Years ago, when Sacramento native Dusty Baker was manager of the San Francisco Giants he used to dress up his 3-year-old son Darren in a miniature Giants uniform and let him hang out with the team in the dug-out during the games. The announcers would fall all over themselves blabbing about how cute the kid was, and how this proved that Dusty was a great father, etc. Then one day the boy—caught up in the excitement like everybody else—was loitering near home base as one of the Giants was sliding in to score, and there was a very good chance the kid was going to get knocked into next week!–but another player scooped him out of the way at the last second. Whew! Then began the inevitable backlash: what’s a child that age doing in the dug-out during a game? It’s dangerous! What is his father thinking? As a public school teacher, I was right there with them during that scary inning. Children need to be protected, I thought.
Then, immediately, I changed my mind. Let’s not keep children out of the dug-outs. Let’s put dozens of children in the dug-outs, and the bull pens, and along the side-lines of football and basketball games! This isn’t “men’s work” where children don’t fit in. It’s a game, for crying out loud. Now I don’t doubt that most professional athletes want to put on a good show for the fans. But for some quirky reason our culture has deified these guys, which is one reason why they make so much money. In return, I think they owe it to us, at the very least, to try to be good role models for our children. So if there were kids right there with them during the games, those guys would need to watch themselves: no cussing, no chewing tobacco, no trash talk, an emphasis on hard work and practice. Better put some mothers and elementary school teachers with them too. Trust me, the presence of women and children will make these guys better players and better men.
Okay, so you’re probably thinking I’m naive or annoying or both, but now it’s going to get worse.
I think we should have children in the work place. All work places. Working.
Everybody and his brother are complaining these days about the inadequacies of our public schools. Well, guess what? They do not give us (by which I mean teachers) the resources we need to do the job we’d like to do. But there is one thing every public school does really well: getting your kids out of your hair for six or more hours every week day so you can go to your kid-free work place and not be bothered. That’s right, we provide free (FREE!) day care.
Yeah, it sounds very cynical of me to say that once we outlawed child labor we had to institute compulsory attendance in public schools so the working class could work. Whether or not this is true, it’s not what I want to talk about. What I want to say is this: our culture has separated children from the majority of adults for the better part of each week day and I don’t think it’s such a good thing.
So my wild radical idea is this: let’s close all the schools, and all of us together share responsibility for educating our children!
I admit it, I don’t know how it would work. Even I think it’s a crazy untenable idea at this point in history. But think about it!! My goal in throwing it out there is to get people to think in different ways about education. “Elementary school” has become such a universal experience that most of us think we’re authorities on the subject. We think it should be just the same as when we were in school. It’s as if we have a nostalgic desire for something unchanging. Some of us may even have a certain stubborn belief in school as a rite of passage (“Hey, I survived those nuns! My kids will too!”)
But this is very limiting. Everything else in our culture is changing at warp speed. Don’t we owe it to our kids—our future—to try something truly new?
When I say we should all be responsible for our children’s education, I’m not talking about home schooling. That’s fine for those who choose it, but it can be very isolating. So let’s move the kids to the workplace. The obvious solution would be for each person to take brief time periods away from his or her regular job to teach a class or tutor small groups or individuals. But I’m going to push this idea even further: let’s somehow integrate children into the actual work in each place of business. Somehow—while you’re teaching them to read and write and do math and learn about science and history, they’ll be helping you with your work too. Impossible, you say? You’re probably right. But we don’t know if it’s impossible because we haven’t thought about it. All I’m saying is we should think about children and how they’re educated in a new way.
I know that no one is going to rush in to implement my idea. I write this to make people think, but this isn’t my version of A Modest Proposal (Jonathan Swift). Well, maybe it is. But we need to integrate our children more fully into our lives, for our sake as well as theirs. Imagine this: if you had children in your workplace, every afternoon you could spend an hour drinking milk and eating cookies, playing with blocks or baby dolls or board games. It would be so good for your soul.
And to all my beloved teacher friends: have a fantastic school year! You deserve it!