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