Educating Stella — A Father’s Wish for His Daughter

February 21, 2015

Steve Stone Steve Stone

Wild islands along the Maine coast provide an almost endless trail of playgrounds for camp-cruising in small boats with my kids.


Each summer, we load up the boats, hoist the sails, and head off to whichever island lies in the path of favorable winds and currents of the day. The experience of that day is pretty much shaped by the forces of nature.

Thanks to generous island owners and our friends at the Maine Island Trail and Maine Coast Heritage Trust, we have over 20 awe-inspiring islands in our backyard where we can roll the boats up on a beach, pitch the tent, and put something tasty on a make-shift grill.


We get to play the role of scoundrel-pirates (or privileged private island owners) all day, every day.


I see these photos and video clips and I’m swept away by the memories of all the good times we’ve had. Each moment is so unique — we’ll never have another one like it.


We’ll remember so many moments for the rest of our lives — like jumping off the ledge on Thrumcap Island this past summer, and the kids’ annual camp-cruising tradition of painting papa’s toe nails while he’s asleep.

I take the kids camp-cruising for all the reasons you’d expect, and mostly just to have fun, but there’s a deeper reason as well — I do it for what I believe my kids will need two or three decades down the road, when they hit the prime of their lives and careers in about 2040.


Stella’s 14, and she’s navigating the process of choosing a high school. She’s exceptionally fortunate, because one of her grandparents set aside funds for her education, so she has choices that many kids don’t, and we all feel exceptionally grateful for these educational opportunities she has.

And yet, while all the “right things” are being done to get Stella into a top-tier high school and onto elite sports teams, I’ve had a strong intuitive feeling that we’re completely failing our daughter (and her twin brother Jack as well).

More and more, it’s appearing to me that we may be thoughtlessly embracing an out-dated system that über-prepares our children to compete in a consumer-driven world that won’t likely exist when they reach the prime of their lives and careers in the year 2040.

I feel like we’re rushing our kids to
the front of the line for an unhappy life.

My sense of this pending parental failure comes from three big shifts that have changed the world (and the education system) in the last thirty years.


For centuries, the sparse availability of a quality education assured a privileged place in society for those who could manage to secure an education. Over the past thirty years though, all that has changed, and a high-quality education (and elite team sports) are now readily available all around the globe to hundreds of millions of kids.

Here’s a shot I took of a school I visited in China in 2008 — the Children’s Palace — a prototype school created by the Chinese government to infuse arts and creative-thinking into the Chinese curriculum.

0 img childrens palace

Education programs are so good now, in so many countries, that U.S. students don’t even rank in the top 25 countries in performance on standardized tests. In math, for example, students in 28 countries perform better than U.S. students, and the U.S. recently lost seven spots in that ranking, dropping from 22nd to 29th.

Students in Singapore perform so much better than U.S. students on math tests, Stella’s own math curriculum here in the U.S. has been replaced by a “Singapore Math” curriculum.

Here’s a snapshot of the rankings in the last test in 2010:

Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 12.38.37 AM

As you can see, students in Shanghai, China tested highest. Yes, China. And the U.S. is nowhere on the list.

Yes, education is important, but high quality educations are so commonplace on kids’ resumes now, when Stella graduates from college in 2023, she’ll be competing in a global marketplace against millions of young people who have equal or better educations.

When Stella reaches the prime of her life and career in 2040, for every good job available, there will likely be multiple applicants with diplomas from elite schools like Stanford, Harvard, The Children’s Palace, or the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi (IITD).

How will Stella compete? Or is there something I can do to make sure she doesn’t end up in this situation?


In their book The Responsible Company, Patagonia founder Yvon Choinard and co-author Vincent Stanley state that the human population is currently consuming the earth’s limited resources at the rate of 1.5 times the level that the planet can support in a sustainable way.

In the U.S., they say we’re consuming these limited resources at a rate of seven times that which the earth can support. Yes, you read that correctly — we Americans consume at a rate seven times what the earth can support. We have the distinction of being the “world leader” in this statistic, by far.

As I write this, billions of people in China and India are in the process of transitioning into the middle-class, and they’re mimicking Americans’ consumption patterns. But it’s worse — unlike the U.S. population, which slowly adopted new products such as cars, cigarettes and cell phones over the course of 100 years, the Chinese and Indian populations are getting access to all these seductive new products in less than ten years time, with no warning labels and without the benefit of knowing how the products fared for other people elsewhere in the world.

