The U.S. Navy began requiring their academy graduates to know celestial navigation due to a strategically unsound reliance upon GPS technology.
A crew of US Marine officers was reprimanded and removed from training following a round of cheating on a land navigation course. Students had looked up the location of the landmarks because they lacked the basic skills of map and compass navigation.Christopher Hall, Common Arts Education
Why should we still bother with navigational skills in education?
This question was already posed by the ‘godfather of orienteering handbooks’ Bjorn Kjellstorm in 1955, “Why bother with map and compass…when the roads are numbered and the trails clearly marked?” Over half a century later, hardly anyone travels to their destination without GPS navigational tools. Let’s admit it, we are literally lost without the reassuring voice of guidance. But along with this dependence also comes significant loss:
- we lose the important fundamental skill of independently being able to position ourselves. We are sadly dependent on a machine as we move about.
- we sacrifice our connection to the environment we travel through
- we do not experience physical locations but more abstract representation of the world
If these seem like minor reasons consider the following: Psychologists have found that when we blindly follow GPS we are not exercising crucial navigational skills. These skills are not like riding a bike – they actually change over time. There is evidence that these skills start to atrophy the hippocampus region when you are simply following the instructions of a voice. It might even be a risk factor in age-related dementia. We are literally loosing the ability to navigate independently. See the full article here: Is GPS ruining the ability to navigate for ourselves?
Navigational skills are not obsolete. Integrating navigational skills into education strengthens the type of thinking used in all sorts of spatial processes. Mastering navigational skills builds confidence, self-reliance, as well as a real sense of satisfaction and self-esteem. Learning about and observing the world around us very closely is the best way to teach about the environment and fostering a love of nature.
How can navigation be incorporated into the curriculum?
In Scandinavia orienteering, competitive navigation along a course using a map and compass, is actually part of the national curriculum. In Sweden, where this sport was invented at the end of the 19th century as part of military training, there is an annual 5-day orienteering championship that draws 8000 participants in 170 different classes. But if you do not live in one of the Nordic nations you can still integrate navigation into your curriculum:
- History – study the tools of navigation through history (Did you know that the first compass was invented during the Han dynasty in China over 2000 years ago?)
- Geography – study landfoms, coordinate planes, and maps
- Science – study and practice celestial navigation
- Phys Ed. – orienteering requires peak physical shape and can be combined with circuit training
How can parents who do not homeschool integrate common arts into their child’s education?
There are a myriad of ways to integrate common arts into your life, if you are willing to take the time. My biggest piece of advice would be: don’t over-commit or over-schedule your family. This will allow you the freedom and flexibility to explore the common arts together in a project based approach. Make use of the connections you have in your circle of family and friends: is there a scout leader, geographer, cartographer, military personnel, surveyor, etc among them? With their help you could arrange a weekend skills workshop and have some outdoor navigational adventures. Here are some other ideas to get you started:
- Orienteering clubs
- firearms safety courses
- carpentry workshops offered by Lee Valley
- herbal and edible plant walks
Use this excellent topographic map-making tool to print out a map of a conservation area or other natural space in your neck of the woods. You can add points to be found as well as coordinates. This is a great starting point for “do-it-yourself” orienteering.
This is one of the best books to get you started on map and compass skills: