Build The Whole Person

Just how many news stories can there be saying “kids are fatter today!”?  Just how many stories do we have to see and read attacking kids today for being shamefully “weak” and “lazy”?

Who, I have to ask, raised those kids?

Who created the system — the dynamics and emphases — that surrounds those kids?

Here’s a clue — it ain’t them.

If kids today are screwed up, it’s because we did it to them.  We took away recess and P.E. — the”official” times when kids learn about fitness and exercise — because those classes & times were “wasteful” and “non-educational”.  Then we started attacking the kids for not exercising enough.

We cancelled music, and literature, and government classes, then we got mad when the kids had no idea who Mozart or Shakespeare or Hamilton were.

We blamed the kids for their “weakness” and “failure” without the slightest twinge of guilt or shame at our own blatant hypocrisy.

Great example we’re setting.

Look, for all the popularity of educational buzzwords — not to mention the shortsightedness of, well, pretty much everybody — “building” a good student ain’t that hard.  Hell, let’s cut through the bullshit and just be honest: we’re not necessarily building students in elementary and middle school, anyway.  We’re helping to build people.

And right now, we’re building people trapped in that miserable hell that lies between bureaucratic inertia and political talking-points.  We’re building people who see value in nothing other than regurgitating information for a test…who see value in nothing other then pro forma academics for the sake of box-checking in a “permanent record”.  What we are not building — or, at least, what we are passive-aggressively discouraging — is curiosity and understanding.  What we are not building are well-rounded and intellectually honest people.

And that’s a fucking crime.

I’ve mentioned before that I think there are a number of things folks should know, or at least have experienced, in order to consider themselves educated and civilized.  Literature, art, math, science, music…if you don’t have an appreciation and basic understanding of all of these things, you are a one-trick pony, and one-trick-ponies are something to be pitied and avoided, not admired.

If we want our kids to actually have a chance in the world — the same chance we had, as a matter of fact — we need to offer it to them.  We need to give them the same opportunities we had.  We need to focus not on the “war” between STEM and liberal arts, but focus rather on the basics that build the person:

  • Plenty of unstructured play at recess for elementary school kids…and daily P.E. classes for middle and high schoolers.
  • Classes to learn and understand music and drama and art.
  • Classes on literature and history and languages, right alongside math and science.
  • And last, but most certainly, positively, definitely not least: vocational classes.  When I was a kid, over the course of five years from 8th grade to graduation, I had classes in woodworking, metalworking, electronics, auto repair, and forest firefighting.  I wouldn’t trade those for all the “STEM” in the world.  And, shit, I probably shouldn’t even talk about the fact that my school offered — and I took — something so “wasteful” as a class on “Home Economics”.  The basics of cooking, sewing, and a handful of other things.  All I will say is that, to this day, I both love to cook, and am very good at it.  Draw your own conclusions.

I’m going to save for a future post my thoughts on the current trend towards “mandatory” college for all, but I do want to tout the value of even a small amount of vocational training.  I learned things in those classes that I still find valuable today…as valuable as all the calculus and chemistry I learned, and far more valuable than the bullshit of the “standardized tests”.

In the end, if our kids — any and all of the current younger generations — are disappointments, it is not their failure, it’s ours.