I saw this first hand in Bejing while at a dinner party of 14 people — of the 14 guests, 9 were talking on their cell phone and smoking cigarettes, simultaneously, while sitting at the dinner table together.

0 img smoking

When I was young, there was a saying that was so popular that it was on t-shirts everywhere:

“He who dies with the most toys, wins.”

Back then, it was cool to smoke cigarettes and over-consume. We now know that smoking kills humans. As billions of humans begin to follow American’s example in over-consuming, it doesn’t take a PhD from IIT-D to calculate that we humans are consuming our way to extinction.

If you haven’t heard about the new #1 Best Seller The Sixth Extinction, you soon will.

If the guys at Patagonia are right, perhaps THE primary issue of our generation is over-consumption. Yet, the entire world economy and all of its stock markets are based upon growth —— growth that the earth’s limited resources cannot support.

Common sense tells me that someday there will be a tipping point when the human population realizes that it must purchase and consume less. At that point, when it becomes uncool, unseemly, and perhaps even illegal to over-consume, wouldn’t a global economic bubble burst?

Are we seeing the first signs of this with students banding together to successfully force universities to divest from fossil fuels? Won’t jobs be lost in mass from companies that make the 50-plus percent of the products that people stop purchasing because they’re not really needed?

When there are suddenly millions of less jobs at the same moment there are millions more highly qualified applicants with great educations, what will that mean for the millions of people who all have the same “quality education”?

My sense is that Stella will need skills in 2040 that are dramatically different than what she’s being taught in her 16 to 20 years of formal “education”, and she’ll need something special to go along with that education.

She’ll need something very special. I can’t say that I know what that something special is, but I know it’s something that she already has inside her.

It feels like my job to help make sure she finds that something special.


One week after I toured the impressive Childrens’ Palace in China, I spent some time on Capital Hill in Washington, D.C. in discussions with members of Congress and their staffs who were rewriting legislation for the U.S.’s education system.

During this time, I was also on a board of leading thinkers in the education field from places like Apple, LEGO and Ford — The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21). I was not an expert in education myself, so I felt very lucky to be there.

What I saw on Capital Hill and at P21 meetings convinced me that the U.S. education system was going to continue to narrow the subjects being taught in schools to the few basic subjects like reading and math that could be tested with standardized exams. Critical subjects that are key to the broader personal growth of our kids — like history, art, wood shop and entrepreneurship — would be cut out of the curriculum entirely. And matters of the heart would likely never be addressed in schools.

All schools, public or private, now face a very competitive landscape. Public schools must perpetually increase their performance on standardized tests to prevent punishments or closures, and private schools must maintain their rankings among their elite peers to compete for students and fundraising.

Meanwhile, my kids will be forced to do four to six hours of homework each evening just to “keep up”. Every evening they’ll be studying lots of topics and details that they’ll quickly forget or never use in their life. The pressure to keep up will be so engrained that any passions or interests they have outside of their schoolwork and team sports will have to fall away by necessity.

All of this will be oddly justified, and even revered, when Stella gets an “A” on her report card.

I’m extremely proud of her hard work and the near straight A’s she received last semester, and at the same time I feel there are more important things for her development that I’m not providing.

Without exception, every kid I’ve ever met who is cruising with their parents has been exceptional — grounded, mature, patient, and smart beyond their years. How is it that a kid who’s home-schooled on a boat is more capable in the world than almost any kid who graduates from the most elite prep school?


I’m growing to believe that my greatest responsibility as a parent is to be present with Stella, in the moment, watching her closely and listening to her a lot, and recognizing her inherent passions and basic nature.

If I’m on the right path about this, my job will be to help provide opportunities for her to do things where her inherent interests and her basic nature will shine and propel her into a full, meaningful life within a community that fits her.

If I were successful, Stella would end up in a place where her true nature pulls her into a proverbial river that flows her right where she wants to be. I’m old enough now to recognize that this is how the Universe works, and the alternative of earning a living by doing things you don’t really enjoy, isn’t so grand and provides a life of swimming upstream.

While Stella’s high school packs her brain with more and more knowledge, it seems that my work is to pay close attention to Stella’s heart.


