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.

Wayne Green, W2NSD, is a special contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from New Hampshire, USA. Wayne is the former publisher of 73 Magazine and author of the popular column "Never Say Die." Contact him at [email protected].

8 Responses to “Never Say Die: Better Youngsters”

  • Matt W1MST:

    When you take a look at tools like Khan Academy (http://www.khanacademy.org/), you can see a glimpse of how our kids will be educated in the future. With Khan Academy, it’s such a simple idea but when you really look at how it’s implemented, you can see how brilliant it really is.

    This sort of thing isn’t only for kids. I can certainly think of more than a few math concepts where I could use a refresher.

  • Fred W0FMS:

    Wow.. what a typical dump of info from the infamous Wayne Green.

    I don’t know if I can truly buy anything from someone who doesn’t believe we went to the moon when mathematically, it’s not hard to prove it’s possible..and many respected hams listened to signals from the Apollo mission when pointing their dishes–at the moon– but nonetheless Wayne is always interesting and controversial. I’m happy to see he’s blogging here..

    So obviously, I don’t agree with all of it.. but most of it in fact is true.

    As some of you know, I have 4 children adopted from Korea. None of them had the “superior genetics” or “pre natal” care that Wayne is suggesting. However, one quickly learns that the West puts way too much emphasis on Nature vs. Nuture because it historically has enabled the false argument of the “right of kings to inherit the throne”. This actually happens in the Eastern cultures as well– but those kings are expected to also EARN the right to stay the king.

    Because of this in Eastern cultures you rightly see more higher expectations of success and that permeates in education. Unfortunately they have the Confuscian ideas that limits people in their society. YES the US did prize Individualism and because of that at one time we were far superior because of the creativity it fosters. Not anymore. Did you vote for “hope and change?” Did you realize that change meant towards collectivism? And that you are not SUPPOSED to be better than your neighbor? And if you are we will equalize that by force? (What happens if you don’t pay your taxes? Force..)

    We homeschool our kids. Two years of public school in the rural region we live in taught us that they are hopelessly bad places to let your kids go if you want them to perform at all well. My wife is probably too leanient on the kids and still they are about two grade levels past the public school kids with about 3 hours a day of effort on her part. It’s sad.. that is how much time the schools waste on “baby sitting” (which they do a terrible job of) and “social justice” and inculcating them into “collectivism”. And yeah, criticize me for stating it.. but that is what they are doing. Prove otherwise.

    Colleges are starting to become not worth the money either. There is a big correction coming with that too.. you will see. This is from an Enigneer who went to one of the best schools in the world and subsequently went to an OK school when working full time to get a MBA and got that degree with a 3.95 average. The MBA was fun but added ZERO to my income.

    When I went to the private engineering school, it was 12K/yr.. when I graduated five years later it was 17K a year. Starting salaries for a BSEE were about $40K. YOU COULD MAKE THAT UP IN FIVE TO TEN YEARS! Now the starting salaries are about $60K and it’s $50K a year. I’m thinking that you’ll never make that $$$ up. So being a lower paid person longer or an entreprenuer makes sense. Most other colleges/majors fair even worse in this analysis. Colleges are going to price themselves into non-existance.

    I’m trying to get my kids interested in ham radio. One out of the four is. But it’s hard to justify. The technology hams uses is stagnant. Our local club is putting up D-Star now. What a joke for the price of the equipment! Seriously I am not kidding that “1985 called and wants their GMSK modem back!” Unless Ham Radio catches up with technology it will be legitimately difficult to justify our existance. It’s hard to justify telling my kids to spend the time on it!

    That will be hard with no new engineers or entreprenurs.

    Maybe I do agree with Wayne more than I just admitted… sigh… it’s sad that I’ve either turned that negative, or the world has gotten that bad or both.. but it’s the case and I have to accept it and do my best to help my kids change it or at least take advantage of it.

    Anyway.. we need to start developing interesting new technologies in ham radio or else.. I have to agree..

    P.S. My wife and I are debating about using the Khan Academy.. it’s interesting but it’s a bit socialist and they seem to track the kids there. Funding coming from Bill Gates is a concern to me on many levels. Price is sure right though and as a supplement I think it’s doable. My kids WILL be able to write on paper and do calculations without a calculator though– no matter how out of date that concept is.

    Fred W0FMS

  • Robert W6RH:

    No matter how cynical you become, it’s never enough to keep up.
    Lily Tomlin

  • How is Kahn Academy “socialist”? It’s free, but there’s no government involvement, no community “ownership” or anything resembling socialism. Bill Gates is doing all kind of philanthropy and for the most part has steered clear of politics, so I wouldn’t get too concerned about his financial contributions.

