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Sailing and Rigging: Learning and Rigor

By Christine Mason. “… the westerly wind dropped, and a southerly rose swiftly, galling me to the heart lest I retrace our course to meet the whirlpool’s terror. All night I was swept along, and at sunrise was back at Scylla‘s rock, and dread Charybdis, who swallowed the water round me” (from Homer’s Odyssey).

And from another author: “Seven miles offshore we meet our first ice. Closer in it is everywhere; there is often one floe ten yards to starboard and another just as close to port. These chunks are not pack ice formed from the frozen sea. They are splinters, dumptruck-sized, of larger icebergs. It’s impossible to guess just how much farther they extend beneath the surface.”  (Tuning the Rig: A Journey to the Arctic; Harvey Oxenhorn, 1990).

Recently, a writer on the web (B.R.Goven) wrote: “Someone once described sailing  as made up of one-third ecstasy, one-third boredom, and one-third abject  terror. While the degree of terror, or perhaps better stated as fear of uncertainty, can vary ….Sailing….is full of little details that can bog you down if the big picture is not kept foremost in mind.”

Each of these writers has focused our attention on the “story of a ship at sea.”  Can you empathize with the characters in these scenes at sea?  Were they engaged?  By what criteria would we say “yes?” Do their finally honed descriptions convince us that their attention is 100%?

In comparing their adventures at sea to learning in classrooms, we can examine not only student engagement, but also the preparation for learning (or sailing). What provisions had they made for their journeys?  How important were their riggings? The riggings that helped to steer their ships. 

Can you imagine learning that is 1/3 ectasy, 1/3 boredom, and 1/3 abject terror? This probably sounds more like Play Station 4 than learning in a classroom. However, is there a lesson to learn?  Is there a relationship between preparing the masthead and riggings and establishing requirements for rigor?  Could rigor be the riggings of instruction? Could rigor establish the lines and the tension between lessons? What other parallels could we draw?  In other blogs and articles, CEI has compared the role of principals to captains at the helm of their ships; we have described the necessity of leaders who can steer their ships through turbulent waters.  What else could be said regarding the ebb and flow of the ocean, the importance of crews who are on-board and supportive, and preparing to turn ships around? 

Two words that come to mind with these scenarios are perseverance and resiliency.  So not only did the characters in the stories need to be physically prepared, but they needed to be mentally fit to withstand the circumstances they encountered at sea.  Where did they gain their courage and confidence to proceed?  Is there something to the “risk taking” that occurs in their stories that may be missing in classrooms today? Some element that creates a sense of intimacy and action so that learning is truly a multi-sensory experience?  How important is it for youth to have a sense of being involved in action drama?  For youth to participate in learning not only as the reader-observer, but as the doer?

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