Saturday, August 11, 2012


Station Maine's crew had the privilege during the Lobster Festival of dressing as pirates and landing Blackbeard the Pirate for the opening ceremonies of the festival.  It seems a silly thing, and in all reality it is silly, and that's the point.  We could all have gone on about our normal day and been, well, normal.  Like anyone in Utah or Ohio or Delaware.  But we live on the coast of Maine.  We live in the lobster capital of the world.

Taking these few days to dress in costume and eat lobster makes us different.  It makes us us.  We are Mainers.  Mid Coast Mainers.  We crown a Sea Goddess, not a Corn or Soy Princess.  We celebrate our uniqueness and in doing so draw ourselves together as a community.  When we as a community make it a point to include our children and youth in this frivolity, the Cod Carry, the Lobster Crate Race, the Pirate boat that lands Blackbeard, we pass on to our youth this sense of belonging to something special.  Some place special.  Our children and youth can ground their lives in knowing that wherever they travel they are part of the rockbound coast of Maine.

Saturday, July 28, 2012


I had a great dog once.  Skye knew that I was in charge and that she was my first officer.  Whenever we'd house sit or care for another dog, or often dogs, those dogs became instantly obedient.  I would call, Skye, their obvious leader, would come, and the rest of the pack would follow whatever instinct that bound them to her authority.  Any inappropriate behavior was dealt with almost instantly, although often I was completely unaware that a lesson was being accomplished.  I had complete control over my pack of dogs in the woods or in the home.

I find that same sort of authority builds with my rowing crews.  Station Maine has designated Watch Captains.  Their authority is not fabricated.  They are not chosen by popularity, but rather by skill and seamanship.  They lead, they teach, and they free me for larger more pressing tasks like actually teaching the first aid for hypothermia or buying the ferry tickets.  Their authority is not as much given as taken on.  Newer crew members follow because they want to be a part of a crew that sees itself, and rightly so, as well disciplined and well pasted together.

Given a genuine need for leadership, leadership really does rise to the top.  And old leaders graduate and new leaders rise up and train the newbies.  This is a natural progression.  All we need do as adults is provide the setting.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Down Time

The last day of camp was terribly hot.  We took it in manageable bites.  Play a little tennis.  Hang for a while.  Go fishing, then swimming off the dock.  Lie about til our clothes dry.  Fish a little more, play a little more tennis, and suddenly the hiking trail looks cool and shaded and gives us three miles of genuine pleasure in the woods, finding toads and salamanders.

All this down time isn't wasted.  We talk.  Sometimes we even talk seriously.  A forced march or forced row in this heat doesn't send a child home with fond memories unless, as occasionally happens, it is necessary.  Camp is about putting these kids in the position of learning and having fun, not regulating them.  It's about giving kids the pleasure of being, just being, on the coast of Maine.  Kids get enough regulation, and rightly so, in school.  Camp should, within reason, be a place to relax and enjoy the coast of Maine in the company of friends.

Trust youth.  Give them the tools they need to grow and the encouragement to use those tools.  They know instinctively what they need in order to grow at their own rate.  They always make us proud.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Mark Twain

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” -Mark Twain

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Funnest Camp Ever

I can't say our day camp is the most organized institution on the coast.  But everyone who does it seems to think it's the most fun.  Today we hiked Ragged Mountain.  It wasn't a very challenging hike, and I'm pretty sure the purpose of it, other than finding salamanders, was to get us hot and sweaty enough to really appreciate the swimming in Lake Megunticook.

There are, apparently, hundreds of ways to jump off the end of a dock.  Hundreds.  These kids found them all.  There are flips and twists and slow and fast and in the style of someone's favorite video game character with which I am cheerful to say I am too old to be familiar.  There was a family of Canadian geese who came over to share our fun.  We shared out chips with them.  They were stale anyway.

I fear the child of the 21st century is too organized.  Too managed with tightly controlled activities.  Maybe the best thing we can do for these kids is to get them out where they can enjoy the sun and the water and the salamanders and the geese.  Then, we need to leave them alone.  They don't need us to identify every leaf or lecture them on ecology.  They need the freedom, and often the permission, to just enjoy themselves.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Riding a Fender

We had our first day of eighth grade camp today.  The tide was so high that we could pole down the little brook that feeds the southernmost part of Rockland Harbor.  It was there, up in the reeds, that we found a huge military grade type fender.  Of course we dragged it out, found it still good, and brought it home.

Except on the way home somebody got the bright idea of riding it like a dolphin.  And I couldn't think of a single good reason to say no.  We were wearing life jackets and the water was calm and surprisingly warm for Maine.  We each took our turns.  We tried, we failed, we tried a different way.  Some did better than others.  All of us laughed til we couldn't laugh any harder.

What did we learn from this?  I guess I could explain it in a hundred different ways, but I'll never be able to quantify it.  I'll never justify the test we'll be able to ace because of this adventure.  I'm just certain down to my socks that this is how children are supposed to live on the coast of Maine in summer, in sunshine and salt water and sea air.  And joy.  Lots of joy.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Moving a gig

I moved a 38' gig across the harbor with a friend today.  Against the wind.  No kids were available from either of our programs and the time was now.  We are both experienced seamen and there was no danger involved, but it was a wild thing to do and surprisingly fun.

We talked about the adventure later over wine.  The subject became deeper as we are both educators as well as seamen.  The craziness of moving that gig without sufficient crew acted more like a stimulant to us than anything had in a while.  There is a drug effect in the body's natural chemistry.  Too often in youth programs we as instructors jump in at the least sign of "danger" to take over for our kids.  We actually do this not to "protect" them so much as to once again experience that life affirming rush of endorphins that led us to working outdoors with youth in the first place.

