Matthew reflects on daring, caution, understanding….

Learning is a vital part of development. It enables us to grow from naive young children into well rounded and experienced adults. Schools do a good job at educating young people on facts, methods and formulae, but they also have a responsibility to keep their learners safe. It is this responsibility, necessary as it is, which I feel gets in the way of experiential learning.

At scouts we go on many weekends away and learn many things. On one of these weekends away I was overseeing younger scouts as they built an Aerial Runway. It is a zipline with two X-frames, one at each end, and a steel cable running between them. They are supported by the cable once it is pulled tight. The cable is secured at the top by a rope and is tensioned at the bottom by a block and tackle.

I was only observing and did not help them in any way. At least not until a rope snapped when someone tried to ride the zipline causing them to land on their face. After that I took over for a while to make the structure safe. It turns out that they had only been using thin ropes for the block and tackle system. I asked for two thick ropes to be brought from the store. In the meantime, I added another safety rope to the cable and got the other scouts to stabilize the X-frames. I explained what I was doing as I did it and also explained why I was doing it.

Scouts was both daring and cautious in this anecdote. We were daring in allowing the younger inexperienced scouts to build large dangerous structures without ensuring that they did everything correctly and safely. In this way we allowed them to learn through doing, through experience and through failure. If they were never allowed to make a mistake, they would never see the consequences of that mistake for themselves. We were also cautious, because we had experienced pioneers onsite, who knew when to step in and prevent injury. We are also taught first aid at scouts, along with a procedure to follow in the event of an emergency. In this way we give young people the best opportunity to learn. Adults only step in to mitigate risks when it is absolutely necessary.

As the world-famous free climber Alex Honnold once said: Risk is a ratio between likelihood and consequences. If the likelihood is very low then the consequence can be high without something being risky. The time for daring is when setting goals and planning events. The time for caution is when doing something that has dire consequences.

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