The Captain's view

Why Sail With Kids?


By Michael (T.R.) Tepper-Rasmussen


02 March 2015


Hello from The Black Dolphin!


The boat is coming along both in terms of being a useful platform for students to learn and in terms of what the students are going to learn. We had our first class on board for a lesson about the pirate Cheung Po Tsai last month. The First Grade class came dressed in appropriate pirate gear and learned about some of the different roles and responsibilities aboard a sailboat. This month, the boat will be used with storyteller Phil McDermott in support of his Arts Interim project “The Deadly Mystery of the Black Dolphin Diary”. Soon, the boat will be going out with the Middle School Social Studies class to learn more about life at sea during the age of sail and the boat will make a stop in Repulse Bay during Pi Day (March 14) to do some Pi related activities and generally to join in on the fun.


So now that the boat is up and running, it is an appropriate time to answer some questions about why we choose to put students on The Black Dolphin. Why do we choose to have an outdoor classroom and what value does it provide to the educational experience?

To answer these questions I thought I would refer to the philosophy of an influential 20th Century educator, Kurt Hahn. Kurt Hahn was a German educator who founded the Salem school in 1920. He was a fierce critic of the rise of Nazism and was imprisoned in 1933 for his writings asking Germans to pick sides either with the philosophy of the Salem school or with Hitler. Hahn believed that outdoor adventure was a key element in delivering his philosophy to students.


That philosophy has several basic tenets, the first of which is “concern and compassion for others”. It was on this point that Hahn asked the German people to choose sides. He observed that this was lacking in the German educational system, which had allowed a leader like Hitler to come to power. The boat provides a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate compassion. We are literally all in the same boat. We share in our successes and failures together on a boat. If one student does not understand then another student takes time to explain. If one student is thirsty, they learn to assume others are as well and offer fellow boatmates a sip. This culture on board a boat cannot be easily recreated in another environment yet comes almost magically aboard a vessel at sea.

The second pillar in the Hahn philosophy is “tenacity in pursuit of truth”. The curriculum development team is working on ways to link the scientific data we collect aboard The Black Dolphin to the larger scientific community. We want to report on real data and then let students see how it can affect the world. The search for truth in regards to our local waters requires a mobile platform to conduct original research and if we are going to have a mobile science station we might as well make the whole thing run on wind power with a sail. Along with this pillar comes the idea of craftsmanship. How can you discover the truth if you are not careful and methodical in the pursuit? A wooden sailboat is a model of craftsmanship that requires constant attention to detail that enables mobility with efficiency and grace. The boat itself is the greatest teacher of craftsmanship, if something is not done well, it will have to be done again

The final pillar of Hahn philosophy is “a willingness to accept responsibility”. This has also been described as a “willingness for sensible self­-denial”. Hahn believed that responsibility was often tied to the idea of people doing what was good for the group. These lessons come naturally on a boat where everybody has a job to do and only if everyone is doing their job together does the boat work properly.


The Black Dolphin is unique in that regard. The professional crew needs the students to make the boat move. We cannot do it alone. The students need the professional crew to know how to make the boat function. It is in this symbiotic environment that students have a real opportunity to practice responsibility and sensible self denial.

As the The Black Dolphin becomes an ever increasing presence at The Harbour School, I am sure things will change. We will have new ideas and some of them will work out and some of them we will scrap. The model of an outdoor classroom is exciting and sometimes, in our enthusiasm for this idea, we try and do too much in the name of being responsible educators. I hope The Black Dolphin and her programs will be an evolving platform as we strive to maximize its potential to educate and inspire.


I like to think that the whole endeavour is an idea Kurt Hahn would have approved. As we sail into uncharted territories together in the name of Science, Exploration, Education and Stewardship, please feel free to write to me at with comments and questions.

*Michael Tepper-Rasmussen has left us to captain in more challenging waters. Our new captain of the Black Dolphin is Mike Bridges who is excited by our school's vision to bring learning alive to our students.   

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