Note: Meru is rated R for language. All listed learning ideas are suitable for teenagers.
Language & Thinking
Read: There are several scenes in the documentary when Jon Krakauer weighs in on the topics. This is because he is a well-known thought leader of Himalayan hiking and author of the world-famous Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster. Synopsis: “A bank of clouds was assembling on the not-so-distant horizon, but journalist-mountaineer Jon Krakauer, standing on the summit of Mt. Everest, saw nothing that “suggested that a murderous storm was bearing down.” He was wrong. The storm, which claimed five lives and left countless more–including Krakauer’s–in guilt-ridden disarray, would also provide the impetus for Into Thin Air, Krakauer’s epic account of the May 1996 disaster.”
Life & Home Skills
Follow Instructions: One of the skills every member of the climbing relied on for each other’s success and survival was their skill with ropes. Knowing practical knots is a life skill that will help you on road trips, packing, outdoor recreation, emergency preparedness, etc. Watch this 7 Essential Knots to Know tutorial with some rope, practice each, and reflect on when they will be of use to you.
Create a Teachable Moment: People relate to epic mountain climbing stories because everyone figuratively has a mountain to climb in their own lives. Stories like this one give the learner visceral impressions. After reflection on this movie, you cannot help but take away renewed resolve to conquer your fears and do what you know you need to do. Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin, and Renan Ozturk made history by being the first people to reach the summit of the central peak of Meru, a mountain with more failed attempts than any in the Himalayas. It is nearly 22,000 feet tall. Beyond the fact, the backstory may need to be seen and pointed out to teenage audiences, to make sure it was understood. This is a story of passion, discipline, and boldness. Consider first asking them to recount what they learned so that you know which gaps to fill. All three men defied statistical odds of survival in undeniable life-defining experiences and were clearly given second chances at life by some unseen power. Every one of them needed to consciously make the decision that they would still be willing to risk death to fulfill their destinies. It’s no casual matter. Reflect on all of their preparations, set backs, and needed rehabilitations to surmount Meru.
Create a Teachable Moment. Selflessness: Conrad Anker was the lead climber on this expedition. It was the expectation everyone had that he would have the honors of being the first of his three-man group to ascend the summit of Meru first and be the first person ever to do so. To him, it mattered more that he did it than to be the first person to do it. He selflessly gave his mentee, Jimmy Chin, that honor.
Teach Passively: Survivor’s guilt is a psychological phenomenon well-covered in Meru by Conrad Anker’s experience losing his climbing mentor, Alex Lowe in an avalanche that he survived. Anker experienced an overwhelming feeling of injustice that he – a single man living in a van, at the time – would survive when his mentor – a husband, father of four sons, ranch owner, and life of responsibility – would be the one to die. The only way Anker knew how to obey his conscience was to be there for the needs of the kids and woman his beloved mentor left behind. And there was no intention on his or Jennifer Lowe’s parts to commit to each other, and there was no romantic history between the two, but it was the development that fell in place.
Teach Passively: “Namaste” is spoken a couple times in the documentary. In Hinduism, it means “I bow to the divine in you” and is usually said with a subtle bow and hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointing upwards, thumbs close to the chest.
Watch: There are several shots of Tibetan prayer flags during the movie. Any documentary with Himalayan trekking in it would need them to do justice to the geography. Here is a short explainer video of the Buddhist beliefs surrounding them.
Read: The Indian drivers that transport the team to Gangotri, India have Ganesha sitting center of their dashboards – which is common of Hindu taxi drivers. Read up a bit on Wikipedia or elsewhere about why Ganesha is so commonly known and the most worshipped Hindu deity.
How else might important subject matter be learned from this interest topic? Comment below! Half-baked ideas are more than welcome, too.