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December 13, 2010 5:41 AM   Subscribe

How can I make a career out of teaching resourcefulness and self-reliance?

The short version: I want to work in some type of experiential education. Specifically, I want to focus on teaching people resourcefulness and self-reliance. What are some ways to do that?

The longer version:

I currently teach science to middle school students. While science is awesome and I love teaching kids how the world works, ultimately, the thing I want to impart to them isn't science -- it's the skill of self-reliance. When it comes down to it, I don't care if they know what an electron is, or if they can design a scientific experiment (although those things are important and useful too!). I care much more that they are resourceful, self-reliant, and confident enough in their own practical skills to solve their own problems. A do-it-yourself attitude, if you will.

I'm talking about things like figuring out how things work and fixing them if they break instead of just buying new things, taking charge of your own learning instead of waiting for learning to come to you, knowing how to navigate through a busy city yourself, packing and carrying your own stuff because you know you're the one responsible for it, etc. A typical classroom, even a progressive one, seems like a distinctly second-rate medium for doing that, because it limits responsibility to trivial things like homework (which usually has no tangible impact on anyone, whether you do it or not).

That's why I want to teach more experientially. Teaching an academic subject doesn't cut it for me; I want to be more directly involved in empowering kids (or perhaps adults) to become self-reliant. In the past, I've felt an incredible sense of fulfillment from working at a summer camp and an English-language immersion camp, which are both places where kids are away from their parents and have to learn to do things for themselves. They are also both places of intentional community that actively support this kind of personal growth. I want to find a similarly empowering, supportive, and community-focused place where I can work long-term.

So, two questions:

What are some jobs, communities, or places that involve teaching people (kids and/or adults) self-reliance? And, what are some specific things I can do to put me on the path to such a job, community, or place?

Some options that I've already thought of: instructor at an alternative school (like the Sudbury Valley School or some other school with a student-chosen curriculum), outdoor education instructor (summer camp, mini-camp, wilderness therapy, Outward Bound), instructor at a themed camp/program (science camp, language camp, semester-in-the-woods), international travel guide (eco-tourism, adventure travel), instructor at a workshop/center that teaches kids DIY skills and how to make things with their hands (like the awesome Tinkering School).

Both general career suggestions like the above, and specific examples/links to companies or programs that might fit are greatly appreciated. I'm based in the US, but working/traveling abroad is great too, such as the adventure travel guide option.

After I finish working at my current school in Hong Kong this June... Maybe grad school? If so, what kind of program and where? Maybe a year or two working at one of the places above (one that provides training), and then grad school? Maybe a traditional school environment but more training in how to give students more responsibility in the classroom?

Thank you, hivemind!
posted by danceswithlight to Education (7 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Teaching people skills like sailing, SCUBA diving or flying, which have strong self-survival components, pretty much guarantees you students who will have a strong interest in learning to be increasingly self-reliant. Seamanship, SCUBA diving and airmanship all call for great self-reliance, and ability to think through problems and troubleshoot effectively as an individual, often under time-limited survival pressure. Moreover, a lot of experience goes into the investigation and knowledge dissemination of seafaring, SCUBA diving and air accidents, so that, slowly, people participating in these endeavors become more skilled, taking advantage of hard won knowledge of dangers discovered by earlier participants.

So I think part of the answer to your question depends strongly on finding subjects to teach that share these kind of inherent topical motivations.
posted by paulsc at 5:56 AM on December 13, 2010

Most people don't make a career of it per se -- some do -- but a lot of self-reliance can get taught in the Boy Scouts of America. Financial independence, self-confidence, survival skills, and general leadership and resourcefulness.

(Caveats: sometimes, homophobia and anti-atheism are taught there, too; increasingly commonly, self-reliance is NOT properly taught there. But maybe you could buck both trends!)
posted by foursentences at 7:06 AM on December 13, 2010

You could become a social worker and work with prisoners about to be released on how to re-enter the outside world, workforce, build skills to be employable, use social services available to them (like foodstamps), and do things for themselves around the house (like how to cook basic meals, laundry basics, etc.

Some cities have similar programs for seriously disadvantaged youth. Some areas don't necessarily have a program, but may have required classes in high school that teach "life skills" - how to balance a checkbook, basic auto maintenance, basic cooking, basic childcare, etc. A lot of kids who grow up in poverty or near poverty households don't get these skills from their parents because the parents are not present (whether due to working multiple jobs to stay afloat or plain neglect).
posted by WeekendJen at 7:28 AM on December 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Boarding schools?
posted by bardophile at 8:04 AM on December 13, 2010

Check out The Mountain School in Vermont. While trying to find that, I discovered that if you google "wilderness school" or "farm school" and just about any state name, something comes up. I know someone who went there, though, so it's top notch. Another friend went to a summer program at a Montana (or Wyoming?) Wilderness School that focused on wilderness and wildlife. It's more about ecology and less about skill building, however.
posted by salvia at 8:28 AM on December 13, 2010

A good outdoor education program does exactly this. You're not teaching kids about bus schedules, but you are teaching them--hopefully--that they are capable of more than they thought they were; that it's possible to master brand-new, totally unfamiliar skills; and that they are capable of taking good care of themselves without always relying on adults to do it for them.

However, if you want to do outdoor ed full-time, you're most likely going to be living a fairly transient life. Unless you get a job at a particular school, like the Mountain School or High Mountain Institute (or Prescott College for higher ed), working in outdoor education usually means you're stringing individual trips together, and usually working for a bunch of different companies, rather than one big one like NOLS or Outward Bound.

These are the places that my friends and I used to haunt, so this example is skewed towards the Southwest U.S., but your typical yearly schedule might look like this:

early spring: leading river trips in SW Colorado and Utah
late spring/summer: 2 months in the Wyoming mountains leading backpacking trips
late summer/early fall: going down to Arizona to lead a month-long desert backpacking trip
fall: back up to SW Colorado to lead a couple of short river trips
late fall/early winter: out to California to lead backpacking/climbing expeditions

Then--if you can't teach skiing and can't get work in Mexico or somewhere more southern--you sit around waiting for spring to come, working some dumb temp job, and eating a lot of beans in the meantime.

It may be obvious from the above schedule, but in order to do outdoor ed full-time (or mostly full-time), you have to have a pretty broad skill set. It's easy enough to get a job working in a sort of crappy summer program, where all you do is take kids on week-long backpacking trips. But to do it full-time, you have to be able to switch with the seasons, because that's what the work does. No matter how good you are on the river, no one in the northern hemisphere is going to hire you as a river guide for the month of January, and you have to be really good for a big company like NOLS to offer you a job in the southern hemisphere or Mexico during the winter, because there are a million out-of-work, hungry river rats applying for the exact same job.
posted by colfax at 1:23 PM on December 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

This is the core of most good art courses. Sculpture in particular. What if you designed a science/civic duty/social sculpture sort of class. For inspiration, see the artist collaborator Mel Ziegler and Kate Erickson. Also see the artist Mark Dion.
posted by Murray M at 2:36 PM on December 13, 2010

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