Of all the learning models in the educational landscape, expeditionary schools are quite promising but little understood. As the name suggests, expeditionary schools focus on journeys of discovery. But unlike what many may assume, these schools are not entirely outdoors and adventure-based. 

The true hallmarks of expeditionary learning are that students learn by mastering tasks, rather than having information delivered to them and that many in-school activities are designed to help students contribute positively to the world around them. There are more than 150 expeditionary learning schools in the United States. Many of them have shown impressive increases in student achievement

In practice, expeditionary learning looks like assignments meant to help the community, such as hatching a plan to solve a local problem, and lessons in which students pursue a challenge, either on their own or in teams. This learning model is based on the philosophy of Kurt Hahn, who founded several schools in Europe. Hahn knew a thing or two about expeditions: He also created Outward Bound, a wilderness education program. 

Hahn was born in Germany in the 1880s and, as an educator, identified trends plaguing the youth of his time: They lacked self-discipline and physical fitness, they had little attention to detail, memory, or imagination, and they were not engaged with, or compassionate towards, the world around them. His assessment was harsh, but much of it could be said of too many America’s students today. (This is, of course, not an indictment of the rising generation but instead a criticism of an education system, and a larger culture, that has not given them the tools they need to thrive.)

Hahn’s answer to this was to harness children’s innate curiosity and use it as a driving force for learning. His philosophy was similar to the Montessori method, but more paced around projects and more involved with serving the community. Unfortunately, some expeditionary schools are not immune to the pervasive wokeness in education: The Expeditionary Learning Education website, a leading resource about these kinds of curricula, embraces DEI and other buzzwords rooted in critical race theory. If this learning model was entirely free of politics, it would almost certainly attract more devotees and, most importantly, deliver better results for students. 

Like any educational model, expeditionary learning may meet the needs of some students better than others. Schools that refrain from pushing a political agenda will certainly benefit learners more than one that displaces valuable class time with progressive indoctrination. No model is perfect, but expeditionary learning can be an excellent fit for students not well-served by the standard direct instruction model of learning. 

For self-motivated students, those who thrive on challenges and learn by doing, and for students whose parents want the school to get them involved in community issues, expeditionary schools can meet their needs in a creative way while instilling curiosity and compassion in students. Though the option might not be right for all families, it’s an option more families should have.