The Little Rascals as a Model of EducationPosted: February 6, 2011
Recently, my wife posted a status update which was based on an article by Marc Prensky titled “The Reformers Are Leaving Our Schools in the 20th Century.” . The quote she posted was a subtext of the article.
“Certainly, all of today’s students should be able to read and write at some minimum level. But it is equally certain that those skills will be far less important in most of our kids’ lifetimes than they are today as new core skills take their place. Without the changes to our goals and focus described here, Obama’s much-hyped Race to the Top is nothing but a race back to the 20th century.”
I myself am no supporter of what Mr. Prensky calls the “sit up straight, pay attention, take notes” form of education. I have long left this behind. I have never felt (though I supported Mr. Obama’s move to the White House), his view of education. Same old, same old.
Rather than give you a response to an article I already agree with, which echos many of my own views, I wanted to respond to a question that came on the heels of the above comment in my own style.
What is the purpose of education in 2011 and going forward?
And the way I would respond to this is, rather than expounding on what the future is, I wanted to reflect on a model that many in my generation had when we were children. That of the 1930 film shorts “The Little Rascals” which aired every morning during the 1960’s. We as kids encountered this rambunctious model on a daily basis. My neighborhood cohorts would imitate the styles of self entertainment that were displayed daily by Spanky and the Gang.
One of the things Daniel Pink mentions in his short video (see Daniel Pink speaks) is that prior to the industrial period, and even in the early years of it, schooling was sort of ad hoc. It was yet to be institutionalized and was usually relegated to a one room school house of mixed ages. School was not an all day affair either. Children attended for a portion of the day, and then were let out with time to play and just be kids. This is what I saw as the world of the Little Rascals. This would allow them to create theater, go fishing, and generally just get into trouble.
Spanky, Darla, Alfalfa, Buckwheat, Stymie and the rest were constantly trying to find inventive ways to occupy themselves. They would create elaborate burlesque reviews with dancing girls, opera, and short plays. It always went wrong, but the effort and team work that went into each situation was always impressive. They would come up with home made cars that sported retractable punching gloves and squirt guns to fend off annoying and intrusive adults. These kids were creative.
My friends and I would follow suit 30 years later. We were always trying to come up with plays, our own circus acts, street sales, and battles that involved water guns and throwing berries at the kids from other streets, not to mention some of the military organization that went into some of these events. As we got a bit older, I became friends with those kids from other streets and together we formed a clan. This group created tree houses in the woods. We even evolved that idea into creating underground huts in the local wooded area near our houses. We dug a 4 foot trench into the ground in a hidden area; laid small fallen trees over as ceiling beams; nailed sheet metal (confiscated from a discarded swimming pool) over the top as a roof; used a discarded washing machine top as our hatch and then camouflaged the whole thing with dirt and leaves. We stole lanterns from street construction sites to use as our underground lighting. We had alcoves dug into the walls to place candles. And it was here my buddies would hide cigarettes and nudie magazines taken from our parents secret stashes.
As young teens, my friends customized their bicycles to such a degree that we were included as a group in the New York Custom Car show at the New York Coliseum. Our group took trophies for best customized bikes. I won a mention for exhibit display. We were there among adult aficionados and bikers who took this stuff seriously.
The Little Rascals existed as a model of free and rambunctious living. The children were left alone seemingly to fend for themselves and make their own discoveries. And my generation was fed on these images of rebelliousness daily. I offer up this model as a means of understanding how far away from any natural order we have come. Mr. Prensky poses a question about our national approach to education. It is archaic and a by product of the industrial revolution. The institution was set up to feed corporations and we have already bypassed the industrial age and have come to the end of the information age. This means that information is abundant and easy to get to. EVERYTHING is on the internet. So what is next?
The problem with public education is that it does not even attempt to ask this question. What is needed for the 21st century? When will we stop solving yesterdays’ problems and look at what is in front of us? Suggesting that the obsession with early reading and math skills at the exclusion of creativity is nearsighted and detrimental to our collective future. Yet parents are always scared, even in a Free School, that their children are just going to play all the time and forget about the “Three Rs.”
But as I have seen time and again, children step up to the plate and learn what they need to learn. What I have seen is a development of language, complex thinking, deep thought about the world, empathy to their fellow student, mentoring to younger students and so on. I am with Mr. Prensky in that I believe the predominance of this approach needs to be scrapped, or at least scaled back, in favor of a fairer system. One that does not separate children because some are good at what the system likes. As a creative person, I was victim to this. Art, music, culture are always laid on the cutting room floor first in an economic crisis. What they want in new hires is an ability to teach science and math. But I am maintaining that creative types, left to explore on their own, make some incredible discoveries. The Little Rascals were a prime example of this. Their inventiveness was evident in almost every episode. America needs to become innocent again and stop competing with the world based on the last war.