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Muir's guide to tough learning

One day's exposure to mountains is better than cart loads of books, reports David Henderson.

THE WORLD'S most famous environmentalist had English, Latin, French, mathematics and geography "whipped and thrashed" into him at school 150 years ago in the east of Scotland.

John Muir, the father of America's national parks and environmental movement, may not have had a child-centred education at Dunbar Grammar but it prepared him for a lifetime of exploration, adventure and writing. He has been voted the greatest ever Californian.

"Old-fashioned Scotch teachers spent no time in seeking short roads to knowledge, or in trying any of the new-fangled psychological methods so much in vogue nowadays. There was nothing said about making the seats easy or the lessons easy," Muir wrote in his autobiography.

An exhibition marking his emigration and achievements opened last weekend at the City Art Centre in Edinburgh. A group of young Scots this week marked his contribution to conservation by taking part in a five-day camp on Arran as part of the John Muir Award.

Graham White, an Edinburgh City Council environmentalist who has written extensively on Muir and helped establish the award, said: "It was set up specifically to help make John Muir an educational icon for Scottish children and to propel them into conservation."

Mr White added: "Out of 1.3million youngsters aged 5-25 in Scotland, fewer than 0.3 per cent have been involved in conservation. That's fewer than 15,000. But half a million are registered youth club goers.

"If conservation is to be part of mainstream youth work and education, there is much to do. Hopefully, the award will open doors to adventure and excitement in the environment. It's a personal and social development scheme."

Taking its lead from the Duke of Edinburgh Awards, the Muir format offers four challenges: to discover a wild place, explore its wildness, take responsibility for protecting it, and share the knowledge gained.

Muir himself wrote: "One day's exposure to mountains is better than cart-loads of books."

The John Muir Award is at 41 Commercial Street, Edinburgh, EH6 6JD (0131 624 7220). The John Muir Exhibition is at the City Art Centre until October 2.

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