Why the movie ‘Thirteen Lives’ is a lesson for educators

by Lisa Kerr, Principal.

Ron Howard’s new movie ‘Thirteen Lives’ tells the story of the remarkable rescue of 12 boys and their coach from the Tham Luang cave in Thailand in 2018. You probably saw the extraordinary events play out on the news over several weeks at the time.

Played by Christopher Story in the movie, Connor Roe was the youngest member of the rescue team; he’s also a former Gordonstoun student. I think the two are not unconnected. The work that Connor and the other divers did over that multi-day rescue mission was unprecedented, dangerous and brave. When, a few months later, Connor came to speak to our students, one thing he said particularly stood out. He explained the impact of his Gordonstoun education thus: ”By constantly pushing myself out of my comfort zone, I expanded my comfort zone.”

It’s an unfashionable approach in some quarters: some professionals working with young people today are wary of anything which pushes them out of their comfort zone; they believe psychological safety should be preserved at any cost.

At Gordonstoun, keeping children safe is the most important thing we do. Even if young people can’t see it, there is always a safety net – either literally or metaphorically. But being safe isn’t the same as being comfortable. Our broad curriculum is unique because it compels young people into experiences, showing them they can overcome their fears. They go on expeditions in all weathers and undertake multi-day sail training voyages which develop teamwork, confidence and ability to cope with sleep deprivation! We challenge young people in the classroom. We teach them to listen to those whose experiences and views are the polar opposite of theirs and to find common ground. We help them to live alongside people who are very different but who, not despite those differences but perhaps even because of them, may go on to become their best friends.

When Connor Roe faced those dangerous conditions in Thailand he put into practice everything he had learned at a young age: he and his colleagues found common ground with the Thai authorities in order to work together. Through close teamwork they overcame their fears and found solutions when faced with impossible situations. In order to have any hope of getting the frightened boys out alive, they had to appear confident that their daring plan was going to work.

At Gordonstoun we believe that the greatest personal growth comes as a result of the greatest challenge. Teenagers naturally retreat to a place of comfort, which is too often Netflix in their room. But, just like the personal trainer who makes you workout when you’d rather be on the sofa, our role as educators is to push young people out of their comfort zone on a regular basis. It is only by doing this they will discover the truth that there is more in them. And that is why it’s our motto: Plus est en vous – there is more in you.