Monday, 10 May 2010

Excerpt from John Holt's "Teach Your Own" (2)

"A Life-Taught Man"

"Hiram Salisbury was a man of 1815. I list his skills, one sheet of scratch paper after another. He knew every farm chore. He milked cows and attended the calves in birth. He physicked his horse. He plowed, he planted, he cultivated, hayed, picked apples, grafted fruit trees, cut wheat with a scythe, cradled oats, threshed grain with a flail on a clay floor. He chopped the corn and put down his vegetables for winter. He made cider and built cider mills. He made cheese and fashioned cheese tongs. He butchered the hogs and sheared the sheep. He churned butter and salted it. He made soap and candles, thatched barns and built smokehouses. He butchered oxen and constructed ox sledges. He fought forest fires and marked out the land. He repaired the crane at Smith's mill and forged a crane for his own fireplace to hang the kettle on. He collected iron in the countryside and smelted it. He tapped (mended) his children's shoes and his own. He built trundle beds, oxcarts, sleighs, wagons, wagon wheels and wheel spokes. He turned logs into boards and cut locust wood for picket fences. He made house frames, beams, mortised and pegged. With six men's help he raised the frames and built the houses. He made a neat cherry stand with a drawer for a cousin, fixed clocks and went fishing. He carved his own board measures (yardsticks) and sold them for a dollar apiece. He fitted window cases, mended locks, and fixed compasses. He hewed timber, surveyed the forest, wrote deeds and shaved shingles. He inspected the town records and audited the books of the Friendship Lodge, the oldest freshwater Masonic lodge in the country. He shipped plows, constructed carding machines, carved gunstocks and built looms. He set gravestones and fashioned wagon hubs. He ran a bookstore and could make a find coffin in half a day. He was a member of the state's General Assembly, overseer of the poor, appraiser of property and fellow of the town council. He made hoops by the thousand and also pewter faucets. For many years he collected the town taxes...

"I have not listed all of Hiram's skills but enough. I do not think he was an unusual man. Put me in Hiram's world and I would not last long. Put Hiram down in our world, he might have a little trouble with a computer, but he'd get the hang of it faster than I could cradle a bushel of oats."

"I tend to agree that Hiram, though perhaps not an unusual man in his time, would be a most unusual one in ours, far more knowing, skillful, intelligent, resourceful, adaptive, inventive, and competent than most people we would find today, in either city or country, and no matter how schooled.

"But the real question I want to raise and answer is how Hiram learned all those skills. To be sure, he did not learn them in school, nor in workshops or any other school-like activity. Almost certainly, he learned how to do all those kinds of work, many of them highly skilled, by being around when other people were doing them. But these people were not doing the work in order to teach Hiram something. Nobody raised a barn just so that Hiram could see how barns were raised. They raised it because they needed to raise the barn. Nor did they say to him, "Hiram, as long as I have to raise this barn, you may as well come around and learn how it is done." They said, "Hiram, I'm raising a barn and
I need your help." He was there to help, not to learn - but as he helped, he learned."

(my own thoughts)

Is it any wonder kids often turn their nose up at school assignments, knowing that there really is no greater purpose behind it? "Why do I have to?" seems to have a valid point, given the above barn analogy. When you see the real life application of a skill, it makes a lot more sense. You can talk all about fishing in a lecture, make me read pages from a book, and even have me hook a line and catch a fish from a little swimming pool. But when I'm out camping with a friend and we have to catch our breakfast, you can bet that's when I'll really learn how to fish.

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