
Although I survived this trip without mentioning the war, being a Fawlty Towers fan, it’s always on the tip of my tongue when in hotels and when I did an exchange to Germany when I was still at school, I managed to unintentionally give my host family a present from Australia, which had the El Alamein Fountain on it, which was the battle in which my host’s father fought. Thankfully, it was taken as nice gift, rather than the Fawlty Towers faux pas that it was.
Over the past couple of months, I started refreshing my German in preparation for my trip. The ability to do this on your phone is tremendous, getting daily reminders to do my language session. However, the deeper I delved into the training, the more limited I found it to be. Other than some great reminders and the ability to learn new words, it doesn’t give you the training nor the real world practice needed to converse with native speakers.
As soon as I landed in Switzerland, I had to switch up my mind into German mode. (No, that doesn’t mean I wanted to annex the Sudetenland). It meant I had to focus on what was being said far more actively than I would normally in English. The concentration it took to pick up what was being said was also far greater than being able to flick through questions and match words on an app. As with most things digital, they’re a great help, but no substitute for real world interactions. Suddenly, you’re trying to communicate with people who are fluent and speak far quicker than an AI on any app.
However, despite this challenge, the immersion in the language and culture of the countries made it far easier to learn than playing on the phone. Being surrounded by native speakers, I pushed myself to speak German despite being uncertain of words. I constantly found myself saying half sentences, not quite knowing what a certain word was, or what to say next to complete the sentence. However, the easy option would have been to speak English and not bother, but where’s the fun in that?
Again, this is another fear that needs to be faced or comfort zone boundary that needs kicking down. Sure, it feels weird and awkward that you’re going to say the wrong thing in the wrong way, but hey, lots of people say the wrong thing in their native language. People are more forgiving when it’s your second one. Thankfully I didn’t ask anyone any stupid questions of which I’m aware!
Despite only spending a few days In Switzerland and Austria, I found myself picking up on so many different words, mannerisms and even slang in different regions. I could understand more about what was going on around me and even felt increasingly comfortable about speaking in German. If I’d taken the lazy and easy option, I would have learnt absolutely nothing.
If you’re learning a language, or want to, then the best way to get started is through some lessons combined with some sort of digital trainer. However, to truly gain a handle on the language, you really need to immerse yourself in every way possible by travelling to a native speaking country and only using that language to communicate. It might be challenging to begin with, but so rewarding when you do.
It’s not often that I write about history, however, having studied mediæval history at uni, many aspects of it really didn’t make sense until I went and visited some of the places where these events occurred. Half of what goes on in Game of Thrones, was just daily life for many people throughout this period. At one point, the Pope was concerned about the level of violence throughout Europe. To deal with this issue, he made a decree that on a certain day nobody was to carry a weapon, therefore the world would have a break from violence and be made safer. Sadly, only the honest people followed this edict and were horribly slaughtered as a result.
From the age of the Vikings to the end of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, we covered a lot of ground at uni and there are so many places left to go to be able to put the pieces together. However, as I was in Wales, it was time to get a greater understanding of the expansion of the Normans and Edward I’s conquest of Wales. This conquest brought Wales under the control of the English monarch in 1283 and despite skirmishes and uprisings, its remained as part of the United Kingdom to this day. To establish and maintain his power base in Wales, Edward built a series of castles to fend off the Welsh princes. The scale of one of these castles is hard to understand until you’re actually there.
Despite Cardiff being the capital of Wales today, with its own amazing castle, for Edward I, due to a Roman legend about a foreign king coming and falling in love with a Welsh princess and ruling the land, it was important to build his capital in Cænarvon the centre upon which the legend was based, which helped him gain, or appear to gain, legitimacy in his kingship.
All of Edward’s castles were designed by the architect James of St. George. James was a Savoyard (from modern Italy), and he incorporated elements in his design from Europe and the Middle East.
The fact that he built so many so quickly is amazing. I spent the morning climbing up and down the various towers, which I’m sure at one point were all linked together. However, due to the castle being in ruins, not everything remains intact. The time and energy required to get up and down the dizzying spiral staircases is surprising. If you could imagine trying to do that in full armour whilst being attacked by someone with a sword, you start to appreciate not living in mediæval times, add to that the Black Death and infant mortality and a six hour wait in a modern hospital waiting room doesn’t seem so bad.
What’s really important however, about going to a place such as Cænarvon Castle, walking through the dark halls, peering out from the battlements and standing on the towers looking out over the surrounding township and the sea, is that you start to gain a real understanding of history. Through technology, we can now travel places without leaving the classroom, which is good in some ways, but the virtual world can never replace the real world experience of going somewhere. You can’t feel the icy wind on your cheeks, smell the dank odour of the dungeons and be amazed at the sheer enormity of the structure, as you walk through the gates. All of this is lost in the virtual experience.
