Venturing into the Big, Wide World
Posted by hyperpat on May 7, 2008
My son, as part of a school project for his class in government, had to attend a city council meeting last night. His comment about this three hour meeting: “I don’t speak politic”. He found much of the discussion totally opaque, and about as interesting as watching mud drying. This is not too surprising for a couple of reasons: local politics, even in a large city, most often deals with minuscule issues, normally of interest only to those directly affected, and discussions about same are almost necessarily couched in bureaucratese, a totally mind-numbing language seemingly designed expressly to obfuscate just what is being discussed and confuse any normal person. Heated interesting arguments and world-changing consequences are just not part of this picture.
Of more interest is the fact that the school course has such projects at all. And the city council is only one part of what my son has to do – he also is required to put some time in actually working for a political party office (of his choice – anywhere from Democrats to GreenPeace). And of course do a write up of his experiences and what he learned from them. These outings into the real world will at least provide him with a much better picture of what government is all about and how it really works than I got from school.
Back when I was his age (an incredibly long time ago), the classes I took in U. S. government and civics were pure lectures, and almost totally divorced from any current events or the practicalities of the political world. Now these classes gave me a good grounding in the Constitution and my civil rights and responsibilities, but they did not provide any type of picture of why or how I should get involved in politics. The high schools of my day pretty much left this up to the colleges and real-life experience after graduation, when suddenly the effect of a change in, say, zoning laws could have a real and very visible impact on your daily life, and made you realize that all these talking heads spouting esoteric mumble-mumble were important.
This is one change in modern education that I think is worthwhile. More practical, real-life things are very helpful in making the kids realize that what the teachers are trying to instill in them is useful – especially as far too many schools have discontinued the classes in shop, home economics, auto mechanics, and other such classes that used to provide at least a small taste of reality. Robert Heinlein, in Tunnel in the Sky, proposed a much harsher taste of reality, a school course in survival, where the final exam was to be dropped into some unknown land and forced to really survive for some time period. It’s doubtful this would ever become a reality, with its real risk of fatalities, and parents simply wouldn’t be willing to take that risk. Though in today’s world, their kids sometimes enlist in the military very shortly after graduation and are really placed in harm’s way – but most people wouldn’t be able to see the equivalency of these risks.
The real world is neither safe nor comfortable, and young people do need to learn how to navigate its reefs and shoals. Schools that don’t provide at least a small taste of what the big, wide world is all about are doing their students no favors.