Through the 1920s, Germany’s political climate began to change. Kurt Hahn’s liberalism and educational philosophies drew increasing criticism. Nevertheless, he continued to promote his ideas about education and society. Hahn was an outspoken opponent of the Nazi Party-a particularly dangerous and courageous position for a German-born Jew. In 1932, several Nazi storm troopers beat a young communist to death in Silesia, an action which Hitler praised. Hahn spoke out publicly against this murder and wrote a letter to all alumni of the Salem school, asking them to either break with Hitler or break with Salem.
When Hitler became chief of state in 1933, he imprisoned Hahn, ending his thirteen year tenure as headmaster at Salem. Fortunately, influential friends Hahn had made, both in Germany and in Great Britain, were able to negotiate his release from prison and his passage to Great Britain.
Upon Hahn’s arrival in Great Britain, he turned down an offer for the headmaster position at Eton, realizing that a tradition rich school such as this would be a challenging environment in which to implement his philosophy of education. In 1934 he started another school, with many of the same ideals espoused by Salem, including service. Gordonstoun was a school for boys (it went coeducational in 1974) located on the coast of the Moray Firth, in Elgin, Scotland. Hahn’s first students actually helped construct the school, and later students could be found serving the local community in a variety of capacities, including perching on the tops of sea cliffs to watch for ships in bad weather.
At Gordonstoun, Hahn introduced seamanship and rescue to the curriculum, using adventure and the presence of risk as a training vehicle through which youth would mature. It was vital to Hahn for adventure to be tied together with the concept of service to the community. Through unslefish action and dramatic rescue, youth would also learn compassion, and element Hahn thought missing in post-war Britain. Gordonstoun quickly became one of Britain’s most distinguished progressive schools and served as a model for similar schools in other countries.
Gordonstoun boys were evaluated not only on their academic performance, but also on their integrity and principles. The Gordonstoun Final Report included the following categories:
- Esprit de Corps
- Sense of Justice
- Ability to state facts precisely
- Ability to follow out what he believes to be the right course in the face of Discomforts, Hardships, Dangers, Mockery, Boredom, Skepticism, Impulses of the moment
- Ability to plan
- Ability to organize, shown in the disposition of work and in the direction of young boys
- Ability to deal with the unexpected
- Degree of mental concentration, where the task in question interests him, and where it does not…
- Conscientiousness, in everyday affairs, in tasks with which he is especially entrusted.
- Manual dexterity
- Standard reached in school subjects.
- Art Work
- Physical Exercises
- Fighting Spirit, Endurance, Reaction Time
With Gordonstoun established, Hahn sought to extend his ideas to other educational institutions. He developed a program called the Moray Badge. One of his key interests was promoting the concept of regular physical training and development of simple athletic skills that boosted confidence and initiative. In the Badge program, individuals planned and executed an individual training program, then undertook a challenging expedition that required group decision-making as well as individual effort and responsibility. The expedition was followed by a project, which required learning new skills and craftsmanship.
The final step toward earning the Moray Badge was to do service for the community at large or for specific people in need. The recognition achieved in receiving the Badge was a motivator for young people who chose to become active in the program. The county badge exists today as the Duke of Edinburgh Award (he was one of Hahn’s first pupils at Gordonstoun, and also attended Salem) and was the inspiration for the United States’ Congressional Award.
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[notification type=”notification_info_tiny”]The copy in this post originally appeared in the Outward Bound Staff Manual.[/notification]