Wednesday, August 10, 2005


Some days, and today is one of them, I pine for the large chunk of my life I wasted on what adults ensured me were things of ultimate importance when I was a kid. They swore I would need this stuff, that it would be valuable, that it could be recycled for useful purposes throughout my lifetime. But that was such a bunch of crap.

So I gave them so much time from the limited period of my youth. I am particularly chagrined about the time I dedicated to learning shorthand. Believe me nothing, not even a second language, is as difficult to learn as shorthand. It took the strictest dedication and perseverance. And to what purpose? Everyone promised me it was good and necessary. But I never used it and obviously never will.

And French. Three years of that study in order to be able to graduate from school. Too little time to learn French but at the same time a pursuit that extracted way too much time from my youth. And when I finally visited Montreal after more than twenty years, I found I couldn’t even figure out how to ask for a cup of coffee.

And then there was math. We had to be able to do the math. Algebra, cosines, multiplication, division. That was a big chunk out of my youth as well. And do I use it? Yeh, I use my elementary math. For simple stuff like how many dinner guests do I have so how many plates will I need? But other than that, like everyone else I whip out my calculator if any part of the equation is two digits or more.

And research. How much time I dedicated to research only to find that a few years later it had suddenly become fiction or so irrelevant, there was no practical use for it.

Even English. All that stuff about prepositions, verbs, nouns and pronouns. All that stuff did was make me angry and bitter in later years over those who disregarded the rules. Offended that those rules I so conscientiously tucked away were now altered or no longer mattered. I think I could have learned as much (or more) through reading the classics. But in order to be soundly versed in English grammar, I read my thick, cumbersome, English text twice in Grade nine – from cover to cover. That was time I could have spent reading something applicable to real life on an enduring and long-term basis.

But my Mother and my Father taught me relevant stuff. I guess what today’s society would call "Life skills" although I think there is much of this missing from today’s curriculum. My parents taught me honesty and integrity. How to nurture, care for, and empathize with others. My mother taught me how to care for babies, love God, bake, sew and garden. She taught me about morals and ethics and self-fulfillment. None of it a waste of time. All of it relevant and usable in every stage of life. No refuse here.

But going back to that refuse I learned in school, that I can’t even recycle, the biggest and most concentrated effort in school was good penmanship. Bah. What for? I’ve seen people write twice as fast though each one of the letters is improperly formed – starting at the bottom instead of the top or starting at the left instead of the write.

I mentioned this to MD (middle daughter) while whining about the robbery of great chunks of my youth. For the sake of good penmanship, which at the time seemed to be the be-all and end-all, I spent more time rewriting notes than studying notes. An endeavor that dramatically reduced my absorption of facts. To what purpose? Better marks at the time for 'year's work' but lower marks on exams. But ultimately, nothing practical on a long-term basis. After all, the only thing I write manually now is my own personal grocery list.

But MD insists that good penmanship is not a waste of time. "There is a great sense of worth and dignity that comes with good penmanship," she responded, "and whether you manually write anything or not, that sense stays with you for life." Is she right? I don’t know.

And so now, one final thought. We have become such a sophisticated society. So conscientious of waste and recycling. Our kitchen waste is labeled and sorted, sold, recycled and toxic stuff sealed and packed off to appropriately designated sites. We worry ourselves into a frenzy about sustainability of the purity of forests, trees, and lakes. We stand in our kitchen surveying bins of inanimate debris and constantly ask ourselves, ‘What else can I do with this stuff today to positively affect what happens tomorrow?’

So why, prey tell me, with this level of consciousness about these things, do we dump on our children, during the limited years of their youth, facts and ideologies that assassinate their purity and lap up their time but cannot be reused or recycled. There is no thought given to sorting garbage here. There is no repeated asking of one’s-self ‘What can I do today to positively affect this child’s future?’

When it comes to our children, we may not teach them, but we allow them, even encourage them, to waste great chunks of time lapping up ideologies that are equivalent to toxic and radioactive waste. And we give no thought to worthwhile conservation. Life Skills should have much to do with sustainability of things of importance, but the courses offered in school are sketchy. Nothing in there about empathy, charity, and integrity. Instead, much to-do about money and time management and balancing relationships in a way that glorifies the refuse that has been dumped there. And I’m not talking about English, French, Math, shorthand and penmanship either.


