445. Tools

We adults try to figure out which tools children will need as they face their futures. That’s because we care about them, and want to make sure they’re ready – that they aren’t hit by unpleasant surprises. After all, we know what it’s like to be hit that way; we’ve been there. And maybe we think we know what we should have learned – how much better off we’d be now if only we’d known certain things. So we try to teach children those things.
I’ve heard that life used to be simpler, and that parents and teachers were once much better at preparing children for their futures, because their futures were pretty similar to the past. They’d grow up, learn a trade, marry, have children, and so on. They didn’t have to think so much about career changes, divorce, childlessness, and all those “modern” phenomena. I don’t know exactly how true that is; I wasn’t there. It sounds true enough, though.
But nowadays, we ought to think hard about the tools we give children to face their futures. When I was in college, I was warned about an upcoming computer age. I was told that I’d better learn Fortran, a computer language, and learn to use base two, because that’s what computers used. I did learn how to use base two; that took me about five minutes. But I didn’t even learn what Fortran was. And now I use computers a lot. In English, not Fortran.
As I think about these articles I’ve been writing, I realize how arrogant and presumptuous they may sound to some of you. Especially if you disagree with me. I’ve taken on the role of village elder. And at the time of this writing, I’m not even fifty yet. There was a time when a fifty-year-old could have been a village elder, but now, in this culture, most people around my age are far too active and busy to sit around being village elders.
And nowadays, we “elders” have to watch what we try to pass off as wisdom. Perhaps we’ve gathered and created tools that have helped us live our lives. Maybe not so much. But whether or not those tools work for us, they may have little relevance to people who are going to come of age in the twenty-first century.
The answer many of us got in education courses was that we ought to be teaching children how to learn. That makes some sense; they’re going to need to know how to learn. But even that kind of teaching has to be tentative; it’s good that we’ve abandoned some ineffective techniques and some irrelevant curriculum, but we still have to be ready to change – to put away some tools that worked for us but won’t work later on.

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