UPDATED – Farewell to Greg Farrell, Pioneer in Experiential Education
In this upside-down world, big events are being lost in the din of the COVID-19 pandemic, so I wanted to elevate the news of the passing of one of our nation’s leading lights in education this week and simply one of the best human beings I have ever known, Greg Farrell.
Others more articulate than me, like David Coleman at the College Board and Richard Stopol, my former boss and dear friend at NYC Outward Bound, have shared beautiful commentaries about him already. I encourage you to read them.
Back in the late 1980’s, Greg entrusted me and my co-teacher to create a school-within-a-school based on an Outward Bound model. We, in turn, attempted to pass on that gift of empowerment to our students. Over time, he taught me about service as he joyfully cared for his ailing wife for the better part of 15 years. He taught me about craftsmanship by the passion with which he carved a spoon from a stick or built a yurt in the mountains. And he taught me about finding wonder and joy in life, when at 81; he joined my family and my NYCOB “family” on a challenging trip down the Green River and amazed us all with his excitement in dunking his head under waterfalls or telling us magical stories.
In all my work, I strive to enable the inspired, creative, challenging, and fun learning environments that Greg championed and in my personal life, he has set an incredibly high bar for what it means to live not only a good life, but a meaningful one.
I knew him for 30 years. He founded a nonprofit called NYC Outward Bound, which works with schools and students to blend adventure and discovery into learning. I was a part of his network of instructors, working with high school kids in Washington Heights.
Through the years, I got a chance to know him on some outdoor adventures on rivers and mountains, and admired him as he took his educational concepts national through the creation of Expeditionary Learning, an experiential approach to learning that involves challenge, character, and curiosity.
Greg’s professional accomplishments, while amazing, paled to the respect, humility, and humor he brought to every human interaction. He was an amazing husband and father, an expert outdoorsman, a skilled artisan, and an unpretentious intellectual who had a knack for asking probing questions. And as Richard Stopol shared, “the world is so much better because of him and …each of us who had the privilege of spending time with him has been immeasurably enriched and will do our best going forward to honor his legacy.”