Intelligence in our Hands

Aral working in Scout II
Aral working in Scout II

Last week was mid-winter break for my youngest. Which means he’s been with me more or less non-stop since the Friday before last (his last day of school). That’s a lot of time to spend in anyone’s company, especially mine. It didn’t help that on Friday I got sick (first time this winter) and my project list just keeps getting longer and longer. More to do, less time to do it in.

Consequently, A-bear has been asked to help. The biggest hurdle I face is to bring his mood to a point where he finds the work at hand enjoyable. Most days, my encouragement must necessarily begin as soon as he’s up and about. This is a lot of extra effort–emotional effort if you will–on my part. Emotional energy I wouldn’t otherwise have to expend if it were just me doing the thing.

Today, for instance, we headed out to the garage and started stripping down my velomobile. It’s a project I’ve been meaning to get to for a while and I’ve had the trike up on a makeshift stand waiting for me.

Once I got Aral out there he dug into it with enthusiasm. We started by vacuuming out all leaves and spider webs. Aral *wanted* to get inside the cockpit, even with the mucking that needed to take place. We spent most of the morning first cleaning and then stripping parts off the vehicle. He was happy because he, like me, gets a great deal of pleasure doing things with his hands. I was happy because he was so happy.

This kind of interaction gets me wondering about our future. When I went through middle school, for instance, there was a vibrant shop program. We learned to do plenty and many of the skills I learned there are still with me today. Shop and the industrial arts aren’t a part of the modern curriculum. And while I imagine there’s a small body of parents out there left scratching their heads and wondering why, like me, I’d assume that most are just trying to get our kids through the relentless testing we know they’ll be subjected to sooner than later.

For Aral shop time is the most effective tool I have when it comes to teaching him the basics. “Caliper starts with the sound ‘ca.’ What’s the sound at the beginning of lever?” When we’re working on things together I know I’m making real progress. Last weekend we took apart the J-traps on a couple of sinks in our house. As he turned the collars off the pipes he talked to me about all the important stuff in his life. How much he likes his friend Marlow. Why it’s important not to use potty talk. What the best lego set is in his opinion. You can see it in his eyes, you can watch him working it all out as his hands do their thing.

I think back to my time in school and I know that I missed out on a real opportunity when I made it to high school and avoided shop class. Yes, we had a shop program back then, but there was a social stigma attached to participation; that’s where the dumb kids went. The kids who weren’t ever going to amount to much, they learned auto body skills.

There’s nothing wrong with AP English, but diagramming sentences and Wuthering Heights never really stuck. I never gave myself the time I needed to work those kinds of abstract problems out.

I see this requirement to learning in both my kids. I see it and I feel powerless to give them these sorts of opportunities (beyond what I can provide in the way of shop time). We all learn our own way, yet the system is only optimized for a cross-section of the population.

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