I suppose this post will ready date me in the eyes of the young. My childhood came at a time when children had a great deal of freedom. We walked and bicycled over a five to ten mile radius. We stayed out late, often until nine or ten pm during the summer. And at school we played softball. It was a passion for most boys of my age and it was mandatory that all the boys in my class participate. No, the teacher wasn’t the one to decide on that rule, it was us boys. In fact, we didn’t let any teacher tell us how to play the game or what the rules must be. All of that was decided by common assent. Our classrooms were often filled with more than thirty students and it was not unusual to have sixteen boys in the same class. The girls play jump rope or dodge ball or what ever it was that our teacher required of them. But come recess the softball diamond was our world.
Now days children can’t be children on the school ground. Mostly they seem to just stand around in small groups looking bored. But we were active. If you were one of those poor unfortunate kids that did not exhibit much talent in the sports arena, that made no difference. The group made it clear that you were going to play and you better give it your best shot. Softball was the great leveler for boys at that time. You might not be good at the school work but if your athletic ability was good you had a certain amount of respect from your peers. The game taught us many lessons that have stayed with most of us. Each day a new set of captains was named and sides chosen up. Since we didn’t have enough boys to man all nine positions for each team, the team at bat did the catching except when the play was at home plate. If sickness shorted the teams two players the right field was declared off limits. And for those who took no pride in being chosen last, improving one’s ability became a readily accepted challenge. Respect, leadership, and a need to improve yourself, these are great lessons to learn.
One of the other experiences of childhood was in making things. One summer we had a clubhouse that we put together. A simple design based on scraps of lumber we could cadge from the nearby houses under construction. some of the carpenters didn’t like us watching them while a few others might give a little demonstration on carpentry skills. After the crew left work each day we would crawl over the days work and examine how things were put together. We were amazed by the brick masons work, admiring the straightness of the mortar lines using two nails and string strung between them. Some of us had limited access to tools our fathers had in the garage or a workshop. so we indulged ourselves making things and then seeing if they worked and how to improve them. I remember the summer my best friend and I took a Radio Flyer wagon apart and made ourselves a wooden car. We had designed it so that the handle on the front set of wheels came up inside the vehicle so that the rider could steer. We would take turns riding and steering while the other pushed. His mother made us reassemble the wagon after a few days because his sister had complained about it.
Junior high school was a great adventure because I had signed up for shop classes. For two years I learned about metal working, ceramics, plastics, and wood working. I build a metal box by using brakes (a device that folds sheet metal), tin snips, and lead solder. If the box could hold water then I had done an acceptable job. I learned about how to spin a metal disk into a cup or bowl. I even learned how to use a mechanics hammer to beat a disk of copper into a bowl. Wood shop was more box building and playing with Plexiglas. Ninth and tenth grade I learned mechanical drawing. After that my parents decided I need to concentrate on my formal academic studies. The only other creative class I could take and that countered towards credit for admission to college was art. I had always drawn and was decent enough but I loved throwing pots on a kick wheel. In fact it was more of a survey class and included glass work, cloisonne, and basic pottery. I would have loved wood shop and metal shop because they had some wonderful machines to use, but that had to wait until I became an adult and could afford to buy my own equipment.
The fifties and sixties were a time of very rich experience for me and others of my generation. One could learn how to work on automobiles and trucks. Doing a basic tune-up every month or two was simple enough. Rebuilding an engine or corroborator a little more difficult. Building a radio out of discrete components was fun and rewarding and I always looked forward to the next Heath Kit catalog. I liked working with my hands, it was something I had done as a child and it always gave me a very rewarding feeling. On the other hand I always loved reading and even started building my personal library when I was nine. My interests were varied and always at odds with my parents and teachers. Accomplishment comes in many forms. To have read well over four thousand books is an accomplishment. To have build a four hundred square foot shed to code is an accomplishment. To learn how to be a stone mason so that I could repair stone walls on my own house is an accomplishment. Education is about learning to do stuff. Reading a book thorough to the end is an accomplishment for it takes some discipline. Working algebra problems is another accomplishment for it takes the discipline of learning the rules and formulas of mathematics. But mostly, education is about teaching yourself. No one can learn for you, you have to do it by yourself. The best that a teacher can do is show the student how to learn. Often that starts with rote learning, a base upon which we build that critical knowledge that enables each of us to learn more faster and better. and we learn desire through a number of ways. One is the respect that we earn for our desire. Another is the amazement we find in learning about something that strikes our fancy. And the third is that desire provides us with the discipline to learn. A child learns because he wants to, the motivation makes sense to him.
But the modern factory or public school systems tend to work against many children. Children are not units of production and certainly not raw material whose quality is uniform. If the population curve holds true, and it does, then sixty eight percent of the children attending school are average in ability. Why do we expect above average work from them? Why do we mainstream the below average in with the rest and expect that somehow we are doing them and society a favor? The amount of money, time, and resources we waste go against the average and above average. We have it in our heads that a child with an IQ of 86 should go to college and graduate with a degree. For what purpose? What has been gained from a reduction in standards? Social promotion is not education. The money, the time, and the resources we spend on special education is insane. I look back over the decades and see so much that is missing from the lives of children today. their childhoods, unless they live in the ghettos, are highly managed and structured. They are subjected to a horrible amount of crap on television, radio, and other mediums. They are over fed with carbohydrates and thus become overweight. And we turn their minds off with handheld electronic devices. The worst is that we push social values that are perfidious. I know, you think me a cranky old man. Our educational systems push critical thinking and then we are penalized if we do our own critical thinking. Morality only works if one has a standard. Critical thinking only works if one has standards. Think about it. To think critically one must ask a number of questions. And those questions are about what is right, what is true, and what is false? If I disagree with President Obama’s foreign policy that does not make me a racist. It means I disagree with his policy. If I hold to feminist theory of philosophy then supporting a president who has all the earmarks of a sexual predator should be seen a contradiction to that philosophy and I am being a hypocrite. If I do not support a rise in the minimum wage then I am not automatically against poor people. I am against the government interfering in what should be a free market and believe that such interference disrupts supply and demand just as rent control does.
In the end, we find that our children have very few skills that are needed in the marketplace. Being able to play video games has a limited market. Being able to text on a cell phone is not communications skills. So much of what we applaud is, in the end, uselessness. How many of our high school graduates, let alone our college graduates, know how to grow vegetables in a garden? How many know how to preserve those crops for later consumption? What about raising rabbits and chickens for consumption? There is a drought in the west and it is likely to affect crop production as far as Kansas and other mid-prairie states. If that drought is one of those century long droughts then what does that do the the food supply? What happens when the electric power runs out or is highly disrupted? will your mobile phone still work? Will you be able to look up what you need to know to survive on the internet? Modern man is fast becoming useless. I just don’t see the critical thinking being done.