Are the Mountains Still Speaking for Themselves?  A Defining Tension 20 years on...


James T. Neill

University of New Hampshire, 2002


Axiomatic issues in adventure education should be examined in more depth, particular during significant stages of a field’s evolution.  The question of the role, importance, methods, and so on in facilitating adventure education groups has been attracting considerable attention since the 1960’s.  However, there also seems to be significant reluctance to examining facilitation methods by people who consider doing so  a threat to a more essential quality of adventure-based experiences, based in the experience.  A classic paper on the topic was written in 1980 by Thomas James, entitled “Can the Mountains Speak for Themselves”.  This paper eloquently articulates the sentiments of the “rock-jocks” and the “touchy-feelies” in terms of the strengths and weaknesses of their arguments and practices.  The “mountains” versus “facilitation” tension has continued to thrive in adventure education ever since, and is no less resolved today than it was in 1980.  It is suggested, however, that this has been, and should continue to be, a healthy tension that has irritated and stimulated adventure education leaders to look more closely at their preferred facilitation styles and strive to successfully integrate the educative potential of “mountains” and “facilitation”.  The current paper places Thomas James’ “mountains” versus “facilitation” duality within the context of subsequent proposals of up to six stages of facilitation (Priest & Gass, 1997), argues that it is necessary to examine the relationship between the first and second stages (mountains and reflection respectively) more closely, since they are so fundamental, even axiomatic.  The rest of the current paper goes on to describe a 60 to 90 minute workshop that can be conducted with adventure education trainee leaders and/or for staff training, examining the question of “Can the Mountains Speak for Themselves” and relating this back to individual, personal preferences and beliefs.

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