I learned something about teaching today. It was the end of a really good row, one of the pretty days when the sea sparkled and everyone on board had a chance to cox, to lead, to stretch, and to grow. It was time to put the gig to bed and lash the oars. Ours is a simple figure eight lashing finished off with a double half hitch. Easy to anyone who knows how, significantly more challenging for those who don’t. I was facing a crew of the latter.
As I was demonstrating I noticed Mason off talking with Bobby. Something in me snapped. I called him over, not particularly gently, to learn. Both lads turned almost immediately and participated appropriately, no problem, no questions, no rebellion. I’m finding more and more that sense of immediate responsiveness in these kids. There is a deep sense here that this is something worth learning.
Looking back I realize that that sense of urgency comes from me. I am invested, completely invested, in what I am teaching. Lashing those oars is an important part of what we do. Let it slack and we can find an essential piece of gear rolling around in the boat, dancing out, and floating away. Oars might be damaged or cause damage to the gig. They must be lashed, particularly this fall where the winds are so strong and so arbitrary.
Because I believe in the importance of sound seamanship in stowing the gear I find it remarkably easy to pass that on, to teach these kids the proper way to stow a boat. My indignation in Mason and Bobby not listening is really not because my teaching ego has been injured, but because what I teach has a core value in which I am so invested. Because I am so invested I find I have almost no time or mental energy for my own ego to be bruised. Because I am so invested the kids can see the need to pay attention even though, in their adolescent innocence, they cannot share that urgency.
As ardently as I believe in my program I am completely aware that there are well educated people from coast to coast who have never even thought about lashing the oars in a Cornish Pilot gig. But there is not a single student in the country who doesn’t need to know how to care for his or her gear. Seamanship, of which lashing the oars is certainly a part, has often been defined as being prepared for what might happen, often three and four steps ahead of when it actually does happen. That, alone, is a deeply sought after and completely transferable skill. Planning ahead, preparing for future possibilities, thinking beyond the end of your nose are not only life skills but essential qualities in sailing a boat or running a corporation.
So, I will continue to force the attention of ungrateful adolescents towards the simple procedures of caring for their gear. They will fight me on this because they are kids. I will win and they will learn because I know in the deepest recesses of my heart that what I am teaching them on this boat, to its smallest detail, is hugely important. Their lives will be stronger and their futures brighter because I forced them to learn to lash the oars.