Kurt Hahn (1886-1974) is increasingly mentioned as the foremost educator of the 20th century. Deeply grounded in the classics at Heidelberg and Oxford, Hahn backed the sons and daughters of Scottish crofters and fishermen, walked with kings, was imprisoned by Hitler for his condemnation of Nazi atrocities in the streets of Potempa in 1932 (Hahn was a Jew), and then extradited by the Prime Minister of Great Britain. He served the Allied seamen in the Battle of the Atlantic in WWII (establishing the Outward Bound School at Aberdovey, with Lawrence Holt of the Blue Funnel Line to build up tenacity and self reliance among merchant marine seaman).
Hahn’s contributions to world-wide education include: Establishment of Salem (Germany) and Gordonstoun (Scotland) Schools, the Atlantic Colleges; the Outward Bound Schools (28 in Europe and the British Isles, Africa, Asia, North
America and Australia); the Duke of Edinburgh Award Schemes, conceiver of the Sail Training Association (Britain), and countless adaptive programs of which the Apprenticeships and Atlantic Challenge are two. It was Hahn’s insight into the value of such experiential means as the project, the rescue, the expedition and craftsmanship which led him to urge that such endeavours release learning both for and through demanding practices. While a close friend of scholarship, he recognised the loss of vitality of youth in our so information-bound era and called for “a sterner exercise of the thinking faculty”. “It is a sin of the soul to coerce the young into opinions,” he said, “nonetheless I consider it culpable neglect not to impel every youth into life~giving experiences”.
We regard Hahn’s finest hour as that post-war turning point in which public tide turned against what looked to be training for toughness and called for the dissolution of Outward Bound. Hahn rose and cried out for their retention noting that in the great task of rebuilding Europe, restoration of the buildings and cathedrals would be facile, of the economy almost as much so, but that the critical issue lay in trust-building. He urged that the youth of Germany and the former allies be sent to sea in the same vessels, large and small, with common purpose, struggle and leadership. He saw this plan realized, in the post Cold War years, with the purchase of the Tall Ships PAMIR and PASSAT for youth training of mixed nationality crews. Atlantic Challenge, drawing directly on Hahn’s example, sends the youth of an increasing number of countries to sea together, in craft once naval, now ambassadorial.
David Byatt, a trustee with Atlantic Challenge in the United Kingdom, was a young boy living by the Moray Firth in Northern Scotland when Kurt Hahn founded his school at Gordonstoun. David was educated at Gordonstoun and later served for over 20 twenty years as teacher and deputy headmaster at Gordonstoun. David Byatt’s personal reflections provide a special insight on Kurt Hahn.