We did enjoy moving that gig.  It needed to be done, there was nobody else to help, and it always feels good to remind yourself of the fire within.  But we reminded ourselves, and so I write here, that kids need those amazing fleeting opportunities even more than we do.  Sometimes there really is danger from which they must be protected.  Generally, though, ours is not a lifestyle of mortal danger.  Let the kids stretch whenever possible.  They will grow for it.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Adult Rowing

A lot of the summer is about adults rowing the gig.  They have grown to where they can pretty much handle the program themselves, and I think that's the whole point.  Chances of forming their character with the gig are zero.  Adults know who they are.  Opportunities for friendship, for the joy of getting out on the water, for personal growth, are legion.  Adults should have the chance to try new things and fail and try again.  We should be challenged we should grow through that challenge.  A life that isn't continually evolving sounds really boring from where I'm sitting.  I'm proud of the adults who break out of their comfort zone and row with Station Maine.

Saturday, June 23, 2012


We're all troubled these days about bullying.  Pictures on a school bus only inflame an issue that has always been with us.

I couldn't agree more that children need to be taught not to bully, and taught to stand up for the oppressed.  But I can't help remembering that only the strong can afford to be compassionate.  In their own undeveloped minds these children are fighting for their social standing.  They are fighting to not be the chicken that gets pecked to death in the flock.  They are picking on someone weaker then they are so that they themselves won't be seen as weak.

Along with teaching compassion we need to teach each child as many competencies as possible.  Every child should be able to hold his or her head up and be able to be proud of something they can do.  Every child needs to know that they are so special and strong that they don't need to step on someone else to make themselves taller.

The pecking order will always be with us.  All any of these kids wants is to feel worthy.  Can't we give them the skills that will assure them of that?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Serious about Growing Up

Station Maine isn't the Sea Scouts.  Very few of these kids is planning a career as a seaman.  We aren't equipped to take long passages and we rarely study navigation.  These kids are not serious about the sea.  They are serious about growing up to be the best human beings they can be.  The sea is the medium through which we do it.  The rowing competitions are friendly races, nothing more.  They are a goal towards which we can train, and fun trips to look forward to.  Then, after the racing season, we return to the recurring job of becoming whole human beings.  We bond as a crew because kids need a gang of friends who share their values.  We train for as many skills as we can squeeze in because we become more confident human beings with each new skill.

It is my most sincere hope to send these kids out into the world believing that they have what it takes to succeed in life.  We train and we talk and we dream.  Our bodies harden, our minds become clearer, and we learn to understand that the sky really is the limit of our dreams.

Adult Volunteers

Station Maine is criticized, or maybe it's just me, for not using enough adult volunteers.  For not pressing the parents into service more ardently or reaching out to volunteer organizations in the community.

We do this primarily because the kids do all that sort of work.  That is the program.  Station Maine provides  boating opportunities at no cost to the rower, but that is only a small part of the program.  The kids, as a part of those boating opportunities, maintain the program that provides it.  They sand and paint the gigs.  They put up posters around town.  They recruit among their classmates.  They carry out and display the sales items for the auction or the yard sales.

The kids, unlike most of the adult volunteers, are trained.  They know how to sand with the grain and how to fold sandpaper so that none of the grit is wasted.  They know how to check the fluids in the van before a long trip.  They have the seamanship involved in moving boats to and from the mooring or, as was the case this week, moving auction boats from our facility to the Pearl restaurant.  Some of the work is monotonous, like stamping envelopes for the many mailings.  This is what it takes to run this organization.  Because it is naturally expected of them, they fall easily into the work.

This is the program.  It builds strong kids.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Auction

Station Maine had our auction yesterday.  It was amazing.  Kids started arriving at 8:00 in the morning.  There were no end of chores that needed to be done.  Auction items to carry and arrange.  Silent auction to organize.  The gig needed to be brought to the Public Landing for display.  Guests had to be greeted and signed up as bidders.  The young crew of Station Maine handled all the details.  Willingly.  Cheerfully.

This is their education.  All these kids want, all any kid wants, is to fit in, to take their place in society as a competent, respected individual.  Of every auction I have ever seen for youth groups, Station Maine is the only one who assigns the majority of the responsible work directly to the kids.  This is the program.  And, oh yes, we row too.  Sometimes we race and sometimes we even win.  But the most important part of Station Maine is the education that we provide these kids, off the water as well as on.  They are so rising to the challenge.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Training for Work

I am told that there are those in our government who think it necessary to channel potential blue collar workers into trade schools early in their career.  There is a sense that they will stay there forever as America's working class, bravely assembling automobiles in Detroit or electronics in Massachusetts or even crafting fine boats in Maine, and that will be them, happy in content forever.

Whatever reasons our government has for teaching these skills, this is still America.  Nobody is trapped in their trade for the rest of their life.  Anyone who keeps their mind open will learn more, advance themselves further, and ultimately live a fulfilling life.  I am a musician, a teacher, a sailor, a rigger, a woodworker of sorts, a mechanic at some level.  I have made my living in all these trades.  But ultimately I am a happy and fulfilled person because of these skills.  Ultimately I am who I am because of the choices I've made in my life.  If the schools could teach that, that you are responsible for the choices you make in your life, but adding more skills can only widen your choices, I think we will have come a long way in training our children to take their place in society.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Educating the work force

I was at a conference today where many employers were asking the same question.  Where can we find trained employees?  Many very well paying jobs in Maine do not require a college education.  They require skills in welding, woodworking, systems, and electronics.  These employers can't afford to pay someone for the year or more it might take him or her to learn the trade.  Even in the customer service department, employers shouldn't need to teach their staff how to be polite.  But they do.

The purpose of the schools is to prepare the students to take their place in society.  Can we not admit that not all students are college bound?  I love to read.  Shakespeare is great and I love poetry, but it doesn't put food on the table.  It's time the schools stepped up to the plate and gave their students an education that will prepare them for life in the real world.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

the log

I saw two young boys today moving a driftwood log that clearly weighed over a hundred pounds.  They had managed to get it from the shore where someone had hauled it out and wheel it on both their scooters towards the end of the dock.  Their intention was clear, to dump it off into the deep water and enjoy the splash.

I stopped them.  Calmly I explained that someone had worked hard to get that log out of the way so nobody's boat would run into it.  They turned their scooters around and took the log back.  A fun bit of play was taken away from them, replaced by perhaps a bit of civic responsibility.

