Friday, April 28, 2006

What If Everything We Thought Kids Needed To Know Was Wrong?

Peak Oil...Oh, I know that the general public doesn't believe it yet - although this month's mainstream magazine articles might be bringing it to a nearer spot on their dim horizons. As America in particular and the world in general marches resolutely toward the edge of a cliff, maybe we collectively think if we just pretend that the edge isn't there we won't fall off of it. Or maybe there's some magic ledge, just a couple feet below that we can land on - solar power, maybe, or the wonders of hydrogen. In the meantime, we should certainly make sure our children know what the capital of Venezuela is and what year the Louisiana Purchase was made and how to spell pseudonym, because this stuff will certainly be important in the future, somewhere on that ledge, right?

What if everything we believed about the future is wrong? What if a small piece of land with sunshine and rain that can grow a family's worth of food will be worth more than all the gold in Fort Knox? What if knowing how to defeat a cabbage maggot or potato beetle will be more important than having an MBA from Harvard or a Law degree from Yale? What if the ability to repair a windmill will be more crucial than being able to do 100 math facts in under 10 minutes? What if the ability to cooperate will surpass our cultural need to compete for everything from grades to football scores?

Self-sufficiency, old-fashioned know-how, cooperative endeavors, the ability to make do, food preservation, bartering, self-powered transport, communication, conflict resolution - these skills may trump anything children are learning in school today. And yet we, as a culture, send our children to school as if tomorrow will be exactly the same as today. As if they need to know the same things that we did at their age. As if what they're learning today will help them in a future that is fast approaching, one we can hardly predict.

As we head toward what James Howard Kunstler calls "The Long Emergency", I'm grateful for our unschooling life. A life in which my kids can spend their days in the garden, baking bread, cycling to the library, walking to the farmer's market, researching how to build our own windmill, learning how to repair bicycles, as well as learning all of the accoutrements of the new millenium (computers and whatnot) which may, or may not exist in the tomorrows to come.

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