Wah-wah-wah-wah-wah, wah-wah-wah-wah-wah-wah. For those of us without year-round school schedules, the advent of school is celebrated chiefly by parents who can finally be free of their offspring for a solid eight hours a day, and retailers who know that parents are so willing to jettison their kids that they’ll buy nearly anything to ease along that process.
The kids themselves, along with the lunch ladies, bus drivers, retail workers, and possibly even teachers in North Carolina (ha ha) are probably less cheerful about the impending change. We can’t help but notice how commercial the whole cycle is—New books! New clothes! New crayons! New iPads! New everything!—and wonder about what going “back to school” is centered around: you know, learning. It makes us think of our old friend Charlie Brown, who in a fit of despair during the TV short A Charlie Brown Christmas asked:
What would Charlie Brown say about learning in America in 2014? Is it about memorization, dates and dead people? Science and mathematics? Something with computer programming, maybe? Maybe it should be about vocational and technical training so that kids can slide right into their careers. Perhaps we should do a better job of connecting school with jobs in the minds of children. Or maybe it should just be about whatever kids want to learn about, no matter how unconnected to jobs it seems. Maybe it should be about preparing kids to be smart and wise, skilled and able, competent and resourceful.
What is learning about? How would you answer that question if a child asked you? If you could go back to yourself as a child, what would you say to him or her about school? What would you tell them to do differently? And do you think that same advice should apply equally to all children, or might situations be more nuanced based on location, family situation, and socioeconomic conditions? If Charlie Brown were asking these questions today, what would Linus say to him?
Truth be told, we don’t know. We’re not Charles Schulz and we don’t know how to write the simple truths that a kid like Linus would say. What we do know is that there are almost innumerable things for kids to learn about. Of all the things in the world, it’s impossible to predict which are really going to tickle us and capture our interest and imagination. Some parents, like Mozart’s and Tiger Woods’, simply decided for their kids and had them writing music and swinging a club as soon as possible. We would point out, however, that curiosity is a crucial ingredient to exploration.
There’s a story circulating about Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin being discouraged as a kid from reading fantasy books. Who would tell the future author to stop exploring in that direction? Teachers, of course. “When I was 12 or 13, I had teachers take away science fiction books by [Robert A.] Heinlein and [Isaac] Asimov and say: ‘You’re a smart kid, you get good grades. Why are you reading this trash? They rot your mind. You should be reading Silas Marner.’”
Learning is a complicated subject, but thankfully it’s easy to practice. To paraphrase a line from Good Will Hunting, there’s no sense spending $150,000 on an education you could have got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library. However you choose to embrace the faculty of your mind, we exhort you to embrace and embrace well.