Here Thar Be Monsters!
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The most meaningful experiences I had, and which still strongly affect my thinking, were the times I spent wandering around with my dog on the farm. Chasing critters, watching ant piles, following the cows, fishing, looking through my telescope...all those things kids don't do anymore...taught me all sorts of life lessons, not to mention just plain old observation of the world around me.
In the old days, teachers would take us outside on pleasant spring or fall days and we would identify trees and plants, insects and clouds. How did ants carry loads many times their size? What kinds of clouds signaled what kinds of weather? What times of the year did you see butterflies, cicadas and woolly boogers? Where did squirrels bury their nuts and why?
Anymore, you can drop a kid off a block from home and they couldn't navigate back, because they've never been further than a few feet from a screen that gives them everything they are supposed to know, and even that screen is getting dumber. I think George Carlin put it best when he said if you drop your kid off on a street corner and he's still there the next day, you got a dumb kid.
My folks hardly ever let us watch TeeVee. My dad called it a "goddam commie conspiracy," while my more circumspect mom preferred that we read books for entertainment, and bless her for that. It really didn't matter, though, because three miles outside Moulton, Texas, with no cable, we were rather limited on what signals we could pull down out of the atmosphere.
I grew up with the entire Life Cycle around me. By the tender age of 8 or 9, I had already seen a dozen different animals mate, give birth and die. We butchered some for food and had to kill some for medial reasons. I had fun shaping freshly laid eggs (the shells are still soft), hunting and tracking, and learning how to field dress (gut and skin) an animal if I bagged one.
Every year I knew the joy of tilling soil, planting seeds and eating the results of my hard work. In fact, nothing tastes better than fruits and vegetables you grow and harvest yourself. Tomatoes still warm from the Sun with a dash of salt are still one of my favorite snacks.
I learned how to hunt edible mushrooms and pick wild berries - in Texas, wild dewberries, blackberries and Mustang grapes are everywhere in season.
An 8- or 9-year-old child today would likely starve to death in a field of food, never having seen edibles in their natural state. He has never seen anything born or die, and even when the Boots the family cat passed on, he was too engrossed in Warcraft to notice, never having developed a bond with anything other than the game console.
Parents now plunk their kids down in front of a screen and they hardly stir for the next 18 years. If the kids get a little antsy and want to blow off some energy, the folks shove pills down their throats to prevent them from interrupting Mom and Dad's stupor.
Animal breeders will tell you that animals kept penned up get stupid. In humans, we call this "institutionalized." They are unable to function in the real world, because they have no experience outside the confines of their walls.
There is plenty of blame to go around. City living, corporate shilling and lazy parents come to mind. Am major problem is that the parents of school-aged children are themselves the products of TeeVee and gaming consoles. They don't know how to live in the real world, and thus are incapable of teaching their children how to do it. Furthermore, they are unmotivated to change the situation, either for themselves or their children.
I suppose I'm kind of a weird one. When I wanted to learn about cars, I bought some old junkers and tore them apart to rebuild them. I can't imagine being a teen now and having no clue how to change the oil, much less re-shoe the brakes or tear down the block. It probably helped that I had to use a tractor as a kid that would break down a mile from the house, so I either had to fix it on the spot, or walk two miles (round trip).
I took my kids out to West Texas, or to the mountains in New Mexico at least twice a year (summer and winter). We would hike for hours, learn how to find water in the desert, how to get directions from lichen, or read animal tracks to know which ones we didn't want to encounter. We would pick fossils out of the road cuts and see that below the K-T boundary, there were piles of fossils, but above it were none. We learned what kinds of trees and plants grew at which altitudes, and the differences between conifer and deciduous trees, and which birds preferred to nest in which trees.
I don't know how many of the details they retained, but I know from watching them as adults that they learned to observe, analyze and act on information from the world around them. That's more than I can say for many of their peers.
It would terrify me to raise kids now. Everything comes through a screen, and then parents wring their hands because their kids find the real world boring and uninteresting. This leads the parents to panic and shove pills down the poor children's throats, thus exacerbating the problem.
I have to think that if I were raising kids now, I would be like my dad and curse the "goddam commie" boob tube. I'd at least take away the remote so they would have to stir once in a while to change the channel.