Anonymous Clarence said...

Loved this rant Roberta. You make some valid points. So...what's the answer? I've often wondered why my wife and I didn't get more involved when our children were in the school system. We were already aware of so much that you mentioned here. Is home-schooling the answer? There are problems to be found there also. There are those that have control over what MUST be taught even in home-schooling, either that or the education one provides at home will not be recognized or credit given to the children for all their hard work. It's an on-going problem that needs to be addressed and altered IMHO.

3:27 AM  
Anonymous Eleanor said...

While I agree with MD that good penmanship is a source of pride and definitely not a waste of learning time, I certainly see your point about some of the other enforced learning being a total waste of precious time and energy. Perhaps you can change the subjects a bit to pertain to today's youth, but it's still the same principle.

This wasn't a clear thought in my head when I chose to pull my daughter out of school and home school her for a few years. However, it's something that we certainly came to realize during those years. When she decided to go back for high school and started drowning in the cess pool, I wished with all my heart that she had stuck to the self-directed learning. We used the standard curriculum at home so that she would have the necessary notations on her school transcript. But there was still a lot of room for "self development" within the home school program, and she absolutely blossomed in those three years. She has a brilliant, intuitive mind, and academic talent galore, but needed to be away from the school setting to realize it. After she went back for high school she was forced to conform to a substandard. When she couldn't, she was stomped on, kicked around, and totally stripped of what she knew she had, and who she knew she was, before she went back to school. With our encouragement she walked away in the last half of Grade 12, and will finish off at home, once she has had adequate time to regain the confidence in her abilities, her talents, and in herself in general. It's a slow process, but she's getting there.

It's a sad thing to see the light go out in the eyes of your precious child, but also sad to see the dull eyes of most of her classmates. Society looks at them and sneers, but how did they get that way? What stripped them of their youthful enthusiasm and broke their spirits? One only needs to read this blog post of yours to find the answer.

7:31 AM  
Blogger Roberta said...

Hi clarence. Thanks for the comment. I've never understood anyone wanting to homeschool their children, but I'm beginning to understand more and more as each year passes.

eleanor, it's always such a pleasant surprise when you stop in. Thank you for sharing such intimate things with me that were well worth sharing. I'm glad things are working out for your daughter after such difficulties. I am struck by your phrase about 'the light in children's eyes'. It certainly has gone out. When I see young people in groups around school grounds - they are, with each passing generation, a much more somber lot.

9:47 AM  
Anonymous Aurora said...


From my observation, all that time spent learning proper English has not gone to waste. You write wonderfully, and that's as sure a sign as any. Why do I seem to put such great importance on that?

Have you SEEN how "kids" write and heard how they talk these days? You're on the internet so you must have seen some of the worst butchering of the English language imaginable. I know I have. "U" is not a word, nor is "ne1". "Ur" is not a proper substitute just because you can't figure out the difference between your and you're. Capitalization counts. And, "like" is not seasoning to be used liberally after, like, every other, like, word you, like, say.

Thank goodness you read that English text. :)

5:16 AM  
Blogger Roberta said...

Hi Aurora. Thanks for the comment. I'm very glad you enjoy reading my rants. I also appreciate you telling me the meaning of some abbreviations that left me quite lost (chuckle).

I am disappointed in the lack of English skills that young people demonstrate but what bothers me even more is when CEO's, Administrators, and the Media assassinate good English without blinking.

7:05 PM  
Blogger She Dances in Dragon said...

I'm certain you threw in those homonyms on purpose. Write...prey... Which ones did I miss?

10:53 AM  
Blogger Roberta said...

Dear Editor (she dances in dragon)

Thanks for bringing those to my attention. I noticed them after the fact but neglected to go back and change them. No, I can't say they were written that way on purpose. Sometimes I just get too distracted by what I'm writing to pay proper attention to my spelling even though I've read more English texts than most people.

7:43 PM  
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8:38 PM  

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