Open-Source Learning leverages the idea that we learn best from an expansive network of resources beyond the classroom. It’s a straightforward principle: If you want to fly, find a pilot and a plane.
Open-Source Learning also helps us meet a variety of needs through learning. In order to make the most of this life, we must optimize our mental, physical, civic, spiritual, and technical fitness. Living a good life is about more than mastering subjects or getting good grades.
Without Open-Source Learning, school is a tough place to build a quality of life that will sustain us for the long haul. Where in school can you learn how to prepare for awesomeness in middle age and beyond?
Take physical fitness for example. You’d think that the institution responsible for young people’s learning would teach us how to develop the strength, energy, and endurance we need to survive. And think.
Nope. No one learns jack shit in P.E. Or health class. I didn’t figure out how to eat until I was in my early thirties. I’m still trying to get more and better sleep.
I did play basketball at competitive levels in high school and college, but as an adult, I learned that a lot of what my coaches taught (like running sprints and bleachers in hot SoCal summer gyms with no water until we puked) was actually harmful.
Finally, just before the pandemic – as the Lead Learner in an Open-Source Learning network – I sought out an expert and leveled up my physical workouts.
Sometimes you have to get out of town to see the forest for the trees.
Thriving over the long term engages every OSL fitness:
- Mental fitness to sharpen our focus, manage our stress levels, enhance memory, and navigate emotion;
- Physical fitness to maintain our energy as we rise to occasions and endure over time;
- Civic fitness to steward our relationships, financial resources, and information we share in community;
- Spiritual fitness that keeps us connected to the big picture; and
- Technical fitness that helps us identify and use the tools we need to our greatest advantage.
If school’s not the best place for you to learn and practice this stuff, where do you go?
Getting back to nature is the best way for me to supercharge my fitness.
Then I got inspired. Just past Big Pine I turned around and took a second look at the turnoff sign:
Bristlecone pine trees are the oldest living things on Earth. Some have been around for more than 4800 years – these trees are hundreds of years older than the Great Pyramids of Egypt! How had I never seen them? I turned east and followed my curiosity into the White Mountains.
The Journey is the Destination
The Bristlecone pine forest is on the way to exactly nothing. The highway is the destination. I lost count of the twists and turns. I drove slowly and honked at the blind curves and the one-lane stretch, but on the way up I didn’t meet a single car coming the other direction. As the road climbed, I popped my ears and quietly focused on the sun-baked asphalt instead of the dizzying drop offs beyond.
My reward was a 4.5 mile hike on the Methuselah Trail at the Schulman Grove. About halfway through, I realized I was standing near the highest point in the lower 48 states (I had just driven past Mount Whitney), in the presence of – I’ll say it again – THE OLDEST LIVING THINGS ON EARTH, staring out at the lowest point in North America, a valley with death right there in its name.
I know I saw Methuselah, the oldest of the old, but I don’t know exactly which tree it is because the Forest Service can’t trust us with nice things. I’ll verify my guess with my Uncle Mark, who worked for the Forest Service in the Sierras for 40+ years. It doesn’t really matter if I’m right – every single one of these ancients has a powerful presence.
I felt it.
Survival and success require resilience. My childhood mentor Coach John Wooden talked a lot about handling adversity, and every motivational poster quotes Nietzche and Hemingway, but I always thought those ideas were just admirable responses to the challenges that find us. The Bristlecones teach that seeking out circumstantial hardship is literally a growth opportunity.
Check out the plaque at the entrance to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Visitor Center at Schulman Grove. Shakespeare. Dude.
Bristlecone pines live where other things can’t. They don’t have to compete, because no one else plays their game or even survives on their field. They eat bad weather and hard soil for lunch. Ever seen a root dominate a dolomite? It’s badass:
Leaving the Bristlecones for the relative comforts of hiking and mountain biking, I asked myself: What are the harsh conditions in your life, or at your school? How are you adapting to survive and grow stronger? What can you do today – right now – to improve your mental, physical, civic, spiritual, and technical fitness?
As we begin another school year, I hope your learning gives you more than a paycheck or a GPA. Strengthen your roots. Seek out the challenges that test your mettle. Let your continued existence and perseverance tell your story and inspire your community.
Be the Bristlecone.