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Outdoor Education Philosophy

Examining Axioms in 
Outdoor Education

James Neill
Last updated:
28 Jul 2004

Examining Axioms in Outdoor Education

Axiomatic issues in outdoor education should be examined in more depth, particular during significant stages of a field’s evolution.  Outdoor education, in its ‘modern’ form, is well over 50 years old.  It seems timely at the beginning of the 21st century to reflect upon trends and issues influencing outdoor education programming and to consider the underlying, seemingly perennial nature of fundamental questions. 

Science talks about axioms, the central hunches or beliefs upon which the whole box and dice rest.  Outdoor education should also be in the habit of making apparent, and cogitating upon, its axioms.  What fundamental assumptions do the theories and practices of outdoor education base themselves? 

Mapping out the territory of philosophical assumptions that are the architecture of outdoor education is a significant task, and few, if any, could claim to have tackled the task comprehensively and head on.  A few names come to mind, as worthy of consideration – Jasper Hunt, Steve Bowles, and Scott Wurdinger for example.  Such thinkers, however, would probably be the first to argue that we need deeper examination of the fundamental assumptions in order to consider possible futures and ways forward for outdoor education.  I appreciate the work of Jasper Hunt on ethical issues in the outdoor education setting and Steve Bowles’ questioning of the positivistic limitations of the predominantly North American theoretical and philosophical views on outdoor programming and Scott Wurdinger for seeking to illuminate the underlying philosophical themes and tensions.

Amongst the potentially axiomatic issues that could be considered for closer philosophical examination in outdoor education are the roles, challenge, risk, safety,  nature, psychological aspects, the leader, and facilitation in outdoor education.