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Contributing to a Better World Shorts: Greg Farrell




Greg Farrell was the founder and first president of EL Education. He retired as President and CEO in 2008, and currently serves on our Board. In this video, screened at the EL Education 2017 (25th Anniversary) National Conference in Chicago, IL, he reflects on how EL Education has contributed to a better world.




Greg Farrell was the founder and first president of EL Education. He retired as President and CEO in 2008, and currently serves on our Board. In this video, screened at the EL Education 2017 (25th Anniversary) National Conference in Chicago, IL, he reflects on how EL Education has contributed to a better world.


Greg Farrell:    I think EL contributes to a better world first of all by bringing out the best in thousands and thousands of students who go to EL schools and are in classrooms taught by EL teachers, and bringing out the best as students, as human beings and getting them a sense of possibilities that they wouldn’t have had otherwise and that releases them out into the world to do [00:00:30] great things and I think the second thing is it is the same with teachers. They gave teachers who want to improve the world and change the world and make the world a better place, a place to work and a place to grow, and to get better and get on a quest themselves, and leave their … take their kids on quest.

      Then it has whole schools where this is possible and that multiplies the power so as the teachers are working together in a coherent way to do good things and bring out [00:01:00] the best in people and in each other. If you’ve been in EL schools you’ve see it in the students and you see it in the teachers and in the administrators too. Then at the level of the practice there are these things that happen in EL schools that don’t happen in most places, ways of going about things, practices which spread beyond most classrooms. Other people pick up on these practices. EL is making videos and other things like that for pieces of these things to be picked [00:01:30] up and generating materials so that makes the world a better place too.

       Then they’re the ideas behind the practices, the root ideas of being the best you can be and looking up for the other person and not doing it just for yourself and doing things you think are impossible and seeking adventure and seeking adventure in the context of service, in service in the context of adventure and all those profound thing. [00:02:00] Maybe the last of it, maybe the least of it, but also significant is that in the EL schools kids go out and do substantial good works in their communities and we tend to focus on that but I think bay before that there’s all the things that happened to them as human beings would make them better people and therefore contributors to a better world.

       I think EL schools help kids become better people and more efficacious citizens by first [00:02:30] giving them competence and a confidence that they can do things and also working with other people. They work as teammates. They support each other. Their crews, it’s an incredibly important part of almost any working situation and then they see the value of what they’re doing, the idea that doing good for somebody is an important value in the world and being able to solve difficult problems [00:03:00] and undertake difficult tasks on the way to doing that is very empowering, very nobling. It makes them feel like better people and they are better people.

Speaker 2:   That’s awesome. That’s great. Yeah, we live with it. God has her plan for the [inaudible 00:03:21] and it’s changing like you know it would.

Greg Farrell:    She’s unruly sometimes.

Speaker 2:    Unruly sometimes, yeah. Do you mind trying to bring a little more?

Greg Farrell:   From an [00:03:30] outward bound instructor’s point of view it’s best when she’s really unruly. That’s when the course really gets good.

Speaker 2:    Yeah, well, unfortunately we’re not on an outward bound course right now. A bunch of people are trying to watch …

Greg Farrell:   Yeah. Yeah.

Speaker 2:   In a conference room.

Greg Farrell:  Yeah.

Speaker 2:   What do you think about that light? [inaudible 00:03:49]

Speaker 3:   I think it’s … to my eyes, not different than what we picked up before.

Speaker 2:   Okay.

Speaker 3:   Certainly the camera is telling me that it’s bright all over but I think it’s going to change in 30 seconds.

Speaker 2:    Okay. [00:04:00] Let’s just go then. We can’t control it if we’re going to be outside and this is the place to be shooting. If you don’t mind then we’re going to dig into the birth of the whole movement that you have been instrumental in and I love that last night you made that connection to that first outward bound course that you made back in 1963 was it? I don’t know if that feels like a place where you could start to talk about where the [00:04:30] ideas began to form in your mind?

Greg Farrell:   Actually, the first ideas that I’m now thinking back relate to the idea of expeditionary learning, EL education, was working in a boys camp up here in the Adirondacks over at Lake Champlain and I’ve never … I got this job the last minute. I didn’t know the Adirondacks existed. My college roommate who got me the job and I came up [00:05:00] and I found this fabulous boys camp, a most enthusiastic places I said to you before, “Boy heaven,” thousands of boys, thousands of balls for every boy and somebody always is ready to throw you one or you catch one if you throw it and a great ethic, and a great friendliness. There were no observable cliques and I remember feeling as a newcomer I’m one of very few newcomers in one of those camps that breeds their leadership from year to year.

