I mentioned to a colleague this morning that for the first time that I can remember, the ground outside is actually frozen. Normally, even when it gets cold in Victoria, at worst we have simply a thin frozen veneer over the usual spongy winter turf. Sadly for the wishful students, there is not a whisper of snow (and the consequent snow day) in the forecast.
It sounds kind of soft, I imagine, to anyone from central Canada (that is, anywhere east of the coastal mountain range) to read such an observation. This reaction is understandable especially among those (the vast majority) who think an essential part of education should be challenges that test not only the intellect, but also the character and the physical self. I would put myself in that category. Our students are indeed tender plants, sheltered from the worst and kept appropriately safe, but they do need on occasion to be put out into the weather, to harden them in preparation for the world they will enter after SMUS. Otherwise, they will suffer some unhealthy shocks.
It is worth remembering that schools like ours were founded, in the nineteenth century, not to refine the intellect, but rather to provide an environment for the children of the upper classes where they would not be spoiled. Thus began various abandoned habits such as cold showers, the cane, miserable food, and a rather tribal set of hardships deliberately created to prevent students from getting soft. This experience justified the words of the Duke of Wellington, that “the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton”. Some doubt that these words actually came out of Wellington’s mouth. Apparently, he was not an academic success at Eton; on one of his rare visits back there, the only activities he could remember were skipping across a brook, and fisticuffs with a fellow student. However, the sentiment certainly echoes through the ethos of those schools.
Today, we invent more careful and considered tests. Some of the best of these occur in our Grade 10 Experiential program, where students take a schedule that includes a far greater number of encounters with the “real world” than occur in our standard curriculum. The rationale is that lessons that take place with the reinforcement of experience – rather than through book or classroom study – are learned more deeply. Among the most compelling challenges on offer in this program are the extended outdoor trips, in good weather or bad, where the weather and the physical world do in fact teach important lessons about self-reliance, co-operation, and respect for the world around us. I won’t go on endlessly about the virtues of these experiences, although I could. They are meaningful and enduring.