I took a class outside this past week, ostensibly to study species richness on our town green, but mostly just to show them the variety of plants and critters that thrive around us. In the spring, hundreds of tiny saplings rise from the town green's grounds; I am no longer surprised at their surprise that "baby" trees exist.
I went to public school a long time ago, wandered out into the real world for a quarter century or so, then re-entered the classroom about a decade ago, this time on purpose.
When I left, back at my high school graduation in 1977, the cinder-block rooms had machines that transported us away from the local--film strips, and the occasional 16 mm movie shared a world we hardly knew existed. A large television could be wheeled into a room, strapped onto a cart with huge black bands, like a crazed, troubled patient on a gurney.
|via Gilea Collectibles|
Still, at 3:00 PM, we'd break through the school doors, happy to be back outside on our way to whatever adventures the afternoon held. By dinner we were often muddies and bruised, and we had stories to tell.
Today children carry in their pockets a far larger world than the one the schools of my youth could project on the wall. A child now has a pocket of toys and tools in her pocket, and can wile away an afternoon "interacting" with her machine and her "world," and with others who share her pocket world.
For some, this is reason enough to end traditional schools.
These pocket worlds give our children a sense of well-being; they live in an orderly universe that thrives until a screen is shattered, but a screen can be replaced.
These pocket worlds also give our children anxiety and fear, as their bodies fail to meet the ideal in these new worlds, worlds driven by commerce and sensationalism, as strangers compete to capture the eyes (and mind) of your child.
What these pocket worlds cannot do, however, is give a child her sense of place in the natural world. When we lose that sense, when we no longer have our feet on the ground, we lose our frame of reference of what matters. All of us.
|Wheat grown on our classroom windowsill|
So maybe schools need to be the one place left where a child can rediscover the mammal she is, put her hands into the dirt that supports us, breathe in the air freely given to us, learn about the people who lived and died within walking distance of her home.
For all the clamor of how the power of the 21st century tools have reshaped the lives of children and made much of schooling obsolete, I have heard few people discuss what matters to children, to all of us.
If a life of self-sufficiency and happiness matters, if a republic requires thoughtful citizens capable of solving problems, then public schools need to help foster a grounded life.
Maybe what our children need is a less-connected classroom, one that focuses on the life in and around the building, the sunlight streaming into the windows, the words on tombstones just a block away, stories of the ground from local old folks warehoused in senior citizen "homes," stories from the ground in school gardens and community plots.
A pile of cow manure tells more about life than an iPhone ever will.