“To be whole. To be complete. Wildness reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from.” — Terry Tempest Williams
For decades, our history has been written with Kurt Hahn at the center, credited solely as the founder of Outward Bound. As we evolve and learn more of our own origin story, another important influence has emerged: Marina Ewald. We've updated our history to reflect this and will continue to do so as we learn more.
Our story begins with two pioneers in education: Marina Ewald and Kurt Hahn. Both Ewald and Hahn, who began as childhood friends and remained connected throughout their careers, were proponents of a new philosophy of education, oriented toward sociological principles. This concept was decades in the making and originated with a 1925 expedition run by Ewald.
The Early Years
Ewald and Hahn co-created new ways of fostering character development through experiential learning and team collaboration. In 1925, Ewald and another teacher from the Salem School took 20 students on a 4-week expedition to Finland. The idea for the expedition came from Ewald – she was the leader and only woman on the trip, which was a long and hazardous one. It involved traveling by steamer to Finland, and from there buying boats (barges) that could be tied together. The trip started on Lake Saimaa and involved traveling overland by truck and then putting the boats back onto the water on Lake Paijann and sailing down to Lahti in the south. The party camped on remote islands and lived partly by shooting and fishing. Ewald had effectively orchestrated what would become the makings of an Outward Bound expedition.
Hahn was an educator who previously founded the Salem School in Germany in 1920 and the Gordonstoun School in Scotland in 1934. At both of these schools, expeditions played a prominent role in the education of the students. In the classrooms of the Gordonstoun School, Kurt Hahn first applied the principles of a curriculum that placed equal emphasis on the development of character, leadership, and a sense of service with intellectual studies.
Developing Education in a Time of War
As war broke out in Europe in 1939, Lawrence Holt – a partner in a large merchant-shipping enterprise - insisted that faulty training was the cause of many seamen’s unnecessary deaths in the Battle of the Atlantic. “I would rather,” he told Hahn, “entrust the lowering of a life-boat in mid-Atlantic to a sail-trained octogenarian than to a young sea technician who is competently trained in the modern way but has never been sprayed by salt water.” Hahn recognized that it was neither youth nor age that conferred capacity on the sailors; it was the shared experience of overcoming challenging conditions. Hahn proposed starting a new kind of school in Aberdovey, Wales: a one-month course that would foster “physical fitness, enterprise, tenacity and compassion among British youth.” They agreed to name this school Outward Bound.
The training at Aberdovey was “less training for the sea than through the sea.” The distinction - training through rather than for - is the essence of the Outward Bound dynamic. The outdoor classroom, the sea, mountains, forests, and desert provide training that no institute or university can offer. These landscapes, in tandem with Outward Bound principles, teach the technical skills necessary for survival, but also teach the relevant skills necessary for life. While Hahn never publicly recognized Ewald for her contributions to this concept, history is proof she was critical in its formation.
Hahn was Jewish, and his fierce public opposition to the Nazi regime meant he was forced to leave Germany in 1933 and move to Britain. Ewald kept in touch with Hahn and visited him until the outbreak of World War II. Ewald continued to be the driving force at Salem during this time, but in the years of the Nazi regime the school went through the most difficult period in its history.
In 1941 the Nazis took control of the school and eventually shut it down in July of 1945. However, just a few months later, Ewald reopened the school free from Nazi influence. Salem was able to pick up where it left off and thanks to her leadership, the school is still thriving today.
Outward Bound in the U.S.
In 1962, Josh Miner, adopting Hahn’s philosophy, founded an Outward Bound school in Marble, Colorado. Two years later, Bob Pieh opened an Outward Bound school in Minnesota, and was the first to offer courses for women in 1965. Within a decade, Outward Bound expanded across the U.S. with new schools in Maine, North Carolina, the Pacific Northwest, and California.
In the 1980s, Outward Bound schools recognized that achieving their educational mission would be strengthened by expanding to include urban centers. The founders of our urban centers understood that the lessons of Outward Bound transcend place: this highly adaptable, dynamic way of teaching and learning is as relevant and powerful in public schools as in the mountains, if not more so. They saw that if the transformational power of Outward Bound’s approach could be unleashed to change the trajectories of a city’s young people, students would graduate with the foundation of skills, knowledge, habits of mind, and qualities of character they would need for success in school, careers, and citizenship.
Outward Bound now has educational programming in New York City, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Boston, Washington, D.C., Minneapolis, San Francisco, and Portland. Programs in these cities are focused on the same core Outward Bound outcomes and are structured around classroom activities, day programming including ropes courses, and multi-day expedition programming. Outdoor expedition-based programs continue to be offered across the U.S. and in over 34 countries around the world.
An Evolving Legacy
Since 1941, Outward Bound has continued to offer challenging experiences, through which the individual builds confidence; the group comes to a heightened awareness of human interdependence; and all grow their compassion and desire to give back to their communities. And we honor that legacy by evolving to meet our students and our communities, by being active learners and engaged citizens. By challenging ourselves to let go of ideas and traditions that act as barriers to our mission to change lives through challenge and discovery. Here’s what this means currently:
The system needs to change. Outward Bound exists within the greater context of education and outdoor recreation, which have historically centered on white, male, cisgender, able-bodied, heterosexual participants. Outward Bound was founded with the hope of creating transformational learning experiences, and we are evolving in our understanding of what it takes to do that equitably.
Our classrooms exist on stolen lands. We operate on the ancestral lands of the indigenous people who lived for thousands of years – and still live -- in what we now call the United States. Our ability to operate in both urban and backcountry settings is a direct result of the violent removal and continued displacement of indigenous people from their homelands. While we attempt to be responsible stewards of the lands on which we operate, we must also be stewards of the stories of this land.
Barriers still exist. Despite our aspiration to engage a broad mix of people, much of our enduring educational framework and organizational culture replicates the systemic barriers to entry prevalent in the U.S. education system and outdoor recreation spaces. Outward Bound works diligently to make our programs diverse, inclusive, and financially accessible and while we aren’t always successful, we are up to that challenge and we will continue to learn and improve along the way.
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