April 30, 2015 § 1 Comment
My February 2015 Sailing Magazine column “Kids should sail because it’s fun, not because it’s homework”, struck a nerve with reviewers who sought clearer key points.
The article explored US Sailing’s foray into education reform with a STEM sailing school curricula being offered by sailing schools around the country under the name REACH.
Jack Gierhart, Executive Director of US Sailing, came to the defense of his organization’s work, as he should, and wrote a rebuttal on the US Sailing blog and a letter to Sailing Magazine’s editor, in this month’s issue.
And sailing school directors and staffers from around the country came to the defense of their REACH programs. I was invited to learn more about their programs, and am always glad to do it.
But I’m no rookie here, having helped raise money for favorite sailing schools offering STEM/REACH programs all over the country. I can report, through work with leaders at some 200 sailing schools, no coincidence that the vibrant organizations, measured on popularity and participant enthusiasm, also offer rich, multi-faceted lessons beyond basic sailing or racing. In many, students learn to navigate, harness wind and water energy, predict the weather, and learn to use tools to design and build boats. A few special schools couple sailing with environmental science, oceanography, biology, ecology and data collection and analytics. These schools are breaking new ground each year and US Sailing deserves credit for hosting a forum for sharing ideas. Hurray!
However, as you might expect, everyone is working on the flimsiest financial shoestring. It may be telling that I’ve fundraised for sailing many more hours than I’ve sailed in the last six years and so have most other advocates.
Given that, my article suggested that STEM might be a response to the sloshing around of donor and tax dollars chasing alternative education methods, and that like anything bought during a transition driven by politics, STEM can’t last and could do some damage.
Some key questions:
1.) Is sailing a good platform for learning things other than sailing?
You’d be hard pressed to find a lover of sailing who doesn’t credit it as the source for many other things that they love, know and do. The physical nature of sailing is explained mathematically; sailing tools and techniques are improved every year by advancing science and technology; sailing teaches creative design and problem solving within tight limits — one of the proven best methods to arrive at a solution.
But equally importantly, sailing teaches teamwork, leadership, communication skills, inquisitiveness, resilience, the value of practice, strategy, creativity, organization and commitment. So yes, sailing is a fantastic platform for learning, but the focus of that learning need not be reduced to the left brain.
Answer: There are limits to STEM. It isn’t comprehensive enough to do justice to the opportunity to teach through sailing.
2.) Is a sailing school the place to learn advanced skills in things other than sailing?
Sailing as a teaching medium is inherently broad in what it can offer a student, but it is not inherently deep or specialized, unless it is the sailing that you plan to perfect. An aspiring engineer needing advanced calculus is not going to find it at a sailing school, although they might become an accomplished sailor at that school if they can find the time outside of math class. Of course, for the advanced math, they’ll need an advanced calculus teacher. Their calculus might nicely support their quest to become a champion sailor, but it won’t train them physically or strategically for it, in the same way that sailing can’t comprehensively support their quest to become a calculus expert, because sailing isn’t merely equations. So while integrated curricula can help to well-round a person, an expert becomes one by committing unpolluted time and focus on an advanced subject. Kids need both general and specialized educations.
Answer: It’s easy to over-promise with STEM. Sailing schools can’t do everything and they shouldn’t try.
3.) Is STEM new and will it last?
Professional educators often say that everything has been tried in the education laboratory, and most new things are just new names for old things. It isn’t new that a city has a school focused on technical subjects and another focused on sports. As long as ample funding flows to support both institutions, a student and their family and teachers are free to choose a path that fits the child.
What is new is that many more institutions – like sailing schools – now can call themselves schools while, at the same time, longtime schools are starved for cash. So today, anyone aspiring to teach kids, whether on boats or on blackboards, is at the mercy of the whims of the Gates Foundation or blows in the shifting winds of education politics.
Answer: Since no educator can count on sustained support, STEM potentially limits all of education.
Indeed, between the lines, my first article was an invitation to US Sailing and sailing advocates everywhere to think beyond STEM and the limits of a fad.
