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”.  

Friday, March 23, 2012

Bangor Daily

Check out the Bangor Daily at

They did a great article about Station Maine.

Thursday, March 22, 2012


We had so much fun on the water yesterday with Alt Ed.  They were as joyful as I was that it was so warm and the water was so still and so clear we could see the bottom at half tide.  Then they declared their own  talk like a pirate day.

I wish I could quantify what they learn on a given day.  Besides the sheer magic of the water we landed on the shingle beach at Owls Head.  We talked about rock formations and sedimentary rock being turned on its side in Rockland which created the lime quaries and quartz and shale and granite and limestone and the different industries in Penobscot Bay surrounding mining.  I know that kids retain lots more when they’re outside the classroom.  The geology of our area is certainly as important as the Grand Canyon and Great Salt Lake.

Clearly, the school systems in Rockland think so.  We are fortunate to be here.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Keel

I scarfed together a keel yesterday in a friend's workshop.  I am not a boat builder.  I'm not much of a woodworker.  But I'm normally intelligent and it needed to be done.  Because this particular keel will be formed with expoy glass putty and covered with several layers of fiberglass I knew it wasn't critical that it be perfect.  Just good enough to hold its shape.

I made a perfectly adequate keel.  A few dyslexic cuts had to be compensated for.  A few gaps will need putty.  And it probably took me twice as long as any competent craftsman working in his own shop.  But it's done and I feel great about it.

Have we, in our need for expertise and perfection, taken away from our kids, and ourselves for that matter, this sense of pride in doing something adequately enough?  Sometimes I feel like we channeling our kids towards the one field in which they will excel while denying them the chance to just do something.

I feel good about making that keel even though it's not perfect.  Everyone should have that privilege.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Work Ethic

I painted our trailer yesterday with a few volunteers from the Mid Coast School of Technology.  I found real pleasure in working with these young students.  They were in the Metal Fabrication class learning to weld, yet they clearly took seriously this mundane job of painting the trailer that they were a part of building for this community.
These students had that increasingly rare quality called a work ethic.  They made the decision that what they were doing was as important as the actual welding of the trailer.  They made the decision to find every crack and corner of that trailer and lay the epoxy primer thoroughly where it was needed the most.  They crawled on the floor, without being asked, to double check the underside.  They didn’t stop til the job was done.
No one is born with a work ethic.  Nor can one learn it out of a book.  It cannot be learned outside of direct experience.  How fortunate we are in this community to have schools that offer that direct experience.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Good Idea

Never give up on a good idea just because it's impossible.

Saturday, March 17, 2012


I laid fiberglass this week.  I don’t recommend this as a profession, although I have newfound admiration for the craftsmen and women who do this for a living.  It is hard and dirty work, but the results can be truly wonderful. 
So, here’s me in the bilge, laying strips of rapidly disappearing fiberglass to rows of resin over spots that I prepped over the week through hours of grinding.  Here’s me thinking thoughts like “why didn’t they tell me not to touch it?  Why didn’t they tell me how to mix the resin without making a mess?  How do I get the fingers of my gloves un-stuck?”
This is, of course, experiential education.  My own education born of yet another new experience and a new skill.  Knowing the theory of  how fiberglass is laid or simply  watching fiberglass laid, are pale shadows compared to actually doing the job myself.  Do I enjoy doing it?  No.  But I feel so empowered through having done it that it is worth every whiff of styrene and every itch of fiberglass.
The often unmeasurable results of experiential education lie in this sense of empowerment.  

Friday, March 16, 2012

Touching the Water

At the end of a perfect hour on the water, at the end of a perfect docking, Amanda asked an almost sad question.  “Can we touch the water?”  This child, who lives on the coast of Maine, had so little contact with the sea as to make touching the ocean exciting.
Of course we were all down on our bellies in a trice.  The sea is cold.  It’s still salty, even in winter, and, yes, you can get sick and die if you drink too much sea water.  The starfish that we saw earlier is gone now because starfish are actually quite mobile.  Just slow.  The tholl pin cover that we saw earlier will probably stay there til summer when I’m willing to go in after it.  It is not mobile.
Often the best learning moments are spontaneous, afforded by students who are unafraid to ask questions.

