My mind wandered during Monday’s debate, as I grew weary of listening to one man’s rambling refusal to recognize any source of knowledge or wisdom beyond his “gut.” Doing so is the purpose of education – and Donald Trump seems to have missed a few classes. A friend of mine believes that this election is payback for a public education system that no longer turns out students grounded in civics, history and literature. The result is millions of voters unable to see through the hologram that is the Republican candidate.
I believe the current educational insistence on quantitative inputs that produce quantifiable outputs a computer can grade denies children a vast range of possibilities to explore the world with their imaginations. Robert Macfarlane writes that the Oxford Junior Dictionary now includes “MP3 player”, “voice-mail” and “chatroom” but has dropped “heron”, “otter” and “pasture”. Instead of “blackberry” we have “Blackberry”, a change the editors justify because modern children spend so little time outside.
“Technology is miraculous,” writes Macfarlane in Landmarks, “but so too is nature – and this aspect of the world’s wonder seems under threat of erasure in children’s narratives, dreams and plots.”
But there are seeds of hope. My local paper’s lead story tells of opening day at Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Elementary School on Great Cranberry Island, closed since 2000 due to a lack of students. Reopening a 13-student school is not the conventional notion of progress, but perhaps these kids’ intimate explorations of island life will save more words from extinction – and so provide a small step toward reinvigorating our civic discourse.