Death drive is not key to youthful adventure

Another week goes by and another princely gaffe is added to our royal family’s substantial collection. This time it is Prince Edward who has created an outcry. The Prince was visiting Sydney to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Duke of Edinburgh Award when he suggested that the death of a boy partaking in the scheme could make it a more attractive prospect to youngsters.

{{ quote “Young people are like that … that sense of adventure, the sense that [death] is possible” }}

The comment came after his being asked about the death of a teenager on a hiking trip in Australia in 2006. While the Prince said he was unaware of the incident, he went on to say that the death risks involved helped to contribute to the scheme’s popularity. The comments were ill-received in the Australian press, who branded them insensitive. However, this comment is more than insensitive; it is suggestive of a broader trend whereby young people are purported to favour irresponsibility and recklessness.

The D of E is, by its very nature, not without dangers. It occupies a popular niche in the extra-curricular activities of many young people, providing a sense of ‘adventure’ in its expeditions along with a means of acquiring a range of outdoor skills as well as a general sense of teamwork and public-spiritedness. The varying levels of award have stimulated a great number of young people for a half century, with an ever-expanding range of potential activities adding to the attraction. These people are drawn to the D of E (or, perhaps, instructed to partake in it) as a more adventurous way of gaining skills whilst working amongst their peers. They are not drawn to the idea of death. Let me be clear here; there is a difference between recognising the danger of an activity and choosing it because it is dangerous. Most participants on a D of E course would recognise that expeditions into wild territories can be dangerous, and that there even exists the potential for death. They might also recognise that a walk through Leamington Spa late on a Friday evening can be dangerous, but they would not take the walk due to their knowledge that they might not return.

The skills gained on the D of E are, it is held, life skills. There is something a little ironic about a course that, in the process of providing you with life skills, kills you. Outdoor survival and safety skills are important elements of education, which are not to be taken lightly. And they’re not. Young people, contrary to what the Daily Mail might tell you, are not by-and-large a group of idiotic Stella-toting behooded individuals. It is reasonable to suggest that young people, as most people, would tend to engage with their tasks with a modicum of sense and purpose, particularly if those tasks are interesting and offer

something new.

On this basis, it is somewhat patronising to suggest that death risks are particularly alluring to young people. I do not suppose that people would partake readily in the scheme if it regularly lead to death. Participation in the scheme would not rise in proportion with the body count. Young people may well enjoy ‘adventure’, but they are not

blindly reckless.

It must be stressed at this point that the D of E is not a maniacal scheme designed to systematically eradicate members of the younger population. Its safety record, given the numbers of participants involved (D of E claims to have worked with over 4 million young people in the UK alone), is very strong. Thus the Prince’s comments are unsatisfactory on three accounts. Firstly, they are insensitive to those associated with the fatalities; secondly, they are patronising to young people in general; and thirdly, they skew the message behind D of E. Why is it the ‘allure of death’ that makes D of E attractive? Why is it not the genuinely useful skills that can be accumulated? The public-spiritedness? The answer is certainly not explicit.

The Prince’s comments are patronising because he supposes stupidity. He supposes the second-rate nature of those activities administered in schools which do not form part of the core curriculum. You know how it works. Those most likely to partake in more outdoor and physical activities are assumed to be of a lower intellectual calibre. That’s why my friend who was encouraged to join the army after school is apparently caught in the ‘glamorous’ allure of death to which Prince Edward alludes while I’m sitting here at university criticising it. Because he’s stupid. Well, sorry your Highness, but he’s not. And neither are young people.


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