These young boys had never thought about boats running into half submerged logs.  Why would they?  Kids aren't an evil lot.  They just don't know how to behave.  That's our job.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


I went sailing with friends today.  Nothing amazing.  Hoist up a sail and move with it.  I can't remember the last time I was so relaxed and so happy.  I thought, as I often do, of my kids.  How much I'd love for each of them to have a hobby that would get them outside in the beautiful Maine summer.  How much I want them to run and swim and row and sail and hike.  To take the time to watch the seals and the sea birds.  To hear the stories of this amazing coast of Maine that is their home.

Programs are a wonderful thing, but ultimately it is the parents and the children who need to decide their summer education.  If kids are not encouraged to get out and find their amusement then the advertisers will certainly find something to sell them.  Facebook.  Computer games.  Television.  I do not damn these things.  I just need our children to live in the physical world.  I need them to learn from their experience.  To feel the wind and taste the wild strawberries.  To smell the sea.  These experiences are their heritage.

Monday, June 11, 2012


People achieve greatness when they have freedom.  Freedom to fail, if necessary, but freedom.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Variety of Skills

Many years ago a shipmate, a rather wealthy individual, told me that his version of job security was knowing how to do a variety of things.  Around that same time another friend, also smart and not making bad money as a computer programmer, lost his job.  He found it difficult to find another job because he was truly one of the country's experts in a certain computer language, but only in that language.

It is very important to teach our children that there are many skills to be learned, and to take joy in those skills.  The world changes in the blink of an eye.  The more solid skills they have in any area the more easily they will learn the skills of the future.  Their future.

Friday, June 8, 2012


I was playing in the yard once as a small child when an ant crawled up my leg.  I watched him for a while, curious.  Then I pinned him down.  I wasn't being cruel.  I was just seeing what he'd do.  Of course, he bit me.  Of course I let him go.  Ant bites aren't awful, and I remember this moment clearly as a learning experience.  Ants are industrious.  They carry bread crumbs to the colony.  They will bite if trapped.

I wonder, with computer games, iPads, iPhones, video games, and just plain old television, how many young children are being deprived of the opportunity to learn with clear understanding, that ants bite.

Thursday, June 7, 2012


As a child I had the privilege of spending my summers on an island in Maine.  I specifically remember how important it was to me to be responsible for my own education.  Really.  I knew even then that the things I observed on the rocks, on the beach, in the tide, were important.  As I look back I realize that the skill of observing was equally important.  I learned this just through having the time to do it.  There was no television on the island.  Just time.

I truly hope that our kids have the time this summer just to be.  I hope there is nothing worthy on television and that they are not so backed up with camps and obligations.  I hope that they have time to just lay on the lawn, walk in the woods, and just observe.  They will learn so much.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


Challenge your students.  Give them something hard to do.  We do them great harm by wrapping them in cotton wool.  There is no education like adversity.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Vermont Race

Just back from a race in Vermont.  I couldn't have been prouder of not only my kids, but all the kids there.

My two favorite moments were when we were trailing behind and the older crew who crossed the finish line before us turned back to cheer us on.  And when the cox from the winning crew came to congratulate us for racing in First Division.

Winning in this sport really is less important than sportsmanship, cooperation, and having a good time.  I would seriously like to get a few world leaders out there to show them how it's done.  Then I remember that some day these kids will be running the world.  I have no doubt that they will remember what they learned on the water in these races.  I have no doubt that the world will be a better place.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Romney vs teachers

There is no easy solution to reforming our education system, but this article certainly adds fuel to the fire.  Impressive, but I wonder if they are measuring only academics or the whole child.

"The chief educational strategy of top-performing nations such as Finland, Singapore and South Korea is to recruit talent from the top third of the academic cohort into the teaching profession and to train them in selective, prestigious institutions to succeed on the job. In the United States, by contrast, we recruit teachers mostly from the middle and (especially for poor schools) bottom third and train them mostly in open-enrollment institutions that by all accounts do shoddy work."


Thursday, May 31, 2012

Boarding for Boobies

I know the name sounds sexist and awful.  But the story linked below is about personalized learning.  In this case three boys who are skate boarding to raise money for breast cancer research.  Skate boarding, like so many other youthful passions, can be turned to serve education.


A friend just painted his boat.  He did a beautiful job.  Then he taped the rails for varnish.  We all warned him to re-tape daily, but he was quite certain that this new sort of tape would not require that.  Unfortunately, after a week, it did stick pretty solidly to his new paint.

My friend is not unintelligent.  We all have better ideas and new ways to beat popular wisdom.  Sometimes we're even right.  When we're not, experience is still the best teacher.

Why can't we be giving this valuable experience to our kids?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Life's a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death.

Monday, May 28, 2012


Accidents happen.  Little ones.  All the time.  We spill flour if we cook.  We grab and delete on our computer.  We slip on the ice in the driveway.

Those of us who live life by doing things make mistakes and have accidents because we put ourselves in that position.  I'm so much more likely to spill flour, for instance, if I'm actually baking something.  And, generally, when an accident happens, I spend a certain amount of time reminding myself why it happened and what I can do the next time to prevent it from happening again.  I do this sort of debrief, as most of us do, so that the same accident won't happen again.

People who sit at home and watch television don't have as many accidents because there is so little to go wrong in that lifestyle.  But is that really living?

I guess I'll just carry on having accidents, making mistakes, and learning from them.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Saturday, May 26, 2012


It's easy to get fixated on a problem.  Easy, but unwise on a boat.  Jeff learned that today.  The harbor was thick of fog so we brought out the compass.  Course 090.  Course 270.  Basic stuff.  And Jeff did what every beginning helmsman does.  He fixated on the compass.

This sort of fixation has sent more than one boat on a collision course when something, anything, gets in front of your boat if the helmsman hasn't thought to look up occasionally.  It became a game with Jeff for me to count.  Just count while he was fixating on the compass watching the numbers swing by.  Then, once we passed five or six softly count out loud.  Jeff learned to laugh at himself, realizing his fixation, and correct it.

