Mystic Seaport: The School of America and the Sea

Seascapes: Spring/Summer 2012

SteveWhite_officeIt has long been the mission of Mystic Seaport to attend to the broad education of its visitors and members, both young and old. Today our educational programs span kindergarten to post-graduate levels in our effort “to inspire an enduring connection to the American maritime experience.” We provide both formal and interactive educational opportunities to expose our students to elements of our maritime heritage that have helped to define what America was, is, and will become. Museums in general are particularly good at expanding learning opportunities, but Mystic Seaport is especially well equipped to provide students with programs that are participatory, immersive, and multidisciplinary and which capitalize on both the depth and breadth of collections, museum educators, and campus assets. Further, primary source material (rare these days!) is considered in context to foster deeper understanding, and thus we can broadly complement the work that is done in more traditional academic settings.

In the 1980s, Howard Gardner presented his theory of multiple intelligences which evolved over time to include seven (and potentially two more) discernible intelligences or preferred modes for learning and expression, including spatial, linguistic, logical-mathematical, and bodily-kinesthetic. While each of us possesses all these intelligences to varying degrees, we generally prefer and find greatest success through one or two of these cognitive abilities. How fortunate we are that author H. Melville, painter J. E. Buttersworth, and yacht designer O. Stephens each found his preferred mode. But I propose for the sake of this issue (if not for the Museum itself), that Gardner omitted an important intelligence: sea intelligence. While he suggests that “naturalistic” is a potential eighth intelligence, I submit that our staff, members, and volunteers understand from personal experience the unique and powerful call of the sea, respond favorably to the motion of a vessel and the smell of the sea, and identify with that certain longing for what is over the maritime horizon. At Mystic Seaport we expose students to this sea intelligence and some take to it…. well, as a duck to water.

Quite simply, Gardner’s philosophy stresses the importance of providing individuals with opportunities to explore and learn within their preferred or dominant modality. To that end, educators and parents should work towards getting students out of the traditional classroom setting and giving them the chance to connect to their own preferred manner in which to experience the world, by exposing them to physical activities, drama, music groups, engineering activities, and, yes, maritime museums. Those who have been fortunate enough to come to the Museum to experience Ship to Shore, Williams-Mystic, apprenticeships and internships, Brilliant, Ocean Classroom Foundation programs, and Conrad Camp (to name just a few) know what I mean. Without exposure to immersive sea experiences, some might never discover a latent potential or the possibility of linking their sea intelligence with spatial intelligence and becoming a shipwright, for example.

Enjoy this education issue, and feel welcome to give us a call to sign up for a program to connect with your sea intelligence.

Steve White




Stephen C. White