A new school

It’s not a question of how to design a boat

It’s a question of why

 

dragging dory 540

 

A boat’s design affects everything it does. Boats are potent symbols. Their form, the entire aesthetic out of which they grow, affects our perception of them. As we interact with our boats their forms change our lives.

A boat needs a purpose: A reason to voyage. Work for its crew. Cargo to be delivered. It can bring us together. Promote our integration as individuals living within a vital culture. If not? Then, well, there are enough boats out there already….

If we look at our pleasure boats from outside our own perspective; no matter how we try to minimize it, yachts flaunt their uselessness. They create a spectacle of conspicuous consumption.

1200-hp-outboard-boat

When the choice is between a 300-foot mega-yacht or a seventy-knot cigarette boat or a sport-fishing boat with 1200 hp a modest sail boat or a canoe can seem free of this taint; but only by comparison to these absurd excesses.

Any boat built just for pleasure is a luxury item. In difficult times this is certainly the case. As a luxury pleasure boats exist to provide glamour to those who can afford them. As John Berger pointed out, glamour exists to provoke envy. Whether we view this as an unintended consequence or just what we paid for, our boats alienate those we think we can afford to ignore.

So long as a boat is perceived as a glamorous object – in its results whatever our intent – we are complicit in violence and destruction.

It’s easy to fixate on grand explosions of violence: wars, genocide. We may be quick to condemn others for their faults while we lose sight of our own, often subtle, complicity. We turn our anger outward, resisting any acknowledgement of our own responsibility.

Boats have been objects of glamour. They’ve been used to decimate marine life. They have transported whole peoples into captivity. Fed destructive wealth-pumps. Brought disease and extinction wherever we have taken them.

We need to see beyond our defensiveness, coasting on our personal sense of relative powerlessness, we let our selves feel that we are the victims when asked to confront what’s been done in our names to those who have really suffered. The surprising secret obscured by our fear is that only by facing these questions directly can we can gain our own freedom and whatever modicum of security might actually be possible.

 

A boat by its very nature requires a concentration of wealth. We lavish materials, skill, and effort on them. All taken from some other potential use.

It takes effort, skill, and perseverance to maintain and operate our boats.

Are they merely to be a distraction?

Let’s confront some difficult questions:

Can boats be redeemed from their history?

Can they help us redeem our selves in our present situation?

If we look at these questions outside our habitual patterns of dueling propaganda and counter-propaganda, shaping narratives, manipulating perceptions to maintain business-as-usual; can we discover how our boats can become vessels of transformation?

Boats are a natural platform and catalyst for learning. They immerse us in the need to navigate. Meeting all the challenges they put before us; from designing, to building, to sailing them; they bring us into a special kind of contact with each other. These situations provide potent lessons. Not just in how to work a boat. Immersed in life afloat we learn to navigate existence.

 

Boats are a school

Today, in just about every case, as soon as classes start schools close their doors. Those inside are provided for. Everyone else is excluded. Attention, effort, wealth are lavished on those accepted into the program at the expense of everyone we’ve left out.

We tend to think that a school should have a singular purpose. That they exist solely to educate their students. Segregating this single aspect of life from all others distorts our situation. We commit violence upon those we’ve ignored.

Violence soon becomes expedient inside the school. It’s a short step to believing that education is something done to people, vulnerable people, so as to gain an advantage over them, some form of control. Education becomes indoctrination. We see students simply as a means to an external end. We treat them as just another profit stream instead of appreciating them as our heirs.

F1d, 1,2,3

It is essential for a school to have an outward facing purpose.

All schools pay lip-service to the expectation that what happens inside them benefits the wider world. This adds credence to the so-called “pragmatic” pressure to eliminate “useless” education. The Arts are dropped because they serve no convenient obvious purpose.

We are caught in a race to ensure that schools focus exclusively on training cogs for the more efficient working of the machine. Practitioners and proponents of this view wish to carry the general course of destruction – the only true purpose of the machine – into every corner of our lives.

We wrap our schools in sentiment, claiming we’re after the greater good. Any notion of serving an abstraction like The Greater Good takes us off course. These ideas skip over any chance for coherence. The Greater Good, any ideology, is just another preoccupation. It bleeds attention away from actually developing engaged, living human beings here and now.