He learned this without being lectured.  Without losing "grade points".  Without ever once thinking of himself as incapable.   Jeff corrected himself because we could spend the time laughing with him til he learned the demanding double task.  He learned because he was guided through dozens of mistakes that he wasn't afraid to make.  He wasn't afraid to make mistakes because he commanded a crew of friends, all of whom had made mistakes when they were in his position.

It was a truly pleasant day on the water.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Appropriate learning

I love this part of the school cycle.  The kids know what to do.  Some are anxious to cox and they're good at it.  If the wind and tide are right I'll let them dock.  My job is to pull my oar.  My question to the cox once we leave the dock is "What do you want to do?"

Some want me to challenge them.  Some challenge themselves, picking hard targets and not using the tiller.  I'll often suggest we come along side one of the growing number of boats on their moorings.  Ask me intelligent questions.  What is the hauler used for in a lobster boat?  Why is a trimaran designed with three hulls?  Why is that boat a sloop and that one a schooner?  What does radar do on a boat?

The kids are peppered with random nautical facts.  I don't know how much of it they'll remember, but I'm always delighted when, weeks or months or years later, one of those random facts comes back to me in conversation.  The youth of the coast of Maine are learning about the coast of Maine.  All is right with the world.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Man Overboard

A man overboard drill is simple on our boat.  I throw my lifejacket overboard and call Man Overboard.  Johnny, our thirteen year old cox immediately began a chorus of "oh crap, oh crap oh crap".  Then he called the crew to oars, hold water, back water, and rescued the endangered lifejacket.  That is to say, he did everything right.  Yet, having succeeded at this task, told us all that he doesn't perform well under pressure.

I find it amusing that, having performed so well, Johnny's first reaction is to apologize.  Welcome to the life of the young adolescent, trying to fit into this world, knowing somehow that whatever he does isn't good enough.  There's no way to fast forward through this stage of life.  All we can do as teachers, as parents, and as caring adults is provide a myriad of experiences through which Johnny can learn that he actually does perform well under pressure, and provide the training from which Johnny can draw when unforeseen circumstances arise.

Johnny went home today feeling pretty good about himself.  He had succeeded in a pressure situation.  That success might save someone's life.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

How about a nap or some ping pong or just time to stare out the window?

A bright light on education.  Read this article!

Taking some down time to process, to reset the brain, to boost creativity.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Simple Experience

My puppy doesn't like the gritty feeling of sand in her mouth when we throw the ball on the beach.  She learned today to drop the ball in the shallow water once or twice to make it feel smooth.  I never taught her that.  She just figured it out because she spends a lot of time chasing that ball.

The kids in the parking lot are getting their thrills today by riding through the hot tarmac.  It throws black pebbles up at the bike fenders and gives off a satisfying burning smell.  Besides, leaving tire tracks behind forever is kind of cool.  If they last.  They'll see when they check back weeks or months from now.

This is not kings and queens of Europe higher mathematics sort of learning.  But it is learning.  There is so much learning to be gleaned from play, if only kids can be turned loose to learn.

Monday, May 21, 2012


Today was one of the first pretty days of late spring.  As I walked the shore line I saw experiential education all along my way.  The toddler who learned that my puppy was friendly and dogs aren't to be feared.  The ten year old who had the courage to swim and, yes, it was as cold as she thought.  The young boy learning to play frizbee with his father, honing a new skill.

There was a day, not so many years ago, when this sort of education took place all day every day.  It used to be normal to live in the physical world, to take your kids to the beach, to make castles in the sand.  We learned because we couldn't help but learn as we combed the beach for treasures and danced in the waves. We grew confident in our bodies.  How did we as a culture let it slip away.

Thank God for the many, many parents who take their kids outside on a sunny Sunday afternoon.  They are the true educators.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


My seventh grade class helped with a capsized boat this morning.  A sudden gust caught the just launched vessel off guard and she went over.  The captain and a quickly responding power boat brought the vessel right again, but the scene sparked something in the kids.  This was a real emergency, like the sort we've been training for.  What would have happened if the captain had been caught under the boat?  What would have happened if the power boat hadn't been there?  Why didn't the captain get hypothermia in the water?  What should we have done if . . . ?

There are few aggressive sailors who haven't capsized a boat at one time or another.  In a small boat it's generally more of an embarrassment than an emergency.  But for these kids participating in a genuine life drama it was exciting.  Their assignment is to come back with an intelligent question relating to that capsizing.  I'm looking forward to their thoughts, because the more they have thought out the "what ifs" the better are their chances of acting appropriately when a real emergency happens.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The thickness of the wood

I'm putting thwarts (seats) in the boat.  There are few straight angles or lines on a boat.  All the thwarts are trapezoid shaped and cut to a bevel to fit the hull.  This probably isn't very complicated for boatbuilders, but for people with only house building skills, and few enough of them, it can be demanding.

I was in school for 20 years counting kindergarten and post-graduate work.  How is it in all that time nobody ever taught me to allow for the thickness of the wood?

Friday, May 18, 2012


I have wondered since the day, far too late in life, that I started pounding nails, why is it that we don't start teaching carpentry the day we start teaching math.  Other skills would work as well.  It's just that wood is so solid and so real.  We could start with balsa wood for children not ready for the challenge of sawing spruce or pine.  Or let the actual cutting be the teacher's job after the measurement has been checked.
Measuring, addition, multiplication, division, fractions, decimals, geometry.

Why does school need to be so theoretical.  We are training our children to take their place in the world.  Can we not teach skills that will not only give them their math but teach them real world skills?

Thursday, May 17, 2012


We keep our gig safe from the dock with large mooring balls which we use as fenders.  The beauty of this system is that the gig is safe from pounding and scratching in any weather.  The down side is that it's a long step or leap for the crew to actually get in the boat.

