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Never Say Die: Better Youngsters

My search for a way to generate more young hams has taken a strange turn. My original goals were to (a) provide a solid excuse for our hobby to be kept alive, despite the pressures for our valuable spectrum by rapidly expanding commercial interests and (b) help provide the high-tech work force our country is going to need to compete against the other industrial countries.

If we’re going to do this we have to get kids interested in hamming. This brought me head-to-head with the mess our schools are in. And that, in turn, got me to reading about our educational system. I’ve found that I’m not alone in criticizing our schools.

Now, before I get really started on how lousy our schools are, let’s just consider what you might do if you were interested in having the very best child or grandchild you could. First, let’s talk about what can go wrong, and then we can discuss how to fix the situation. I’m presuming, of course, that you might have a shred of interest in giving your children the best start in life that you can. Maybe you don’t give a damn. Many parents obviously don’t.

By the time your kids are seven the largest part of their characters will have already been formed. The child at seven won’t be very different fundamentally from the teenager at 15, or the grown-up at 30. Maybe you’ve seen the movie they made about that. If not, rent it.

Your child starts with the sperm and the ova. Anything you do to screw up your DNA before conception is going to affect your kid, and not positively. If you mess your sperm up enough, there’ll be a miscarriage. But a lesser disturbance of the DNA message will just burden your child with problems. There may be health, behavioral, or even cosmetic birth defects.

So what can we do to give our kids the best possible start? Well, research has shown that there are a lot of things that affect our sperm. There are drugs such as caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. There are magnetic fields such as we find with electric blankets or living near power lines or power sub-stations. There are poisons such as mercury, silver, and nickel, which we can get from amalgam fillings in our teeth and inoculations, such as for flu. Most of us already know about crack babies, and terrible problems from cocaine, pot, and the hard stuff.

So let’s say that you and your wife go out of your way to give your kid the best start you can. Then comes birth. I’ve got to get you to read The Continuum Concept by Liedloff. That’ll keep you from letting the hospital put your baby in their nursery. This is a wonderful guidebook for the first year of life.

Next comes the pre-school era from one to five. This is a time of incredibly rapid learning. It’s a wonderful time to teach babies several languages, if you have a way to continue and develop their use later on. Use it of lose it.

Unfortunately, even if we’ve done everything the best we can until we send them to public school, this is when we can permanently screw up the rest of their lives. I hope I can get you to get the book by John Gatto, the New York State Teacher Of The Year, Dumbing Us Down, The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling. It’s inexpensive and a humdinger. Of course, since you are an alumni of this school system, the chances are great that you do not have any interest in reading books. Do you know that the average American schoolteacher only reads one book a year. And then, even if you do read Gatto’s book and get all upset when you find out what’s been going on in schools, you have been so conditioned by your own school experience so the odds are that you have been made into a gutless wimp and won’t have the initiative to even try and do anything about it.
Heck, I’ve discussed the major problems facing our society and proposed inexpensive, creative solutions to them in my Declare War book. Several thousand people have bought it, yet I’ve seen no movement to try and implement any of my proposals. “It can’t be done. It’s hopeless.” Until I read Gatto’s book I hadn’t realized why I was getting verbal and written support, but not seeing any sign of people actually doing anything.

I was around eleven when it finally dawned on me that kids had no more rights than slaves. By law I had to go to school. The only rights I had in school were those the authorities let me have, and they have been backed up by the Supreme Court in this. I was forced to comply by the use of embarrassment and humiliation. You do nothing unless the teacher tells you to—which stifles thinking and makes you dependent on the teacher. I see this pattern in most of the youngsters I’ve hired, who are unable to think for themselves. They sit and wait until they’re told what to do. They are unable to plan work. They’ve always been stopped before finishing something by the bell, so they’re not familiar with the concept of completing work.