       I was only one of two [00:05:30] counselors who hadn’t grown up in the camp system but I felt so immediately accepted and encouraged to do everything from lead a canoe trip to write the Sunday prayer or to write a musical to choreographs, and I’m always great. I kept thinking, “This would make a great school because everybody wanted to be here. There was all these youthful energy and you could get away with teaching reading here if you wanted [00:06:00] to,” I thought. In a way that was a germ for what occurred to me later on in 1963 when I took a first outward bound, my first outward bound course.

        It was right after outward bound I had come to this country and I had been by then a school teacher and I had been a camp counselor, and I was offered a spot on instructor training course at the Colorado Outward Bound School. It was a month long course [00:06:30] and I kept thinking on that course, this school would be better for more like this. Then I wasn’t thinking we should be climbing mountains in schools or crossing wild rivers but there were no lectures. We were learning everything by plunging into it and making mistakes. We were learning stuff we were never going to forget.

        We were doing stuff that we didn’t think we could possibly do and more than that we were doing it in the company of a bunch of other people we were pretty sure [00:07:00] they couldn’t do it either and when they did it and I did, and we all did it together, it was incredibly eye opening, freeing experience. It wasn’t personal look what I can do. It was look what we could do and the ethic of getting everybody over the mountain rather than seeing who can get over the mountain first, it struck me that would be a great ethic for schools. That should be how schools should be organized. Then I thought, couldn’t you teach Algebra this way?

        [00:07:30] Could you teach French like this? Surely you could teach reading and writing this way. I was an English teacher so I could see ways of doing that and it was a profound experience. Right after that I came back to Trenton where I was a newspaper reporter and the poverty program was starting and I was covering the meetings of the poverty program and anyway I was offered the job running the local [00:08:00] antipoverty agency. It was called the Community Action Agency in those days meant to coordinate the antipoverty efforts in Trenton, New Jersey and to bring fresh money and fresh ideas.

          One of the first things I did was send a lot of kids from Trenton on an outward bound courses and by then at that time there were just three outward bound schools, Colorado, Minnesota, and Hurricane Island. North Carolina was going to come along in a year or two. Then it occurred to me and [00:08:30] these kids would come back and they were sky high. The outward bound course had made them realize what heroes they actually were but there wasn’t enough place to apply it and I kept thinking, follow through. We have structures in the community that would support these young men.

          There was all men, young men then, in doing these things they can now feel a noble that encourage to do but there weren’t any structures and then it occurred [00:09:00] to me the school. The school has them all the time or at least a lot of the time so I was able to persuade the local … there’s one public high school in Trenton then, the Trenton public, Trenton Central High, to give us 100 kids who are in the general track, not the academic or the locational track, basically kids they had no particular plans for, and to create three, four homerooms of these 100 kids and then provide all of the curriculum for them.

         [00:09:30] We didn’t have the faintest idea what we were doing actually except we were lively. We were energetic. We were doing wild things. We’re going on 200 miles on bicycle trips. We were playing word games by campfire at night. We were just making stuff up to see if we couldn’t engage them and get some academics into them so that for me was the first draft of expeditionary learning. It was called action-bound.

Speaker 2:     [00:10:00] I see it just right there and I think that that was the first draft of expeditionary learning. Can you name the years? It was 1960, so can you take that full phrase again, the first … that that was the first draft of expedition …

Greg Farrell:      For me, that was the first draft of expeditionary learning, 1965, ‘66, ‘67 and it went on for several years after I left the job running the poverty program, went to work for the state, no longer … [00:10:30] I was the necessary zealot to make that happen, to create. I had influence and I controlled resources and I also cared about it enough to really want to do it and have the outward bound idea of how to do it. When I left it changed somewhat but it still lasted for five or six years. It was ultimately squeezed out and one of the things that taught me was if you’re going to start something radically new like this you got to stay at it for at least a decade [00:11:00] because the forces will drive it out.

           It didn’t fit with the way things are but in a decade you can pretty much wire it inside and out and develop talent streams and good people to carry it on and things like that. That gave me the idea that you could do this all the time in schools.

Speaker 2:   Out of your hand.

Greg Farrell:    Pardon?

Speaker 2:     I’m going to take the … yeah, there you go. Just because I see you waving the pens which is fine but waving hands …

Greg Farrell:    What else are we going to wave? [00:11:30] I would say that and certainly after that I went on the National Outward Bound Board and …

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