This, too, becomes a skill.  If you take a timid step on the boat with one foot still safely secured on the dock the boat will move away, leaving you to strattle the icy North Atlantic.  You must make the step to with boldness.  Anything less will fail.

The simple act of getting on the gig becomes a moment of empowerment for the kids.  A moment of courage when they learn that sometimes you just have to go for it.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Check it out.  A study, or collection of studies that admits that technology does NOT improve learning or test scores.

I don't damn technology.  The article emphasizes, as many of us have known for years, that technology, rather like a good library, is a remarkably useful tool in teaching.  Ultimately it is good teachers and motivated students that will improve our country's education.  I think that teachers and students should have the advantage of technology as a part of an educational whole that includes both academics and experiential learning.  It all comes down to being a whole human being.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


The average college student today graduates with a $25,000 debt.  That's obscene, to saddle a young person with that sort of handicap when they're just starting out in life.  I wonder what that sort of investment gives in return.  Do most of these students actually land jobs worthy of their expensive education?  I wonder, really, the value of force feeding great literature or higher mathematics on kids who retain these lessons only until they can vomit the answers out on a standardized test.  Most of America, even college educated America, gets its conversation material or clever witticisms from pop culture, not Julius Caesar.

Wouldn't a young person's time be better spent learning the skills to further his or her career?  Or useful skills and abilities that would serve to form him or her as a whole human being?

Friday, May 11, 2012


Can we think of any reason why kids should get all the fun?  The adult crew of Station Maine is forming.  It is mostly older adults, some of whom are good organizers, many of whom are anxious to push their comfort zone and learn to cox, all of whom realize that we live on the coast of Maine and that this is a wonderful opportunity to get out on the water and appreciate that coast with friends.

Some, even many, people stop growing as human beings after a certain age.  But a cheerfully growing number have decided to live their years out with joy in all that they can still learn and accomplish.  They cost the program nothing, organize themselves, and come with prudence already learned from a life well spent.  We need more opportunities for adults as well as kids to live in the physical world.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Hawser

Getting out of our slip is made more challenging in some tides by the presence of a larger boat's dock lines crossing our path.  The seamanship to be learned from this challenge is wonderful, but some days they're just a pain.  Like today.

The tide was so low and the area so confined that I found myself standing, poling through the mud with an oar facing aft.  My cox sort of giggled and pointed, nowhere near in time, to the hawser that was about to knock me over as we went under it.

She was not a bad kid, nor was she not mindful of the danger.  She had bought into the "teacher ideal"wherein teachers are the smart ones, the ones who always know what's going on, the ones who are always in control.

This, on the other hand, is a boat.  Everyone is responsible for safety.  Nobody, not even me, can see every rock, every gust of wind, every possible thing that can go wrong.  Kids who have no real experience in the physical world have no bench mark for teachers getting something wrong.  They always feel themselves inferior.  Or useless.

As we came back to the dock that same cox again had the opportunity to remind me about the hawser.  She did it seriously, and in plenty of time for me to duck under and be safe.

Lesson learned.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Today's conversation went something like this:
"How can I lash the oars when the lashing line isn't tied to the thwart?"
"Why isn't it tied to the thwart?"
"I don't know."
"Try again."
"Because somebody untied it."
"Who untied it?"
"I don't know."
"Was it untied when you got here?"
"Who untied it?"
"I untied it."
"OK, it just needs to be tied back on.  I'll show you how."

There followed a short lecture on mistakes.  I learned in the boatyard years ago that the most expensive mistakes are the ones that get covered up.  Tearing the stuffing out of a stuffing box is a minor mistake.  Launching that boat with the stuffing box insecure can result in the boat sinking.  For instance.

A wise captain encourages the crew to come forward with mistakes before they grow into something awful.  Kids make mistakes.  It is their job to make mistakes and to learn from those mistakes.  It is our job to make it easy for them to own up to those mistakes so they can learn from them.  It's sometimes opposite to what our society teaches us, but often it is the surest way to learn.

Monday, May 7, 2012

An Apprentice

I've often thought how pleasant life could be if every caring workman and woman could have an apprentice.  Not a full time Johnny Tremain sort of give your life over to learning my trade which you will follow for the rest of your life.  More like I'm pretty fair at tuning up my own car or building boats or shoeing horses.  If my "assigned apprentice" would join me then someone would be there to hand me the wrench that's always out of reach at the critical moment or hold the other end of the plank or steady the horse.  Someone who can't help but learn just by being in the presence of my trade.

If students could be assigned and re-assigned and rotated through the community learning some level of skills and being exposed to a wide variety of caring adults they can't help but have more direction, more skills, and more confidence.

I know there are about a thousand "issues" between this idea and its execution, but I'd love to see somebody knocking them down and letting kids be part of the real world.

Saturday, May 5, 2012


Anthony docked the gig today.  He is all of thirteen, pulls a good oar, and was very keen to try this occasionally difficult maneuver.  His crew agreed to cover his back.  The wind was gentle from the east and the dock was open.  It was a gentle landing.  As Anthony jumped ashore with the stern line and after spring he said, to nobody in particular, "I want to do this every day".

Who can blame him?  Who doesn't enjoy succeeding at a challenge, particularly one that is respected in the community.  How can one not walk taller after such a challenge?

The question remains, then, how can we offer more challenges in the physical world to our youth?  Why is memorizing facts and excelling on standardized tests so terribly important that we put it at the head of our national curriculum?

Friday, May 4, 2012

Respect for the young

There are dozens of people with whom we all come into contact every day who can share with us their experience if we will open ourselves to it.  Many of them are significantly younger than we are.

I learned this important lesson at the tender age of 22 when I began Irish Step Dancing.  The next oldest in the class was 10.  I probably wouldn't have asked her advice on managing my love life or my retirement fund, but she had been dancing for years, she was calmly confident in her skill, and for months she maneuvered me through the expectations of a demanding instructor who didn't have time to individually instruct each of us.

