Russell and Duenes

A Lot Of Things Don’t Matter That Are Supposed To

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A lot of things don’t matter that are supposed to; one of them is well-funded government schools. . . After 12,000 hours of compulsory training at the hands of nearly 100 government-certified men and women, many high school graduates have no skills to trade for an income or even any skills with which to talk to each other. They can’t change a flat, read a book, repair a faucet, install a light, follow directions for the use of a word processor, build a wall, make change reliably, be alone with themselves or keep their marriages together. The situation is considerably worse than journalists have discerned. I know, because I lived in it for 30 years as a teacher. – John Taylor Gatto, 3-Time New York City Teacher of the Year, 1991 Teacher of the State, New York, in What Really Matters.

I don’t know how many of the boys I taught at Redwood Christian High School knew how to change the oil on a car, but if I had my way, they’d all have known by the time they graduated, because they’d have changed the oil on lots of cars as part of their graduation requirements (the girls, too). I remember thinking how important it was to get students out of the classroom during the day, if for no other reason than to get them focused on the natural world around them. I tried this several times with one of my Bible classes. I took my students out and asked them to simply look carefully at a tree or a blade of grass and describe what they were seeing. You can imagine how this went.

But what if the geometry class at the local Christian school required the students to frame up a wall with wood and nails, or build a retaining wall out of bricks? Might they not learn more about math, and about life, than by simply sitting in rows in a classroom for dozens of hours over the course of a year? Indeed, John Taylor Gatto mentions a school in Maine, called the Shelter Institute, where 15-year-old boys are “taught to build a beautiful post-and-beam Cape Cod home in three weeks, with all the math and calculations that entails.” If the boys stay three weeks more, they “learn how to install a sewer system, water, heat and electric.”

As I’ve said elsewhere, the main point of education is not merely to “get a job,” or acquire certain skills. But the Bible is clear that a well-lived life requires the acquisition of certain skills, and mastering video games and one’s iphone are not among them. Most, if not all, of the skills we need to enjoy a well-lived life can be learned at home, and they must certainly be reinforced there. But who has time for that? As Gatto writes, “Television has cost the average 21-year-old about 18,000 hours of time…Going to government-run schools takes another 15,000 hours from the young life, 21,000 if you count going and coming and homework. What might this time have gone toward otherwise? From the  very small amount of time remaining, machinery other than television gobbles a great deal. What does it give back in return? Hearts-ease? Love? Courage? Self-reliance? Dreams?”

Charlotte Mason, writing in Home Education in 1905, said, “[W]e are an overwrought generation, running to nerves as a cabbage runs to seed; and every hour spent in the open is a clear gain, tending to the increase of brain power and bodily vigour, and to the lengthening of life itself. They who know what it is to have fevered skin and throbbing brain deliciously soothed by the cool touch of the air are inclined to make a new rule of life, Never be within doors when you can rightly be without.” Would that our schools, both public and private, understood this maxim, or even pondered it at all. Then our children might not, as Gatto says, “live penned up by strangers” throughout most of their childhoods. If the curriculum actually took them out of the classroom, they might learn all that they currently are learning within it, and “a lot of [other] things that matter.”



Written by Michael Duenes

December 17, 2013 at 12:09 pm

Posted in Duenes, Education

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