Since her earliest days, Stella has been a climber. Before she could walk, she climbed high up onto things. She’s loved being in nature and with animals since her early days. She’s a natural athlete and she seems to have the basic nature of many of the people I’ve known who are climbers and into being outdoors.

I recall the moment that I realized that she had an inherent passion to climb. She was five, and I was trying on shoes at an REI store. Stella walked over to the shoe display wall, and scurried up and across the wall in seconds, using the shoe display pedestals for foot-holds and grips. She looked over at me, high up on the wall, and beamed a huge smile with radiant eyes.

We headed to the rock gym the next day. On her first try, she sailed up the 40′ wall in about ten seconds, and rang the bell. Again, beaming with a huge smile. We enrolled in her in weekly classes, and she was off.

Then life got “too busy” with school, homework, and team sports, and it became “too much effort” to get Stella to the climbing gym. Climbing became a distant memory in her life.

On the surface, it seemed like a completely rational decision to favor homework and elite-team lacrosse over climbing, but it also felt like Stella’s parents completely failed her.

I’m the first to acknowledge the value of a formal education and organized team sports, but when the education and team sports become so dominate in Stella’s life that it crowds out other things that are important to her development, including the things that speak to her passions and true nature — her heart — then formal education becomes the thing preventing my child from discovering who she is and following the path to become her true self.

When the last lacrosse season ends, and when she crosses the stage on graduation day, the safe haven of classrooms and team sports will be gone. All those things will be reduced to activities in Stella’s past, and she’ll be on her own to make a living and carve out a life for herself.

When she reaches the bottom of the stairs on the other side of the graduation stage, she’ll need to know who she is and be good at something that sparks her passions.


Last summer, for her birthday, I called the Atlantic Climbing School in Acadia and got Stella hooked up with Hanna Lucy, an inspiring young female climber, for a day of climbing in Acadia National Park. Off she went, on her own, with an experienced climber, for a day of real climbing.



When I picked her up, Stella was beaming with excitement and self-confidence. She said: “Papa we climbed cliffs over the ocean!” There it was again, that same swagger I saw years earlier when she was perched atop the shoe wall at REI.

Stella was back! She was alive again in a way that I hadn’t seen in awhile.

This day felt like I was giving Stella a peak into herself, and her potential life ahead. She had a bounce-skip in her step for a week after that day of climbing.

Moments of parenthood that feel like a success are rare, but this was definitely one.


Stella’s also had a gift for photography since she was very young — always taking my camera or phone and snapping photos just at the right moment with a natural sense of style and composition.


So last summer I suggested to her that it might be time for a real camera, and I had her get advice from photographers Ben Mendlowitz and Alison Langley on what camera she should get to start playing with photography (How lucky are we to have Ben and Alison as friends?).

She did the research, chose the Nikon 3300, and she paid half from her savings.

I haven’t seen her so excited about anything, ever, and Stella carried her new camera all summer and took photos everywhere we went.


While I don’t know for sure what Stella’s future may bring, I feel the need to be proactive in showing her things that inspire her to dream about possible futures for herself.

She might end up doing anything, or a number of things, but for now, my best guess is that Stella might combine her passions of climbing, outdoors, and photography into storytelling within the outdoor, adventure or conservation fields.

With this in mind, I’ve been exploring to find videos and role models for Stella, so she can get a glimpse of life beyond the bubble of the classroom, and a career out in nature beyond air-conditioned offices.

While looking for role models, I came across Celine Costeau, a photographer and filmmaker. Like Celine’s grandfather — pioneer ocean activist Jacques Costeau — Celine’s work focuses on ocean conservation.

Here’s an image of Celine from her website:


As I was asking friends for women climbers who might inspire Stella, I kept hearing the name Lynn Hill. Lynn is famous for making the first free ascent of the sheer rock face of The Nose on El Capitan in Yosemite Valley (and for repeating it the next year in less than 24 hours). The “free” means “free climbing” — using equipment for protection only, not for climbing itself.

For reference, here’s The Nose:


Ya, seriously, she was the first person to free-climb it (man or woman). Here’s a few video clips of her free-climbing The Nose:

For Christmas, I got Stella a slackline and the movie Valley Uprising, a brilliant documentary of the early climbers of Yosemite National Park.