Gatto says, “It is the great triumph of compulsory government monopoly mass-schooling that among even the best of my fellow teachers, and among even the best of my students’ parents, only a small number can imagine a different way to do things. Only a few lifetimes ago things were very different in the United States. Originality and variety were common currency; our freedom from regimentation made us the miracle of the world; social-class boundaries were relatively easy to cross; our citizenry was marvelously confident, inventive, and able to do much for themselves independently, and to think for themselves.”

Gatto points out that it only takes about one hundred hours for a person to learn to read, write and do arithmetic, as long as they’re willing to learn. From then on they can teach themselves. “Schooling, through its hidden curriculum, prevents effective personality development. Indeed, without exploiting the fearfulness, selfishness, and inexperience of children, our schools could not survive at all, nor could I as a certified teacher. Nobody survives the curriculum completely unscathed, not even the instructors. The method is deeply and profoundly anti-educational. No tinkering will fix it—don’t be fooled into thinking that good curriculum or good equipment or good teachers are critical determinants of your son’s or daughter’s education.”

He points out that before television children had enough time to themselves to learn about self-motivation, perseverance, self-reliance, courage, dignity, and love. Now kids, on the average, spend 55 hours a week in front of the TV. That’s one-third of their time. Add to that the stresses of a two-income or single-parent family, and our kids have too little time to learn to become human.

Is it any wonder that our engineering universities are running out of potential students, and are having to continuously lower their admission standards? Only 7% of the high school graduates in America have enough math and science background to be accepted by an engineering college. The colleges have responded by turning to foreign students. That’s great for other countries, but it sure leaves ours in a fix. Here we are heading into a high-tech future and we’re turning out fewer and fewer American engineers, technicians and scientists.

The time was, 60 years ago, that youngsters wanted to be hams so badly that they’d put up with learning the code as a barrier. I did, even though I hated being forced to do something which did not make sense to me, even then. Very few of the kids these days have the passion to surmount obstacles, so we’ve instituted the no-code license. Well, we’ve been lowering the standards for school grades in order to get our kids through school, which is the same thing. They’ve even had to lower the SATs because our kid’s scores have dropped so much. Now I see some hams pleading that we lower the technical exam standards so kids won’t have to memorize so much to get a ham license.

There may be some American schools that are pretty good. I’ve read about a few. But most of the better educated children today are being schooled at home by their parents. Maybe you’ve read about it in Newsweek.

Home schooling will be a lot simpler once we have a good video educational series parents can use. These would use top-notch performers, plenty of graphics, and be fun to watch. PBS has been producing some superb educational videos. Now we need to have them to cover everything being taught in the K-12 years, plus everything that should be being taught. And also plus everything kids might want to learn, but which aren’t being taught. We need thousands of these videos.

We’ll still need schools to provide the hardware and facilities to teach skills. You can teach a lot about driving with a simulator, but then you need a car. Ditto flight simulators, etc. You can’t learn to juggle with a simulator, or to throw a boomerang. Or do glass blowing.

College? There may be some that are okay, but if you read the books on education you’ll find that most aren’t much good. Most of the “teaching” is done by student instructors. Get a copy of Thomas Sowell’s Inside American Education, 2003, Free Press, $25.

If you learn much about nutrition you won’t let your kids near a McDonalds. Granted, it’s difficult to get the facts on nutrition. The field is overgrown with fads and scams. But if you want to raise healthy, happy, intelligent children, you’d better learn.

Though it’s far from perfect, the best school I’ve found so far is the Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, Mass. Here’s a school that accepts children from 4 through 20. It has no curriculum! No classrooms. No tests. No grades. The kids learn what they want, when they want, and if they want. The results are spectacular. I’ve read eight books about the school and visited it personally. It turns out that kids, if give the opportunity, love to learn and run circles around those forced to take courses. My Secret Guide to Wisdom reviews the books about the school and explains where to get them. I wonder what I might have been like and accomplished in life if I’d been able to go to a school like that.

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  • Matt W1MST, Managing Editor