Although taking your class overseas to tour the various castles, monasteries and cathedrals of Europe may be a more challenging task than switching on a virtual world, the difference this will make is enormous. At the very least for your own teaching, travel far and wide to as many places as you can to see and experience sites such as Cænarvon Castle. This will have a huge impact on your ability to better understand and teach that part of history.
Using the environment as part of an experiential education program is vitally important. So how does the environment change or improve the way in which you can engage with students? Many times, I’ve had some great fireside chats with groups of students that would have never been possible in the classroom. There’s something remarkably special about the natural environment that breaks down barriers within groups and allows for discussions and experiences totally different from a classroom and the built environment. It can often be and should be an even safer place for discussion, as it’s separated from our daily routine and connects us with thousands of years of human experience and relationship with the land.
If you think about how a classroom operates, you have a teacher at the front and no matter how hard you try to create a ‘new classroom’ through open planning or adding bean bags and colourful shelving, the reality is, the space still operates in the same way. A group comes in, a teacher is there, you have a class, the group leaves and the teacher is there ready for the next class. So this is a process. It’s quite structured, regardless of how laissez-faire you want to be about it.
However, the natural environment, whether it be in the bush, the rocky mountain wilderness, a rainforest or coastal setting, there’s very little structure to it and consequently, this space changes the emotional dynamics and experience of the group. In terms of experiential education, if you’ve been on a challenging hike, canoe activity, or maybe a team building task, whatever the case may be, it’s a shared experience and should be debriefed afterwards. However, think of where that debrief should take place and how much the environment will impact on its effectiveness. If you’re running out of a basecamp with building and rooms, what’s going to happen if you take the debrief inside? What unnatural distractions and complications have you just added to the group dynamics? Alternatively, what will be the group’s behaviours and dynamics, if you find a quiet place away from anything man-made? Test the theory out for yourself. However, from my experience, there’s a dramatic difference. The reality is that people are more open to sharing and listening to thoughts, feelings and ideas, than they are in built up environments.
The natural environment provides a wonderful connection with our heritage, which is often forgotten in a highly connected world that is full of endless noise and distractions. Getting back to a natural environment can change the way your students feel, the way in which they are able to express themselves and ultimately has a powerful and positive impact on their learning. It’s interesting when you take a group out of a city and bring them into a unique bush setting.
I was speaking with Mary Preece, the education manager for Bundanon Trust, an art centre in the Shoalhaven. Mary has found a similar phenomenon as she works with a lot of city kids. As part of their art program, they take students out into some beautiful Australian bush locations on the property. They have no phone connectivity, there are no buildings around and the only way the students can get to where the workshops are being conducted is by walking. From the moment the students get off the bus, there’s literally a collective sigh of relief and after that initial transition, one of the activities they do is to lead the group into a rainforest. As they walk the students down into the gully, the natural light is filtered and it becomes slightly darker and the students respond by becoming naturally quieter. This experience with the rainforest, enables the staff to create an extremely relaxed and peaceful environment, free from the noise of everyday life, somewhat of a rarity in this day and age, since many schools mistakenly believe that cramming as much into a student’s day as possible is the best method of creating ‘well-balanced’ individuals.
However, without the constant bombardment and endless white noise of the world, it enables students to focus on what’s truly important in life and lets them live in the moment for what can be a very different and immensely effective learning experience. The reality is that for tens of thousands of years, humans have been connected with the natural environment and being away from the built up environment helps us reconnect with a physical and emotional connection that’s being strained by modern life.
Why do we like going to the beach? Why do we like going bushwalking? Why do we like going to lookouts and seeing the natural environment in all its beauty? Why do we like a cool breeze in summer? Why does a change in season, change our mood? It’s all of these environmental connections that have developed over millennia, we often lose through our modern lifestyle. The more we’re connected through digital technology, which can massively improve some parts of our lives, unfortunately, the more distant we can become from ourselves and those around us. It’s really important that with modern life, we don’t lose that connection with our natural environment. Consequently, building opportunities into educational programs for environmental connectivity is extremely important and valuable for staff and students alike.
How does a change in the environment change our state of mind? How does it change our health? How does it change how we relate to others? With youth mental health an increasingly massive issue, the more that educators can enable students to be in touch with and control over their emotions, the better equipped they will be to develop the resilience that’s needed to survive and thrive in a rapidly changing world.
Experiential education is not just about running a series of activities so students can experience something different and schools can cram another thing on top of their programs to justify their fees and distract parents from the fact that they’re still stuck in the 1980s. It’s much deeper than that. Experiential education is an immersive method of education that when combined effectively with the natural environment, can massively improve student health, well-being and their ability to relax, clear their minds and be open to new thoughts, ideas and ways of doing things, which are all critically important skills in a rapidly changing world. Carefully structuring activities with environmental connectivity in mind, is vitally important in a noise filled world to help students reflect and become mindful of where they’re at in their own lives and where they want to be going. This ability to disconnect from the connected and built up world, even for a short period of time, can provide some amazing long-term benefits that last well beyond a student’s time at school. The noisier the world gets, the more important it will be to ensure you have thoughtful and effective environmental connectivity as part of your experiential education program.