I like to think that I have a degree of maturity equal to my age.  But I long ago stopped believing that just because I'm older I'm supposed to know more than my students about everything.  Kids often have a lot to teach if we'll only get past ourselves and respect what they have to offer.  And, when we do, we will find them significantly more open to what we have to teach them.  Respect of experience is a two way street.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Interest Grouping

I was reading an article in Bright Futures  (  The author suggested that we group students according to their interests, knocking aside grades and even age barriers.  Imagine the learning possibilities of a group of kids who are all interested in history or woodcraft of cooking or mechanics or French.  Classroom management becomes significantly less of an issue when students are presented with something to DO.  How much more learning can happen when they are surrounded by other studnts with the same interest from whom they can learn and with whom they can share.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


It was raining too hard to enjoy rowing today.  Generally in these circumstances we do knots and rowing machines, depending on the energy level of the crew.  This time, however, was different.  One boy gravitated instantly to the keyboard.  A young girl found her way to the guitar and yet another to the fiddle.

This crew, not all of them but most of them, were drawn to music.  Our knot session became a jam session with something the kids could do with their hands while they listened.  Unless they were dancing.

We didn't make it a big deal, tuning all the instruments to one another and picking a tune we all knew.  We each played what we loved in our turn and each appreciated the skill in our crew mates.

Experiential education is about experience.  Live music counts, particularly as each of us, kids and adults, was completely engaged in what we were hearing.

Experiential education isn't necessarily about rowing.  It's about doing.  Doing music counts.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Homeschool Sports

Time Magazine tells me that home schoolers are still fighting in some states for the privilege of playing on school sports teams.  There are arguments on both sides.  Schools have academic requirements for sports teams to encourage students to keep their grades up.  Home schoolers don't generally follow a standardized curriculum that can produce those grades.  Some schools can be recalcitrant towards individual students.  Some home schooling involves little beyond watching television.

It is complicated to have an individualized education plan for each student.  Yet each student is an individual, subject to growth spurts, maturity spurts, and changes of interests.  It is important that we as a society find the flexibility to address the needs of individual students, not just purport the big box theory of education.  If we simply "offer" education then we are free to be as rigid as we choose.  Read West Point.  The moment we as a society decided to "require" education we committed ourselves to meeting a vast range of needs.  It is a huge responsibility which demands flexibility.  The world has outgrown one education fits all.  Schools must do the same.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

A Simple Ask

I routered the edges of a piece I was working on today.  I'd never used a hand held router before.  A friend helped me set it up and showed me how to use it.

It occurred to me at the time that I had no trouble asking for help.  I'm familiar with tools.  That familiarity gives me a confidence that makes it easy to admit when I don't know something, and to learn it quickly.

Adolescence is a time of low self confidence.  Kids are trying to fit into an adult world where they are simply not ready to perform.  Why are we not showing them how to DO things, hundreds of things?  Knowledge may be power, but skill, almost any skill, is confidence.  Confidence enables a person to go to the next square, to believe that they can accomplish the task at hand, and so to perform in the real world.

Isn't that what education should be?

Friday, April 27, 2012


One measure of a person’s passion is his willingness to dispense with excuses and make do with whatever lot he’s been granted.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


I'm overwhelmed with the learning that is happening in this photo.  We're rigging out Niagara.  The kids are putting seizings on the rig to keep the masts in place.  Real work, no joke.  The kind of work that not only demands they turn a tight seizing, but that they remain comfortable aloft while they do it.  It demands commitment and courage both on the part of the kids in the photo and the crew who assigned them such an important task.

Have our 21st lives become so shallow that we no longer have important, demanding tasks that we can ask of our youth?  Or are we as adults hording these tasks for ourselves to give our own lives more meaning?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Having a skill in your hands is a settling thing.  I was trained as a rigger.  Although it has been many years since I rigged professionally on our recent trip to Erie to work with the crew of Niagara I was asked to make a seizing.

Something almost magical happened when my hands took that spike.  Suddenly, and for just a moment, I was complete.  Or was I simply the person I had been 25 years ago when the most complicated thing in my life was the seizing I was turning?  Muscle memory?  Do your hands ever forget the tools they know so well?

As I turned my first marlin spike hitch I wished with all my heart that I could give that comfortable settled experience to all my kids.  Not possible unless they decide to pick up the spike, the wrench, the running shoes, the oar for months at a time.  When they do it will become to them a touchstone that they can visit for the rest of their lives.

Monday, April 23, 2012


Station Maine's kids are normal teenagers.  Nobody is born wanting to bust their hump working, but we are born, hard wired, with the need to fit into a community.  On Niagara that community valued work highly.  The crew of Station Maine flowed with that expectation, buoyed up by older crew members who demonstrated a work ethic that found lateness for muster unacceptable, and who often worked well beyond "quitting time" because the work needs to be done.

Our society has separated work from the life of our youth.  Mom and dad work outside the home where the kids can never see or appreciate the value of those eight hours.  How can we expect them to value what they have never seen?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Self Reliance

We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us something is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch.  Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit.

                                                                                                                               . . .  e.e. cummings

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Mind

A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.
. . . Oliver Wendell Holmes

Friday, April 20, 2012


Teenagers are normal human beings.  They are young and unformed, but not so different from adults.  They want to fit into their society.  They want to be taught how to fit in, how to advance within that society.  If we do not accept them, if we do not guide them into our society, if we do not trust them to make intelligent decisions, they will create a society for themselves within which they can belong.  This society will be, or already is, the anti-society, as opposite to the one from which they were excluded as they can make it.  Enter unsafe sex, illicit drugs, negative rock ‘n’ roll, tattoos, piercings.

If we simply accept these kids as who they are, give them the sense of belonging that we all need, direct them towards success, they will work hard to live up to the trust we offer them.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


As we travel one of the things I notice is how willing our kids are to use the ambassadorial skills that they have learned as part of our program.  Firm handshake, eye contact, sir, ma'am, please, thank you.  Our corner of Maine is sheltered.  Kids can go months at a time without meeting anyone who they haven't known for years.  In this new outside world there are gas station attendants, passers by who ask about us (we all wear our uniform shirts and hoodies when we travel).