    I considered starting a Kahn Academy-like site for amateur radio awhile ago but got tied up on other things. I think his simple ten minute video approach is wonderful. It’s probably not appropriate for pursuing your masters, but for someone who works all week who wants to brush up on finance, physics, and math, it’s a perfect format. If people spent half the time at Kahn Academy as they do on Facebook, we’d have some much smarter citizens.

    73
    Goody
    K3NG

  • Wayne, it’s great to see you writing here and welcome to Amateurradio.com. I enjoyed your editorials back when I was a teenager in the 80s and was sad to see 73 go.

    I’m curious why you lament the code requirement being eliminated, but on the other hand also criticize compulsory schooling. I see a big problem with today’s schooling to be rote memorization. The code test was certainly an obstacle, but it was essentially “aural” memorization and really didn’t contribute to the quality of an amateur radio operator, especially when it came to thought, creativity, and troubleshooting. I read somewhere that in WWII we trained foreigners to copy code. They didn’t know a lick of English or German, but they would hear a CW letter and press the appropriate button. They could be as dumb as a bag of rocks, but copy code wonderfully. A better test for amateur radio would have been to troubleshoot a power supply or tune a receiver chain. That’s challenging and thought-invoking, but admittedly impractical in today’s world.

    I think unless you’re going into some field that specifically requires a degree to function, like medicine, legal work, advanced engineering, etc. college beyond a two year degree is a bad investment. I’ve seen people with four year degrees who were idiots. It comes down to how much chutzpah you have and not the sheepskin on your wall.

    I’m wondering about your “55 hours per week in front of the TV” statistic. Is there a recent study on that? I think it was definitely true in the 80s and 90s, but I know my daughter and her friends rarely watch TV today. They’re doing more online social networking than anything. It’s better than TV since it’s interactive, but it does introduce its own problems and challenges.

    I have mixed feelings about public school. The most obvious issue I see here in PA is teaching targeted at increasing annual standardized test scores. But I still see some of the lousy teaching techniques that were going on 30 years ago, so I think a lot of the issues we have aren’t new. There are good teachers and lousy teachers, but I think a lot of it really hinges upon the parents. From my experience as a parent and what I’ve seen around here, lousy parents make lousy kids, regardless of the school system. Kids with good parents have good, intelligent kids, regardless of the school for the most part.

    73
    Goody
    K3NG

  • Matt W1MST:

    Andy, KE4GKP, has put together some very nice technician class license prep videos. They remind me of Khan’s videos in some ways. I agree, Goody, that it would be nice to have the equivalent for ham radio topics. It’s very sorely needed.

  • Ernest Gregoire, AA1IK:

    As a card carrying eccentric myself, I hold other eccentrics in high esteem! Normally!

    W2NSD is an exception to this rule however, but he is right on how dumbed down our schools are. I thought he would have nuked himself with one of his fusion projects by now, but I’m glad to read that he is still on this side of the grass.

    I guess the mention of forced CW is the obligatory node of the head to ham radio in this blog, since 99 % of it as nothing to do with ham radio. To a lesser degree of percentage, that’s what killed 73 magazine.

    BTW, Nice jacket Wayne!

  • Michael N5TGL:

    “Very few of the kids these days have the passion to surmount obstacles, so we’ve instituted the no-code license.”

    I think that’s an over-simplification of the problem. Kids have plenty of passion to overcome obstacles, but they aren’t the ones that YOU want overcome. 🙂 Ham radio ranks grew “way back when” because it was cutting edge technology. That’s been taken over by computers, internet, Playstations, email, instant messaging and any number of other amazing technical advances — many of which have been brought about by those old hams that got involved in the business of bringing those things to light. The “newness” of radio pales in comparison to all those other things that clamor for youth’s attention.

    So, to put this in perspective, how many first-person shooter games have you played? Mastered? Any? Discounting them as “just a game” doesn’t count. Gaming is a serious hobby, just as serious or even more so than amateur radio. Just because a person could mop the floor with you playing a game doesn’t make them any less of a person for not knowing code. They’re both hobby pursuits, and people follow the hobbies that interest them. Radio just doesn’t fall into that category for many folks. For us, it’s sad but true.

    I stated as a no-code tech, am now a no-code general and will shortly be a no-code extra. I’m now working on gaining code proficiency, mainly because it interests me. I’ve also found that knowing code is absolutely NO barrier to lids and poor operators. Just listen to 14.313 or 14.275. There are people there who have been Extras for many, many years and they are some of the biggest jackwagons on the bands, but you know this! In my club, most of the folks go to me for answers to technical questions. They don’t care that I don’t know code, what they do care about is that I know the technical answers to questions that they have. Yes, some of those folks are long-time Extras. There’s no pecking order here, it’s just a desire to learn something new.

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