Down Main Street with Phil Groce — The Buzz

Only an Apprentice? Allow me to introduce, Lance Lee, well-known in nautical circles in Rockland and the world, and who is now in the 3rd and last phase of a 60-year career in developing experiential education.

He lives and works in a little house encroaching South Main, and many of us remember it as Peggy’s Kitchen. If you walk into the front door you first see a remarkable wooden Rushton guide-boat on the right extending through the house, and along that way are book chapters stacked here and there on the floor. A stairway climbs to a living room with comfortable chairs and an expansive view of Rockland harbor.

The beautiful view from Lance Lee’s house on Main Street in Rockland, Maine

“I grew up in the Bahamas in the 40’s in a salt-water farm community based on fishing, farming, and boat building where everyone had to share in order to survive. A grocery store with 3 shelves, no electricity, no library. With no refrigeration, if they killed a wild boar or caught a large turtle, everyone shared. As a boy, I thought the whole world lived that way. The boats were strong, light, fair, very quickly built, and FAST, with emphasis on aesthetics and most important, function. Unfortunately, that entire community was devastated by hurricane Dorian in 2019. That disaster has made me work toward my goal. At 81, I may not have a lot of time left.

“In 1972, it was that discipline of community-bonding that David Foster and I perpetuated at the Apprenticeshop in Rockland. We developed, what we called, ‘Labor for Learning,’ as it was impossible to have a school complete with docks, tools, supplies, all the overhead, without the work of the students. That model now also exists in France, Russia, and the Basque area of Spain, as well as the U.S.

“Learning has become passive in the U.S. with all the electronic devices and with virtual reality and A.I, and that focus leads to certain types of jobs which make people very wealthy; but it is tearing our culture apart through college debt, and wealth inequality. Passivity leads to greater passivity. In apprenticeships, however, you can build capability, self-esteem, and reverence for the good that existed in the past. I have seen this work in many countries, including Russia, where I visited six times. I am now writing a short book, Apprenticing–a Manifesto, about apprenticeship which will be clear and specific and pertain to all types of materials from wood, glass, metal, whatever.” What is the principle behind all this?

“Hands and mind must fuse together, as has been the case in all of civilization of the millennia, and the focus must be on the kids. Believe me, kids WANT to learn and be empowered in that way. In New Bedford, Massachusetts, in the Azorean community, they are revitalizing the handling of 1918 whale boats which they built in association with the Apprenticeshop. They call it the Azorean Heritage Maritime Society, and through the infectious leadership of Sara Quintal, they draw kids from the community into their experiential education.” How does that translate into the modern world?

“It is the experience to THINK both pragmatically and abstractly, and in the process, the boat builds the apprentice.” In that way, the student becomes the path? I asked. “Yes, extremely, and in the process, there is knowledge imbued about the WHOLE, being able to judge materials, what’s best where, what fastenings to use, how to control expense. Much of the learning comes from mistakes.” Yes, education is expensive and demanding, no way around it, I mused. “But this is learning that one does not obtain in a classroom.” What is your vision?

“First, I want to see apprenticeships return to schools and impel regular education. Second, I want to see BOTH active and passive promoted in education. I want to legitimize apprenticeship as a passport to success as much as a college degree. And keep politics out as much as possible. It is for success, for kids. So many industries need young people coming into employment with the skills of experience and learning, and not to be relegated to lowly positions. Positions should not be filled just with people with ‘acceptable’ degrees. This has remarkably been a problem in the development of the forest economy of Maine. I learned that in Rumford.” Did you have a model for this?

Since 1966, ‘The Islands of Healing’ has governed my life, a precept originated by Kurt Hahn, the finest educator I have ever encountered. He escaped to Scotland from Germany as Hitler came to power, and he started what we now call Outward Bound. Integral are Fitness, Expeditions, Projects, and especially Service. Service is the most important, and this becomes a template for life and success as an adult.” Sounds like a way showing how one can learn to love life? “Very true. I also saw the Peace Corps of that era as a model.” What is your method of bringing together your learning?
“Consider a checkerboard with the light and dark squares. I learn more from the dark squares.” Would it be the same if you look at the negative of a photograph, and if you concentrate on the dark images, you discover the light?

“Interesting enough, it was going through a painful character assassination that impelled me to start the Apprenticeshop. Yes, both the positive and negative build strength in us. For me, it is a way of empowering the self, a way of life, not so much involving school. I know schools, and I am no enemy of academics. I graduated from Bowdoin.

“I see this all being played out in my 2 children and their lives of service and focusing on experiential education with the grandchildren. My son, previously a veterinarian in Rockland, is now on a sailing expedition with his family, with strengthening through challenge. Few ways to get that experience except through travel, with any type of vehicle. My daughter works internationally in sustenance: food/clothing/shelter. I am proud of both.”

Only an apprentice? Think again. It could be a wave for the future.

Copyright Philip C. Groce 2020

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