Thursday, March 15, 2012


Station Maine’s gig is five feet wide.  At a really low tide we can slip under the many docks in Rockland and maneuver among the pilings. 
I think today’s lesson was about applied geometry.  First we needed to learn to boat our oars efficiently, bringing them in to the gig, yet making sure they were available to the call Come to Oars.  Then we had to estimate the width of the pilings.  Where could we actually fit?  Once we were actually under the pier there was considerable moving around to be managed.  Where can we fit?  Where can we turn?  Is the gig too long to manage that turn?  Suddenly 32’ seems miles long.  It was a puzzle that we all needed to solve together.  It was a deliberately maneuvered situation in which every crew member is needed to fend off barnacle covered pilings and push or pull as needed.  Everyone’s hands got slimy.
Of course we made it out.  We left with a deeper understanding of the capabilities of our gig, her draft, her length and beam.  And we had fun.  I’m not sure how one quantifies any of that, but I’ll stand by it as learning.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Attitude Changes Things

I thought about What One Emphasizes today (this blog, Feb. 27, 2012).  I’m working on a fiberglass gig in the boatyard.  My chore for the day was to vacuum up all the dust I had raised over hundreds of square feet of concrete floor with a shop vac that no attachment which would allow me to stand.  Here’s me, all alone, walking the length of a concrete floor on my knees sucking up the fine white powder, ten inch swatches at a time.  For hours.
Times like this really are times of decision.  I could choose to be miserable.  But why would I do a dumb thing like that?  Being around someone with a bad attitude is even less fun than vacuuming a cement floor on your knees.
So, I found good things to think about.  I sang.  I dreamed of the fun I’ll have when the boat is in the water.  I planned the launching party.  I dreamed of how many calories I was burning.  And eventually the floor was done.
The floor would have got done even if I had been crabby, but I wouldn’t have had as good a day.  It’s the same amount of work either way.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Learning and life

 “Never stop learning. The moment we stop learning is the moment we stop living.” 

Sunday, March 11, 2012


We’ve got to be honest with our kids.  This is especially true for teachers.  When a kid asks ‘Why do I have to study this subject?’ they deserve an intelligent and well thought out answer.  For us as teachers we should dip into our own past.  Why did we become teachers of our particular subject?  How has the depth of knowledge that you have accrued in your subject influenced how you lead your life?  How has it made your life easier?  Or more colorful?  How has it saved you money?
Students are required to be in school, which sets up an adversarial relationship almost as soon kids begin to think there are other things they’d rather be doing.  It runs against our nature to be required to do anything.  At least kids deserve honest answers to why they have to be in school, why they have to study math, English, art, etc.  Why, in Station Maine’s situation, they have to go out on a boat in the middle of winter.  It is our job to have honest answers to these questions.

Saturday, March 10, 2012


Experiential education is about personal moments.  The moment of courage you find when you actually step onto a tippy boat for the first time.  The moment you are the one giving the orders from the coxswain’s seat, hoping in your heart that you’ll get it right and that everyone will think you’re capable.  The day you’re the one who has to leap from the bow of the boat to the shore with a line in your hand.  The moment you recovered your oar when it got stuck in the water, and you didn’t miss a beat.
Within each of those moments is built a shot of belief in oneself which, in the minds of most young people, is replayed over and over again.
How can that be anything but good?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Academic and Experiential

Experiential education is often about self discovery.  It’s about moment after moment of often small, insignificant victories, all of which add up to “I can”.
A school system that blends experiential and academic education often hears teachers playing to student victories.  “You had the courage to command the gig today.  Of course you have what it takes to figure out the area of a triangle.  You can do anything.”  Kids believe comments like that because, at least for a moment out on the water, they accomplished something that they themselves thought they couldn’t do.
Academic and experiential working together.  How do we accomplish this?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

One Size Education

A colleague mentioned to me the other day his frustration in teaching kids advanced math, a skill which the system requires, but which teaches them so little about life.  I am reminded of my own high school math classes and of the hours of frustration.  I have never found a use for math beyond balancing my checkbook and purchasing wood to build my home.
I was once tempted to stop the story there and leave a silent self righteousness behind.  But one of my young rowers is exceedingly good at math.  He thrills to solving difficult equations.  Yet he runs screaming from the room should I happen to even begin to recite one of the dozens of poems that I have memorized since childhood.  These poems have been solace to me for decades.  How can anyone distain them as I distained math?
I wonder how long it will take the school system, worldwide, to figure out that one size doesn’t fit all.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Working for the community

Real means a lot to kids.  OK, they get the part where they need to learn and projects are created to that end.  But Station Maine needs a new trailer, and the Metal Fabrication students at the Mid Coast School of Technology are putting out work, real work, with a level of skill and maturity that matches the highest level shops on the coast.