The kids are shy as any young teen would be.  But they know what to do and take pride in how they present themselves to the public.  These are simple skills, but knowing for sure how to behave goes a long way towards building the confidence that we seek in these kids.  Travel gives us so many opportunities to practice.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Earning Your Way

Station Maine is heading out on expedition today.  The Station is covering the food.  I believe that every child has the right to be fed until they turn 18.  The kids are each kicking in $100 of their own money to cover the costs of transportation to Erie, PA where we will crew on the Brig Niagara for a week.

Let me say that again.  The kids are kicking their OWN money.  Money that they have earned.  Birthday and Christmas presents don't count.  The earning of that money is its own experiential education and an essential part of what we need them to learn.  You can earn money, you can save money, and that money can take you on wonderful adventures.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Hood

We checked the engine before we left today.  Oil, washer fluid, coolant.  Each of the five high school students joining us on this expedition to Erie will have the responsibility at several points during this trip to perform this simple act.

It saddened me that only one of them had ever cracked the hood of a car.  I can think of few tasks that will be more useful and relevent as they reach adulthood than simply maintaining the fluids in their car.  Yet they are not taught in school.  Why?

Monday, April 16, 2012


We are staying as guests at one of our crew members homes tonight.  Mom left four food choices on the notice board.  The kids opted for pizza.  A crew of four boys are down there now making it.  Too many cooks just might spoil the broth, but a handful of adolescent boys only make it more fun.

I gave them no directions.  No help.  It will be burnt, it will be raw, it will be perfect.  Who knows.  Nor will I direct them on how to clean up.  They'll figure it out.  Food is a part of life that everyone needs to understand.  Cooking in a strange kitchen is probably something we'll all have to deal with at some time in our lives.  Starting this adventure surrounded by friends is a great way to go.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


The sunrise just made a perfect line.  The sun itself tucked just behind the clouds.  The reflection on the sea exactly surrounded Rockland’s lighthouse.  Another perfect line of reflection came straight towards me.  All perfectly symmetrical, perfectly colored and proportioned.  I loved the moment, and then it was gone.

We don’t need to teach children to appreciate such beauty.  Studies have shown that we are born with this ability.  What we need, what our children need, is enough of an emotional break in the craziness of our lives to actually see the beauty.  And maybe permission to love it. 

We as adults have chosen the pace of our lives.  Children should not be forced to maintain that pace.  It is faster than their emotional/mental/cognitive legs can carry them.  They’ll “get there” in the end, but I’m not sure it’s worth what they have missed along the way.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Alternative Education

Rockland has a strong and growing Alternative Education program.  Some of the kids have greater needs than others but all are being directed towards their strengths in education.  All are being taught to succeed.  All are being given experiential opportunities.

Why does a kid have to be "Alternative" in order to qualify for a higher quality of learning experience?  When do the family visits to a museum or the hobbies a student might engage in at home begin to count as "real" education?  Why doesn't each student have his or her own Individualized Education Plan?  Can the mainstream student, and their parents, not be trusted with the direction of his or her life?

Thursday, April 12, 2012



Low tide is the best time for tideline archeology.  We rowed to Buoy Park.  Just landing on a new dock and approaching the city from a new entry portal is a big deal when you think about it.  But the low tide revealed an all but sunken cement pier.  We called historians, we speculated, we wondered about its origins.  We found no answers.  Only wonder.

That’s the education, right there.  Wonder.  Kids and adults both need time and space and the freedom of thought to just wonder.

As one of the students observed, beaming brightly, “Why can’t we do this every day?”

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


"You can't build a reputation on what you're going to do." - Henry Ford

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Gel Coat

I laid gel coat today.  It's the final coat on fiberglass, a colored epoxy that seals everything.  It shows up every single mistake.  Every slight tilt of the grinder, every stray drop of resin are all painfully obvious on the bottom of this boat.

I figure I had two choices.  I could grind and sand and paint and work the fiberglass as best I could in hopes of getting a servicable boat.  Or I could do nothing and have no hope.  Raising money to hire "experts" finish the boat just isn't an option for a mediocre hull.

Norumbega will never be a silk purse.  But she will float, she will row straight, she will sail adequately and she will make it possible for hundreds of kids to go to water.  She will double the capacity of Station Maine.  I'm proud of the job I did on that hull.

Saturday, April 7, 2012


A young teacher approached me today.  She sees the shallowness of the education she is permitted to offer her kids.  She wants more.  She wants to start an Alternative Ed. class around lobstering, deliberately centering a student's education on the core of Rockland's economy.  She wants the kids, as part of the class, to actually go out and haul every day.  Math in running a small business, bait, gear, profit and loss.  English in journals.  Social Studies in the history of the area, of lobstering, of the hundreds of ways various cultures cook lobster.  Science in bottom grabs, feeding habits, interesting study and original research.

I am encouraged because I'm feeling the stirrings all around me of experiential education.  There is a tinder box forming all around me.  All we need is a match.

Friday, April 6, 2012


One of the crew at the boatyard inspired me today.  He said he wasn't keen on owning his own boat.  What excited him was having a lovely luxury yacht come in.  He would work on it, scrape, grind, prime, glass, paint.  When she leaves she is a work of art, a tiny piece of perfection.  The work of his hand.  The satisfaction on his face told it all.

Is it even possible to give our kids that satisfaction in their education?  I mean, really, how much soul stirring gratification can there be in a multiple choice test?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

More Mistakes

Today’s conversation went something like this…

“I can’t cox.”
“Why not?”
“I’ve never done it before.”
“So, I’ll fail.”
“Had anyone else ever coxed before their first time here?”
“So, why can’t you do it?”
“Because I can’t.”

All this while we were throwing our dock lines off and our reluctant cox took her place at the helm.  She wasn’t five minutes out, using the tiller for the first time, before she asked, ever so shyly “Can I do the commands too?”

She was loud, she was sure, she made mistakes, and she recovered from them.  She maneuvered the gig very well against a strong northeast wind.