I’m hoping that the concept of climbing The Nose on acid went over her head, but I’m gobsmacked at how close these guys were to both the earth and their friends in Yosemite during those years. That level of intimacy with the natural world and her friends is something I hope Stella learns how to create.

For Stella’s generation, I hope that old saying about “He who dies with the most toys wins” is replaced by something like:

“She who dies closest to the
earth and her friends wins”.

The more I looked, the more I found talented women doing remarkable things to earn a living outdoors. Here’s a few:

Steph Davis
Liz Clark (Nominated as National Geographic’s Adventurer of the Year in 2014)
Kristine McDivitt Tompkins (Founded Patagonia National Park, etc. etc. etc.)
Bridget Crocker
Haley Ashburn (ya gotta see her epic slackline video here)
Bridget Besaw
Alison Langley

If we think that the climb up the corporate ladder is tough, I suspect these women have chosen paths that have huge tradeoffs and can be devistatingly difficult at times.

If the guys at Patagonia are correct in their suggestion that over-consumption is the biggest issue that faces the human race in the next 50, it seems that these women may be at the forefront of a field that may provide a great future for my daughter — inspiring people to get outdoors, live more simply, and buy less.


On Christmas Eve, we watched Valley Uprising. Then Stella opened the Slackline I gave her. The slackline was so cool, she didn’t even know what it was (another rare parenting success).

We set up the slackline between two trees on the town green here in Brooklin, and within a couple hours…

Notice the bounce-skip in her step?

Everywhere I turn these days I hear people saying they’re too busy. We readily admit that our lives are too fast and too complicated. Too stressful. The concepts of “growth” and “progress” and “development” are causing us to live beyond our means, on many levels.

In “developed” countries, we have become disconnected from the wildness within us, and distant from the wildness outside our doors.

I recognize this in myself, and in my own life. And yet, it feels to me like I’m blindly forcing my kids right into the same world that we’re all finding unacceptable for ourselves.

I have to believe there is a
better way ahead for my kids.

If it were totally up to me, I’d ratchet back Stella’s formal education about 40 percent and fill that time with learning matters of the heart and doing things outside in the natural world that help her feel her true nature, and help her become independent and self-reliant.

Camp-cruising in small boats among islands on the coast of Maine is one of my ways of doing this for her, and maybe someday we’ll cruise in a bigger boat to distant cultures.

As you’ve seen in these short clips, Stella has a remarkably bright spirit. I am hopeful that once Stella experiences who she really is, over and over again, she’ll feel her spirit shine. After enough of those experiences, she’ll feel it in her heart when she’s on the right path in life, and she’ll feel it regardless of which school she went to and what grade she got on the AP Calculus test on derivatives.

These days, as a father, I’m after things that bring Stella’s bright spirit out — things that put a bounce-skip in her step and make her smile like this:


UPDATE: August 17, 2017 — STELLA AGE 16

As a teenager, Stella makes it clear to me: “Dad (eyes rolling), I’m NOT into hiking!”, and the combination of lacrosse and academics at school continues to dominate Stella’s time and focus. She’s starting to look at colleges with hopes of playing lacrosse at that level, and while all that’s good, there’s the little voice in my head that keeps nudging her to not lose sight of things that suit her deeper nature. Last year she sought out a year-long independent study in “marine sciences”, and this year she’ll be taking her first photography class. This summer she took a service/adventure trip to Peru, and I just received this photo from her — can you see that little bounce-skip in her step?


23 Responses So Far to “Educating Stella — A Father’s Wish for His Daughter”:

  1. Richard Greenway Richard Greenway says:

    Leaving school at fifteen I embarked on a five year apprenticeship as a
    Two years into it I started spreading my wings as a commercial diver and wanted to quit the apprenticeship as I felt it was holding me back.
    Not one to listen to my Father he said “finish your apprenticeship. They are skills that
    you can fall back on for the rest of your life as you explore it”.
    Finished the apprenticeship and have been exploring ever since.
    I have much to thank him for.
    Sometimes it is a simple statement made at a critical junction
    in a young life that makes all the difference!