Sailors know that sailing isn’t just a program. It’s bigger. Sailing makes our lives exciting, fun and even worth living, because it constantly teaches us. It trains our minds and bodies to do more and be more. It brings us closer to mother nature and human innovation and expands our spiritual selves. It inspires us to share and stretch what we have. It reveals the power of compromise and cooperation. It strengthens our friendships, which, in turn, strengthen our communities and neighborhoods. It is gender, race, income, age and religion neutral. So it can be an essential ingredient in an educated, peaceful, aspirational and productive society.
Instead of marketing sailing as just another alternative to failing schools, or as one neat youth program among many, I would challenge US Sailing to go big and shout to the nation:
Sailing is the university of a well-led life from which no one need graduate.
To do this, US Sailing should elevate its mission. As a proud dues-paying member, I humbly offer this proposed draft: “US Sailing calls on local and national leaders to make sustained and substantial investments to secure access to water, fleets, spaces, tools, outdoor classrooms, and the free time for people to come together during their whole lives to learn and share, building the nation’s capabilities, creativity and social capital.”
Sorry Jack. Math doesn’t rock. Sailing rocks. Math just helps explain why.
April 12, 2015 § Leave a comment
I’m glad to have clarifying feedback and a deeper understanding of WaterWise, a program in New Zealand and Bermuda that integrates sailing and school subjects.
From Gus Miller at BSWW:
Good day Mr. Hayes,
In your February 1, 2015 Sailing Magazine piece “Kids should sail because it’s fun, not because it’s homework” you make statements carrying some grains of truth but you need to be a lot clearer about the intent of your essay. While you mention some valid points about STEAM, branding and fads, the corrupting effect of corporate goals and values, governmental heavy handed lack of insight and the abuse of funding, your statement that “in New Zealand… sailing is not a school subject, nor vise versa” needs correction.
Since 1980 New Zealand Schools WaterWise (NZSWW) and since 2000 Bermuda Schools WaterWise (BSWW) have taught tens of thousands of 10 to 12 year olds about water safety, seamanship and sailing as part of their school curriculum. NZSWW and BSWW are school based programs led by teachers, are not junior or after school sailing programs, have no need for outside sailing instructors and are conducted during school hours as part of the curriculum. They do use collaborating local club facilities in some cases while in others the schools themselves have waterfront facilities.
The biggest fans and drivers of WaterWise in Bermuda are the teachers because of the powerful effect it has on their students. It brings the joy and excitement of sailing into the classroom and the kids respond by becoming better students academically, better in deportment and in self esteem. Integrating school subjects with sailing lessons is a program that would “revolutionize the teaching of sailing and attract gobs more kids to it”, if it is done the right way
If middle schools in the Milwaukee school system had proper WaterWise program for all students, the number of children wanting to continue sailing would overwhelm Milwaukee’s capacity to provide the opportunity. While a few see the potential, that is just not happening in the USA because no one has a clear vision or understanding of how to do it, politics and egos get in the way and there is a general fear of change or something new and different.
Best wishes, Gus Miller / BSWW
Mr. Miller: I am pleased to know more about your terrific program. You might enjoy this article on page 44 of the May 2104 issue of Spinsheet, about the work of the Spirit of Bermuda, which I believe has a connection to your program.
As to the intent of my article on STEM: let me be clearer. I have no issue with program innovation and creatively integrated teaching curricula. We can use much more of both in the US.
- But, by adding many more fund-hungry institutions to an already too-small and too-empty education funding trough, we face a possibility that good schools and teachers might be hobbled when well-intended STEM sailing programs take money from schools and remove professional educators from the equation. And therefore…
- …that both schools and sailing programs should be generously funded for the benefit of both. I hope that US Sailing will make this its primary institutional objective, since all other alternatives pale.
April 10, 2015 § Leave a comment
Sailing ranks among country churches, Amish barns and potlucks as institutions substantially built and shaped by volunteers. Their work is all around us: in our clubs, games, safety nets and schools. They deserve a giant shout out. But shout loud and shout fast, because they’re also old. Here’s how to make sure their legacy of altruism isn’t squandered: Read my latest “On the Wind” column in Sailing Magazine.