Every so often, one stumbles across some long-forgotten text that could have been written yesterday. It’s a reminder that often the answers to today’s problems lie in the past. I had one of those moments when I read Lord Baden-Powell’s Rovering to Success. Recently I had another such moment reading about Kurt Hahn’s Six Declines of Modern Youth. He wrote of a widespread decline of self-discipline, a dislocation from the world and a weakened tradition of craftsmanship. All this, and more, rings true. And, God knows, we need to find solutions.
Kurt Hahn is not exactly unknown: the German-born educator who later settled in Scotland was the late Duke of Edinburgh’s headmaster at Gordonstoun which Hahn founded together with Lawrence Holt. Hahn was always determined that his principles of education should be disseminated far and wide: ‘supposing we had developed a remedy of a particularly grave disease’ he explained, ‘We ought to feel uneasy in our conscience if we only administered it in our own institution; we ought to do all we can to make it available to the great mass of patients suffering’.
To do so, in 1941 Hahn and Holt established Outward Bound, the outdoor education programme that continues to thrive, today with branches across 34 countries. Hahn is also said to have inspired Prince Philip to set up The Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards (DofE). That scheme, which has now expanded to some 140 countries and has had well over six million participants in the UK alone – including your columnist – was rightly hailed upon The Duke’s death as probably his most important legacy.
But despite the success of the initiatives he founded and inspired, there has been remarkably little consideration given to the core philosophy that sat behind Hahn’s efforts.