  2. Avatar Dana Grund says:

    Thank you Mr. Stone, for the excellent essay. I received and read it literally minutes after thinking I should write a blog essay on creative thinking! I am a self employed designer / goldsmith and I spend my days working with clients to design and then hand make custom jewellery for them. In this capacity, I see many people faced with the task (opportunity?) of collaborating with another to come up with something entirely new… and it is an experience entirely foreign to most.

    I find the majority of people have little vocabulary to articulate their own tastes or sense of style, or even what they are looking for when it doesn’t already exist, and are embarrassed to pick up a pencil to scratch out and idea on paper when words fail them. Some people don’t realize that jewellery can be hand made. Generally, it comes out that when people want something special, they settle on the words “personal” and “different” to describe it.

    I have come to feel that my role as a designer, in part, is to help people figure out what is important to them, and to reference this somehow in the design. In the end, the little sculpture that we create together, and what they adorn themselves with, is a unique reflection of who they are, or someone/thing they wish to remember, and is truly their own. For them, it is meaningful, and likely to be cherished and passed on with the stories attached.

    In my earlier years I was very conflicted about becoming a vector for precious metals and mineral mining, and all that that is destructive in that industry. And for what? adornment? But I feel my approach, as it has evolved to become, is quite the opposite of the overconsumption of finite resources; A good deal of thought and skilled labour go into making something with relatively few materials, that will then last generations, be meaningful to those who have it, and bring people closer through the sharing of family history. I hope also that the experience reminds people that there are craftspersons who can make just about anything we need, and if we shift our sense of what is valued away from gobbling up the flavour of the month to slowly savouring the personal and meaningful, these craftspeople may survive and multiply, along with local cultures and sustainable economies.

    It is all very rewarding, but like everyone else, after the day’s work and other obligations there seems precious little time to do the other things that I am passionate about. I was fortunate to grow up spending summer weekends in a cottage on an island, scraping,varnishing and re-wireing, and sometimes sailing the 24″ full keel ketch my father built in the driveway. I have wanted to build a boat on my own for as long as I can remember, and more recently to share some of that experience with my own kids (ages 8 and 11). For the last seven months I have had the plans for Storer’s Goat Island Skiff under my bedside table, but still haven’t found time to get started. This essay has given me another well needed nudge in the direction of the back yard shed. Thank you!

  3. Avatar Fritz Richardson says:

    Thank you for presenting this topic so clearly and beautifully. My wife and I have had the same concerns for years as you. My wife Diana is a geography professor at SDSU in San Diego. She is also the undergraduate advisor and works lovingly with students to help them plan their academic future but ends up counciling about life. I graduated with a degree in engineering, but followed my passion and have worked as a sailboat rigger for over 40 years. Our two children were raised with the sense that education was important, but to include all forms of education. We sailed, backpacked and generally experience the outdoors together. So far so good. Our daughter is living on her third small sailboat in Hobart Tasmania, while pursuing her PHD in ocean pollution matters. Our son has taught English in foreign countries and just finished his time with the Peace Corp in Vanuatu. We couldn’t be prouder of the people they have grown up to be. What has so far worked out well for us may not be for everyone, but we are happy with the choices. I wish you all the best on your respective paths.
    Regards, Fritz Richardson

  4. Steve Stone Steve Stone says:

    Stella’s twin brother Jack just checked in for an 8-week summer school program at a U.S. university where his roommate is from India and most of his fellow classmates are not from the U.S. It’s going to be amazing what he learns at the age of 16 about the global market for education, jobs, and everything else.

  5. Avatar Stewart Simpkins says:

    Steve, thank you for writing this piece. I am completely interested in this site for water, boats, and things watery/boatery, so this writing was unexpected and very appreciated.
    Thank you,

  6. Avatar Jack Stone says:


    Love, Dad

  7. Avatar Virginia Gerardi says:

    Dear Steve,

    How wonderful to come across such an intimate sharing of concerns and aspirations for a young woman’s future… on a website about classic boats! To be sure, my days spent out in nature bird watching, horseback riding and sailing with my Dad served me well as I bumped my way through adolescence and early adulthood. It provided me an enduring refuge from society’s pressures and negative influences as in the drug culture of the 60s-70s.

    Your love for your daughter and total support in her finding happiness and prosperity is touching and, if I may add from my viewpoint, uncommon. That love, by itself, would be ample fertilizer to grow a contented life.

