Kindling fires

The hill is like green velvet today, new grass popping up everywhere after a week of heavy rain. For a short while there was so little wind the bay was a sheet of gray glass–I could see the hulls of ships reflected in the water.

I must to go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by.  

My mother used to recite John Masefield’s poem when she put my brother and me to bed at night, one of the many highly rhythmical ones that lulled unsuspecting children to sleep.

When my eldest son was in second or third grade, his teacher did a unit on sailing ships and arranged for the class to spend the night on the C.A. Thayer, a three-masted schooner built in 1895 that transported lumber along the west coast until 1912, then was converted to salmon-fishing. Eventually it was turned over to the National Park Service and became part of the Maritime Museum’s collection of historic vessels in San Francisco harbor, where San Francisco schoolchildren went on field trips. But this was a special one, an overnight overseen by parents, teachers, and park rangers. We spent weeks practicing knots. The kids learned about reading compasses, navigating by the stars, the sorts of jobs people did back then, the lumber trade, salmon fishing. The children were each assigned a role (cook, 1st mate, seaman, etc.) and had to perform duties that included standing watch, swabbing the deck, and serving meals to the crew.  They slept on wooden bunks, one on top of another, so close together that a grown person couldn’t sit up in bed.

The kids loved it, of course.  My father-in-law sent a letter written as though he was a striking longshoreman that was read aloud to the children. It sounded pretty authentic, probably because he actually did participate in the San Francisco general strike in 1934 that began as a longshoreman’s strike led by Australian firebrand Harry Bridges. It was a great way to learn history. That was at a public school in the 1970s.  And now that son is 39 and has a child of his own, and the public schools mostly focus on standardized testing.  Seems to me the earlier version is more likely to promote learning, but then I’ve always been a sucker for the hands-on approach.

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.–Mark Twain

The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.–Plutarch


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2 Responses to Kindling fires

  1. Lisa Neumann says:

    Your blog seems my precious find for 2012. I eagerly arrive to drink in the next story. Thanks for email. Lisa

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