An interesting phenomenon is whenever I’ve taken groups out on canoeing expeditions. We tend to paddle on quite wide lakes. There are very few areas where it narrows to the point that we’re either paddling a rapids or we’re paddling close together or need to be paddling close together. However, given the wide open river, the students I work with tend to all cluster together in really small groups. They only use a tiny part of the river. The same is true when they’re setting up their tents. They clustered together in a really small groups despite having masses of open space which they can utilise. This is interesting from the aspect of is this something that we’re finding with city students. Are they afraid of open space or are they made to feel uncomfortable by open space?
As the camps progress, this distance seems to increase. They feel more comfortable in the environment. They don’t need to be as close together to each other as before. There’s a sense that it is quite safe where we are. That’s quite safe doing what we’re doing. It’s this interesting transition that occurs because of being in the natural environment.
This is why it’s so important to use the natural environment as part of any of your Experiential Education Programs. It opens students’ minds to so much more. It enables them to relax. It enables them to switch off from a massively connected world. It enables them to focus on the beauty of the world and to focus on how much bigger the world is than just their own lives and their own experiences.
You can even try with exactly the same question, the same topic basically. See how effective it is covering an important topic and it could be talking about bullying. It could be talking about dogs. It could be talking about decision making. It could be talking about relationships. If you talk about any of these in the classroom, you get one same answers. However, if you talk about these in a different setting, in a wilderness setting, in a bush setting, you will get an entirely different set. It is going to be more involved. It’s going to be more relevant and it is going to be more effective as a learning process for those students. It will enable them to reflect on their answers and how they feel about their answers. Whereas if you do it on class, all they’re thinking of is the next recess break or the next class. You lose that. Therefore, it is vitally important to use the environment as part of your Experiential Education Programs.
For some strange, inexplicable reason a lot of people love cooking shows. I guess it’s the voyeuristic nature of people wanting to see others under pressure, being shoved outside their comfort zones, yelled at, fail, recover (or not) and it’s ok, because it’s not you! I’m not here to judge the moral compass of these shows and their viewers, as some people love the spotlight and the pressure and it can indeed fulfil an important desire in their life. However, what happens when you swap out the adults and replace them with children?
Cooking is a fantastic activity in which kids can be involved. The sooner you can get children helping out with cooking, making cookies, cakes or meals, the better. It’s a great activity to be doing, giving children the opportunity to measure, follow recipes, experiment and taste a range of different flavours. Added to this, it enables them to be more independent sooner as cooking is a skill to which many children are not exposed until they leave home. Despite the mess, the benefits of spending time with your kids cooking can be wonderful and good bonding time. Ultimately, they can then cook for you and that makes your life way easier!
With all these amazing benefits of cooking for kids, someone had to come along and corrupt it. As I was channel surfing the other day, I came across one of these cooking shows, but for kids. It was the stupid intense part of the show where they have all the children lined up, standing nervously. Some boring douchebag judges are sitting in judgement on how well the children baked a cake, making them feel increasingly anxious, as they provide their expert criticism of each cake and deciding who will stay and who will go.
Whilst I’m a huge fan of honest feedback for kids and it’s healthy to let them try things, fail, help them to understand why it didn’t work and then try again. However, this sort of intense public display of judgement and failure is totally unhealthy and in my opinion, emotionally destructive. Why parents let their kids be subjected to this I have no idea. If you’re an adult on one of these shows, you’ve made a conscious decision to be on there and compete. As an adult, you have the ability (generally speaking) to make rational, informed decisions and understand the risks and rewards that come with being on a TV show with endless armchair critics, ready to jump on Twitter or whatever else and ridicule and blast you for everything you do. However, as a child you have no idea and as a parent, well… you’re idiots for exposing your kids to such an experience.
With mental health issues on the rise amongst young people, there’s absolutely no reason to unnaturally expose them to high levels of stress and anxiety for a tiny bit of public exposure, which even if they won a TV cooking competition, any benefit will quickly fade into insignificance. You only have to look at the trail of destruction left in the wake of childhood actors such as River Phoenix, Cory Haim and countless others to see how false the notion of fame and fortunate from a childhood experience on TV or the big screen really is.
It’s important that we let kids try new things, challenge themselves and do things together with mum and dad such as cooking to help build their experience, relationships and confidence in life. However, it’s also just as important to protect kids from such awful soul-destroying experiences such as reality TV. There’s plenty of time in their lives as they grow and mature to do something stupid like this. However, whilst still a child, it’s important to be protected from an experience that’s merely a shallow marketing exercise created and run by people who are purely interested in the massive amount of money that comes with TV productions such as this, not the welfare of the kids. At the end of the day, why not just turn the TV off and spend some quality time baking cookies with the kids.