Leave the map behind

Jon Krakauer & Sean Penn in the wilderness

The other day I watched with admiration as the tireless adventurer, mountaineer and author Jon Krakauer along with actor/director Sean Penn talked about the inspiration for writing and filming the book “Into The Wild” (which is a marvelous story for a would-be adventurer like myself). The book and movie portrait young Christopher McCandless, who went aimlessly and maplessly into the alaskan wilderness. Krakauer pointed out that he actually understood the motivation of McCandless, who ended up dying in his pursuit of meaning. What Krakauer seemed to understand was the urge to leave the map – not just leave it behind, but actually leave it, moving off the map to carve a new path for himself:

“People don’t get it. He didn’t even have a fuckin’ map; what kind of idiot? THAT was the point. There’s no blank spots on the map anymore, anywhere on earth. If you want a blank spot on the map, you gotta leave the map behind.”

This somewhat contradictory statement immediately resonated with me (even though I would probably never wander into any wilderness without the safety of maps, a gps an so on). Krakauer implies that as the entire world is now carefully mapped, we must ignore these maps if we desire to explore the world anew.

I am now thinking about this idea of “leaving the map” as a clear analogy to the work I’m doing with education.

I like analogies. They can help us see things, which we might just ignore or write off, and they help us see those same things in a new perspective (they can also confuse and muddle things, but that’s another matter).

For centuries, we have been developing “maps” – conventions, traditions, habits, “solutions” – attempting to completely illuminate and navigate within the complexity of education.

These maps may very well be growing obsolete and useless, pointing us in the wrong direction down blind alleys.

Thus, we must be willing to leave the existing maps behind, explore society and the territory of education once more, draw new maps – and continue to do so.

Or, according to Ken Robinson in the very inspiring TED-talk found below, we must shift our focus from evolution to revolution:

“Every education in the the world is being reformed at the moment, and it’s not enough. Reform is no use anymore, because that’s simply improving a broken model. What we need […] is not evolution, but a revolution in education. This has to be transformed into something else. One of the real challenges is to innovate fundamentally in education. Innovation is hard, because it means doing something that people don’t find very easy for the most part. It means challenging what we take for granted, things that we think are obvious.”

As humans, we hunger for easy solutions, but sadly, no such thing is readily available in this case.

Even so, we should consider leaving the map behind a crucial part of our solution. We should continually encourage experiments and a willingness to risk failing by challenging conventional wisdom and old assumptions on what constitutes good education.

Failure is definitely an option, and one we must embrace in order to move forward along the right tracks.