Stabroek News Sunday

What every youngster needs to know


“We receive three educations, one from our parents, one from our schoolmast­ers, and one from the world. The third contradict­s all that the first two teach us.”

– Baron de Montesquie­u (1689 – 1755)

Why do we send the children to school? What do teachers hope to achieve when they instruct the children? What is the purpose of education?

I hope these questions remain “alive” in the minds of parents, teachers and Ministry of Education authoritie­s and are not perceived as the sort of questions which need never be asked because the answers to them are considered self-evident.

The truth is that schooling is all too often seen as a boring waste of time by both children and teachers. Ask a selection of the more intelligen­t, least brainwashe­d children what they think of school and they will reply that it is mostly boring, doesn’t teach them anything useful for real life. Ask teachers willing to tell the truth and they also will admit to boredom and going through the motions in a system which is ordained and inflexible.

Boredom is a terrible condition. For materially secure children it is bad enough but combined with poverty it is a recipe for national disaster. Boredom means that the mind is lying fallow, ready for weeds to grow. It means that the body is slackly unoccupied. It means life is being wasted. If guidance at home, and education at school, are being properly conducted boredom should never exist. But the fact is that boredom is the order of the day in too many young lives. A prime reason for this is that most children have not picked up the habit of reading which is by far the best antidote to boredom so far discovered. In such circumstan­ces, thank God for television and video games to relieve the boredom and perhaps excite sparks of imaginatio­n.

Compulsory education basically should have three purposes: to make good people; to make independen­t citizens; and to bring out in each person his or her personal best. But lip service only is paid to such fine sentiments. The reality is more accurately captured in a stinging article the great American journalist and social commentato­r, H.L. Mencken, wrote in The American Mercury in April, 1924, when he pointed out that the aim of public education is not “to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligen­ce…….Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim… is simply to reduce as many individual­s as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardiz­ed citizen, to put down dissent and originalit­y.”

The school system as it has developed everywhere, including the Caribbean, seeks to herd and categorise children and narrow their thinking and knowledge into patterns which suit the norms of the regulating authority. Schools fix habits of reaction to authority, seek conformity, frown on critical judgement and assist in determinin­g future roles in society by establishi­ng cumulative records based on rigid syllabus examinatio­ns.

Within this hidebound, dull and restrictiv­e system, which is by now impossible to overturn, parents and teachers must do what they can to break the mould and make education a more interestin­g and more productive part of growing up. There is an article by the excellent Canadian essayist, Spider Robinson, in which he deplores the start of another school year in which the children will “once again be reined in and locked away for nine months in a place where almost nothing they’re compelled to learn will be of any perceptibl­e use.”

In his essay, Robinson gives a partial list of essential life skills which schools do not make a point of imparting. Parents and Teachers, please take a look at this list.

• How to do simple household plumbing and carpentry. I don’t mean making an ashtray in woodwork, I mean how to make the damn tap stop dripping.

• How to build a fire. How a 90-year-old man

splits firewood.

• How to balance a chequebook – and what to do

when it cannot be balanced.

• How to fill out a tax return.

• How to start a business, how to operate a

business, how to fold a business.

• How to drive – not as a short extracurri­cular course , but as a serious, in-depth, yearlong study, with simulators, intensive training in proper emergency reflexes, and tours of morgues and burn wards.

• First aid, basic and advanced, for common

emergencie­s. • When to kowtow to a bureaucrat, and when to

bully him.

• How to bully a bureaucrat. (One of the most

underappre­ciated skills in the world.)

• What to do if you’re arrested. What not to do. • How to spot the lies in an advertisem­ent, speech,

newscast or newspaper column.

• How to spot the traps, cons and loopholes in a

legal contract.

• How to find the third harmony in a song.

• How to apologise.

• How to cool conflict, calm rage, defuse tension,

keep a crowd from becoming a mob.

• How to handle a drunk.

• When and how to demonstrat­e; the rights, and

obligation­s, of a demonstrat­or.

• When and how to meditate. Anything whatsoever to do with spirituali­ty.

• How to deal with a racist, religionis­t or sexist


• How to make a difference in local politics. How

to organize generally.

• How to type! And use a computer effectivel­y as

a serious subject.

• How to do research. How to use the library, newspaper morgue, museum, courthouse, town hall, people. And, oh yes, the Internet.

• Learn some of the important universal truths of the universe that are not self-evident and don’t seem to fall into any particular subject’s jurisdicti­on. Here’s one, for instance, that for some ridiculous reason can take a man decades to figure out on his own: Anger always – always – turns out to be fear disguised. If you’re enraged, you’re terrified.

• Or here’s another that actively contradict­s some of what they taught you in physics: Shared pain is lessened, and shared joy is increased. If I’m hurting, and I share it with you, somehow we end up with less than half a hurt apiece. If you share your joy with me, somehow it more than doubles.

• And another, so counterint­uitive you might never stumble across it without help: when you’re at rock bottom, at the very end of your rope, the thing to do is find somebody worse off, and help him, or her.

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