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Adirondack education

February 12, 2012
By DON WILLIAMS , For The Leader Herald

It sounds to me, if you listen to the news media, that American education is in a shambles-politicians and educators are at odds and wringing their hands. In my estimation, they do not know what to do. Maybe, just maybe, I could help them out, but, what do I know? I am just an Adirondack farm boy who spent 35 years trying to convince the world that education, to be truly effective, needed to change. After some six years of formal education beyond high school, I found that my greatest teacher was the Adirondacks.

When the early trappers and hunters found the Adirondack wild country, they turned to the Native Americans to learn the ways of the woods. Those who had the wilderness skills did not teach the newcomers what they already knew or give them tasks where they were unprepared. Noah Rondeau, the greatest of the Adirondack hermits, reported in his journal, "I left my father, Peter Rondeau, his stick, his abuse of me, his religion, his priest, and his fool God." Noah left home at the age of 15 and tried being a barber, a carpenter, and a mason, but was not cut out to be a common laborer. He took to the woods.

Luckily, Noah, who knew little of woodland survival, found a teacher - Dan Emmitt, an American Indian who was able to teach him hunting, fishing, and trapping skills, and how to make baskets, balsam pillows,, canoes, and bows and arrows. Dan did not teach Noah what he already knew or "throw him to the wolves" in unknown territory. He taught the skills that made life in the wilds possible.

When the sports were attracted to the good fishing and hunting in Adirondack country, they turned to the resident Adirondack guides to teach them the woodland skills and to guide them through their woodland experiences. They did not teach them what they already knew or place them in dangerous situations that were unknown to them.

Big landowners found the Adirondacks and it was not long before they needed to know how to care for the forest lands. When onetime U.S. Forest Chief, Gifford Pinchot, developed the first forest management plan for millionaires George W. Vanderbilt's and Seward Webb's great camps, he taught natural resource history that then led to the need for a professional forestry school in our nation. They did not get stuck in failing practices, repeating the old ways, but studied, researched and learned by doing.

The best "graduate school" of Adirondack learning was in the home. Parents passed knowledge, necessary for life, down to their children, and neighbor helped neighbor in accomplishing their daily tasks.

Adirondackers knew, you teach what needs to be learned and you prepare the learning by teaching the skills needed for the higher levels of learning. Teaching to a test is not "learning!" The strengths and weaknesses found in the human mind have been identified. What a great educational system we would have if we learned from the Adirondackers. Children would come to school where their minds were strengthen and developed where needed, and time was not wasted on a boring repletion of what is already known , and they would not be placed in failure situations before the needed skills were developed. And, lest we forget, much like the Adirondack guides who become the "boss" in the wilderness, the knowledgeable teachers become the decision-makers in the classrooms.



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