249 – “Kicking the CAN” – January 24, 2018

By Hetty Gray


“Kicking the CAN”

January 24, 2018

If you have any background in American lingo, then you recognize the phrase
“kicking the can.” While this is most often used to describe putting off an essential element of planning or action, it also has a more dangerous slant — one that bodes ill for our future.

To cite contemporary examples you have only to consider one of a number of commercials currently aired on national television. Pay close attention to the dialogue. The ad features two teenage boys at the side of a road at night. They have a flat tire. After a discussion of what is covered and which company has roadside assistance 24/7 (It’s an insurance company ad.), one replies to is father, “Of course I know what a lug wrench is…” Obviously, he has no idea and neither does his friend. Boys who don’t know a lug wrench? Ouch! That never would have happened when I was a teenager.

Those of us who grew up at a time when our fathers knew a head was not only a body part attached by one’s neck but also a critical component in the internal combustion engine. People my age find the whole scene laughable. However, funny as it is, the ad only showcases the disappointing fact that uncounted numbers of today’s teens and young adults have no idea how to fix anything.

Even the most basic chores are alien to them. I follow young girls in the checkout lines of grocery stores and see nothing but boxes of prepared food. Oh, there might be a jug of milk and juice, but traditional ingredients for getting a family meal are visibly absent.

Computer jobs beckon many of our young students, yet I wonder how many of them can conceive the mental ability it took to design the first one. I was not quite seven years in 1951 when the first huge computer was dedicated. Univac took up an entire room — a far cry from the tiny devices we carry in our purses and pockets today.

Sixty years seems to have flown by in the wink of an eye, reflective of comments I heard from my grandparents at about my age. Yet, the tactile and problem-solving skills of sixty years ago are most concentrated in those of us who were young at that time. With each succeeding generation, except for youngsters reared by do-it-yourselfers or those who grew up on a working farm, those skills rapidly disappeared.

How many of our grandchildren are prepared to take care of themselves in case of a major disaster? A hundred and fifty years ago it was not an uncommon site to see a twelve-year-old boy take over his family after one or both parents died. The base line here is that the parents taught their children to be self-sufficient.

While there are parents who still expose their children to basic tasks and how to do them, they are becoming more and more rare. I do not mean to shortchange in any way those youngsters who can work circles around me in terms of fixing things, but it worries me when I see how little many of them are able to do without calling someone else.

I task schools to reinstitute the “trades” classes. Dropping shop and home economics in favor or weight rooms and computer labs may appeal to the modern curricula directors, but it is very shortsighted.

We cannot continue to teach technology and ignore basics. People need to know how to fix things. People need to know how things work. That is the beauty of physics and science. A teacher can actually show students how things operate. Simple gears can be fascinating to young children, especially is they are allowed to put together the mechanism themselves.

For more than a decade my husband and I sat at the symphony with a retired Allison engineer and his wife. Both Gene and Mildred Dent volunteered at the Children’s Museum. Gene designed and built the simple devices that showed children the wonder of machinery. Every child should have that kind of an opportunity. Who knows the budding talent that could bloom as a result?

Today we have the wherewithal to transform education into something more than reading, writing (don’t get me started on eliminating cursive!), and arithmetic. Incorporating manufacturing techniques into a curriculum surely could not hurt.

Introduce children to the magic of electricity, the power of water and hydraulics, the importance of repairing something instead of purchasing new. In the end, the entire society will benefit. It’s not a lost cause — yet!

Working with one’s hands positions itself to be an invaluable talent considering the number of us able to do little or nothing. Entertainment and empty video games have taken the place of learning at the feet of a parent or grandparent.

We need more learning within the family and a focus on careers that are timeless — those of the building trades and home repair. Robots may be the future of factory floors, but they do not install floor joists, studs, and trusses. Men and women do that, and with considerable talent.

A lover of all things Apple (computer, phone, etc.), the simple lower case “i” preceding a product line is a dead giveaway to the manufacturer — iMac, iPod, iPhone…. That is a good thing, however, I suggest another twist on that nomenclature.

Kicking the “CAN” is what we have done for decades. Since its founding, this nation has been known as a people with a tenacious approach to learning, be it with hands or heads. I dream that the time will reappear — a time when the ages-old reply to a query, “Who can do this?” is a chorus of young voices shouting “iCAN.”

Would that it were so…. Think about it.

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