The Elephant in the Black Box - Page 3


"Meanwhile, there are people saying that if you keep...testing this mysterious elephant you will kill it"

Meanwhile, there are people  saying that if you keep poking and prodding and testing this mysterious elephant you will kill it and it won’t be any good, so let’s just ride it.  Some of these people manage to jump on the elephant’s back and have a good ride, but others don’t know enough about the elephant and fall off, and every now and then someone gets trampled.

While people are loudly yelling at each other that they have got hold of the most important part of the elephant, and others are telling at them to damn well let go of the elephant, others are saying, hang on, you’re not even qualified to be grabbing that elephant, you need to do a course in elephant handling and animal husbandry! 

So, we have a giant human knot with an innocent elephant in the middle and no light to see what we’re doing. 

In fact, we only have two things in our favor:
i) there are lots of us holding lots of different parts of the elephant, and
ii) we have the ability (or at least the potential) to communicate to each other about the parts of the elephant of which we have some knowledge.

"we have the communicate"

By carefully listening to each person describe in turn the part of the elephant which they are holding and asking them questions about how they arrived at their descriptions, it is possible for people to create a more detailed and refined picture of the elephant in the black box. 

If, however, we keep shouting back that we’ve found a python in the black box, we might never realise that we’ve been fooled by the trunk and we'll miss the chance to learn about the rest of the magnificent creature that we’ve called ‘outdoor education’.

Other publications by James Neill