REACH is neat, but STEM is still a fad. Let’s go bigger!

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.

Intergen Sailing

saving hawaiian style | Sailing Anarchy

February 15, 2013 § 1 Comment

SA is reporting on “Saving Sailing” in Hawaii, happening right now…

Every year Hawaii Yacht Club and Waikiki Yacht Club, and their sailing directors Scott Melander and Guy Fleming make available their boats, and their yacht club facilities to high school kids on Oahu, and have an amazing season with two divisions of Varsity Sailing, and JV. Hundreds of kids are introduced to the sport, or continue their Junior development. Talk about “Saving Sailing”…these guys live it every day. Photo: Guy Fleming, Waikiki Yacht Club.

saving-11

Read more: saving hawaiian style | Sailing Anarchy.

Pop-up sailing?

February 2, 2013 § Leave a comment

Nick,
Hi, my name is R P. I heard about your book Saving Sailing on Sailing Anarchy. I am about 100 pages into it and enjoying it quite a bit so far. In your book, you mention a French-designed boat on page 94 that sounds like the perfect boat for my family in our current situation. Could you tell me the make or model of the boat you are talking about? Thanks for any help you can offer.
R

——-
Hi R,

I believe it was/is called the Kaïdoz. Not sure of it is still in production. Can’t say it was beautiful, but it seemed innovative.
Kaïdoz
Thanks for your message.
Nick

In yer face, Rolex

January 9, 2013 § 1 Comment

In yer face, Rolex

Seen first on SailingAnarchy.com.

Energy drink marketers are way smarter than I. After all, in the last 10 years they’ve invented new and novel ways to get folks to pay $7 billion more for caffeine. It’s the equivalent of repositioning the hot-dog as la cuisine gastronomique. Genius.

But this time, I think they’re really on to something. They might even Save Sailing!

Look around. Sailing is changing. It’s getting faster and way more fun for the pros. So the pros need helmets. And helmets need logos. Any savvy marketer will tell you those logos should reflect the target audience’s grandest aspirations. For example, everyone knows that NFL fans prefer tasteless beer and pizza.

What an honor it is for sailors to have caught the attention of said brilliant energy drink marketers, even in our advanced age. We’re no longer lowly connoisseurs of platinum timepieces and French champagne. No, thankfully, we sailors have just been promoted to the gas station drink cooler.

It’s a new day for sailing. Shed the pretension. Blue blood be damned. Let’s get real about our awesome sport. It’s extreme. It’s in yer face. It’s for guys with huge trucks.

Popeye, meet Viagra.

—–

Update (01/16/2013): Here is what the Anarchists had to say. My favorite comment:

Skoal Bandit KWRW ?

Filing a protest

June 9, 2012 § 2 Comments

Filing a protest

First published on SailingAnarchy.com, June 2012.

Never accept a meeting request when the executive’s assistant starts with “he would like to tell you his ideas.” I did it this time and got burned.

These are the ideas of the head of AC-34’s Event Authority, in a nutshell:

  1. The financiers are tiring of the spend.
  2. Professional sailors can’t make a living.
  3. There aren’t enough amateur sailors supporting this pyramid.

So this AC will invent new TV heroes to attract fans to fund year-round professional sailors, take the financiers off of the hook, and transfer the costs to an unwitting couch-bound audience duped into an overpriced hat and a junkmailbox crammed with offers from sponsors. “We’re building a new pyramid.”

Oh, and sailors should sit quiet and be pleased, “’cause you get the trickle down.”

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Passion…

March 28, 2012 § 2 Comments

First published on SailingAnarchy – March 2012

It’s what we all have for sailing, right?

Well, not compared to walking, or dancing, or playing cricket, or even bushwalking. Yes, I said bushwalking.

In fact, according to one of the most comprehensive research studies on recreational sailing ever conducted, sailing ranks 37th out of 46 sports tracked, with only 5% of the population calling themselves fanatics. Three and a half times as many bushwalkers (hikers, in Aussie) are fanatics about what they do.

Credit Yachting Australia (YA), the Australian version of US Sailing, for investing in the future of sailing by listening to sailors and aspiring sailors of all ages. The organization commissioned a massive study, talked to thousands of people, and are using what they’ve learned to develop new ideas to grow sailing and make it better in the down under.

The report is a treasure-trove of terrific insights and ideas. Since the Australian recreational sailing experience and Australia’s population and economic development essentially parallel the rest of the developed world, sailing advocates everywhere should thank the folks at YA for putting it out there and then grab all of YA’s good ideas for their own use.

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The 1 Percent

December 18, 2011 § 1 Comment

First published on SailingAnarchy – December 2011

Almost nobody aspires to be cold, wet and scared. American kids are more likely to imagine themselves walking alongside the Mars Rover encased in Kevlar, breathing tank-warmed earth air, than traveling a few miles aboard a sailboat. Perceptions override probabilities.

To see how, you might follow a school field trip to the beach.

Every May, a second-grade class hums and hops at the top of the Milwaukee bluff, shouting out over endless water whipped blue-gray by a northeaster. They’re there to learn a bit about history, weather, commerce and ecology, and most will.

A rusty lake freighter carrying corn plows north sending white sheets over its bow. One kid wonders aloud if people are driving the ship or if it drives itself. Otherwise, the lake is empty and intimidating.

The class braves prickers and thistles on the Poe-esque descent to the beach, leaving dry breeze and a warm sun for the gray dampness that hovers at the shoreline. The teacher tells of wild weather, shipwrecks, drownings, pollution and extinctions while the kids pick sticks to find a shell or a flat rock in the smelly goo of algae, gull poop and chunks of a gelatinous carp carcass. Gulls screech. Tan waves roll and break. An opossum lumbers in the brush.

It is not sandy sand, more rough and jagged mixed with green glass and plastic pieces, littered with the massive white pine bones of the sailing ships that delivered ore from north to south over one hundred years ago and deformed concrete and rebar leftover from human attempts to slow erosion.

Then, the icy water. A few touch a bare toe to it. Like an electric shock, it punches first, hurts and then numbs to the knees. In minutes the class retreats full tilt and screaming spraying mud to the top of the bluff. There, shivering second graders are unanimous that no sane person should go in the lake nor even near it, much less out onto it in a boat. The teacher and chaperones concur. At home, nearly every listening parent agrees. Some warn that the beach and the lake are off limits. Forever. Period.

Childhood experiences almost always have Americans avoiding the water for most, if not all of our lives. We worry about undertows, or sudden storms, or bacteria, or sharks, or the sure disaster caused by swimming too soon after eating. So the idea of sailing seems so risky and foreign that most, indeed 99% of Americans, will never seriously try.

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