    I would like to offer the following excerpt in support of the wonderful job you are doing:

    “The missing link in all systems of education is that educational institutions fail to teach their students how to organize and use the knowledge after they have acquired it.

    Many people made the mistake of assuming that because Henry Ford had little schooling he was not a man of education. Those who made this mistake did not understand the real meaning of the word educate. That word is derived from the Latin word educo, meaning to educe, to draw out, or to develop from within.

    An educated person is not, necessarily, one who has an abundance of general or specialized knowledge. An educated person is one who has so developed the faculties of mind that he or she may acquire anything they want, or its equivalent, without violating the rights of others.”
    —Napolean HIll, “Think and Grow Rich” orig. pub 1937

    You and your daughter might explore together the alternatives to consumerism. There are grassroots movements springing up worldwide that are advocating for and embracing a sustainable future for our planet. (ie., The Transition Movement, Co-housing and Permaculture). Your daughter may not necessarily find a career in this area but could have the opportunity mature within a network of people who value community over individualism, neighborliness over competition, sustainability over convenience. Good reading: “Plan C: Community Survival Strategies for Peak Oil and Climate Change” by Pat Murphy

    I would be delighted if you would continue share about your and Stella’s journey.

  8. Avatar Sharon Stone says:

    Yes, tears to my eyes. You are an amazing son and a great father, and Jack and Stella are pretty amazing too. You make me very proud.

  9. David Tew David Tew says:

    We have a ‘Stella’ in our family, too, and what you hope for yours can be done. Our Alice started out sailing in Maine with us, enjoyed Outward Bound programs and then became a river guide in Jackson Hole during her first college summer followed by a junior year in Tasmania studying eco-tourism. She moved to the Pacific Northwest after interning for National Geographic Adventure Magazine during her last college year and took a job with Mountaineer Books and guided kayaking and climbing trips on weekends. Now she’s in her thirties and likely in line to become president of the Adventure Travel Trade Association serving eco-tourism efforts worldwide. Should your Stella want to talk to someone who’s pursued a path like that, drop me a line.

  10. Avatar Tim Gallogly says:

    A thought provoking and inspiring essay – be confident that you are giving Stella things of great value when you give your love, when you give your time and when you listen.

  11. Avatar Peter Brackenbury says:

    Steve, I too have many of the same worries as you for my boys when I see their older cousins faced with some of the same pressures on time and school programs. We both didn’t feel these pressures until much later in high school and we worry what we are doing to our children in our worries for them. Will they still have the ability be inspired by the feelings of being moved around in a small boat by nature’s power, or to make something that is truly useful by hand? In the end, my wife and I hope that giving them love, support and exposing them to a wonderful variety of experiences such as outdoor pursuits and technical trades instead of narrowing their focus too early will give them the confidence and resilience to choose whatever, or create whatever job they want in the future. We are watching out for the need to push them in any specific direction. Your video gave us another perspective to weigh in our ongoing conversation about this challenge facing parents and children. Thanks. That video clip of Stella bouncing was just wonderful!

    • Steve Stone Steve Stone says:

      Thanks Peter. Glad it helped spark conversation. Like you, part of my perspective comes from watching several family members try to navigate the modern world after what I call “million dollar” educations. Stand by for my piece on “Educating Jack” which will explore “making things by hand”.

  12. Avatar Charles Barclay says:


    You are a filmmaker.

    How did you manage to knock that one out of the park as a philosopher?

  13. Avatar Claas van der Linde says:

    Stella, you have a pretty cool dad!

  14. Avatar Harry Bryan says:

    You have brought tears to my eyes. The very best kind. Thanks,
    Harry Bryan

    • Steve Stone Steve Stone says:

      Thanks Harry. That’s the ultimate compliment. As you know, this is why I brought the kids along with me when I came to shoot those videos at your place. I still remember the look on Jack’s face when he walked into your shop… and when he got to take the peddle-boat out for a spin.

  15. Avatar Stella says:

    pretty cool dad!!

  16. Avatar Hank Kennedy says:

    This should be required reading for new parents. No doubt in my mind that Stella will be a shining star in what ever she does. Well done Dad.

  17. Avatar Havilah Hawkins says:

    Thank you Steve

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.


Get Immediate Access,
Plus 10 of Our Best Videos

Your email is safe with us.
We'll NEVER share it, and we DON'T spam.