I have always known that the students at MCST are held to high standards.  But I believe their smiles, and the smiles of their instructor, reflect the community nature of this particular project.  Their task is to build a trailer that will be used for years to come taking Station Maine's boats, and the kids of this community, on adventures.  These welding students will be able to look at this trailer for years to come and know that they were a part of it.  They will probably be able to point it out to their children, when they have children, and tell the story of building her.

A community that functions well can have projects where everyone wins.  The welding students have a real world project.  Station Maine has the best trailer that can be made.  The community is made stronger because experiential education is real on the coast of Maine.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


We had a coach’s meeting out on North Haven this weekend.  I was struck by the differences of the cultures we each serve.  The islands are microcosms.  Transportation isn’t much of an issue there, nor are there hundreds of distractions and opportunities for their children.  Station Maine struggles with those issues, but living on the mainland with thousands of youth we have an endless population of kids for whom open water rowing might be the perfect sport.  On the ferry trip home I extended this view to the many inner city programs in Boston and New York.  Issues of gangs and violence, racial and economic differences.
We all love the boats and the kids or we wouldn’t be here.  We all want to win the races because we’re human.  But beyond that, at a deeper level, I can’t help but notice that we all, every man or woman who coaches Open Water Rowing, want something more for our kids.  More than just the winning title we want them to have opportunities beyond our individual communities.  We want them to be able to expand their circle of friends.  We want them to know that there is a bigger world out there and we want them to be prepared for it.  We want them to know that they can be or do anything that they set their minds to.
You get the idea.  We're all different, but it's our similarities that have pulled us together to coach Open Water Rowing.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Changing the World

     Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.
                                                                                          Margaret Mead

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Three Rules of Seamanship

In Station Maine we have three rules of Seamanship.

1)    Hit is bad.
 Hitting rocks, hitting the dock, hitting each other’s oars, fill in the blank.

2)    Cover your mate’s back, because some day he’s going to have to cover yours.
Everyone coxes, everyone pulls every position, and everyone makes mistakes.  A wise crew takes care of each other on and off the water.

3)    There’s always something you can do.
Don’t tell me that the wind was against you and the rocks just showed up and there was nothing you could do.  Do something.  Hold water.  Back water.  Throw an anchor.  Get out and push.  The sea has no time for victims.  The ones who survive are the ones who don’t give up.

Even if our students learn nothing else, if they understand and embrace these three rules their lives will be different. 

Saturday, March 3, 2012


Sometimes we don’t know what we want til someone shows us the possibilities.

School could be that.  School needs to show kids what’s out there.  They need to see what having an education can actually do for them.  Kids from limited backgrounds especially have no clue what math or science or history can do for them.  Math or history, in their mind, might prepare them to be a math or history teacher.  Science might prepare them to be a scientist because they’ve seen scientists in all the James Bond films, but what, exactly does that mean?

What if part of every teacher training was vocational awareness?  What if every teacher, on the way to becoming a teacher, learned about the career paths associated with each subject?  What if every text book contained chapters describing career opportunities and “day in the life” scenes of successful individuals in the field?

The mantra of get “good grades, go to college, get a good job, make a lot of money, be happy” has been found to be a lie.  Students need to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  It’s our job as educators to shine that light.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

One Size Education

We need programs for the Jims of the world.  He’s a big lad, big enough for his uncle to have taken him ground fishing.  When we rowed past a dragger he came alive with information on how the deck was shaped and why, what all the gear was for, and his glorious plans for the future.  Unfortunately he’s stuck in school.  He can’t wait to get out and move on with his life.
Why isn’t there an apprentice program in place for the Jims of the world?  I don’t think he should forsake all other learning and go to sea.  I think that we should take his ambition seriously and tailor an education towards that real and genuine goal.  His math should be directed towards how to run a small business, his boat for instance.  His science should be centered on why what fish feed where and be peppered with original research gleaned on his uncle’s boat while he was learning the trade. This kid could blossom in school.  Why does education have to be one size fits all?
We decry the lack of ambition in the younger generation.  Shouldn’t the system be forced to make a place for students with genuine ambition to prepare them for the future that they have chosen?