The crew agreed that a fair “punishment” for “lying” to us that she was going to fail should be dipping her hand in the cold water.

Why are these kids so sure that making a mistake is the same as failing?  What have we as a society taught them, and how do we un-teach it?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


I’m making dozens of mistakes as I learn to finish a fiberglass boat.  I attached the keel today.  Do-overs are frustrating, but this too is experiential education.  I am learning every time I touch this project.  Occasionally, if I’m lucky, someone more skilled and experienced than me comes along to advise or encourage me.  Every day I walk away from this project tired and hugely empowered.

Are we doing our kids a dis-service shielding them from “failing”?  Maybe, if we can give them opportunities to make mistakes we can show them how to profit from those mistakes.

My keel isn’t perfect, but it will still help the boat go straight.  The next one will be better.  Tomorrow, I’m going to make different mistakes, and learn from them.

Monday, April 2, 2012

A Single Skill

I notice often that certain kids will choose to sit the number one seat, where the oars are lashed.  They have taken on the oars as their special field of competence.  They proudly repeat those magic moments when they can lash the oars.  They rarely get it right the first time, but they get some part of it right and so they are anxious to try again.  They learn to pass the oars out according to number and to wait til each oar is tossed before going on to the next one.
This isn’t a highly skilled job.  Really, how hard can lashing oars actually be?  But for young adolescents finding their way in the world it is a moment of safety.  They can be useful, they will be praised, they will feel competent and important for that one moment.  It doesn’t take much to encourage a kid.  They just need to hold on to something they can believe in themselves for.  So, they pull number one and they are happy.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Only a little

“Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing
because he could do only a little.”  -Edmund Burke

Saturday, March 31, 2012


I had dinner last night with a man who loves to cook.  He's good at it.  I couldn't help but take pleasure in listening to him describe this three course meal we were about to enjoy.  Where he bought the lamb, his conversation with the butcher over the sausage, the how and why of ingredients blended to perfection that made a simple supper into an event.

I understand that many of us, particularly families with children and busy schedules, have less time to cook than we wish we had.  But I can't help but mourn the waning of cooking in our culture.  A simple act of creation, a simple act of skill and the sharing of that skill, both eating and cooking.  I would be wretchedly poor if I did not know how to cook.  My life would be less.

Must we similarly impoverish our children by not teaching them this simple skill?

Friday, March 30, 2012


Kelsie lied today.  It was her turn to cox.  She told me even before we got to the dock that she was going to fail at it.  I responded, as I often do, that my job as captain is to keep the boat and crew safe.  Her job was to learn, not to already know.  Her shipmates' job is to have her back so she can learn, because some day she'll have their back.

It was blowing like stink out today.  Sheltered as we are in Rockland's south end we became helpless against powerful gusts from he south west.  Kelsie commanded.  She made mistakes.  Sometimes the wind just whipped us around and there was no controlling it.  We pulled and we laughed and we made mistakes and recovered from them and settled back securely at the dock and put the boat to bed.

We teased Kelsie loudly.  She lied.  She said she was going to fail and then she went and succeeded.  We had fun on the water today fighting the wind.  Didn't she remember she was supposed to blow it like she said?

Through all the laughing Kelsie got it.  We're all in this together.  It's a boat.  No matter who's coxing, if we don't pull together we won't make it back home.

On the way to the bus Kelsie asked me quietly "Can I do that again?"

Thursday, March 29, 2012


Early spring in Maine means some pretty wild weather.  It was raw today and blowing from the north east. I gave the kids the choice whether or not to go out.  They wanted it.  They wanted it bad.

While we were out there being tossed around by a ground swell and splashed by water from in and outside of the boat we actually fell into talking about why this was so great.  Really.  I was looking at smiles in between the waves.  Their conclusion, which they articulated themselves, was that it was so real.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

But the bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding go out to meet it.

When I have a crew of trained rowers I generally permit them to make the decision of whether or not to go out in weather.  The crew is generally divided.  The youngest are often the loudest, believing themselves equal to the task and ready to prove it to themselves and all observers.  The older, more experienced kids who actually know what they’re about to get into, are often more reticent, yet willing nonetheless. 

It is the cox, or coxes of the day, who ultimately decide.  That decision is based on their own experience of wind and weather.  It is based on their own estimation of how well they feel they can handle the gig.

They are the brave ones.  I am always thrilled to watch them make the decision, yes or no.  To say yes requires them to keep seven souls safe on the water.  To say no risks censure from their crew.

I have never seen that decision made badly.  Yes or no, go or stay, the sea will have her pound of flesh.  And courage will have been formed on that day.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Those who make the decisions

The people who make the important decisions around schools are often long on academia and short on experience in their personal lives.  It is human nature to value the knowledge and skills you have more than the ones you don’t have. 

We haven’t figured out how to translate what we do to a level where those who haven’t experienced it can understand it.  I’m not sure it can be understood without experience. We need to find a way to get teachers and administrators out there on the boat, commanding the gig, seeing the Rockland waterfront from seaward.  We need to find a way to give them the same experience that we offer their students.  That alone could make a huge difference in education.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Odd Skills

My father taught me that nothing you learn will go to waste.  He was right, sort of.  Having survived an outdated school system, I hold volumes of esoteric knowledge for which I have had little or no use in my life.  I can’t say that higher mathematics did a whole lot to expand my adolescent brain.  I suppose someone cares about the Persian kings and their battle strategies, but I can’t say this knowledge has influenced many of my life decisions.

I can say, though, that nothing I have learned to DO has gone to waste.  Basic things like replacing a muffler on my car or cooking a decent meal are things I draw on almost every day, even though these days I pay somebody else to replace my muffler.  Even wildly esoteric things like molding lead bullets for a flintlock musket or crocheting lace for a friend’s wedding dress have helped me to grow.  These skills, these experiences, empower me.  They opened my eyes to laces that other craftswomen had created.  They taught me ancillary skills, like how to light a blow torch. 

Every skill I have ever learned without exception has opened a voice for me further into my being that says “I can”.