As a professional educator and a kayaking instructor I must begin this article by saying: I believe kayaking classes are essential for anyone who wants to paddle a kayak.
I almost feel like saying: Kayak classes should be mandatory, but my strong sense of personal choice will not let those words pass through my lips. After all, I was self-taught at the beginning of my kayaking career and I am alive and well today. However, being self-taught also allows me to say, I wasted a lot of time re-inventing the wheel. Not only did I develop some bad habits, I put myself at a higher level of risk than was necessary. I eventually did get formal instruction and a lot of not-so formal instruction. Even though this month's reflection is going to take a critical look at formal instruction, I am not suggesting one forego professional training. On the contrary, you will see at the end of this article that I recommend continuous education.
Those who are familiar with my philosophies and style of teaching know I strive to create critically thinking paddlers. With this in mind I want to examine the limitations of a kayaking classes. As a side note, I was motivated to write this article as a result of a recent capsize recovery class I just taught just north of Deception Pass in Washington. In the class I had students who had taken classes before my class and were very pleased to learn new techniques. One student who found an easier way to re-enter their cockpit after a wet exit said to me, "I have been struggling to get into my kayak for years. Why didn't they teach this to me in my basic class?" The student's question is what has motivated this article.
Before we look at the specifics of a kayak class let's look at some basic concepts of learning. As we learn how to think and see the world, that same education that is teaching us how to view things can also be keeping us from seeing other points of view. I have often used the phrase "the double edged sword of knowledge" as my way of bringing attention to the expanding and limiting affects of learning. When we learn how to do something we have expanded our base of knowledge. However, you may now be limited, because you may never learn another way of doing that something, if you are satisfied with what you already know. This may not only be a fault of education, your own desire to know more is an important factor too.
When the ancient mariners thought the world was flat that bit of knowledge kept them from exploring too far from shore for fear of paddling off the edge. However, if they were trained as waterfall jumpers they would have been rushing to world’s edge. Seeing the world through one set of beliefs can limit seeing other possibilities.
Another factor to consider about learning is, "you don't know what you don't know." If you don't even know the possibility exists you may never perform certain actions. That is why formal education is so important. As you learn more possibilities your base of knowledge expands. As the base gets bigger you can build more upon it. As a side note, if an instructor can build creative thinking skills and experimentation into their curriculum I believe students will discover more options on their own.
How does all off the above relate to a kayaking class? Obviously, as we learn our basic skills we are limited by what we have learned with respect to the points I was making above. At the end of your basic kayaking class your base of kayaking knowledge is what you have learned in your class unless you have had additional exposure to the sport. You are unaware of all you do not know about kayaking.
Even if you are very experienced there are possibilities that you may never consider (see USK article, "Wet re-entry and Eskimo Recovery"). As a result of my creative wife Hadley asking if you could combine these two components, I immediately realized that there were many other combination recoveries that could be done with the wet re-entry. This is a perfect example of not realizing these possibilities until one was introduced to me.
There are also other physical and fiscal factors that play a part in what we learn in any kayak class. How much can be taught in a class? I can also ask, how much can be learned in a class? I have taught classes where the students have told me to stop because their brains were full. Just because I am teaching it doesn't mean my students are learning. A future article will be focusing on teaching vs. learning vs. supervising vs. monitoring vs. evaluating.
Here is a list of many of the factors that affect how much can be taught and/or learned in a class:
- Duration of class
- Size of the class
- Student teacher ratio
- Pace of the class
- Skill level and experience of the intructor(s)
- Skill level of the students
- The external environment
- Equipment being used
- Mental and physical condition of the students
- How much a student is willing to invest (time and money)
- Philosophies and priorities of the instructor(s)
- Philosophies, rules and curriculum of the certifying organization
- Breathe of kayaking knowledge or lack there of
- Teaching style vs. learning style
I am sure you can add more factors to this list. I hope you can begin to appreciate why any class will have limitations. A class by definition is finite. Knowledge is infinite, because it keeps increasing. Since we cannot teach everything in one class it automatically means that a class will have its limitations.
If we go back to my recent student's question as to why he wasn't taught the particular re-entry technique in his previous class the answer is simply, "because it wasn't." We can speculate as to why any technique is taught or not taught in any class, but sooner or later we always run out of time in any one class. Therefore, the answer for those who want to know more, is take the time to learn more.
I believe continuing education is a combination of the following:
- Formal classes (try different instructors)
- World wide web
- Sharing with other paddlers
- Willingness to take chances and make mistakes
- Taking time to reflect
As I mentioned from the beginning of my reflection, even though a kayaking class has its limits I believe it is a necessity if you want to make the best use of your resources. Since you now know some of the limitations of any class you can see why I believe continuous education is essential. Remember, you don’t know what you don’t know until you know it. Every day I learn there is so much out there I didn’t know and I smile when I get to know it.
Wayne Horodowich, founder of The University of Sea Kayaking (USK), writes monthly articles for the USK web site. In addition, Wayne has produced the popular "In Depth" Instructional Video Series for Sea Kayaking.