Relearning learning

Are there any conventional schools? It seems to me that everything about a school is wildly unconventional. Consider, first, the buildings. These form a marketplace for the intangible and invisible, a commodity intended to shape the lives of adults who don't exist. Furthermore, classrooms are not enough. A wise conventional wisdom suggests that children should be taught not only in schools, but also in less romantic places: diving bells, maybe, or factories and mines, or tunnels, working barns, active musums, fields, streets, forests, tents, log cabins, spacecraft in orbit, and ships at sea. The most important schooling should take place at home.

Consider the teachers; few people are more considerable. They deal in that most precious commodity called knowledge; and although this is not charged for, it must be paid for in attention or even in perceptible work. What if the knowledge is not wanted, or if the customers balk at its price? Then the pedagogic sales-force may employ the world's neatest hard-sell techniques, which require a client to labor in his own spare time at selling knowledge to himself.

If other purveyors of precious goods could exact homework in this way, the rest of us would be brilliant consumers. Clearly, the conventional business community has a lot to learn from school teachers.

Perhaps, in return, educators could learn something from the world of commerce, and especially from the advertising department:

"Be the first kid on your street to own 9 x 8 equals 72."

Or "Ask Mommy to give you the Capitals of Europe!"

Or "What is the silvery secret of H[2]O?"

For the more sophisticated, one might try "Verbotenm means Forbiddenm in German. Learn German!"m

Then there's the great advertising gimmick of this century: sex: "Do you long for friends of the same (or opposite) gender?Every French noun is either masculine or feminine'"m Or one might try a picture of a girl and a boy admiring each other: "They understand Trigonometry!"

For high romance, what about this: "Orchids fade; diamonds vanish; but Algebra is forever!"?

Here are a few more helpful samples, offered to educators at no extra cost:

"We are sending this personal, private theorum to you, Mabel Simmering, because your name is on our select list of future top executives, the kind of people who can undeerstandm that the square of the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle equals the sum of the squares on the other two sides . . . ."

A caption beneath two attractive photographs might ask, "Which of these high school kids knows how to undangle a participle?"

Or (with accompanying comic strip): "They laughed at me when I stood up to explain the Gross National Product -- then they were engrossed'"m

"Clip this coupon, and receive a free subjunctive! (Five minutes memorizing before Feb. 29, eight minutes thereafter.)"

"Get Up and Go -- to School!"m

The media show us daily that such advertising fancywork is considered suitable for adults; but it may be too feeble for children, who are accustomed to thinking harder, farther out, for longer, and in more ex-acting circumstances than grown-ups.

Perhaps that is one reason why some adults tend to view children as misfits in time, chrononauts living in the present when they really belong to the future.

All stereotyping, of course, misrepresents the young. Small children are portrayed as cherubs or as grinning little oafs with food on their faces. Preteens are supposed to be either junior seraphim or potential delinquents; teens are seen as strangers, with problems. We are offered the choice between the cute and the brute, when we should be offered immortals who are moe intensely people than most of us remember.

Lastly, the parents. Every normal school-child carries, like a blessing or a burden, the example and life of his home. If parents, teachers, and children all support each other, they will probably all do well. If they don't support each other, the young may learn precious little -- and little precious -- in school.

Good parents help to make good schools. Good children help to make good teaching. Good teachers, largely, make civilization. But "good" doesn't necessarily mean either conventional or unconventional. In this context, it just means genuine.

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