If we must see everything as a formula let me suggest one worthy of us:

Attention = Compassion

Jesus, Andrew & Julian at Launching party

This “formula” does not rely on quantification. It’s not a formula at all. It only makes sense in the doing.

Education is not “practice” in the sense we’re accustomed to understand its meaning. Practices are not arenas where we repeat actions, going through the motions. They are opportunities to act. Education, if it is to be vital, provides a setting for us to practice.

With full and caring attention we act.

We fulfill the moment.

We do what it requires of us.

In this we fulfill our responsibility to compassion.

 

We recognize that compassion is not a veneer of goodness pasted on a negotiated existence.

 

Difficult times are a gift.

If we but rise to the occasion.

Avalon interior profile

 

 

 

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2 thoughts on “A new school

  1. You seem to heap an awful lot of guilt on an inanimate object. I started sailing when I was six, and we were able to rent a sunfish (or sailfish, can’t remember which) with no training whatever. My dad would take my siblings & I out to see how many times we could flip over the boat. It was easy to learn sailing. One line and the tiller. I have owned three boats in my life so far, the last boat being a Victoria 18, nice little thing, and I always offered to take friends sailing, though I usually wound up going it alone.

    Do not blame boats for the actions of us humans. We have always been explorers. I suppose in the vein of your argument, you could add to the list shoes. For they have transported more people around the globe than boats. Shoes were on the feet of those fleeing the invading hordes, as they were on the feet of the hordes themselves. It was only when humans discovered water they couldn’t walk around that they then built boats.

    I have been fortunate to have lived on all three of the coasts of the U.S. and I have been through the Panama Canal a number of times (all on other peoples’ boats); I have a wide range of acquaintances from street hustlers to very well-off people and I have never heard anyone use the word ‘glamour’ when talking about boats. In fact, the largest group of people I have heard lamenting about other people’s boats are boaters who currently don’t own one.

    No, boats are blameless. They have been used for a variety of purposes, and I imagine the speed of vessels has always been topmost in the owner’s or captain’s minds. (Look at this site for an extended history of dingy sailing https://sailcraftblog.wordpress.com/). In Venice, in centuries long past, even the lowliest among them could put his meager lire in the hands of the captain when they were setting out on a trading venture. If successful, he would see a return on his investment. No, do not blame the boats.

    As far as schools go, well…that is too big a topic to take up in a comment. Who is it we keep out of schools when the “doors are closed” as you put it? Who, in their adult years, wants to return to elementary or high school? As an artist and a writer, I do lament that the first thing to go when budgets are addressed is Art. I firmly believe that Art is the single most important endeavor of mankind. (Capital ‘A’ Art is the triumvirate of Literature, Music and Plastic [or fine] Arts.) No, don’t even blame the schools, for they are the result of the people put in power by the voters’ narrow-sighted, easily-swayed, whims of what is best for their children. Here is a post by Stanley Fish on why we should return to a Classical Education http://insideclassicaled.com/stanely-fish-on-classical-education/. Frankly, I myself am all for a return to the Trivium and Quadrivium, though I doubt the school boards across the nation would agree with me.

    You are right in saying that sailboats can teach us. I think they can teach us all the very best lessons one needs in order to become a good human being and to truly enjoy life.Not the new abundance of super class J-yachts springing up, but in simple boats that are fun to sail and can take us across the lake or beyond the horizon. It’s incredible the kinds of sailboats one can find for much less money than you would think. They may take some sweat-equity to bring them up to snuff, but that, too, is time well spent. My last link is a young man rebuilding a 100+ year old sailboat. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCg-_lYeV8hBnDSay7nmphUA. He is both an exception and exceptional.

    No, do not blame the boats, for they are only the tools of us foolish humans that occasionally stumble across beauty in our pursuit of folly.

    1. Matthew,

      Thank you for reading and for responding.

      I must admit that I am a bit confused at how you got the idea that I was blaming an inanimate object. The whole thrust of the piece is that we are responsible and that when we abdicate this responsibility we become complicit in the damage our choices inflict.

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