“…although we have no choice but to base our expectations of the future on the experience of history, past performance is no guarantee of future returns.” – Julian Baggini

An episode of the BBC’s excellent ‘The Forum’ podcast got me thinking this week. The episode in question was about ‘Being Cold’ and the way it influences and affects the way we think and feel. More specifically, the episode focussed on climate change in Canada, 40% of which lies in the Arctic. The thoughts of one guest in particular, Sheila Watt-Cloutier (a Nobel-nominated Inuit activist) really peaked my interest.

Sheila described how the Inuit culture is firmly grounded on the ice and in the bitter cold; indeed, for the first 10 years of her life, Sheila only travelled via dog team. Despite temperatures typically hitting -40, the Inuit culture thrives. In fact, the colder it gets, and the more snow and ice there is, the more it thrives. For example, it is only when the snow and ice forms in winter that the Inuit are mobilised as their ‘highways’ are formed, allowing them to reach their hunting grounds.

It was Sheila’s descriptions of the traditional hunting culture that got me thinking about teaching and learning. In particular, Sheila talks about the role that the weather and traditional hunting way of life plays as a ‘powerful educational tool’.

Specifically, she outlines how:

  • The hunting culture acts as a school, teaching and passing down specific knowledge and skills from generation to generation. Not just the technical aspects of the hunt, but the building of character. For example, Sheila suggests that as you wait for the snow to fall and the ice to form, the animals to surface, and the winds to die down – you are taught patience. Similarly, it teaches you how to be bold under pressure and withstand stress (see Psychological Characteristics of Developing Excellence, PCDEs).
  • It teaches you how to take the right, courageous, and survival-based, risks. It teaches how not to be impulsive – as impulsivity puts you and others at risk – and ultimately to have and develop sound judgement (see Professional Judgement and Decision Making, PJDM).
  • Finally, whilst hunting is vital for sourcing the nutritious food needed for survival, it also plays a key role in enabling family time and bringing the community together to bond through the sharing of food.

Unfortunately, as a result of climate change and global warming the hunting culture is now becoming precarious – jeopardising the safety and security of the Inuit.

For example, climatic changes make things unpredictable, and the knowledge passed down from generation to generation is becoming minimised as a result. Sheila gives the example of specific streams that hunters used to be able to cross safely now being raging torrents due to the ice melt, compromising safety. Similarly, specific blocks of ice the hunters would use to make tea when out on the hunt have now melted away. The traditional knowledge that has been passed down regarding the best routes to take is therefore no longer as useful.

Thought provokers and points for reflection:

  • To what extent is what we do and try to facilitate as educators akin to the ‘real-world’ context of the hunt?
  • My own research has in part focussed on the potentially negative impact that the ‘passing down of knowledge’ can have on the learning of sports coaches. Could this aspect of Inuit culture be holding them back too?
  • How much of what we currently ‘teach’ has lost its value or is no longer as useful as it once was?
  • How can we as educators help to facilitate the development of the transferable skills our participants will need to deal with the rapid (and sometimes tumultuous) change that will increasingly characterise their journeys through life?

One thought on “Bringing learning in from the cold

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