Here’s a great list of gifts. Math, languages, music, sports, just a few of the abilities that separate us from everyone else. Some of us make professional careers out of these; most everyone else just takes them for granted – never encouraged to pursue these to possibly a more satisfying career path or lifestyle.

Fundamentally, there is more to this though than just having a good golf swing or remembering the names of actors in movies from the late ‘60’s. Our gifts are “the fundamental” of survival. Our gifts were what provided our ancestors with the ability to hunt for game, to forage for food and, later, to raise herds and grow crops, to create, to build, to provide a surplus which was employed to provide for their other needs. This is the basis for an economy. Our surplus employed to provide for the needs of others; their surplus to provide for our own.

The first fundamental unit of civilization, the tribe, incorporated this fundamental into a team activity. Tribes exist to this day in most civilizations. Surplus resulted in prosperity, peace, community. It was only when man recognized his ability to take what did not belong to him that things went awry. Raiding parties evolved to warlords. Tribes had a certain amount of natural affinity, but despotism was the inevitable consequence of the power of brute force.

Our search for ease of living, safety, creature comfort and promises of quick wealth makes us ready prey for easy manipulation. There is always someone there looking for ways to take away our surplus.

We see this in governments and corporations. We sacrifice our freedom of expression, our trading power of the commodity of our skills, our gifts – our natural surplus for the security of having someone else worry about it for us. IBM’s famous “cradle to the grave” offered human comfort in exchange for a commit to service.

This is fine if, when we think about it, we recognize what’s going on and are satisfied with this. But most of us don’t think about it. We just accept it. And, this is a problem. This is a problem because they take us for granted. Like nice barnyard critters, we go about our day, taking from the system and giving back, with no aspirations to be the farmer, isolated from the knowledge that there is another, better world out there.

There is a systematic indoctrination element of this which cannot be ignored. There is a loss of identity. We must reclaim our individuality and help others to break free of this trap. Social services are to serve man; not the other way around. We must identify our gifts and create independence through well-honed skills, unless we are satisfied with much less than we should be willing to accept from life.

I recently came across a copy of The Haliburton Second Reader. This was the schoolbook from the early 1900’s that folks used to learn phonetics – to read and to write. It was employed in homes and in many one room schoolhouses throughout the country. But, it was not called the “second reader” because it applied to the second grade. Where it certainly provided a gage of accomplishment, it did not present a barrier to advancement either.

The one room schoolhouse required one teacher who taught all of the grades with each student progressing through their studies at his own pace and yet all of them benefiting from the communal atmosphere that required the older children to handle the harder tasks and younger ones to do slighter tasks according to each’s ability and stamina. To say that there was an education outside of just book learning would be a vast understatement.

When our own children were young, we would make it part of our daily schedule to share breakfast. It was during this time that, as the father, I would read from a wide variety of books, from the Bible to Aristotle Made Easy, encouraging communication and thinking. Our son, being the oldest by 4 years was the target of much of our instruction. After all, his sister was still too young to deal with many of the issues that he was facing as a young man. As years went by, we came to understand that the younger child retained more of the instruction intended for her brother than he did.

This brings me back to the one room schoolhouse and education in general. Unlike in today’s schools where subjects are studied in a single grade, where they are “age appropriate”, these children were allowed to learn when they were able to. No one was holding them back from retaining knowledge, and many learned to be teachers and went on to be teachers by giving help to the younger children. Everyone, including the school master, was constantly learning. Social sciences like, History and Government were continuously and repeatedly communicated in the classroom, rather than being restricted to certain grade levels. There was a solid foundation laid; and, to my way of thinking, a better foundation than our modern system of higher education offers today.

Life was not easy for these people. This was an agrarian society. Most would never go on to institutions of higher learning. Many would have to teach their own children at home because the distance into town was too far or they needed them at home. For the most part, the Haliburton Readers and their Bibles would be their only tools for instruction.

It is easy to perceive how much of what we call American patriotism might have sprung from these roots.

One of the tragedies of today’s nuclear family is that an essential element of interaction with our children is missing. We tend to rely on artificial stimulation and institutions to raise our children and, by doing so, abrogate our role as parents.

In her book, For the Children’s Sake, Susan Schaeffer Mccauley stresses the importance of this role and illustrates how parents can succeed in today’s helter-skelter world.

Some of the points that she makes are that this is an adult world, and children that learn at early age to live in the presence of adults are better equipped to be successful as adults. Children are bored in the presence of other children; and, where they may learn a certain amount about social interaction, this is not likely to equip them for dealing with grocery stores and restaurants in which they are expected to behave like adults.

As hard as it may be on the parents to endure that interruption on a business call, our dogs do this, and people understand. Children have to learn when it is appropriate not to interrupt, even more so today when so many of us work remotely.

But, most importantly, Ms. Schaeffer stresses the critical role that parents play in identifying their children’s gifts. These are what will differentiate us as adults and give us a greater sense of our personal worth and, perhaps, lead us along a more satisfying career path.

We are not allowed to accept the norm. The advantages of this modern world have separated us from our children and incentivized us to rationalize that we are doing all of this for a worthy cause – our retirement.

Spending time with our children today will yield greater dividends than any other investment that we can make in our future today. They do not have to be robots. They can serve to build a better future for both themselves and others.

“Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.”

In Walden Two, behavioral psychologist, B. F. Skinner, writes about a utopian world in which babies are programmed to hate the sweet smell of flowers and love the odor of garbage so that, at some point, they will function as totally content garbage collectors.

I am often reminded of this when I witness the soulless application of today’s fill in the blank educational system in which achievement is as much about the completion of checklist as it is about the processing of numbers – you’re done with your education. Get out of here. Go find a job. Or, as Spock would say, “Live long and prosper”.

Somewhere along the line “reading, writing and ‘rithmetic” became too complicated, too demanding.

But, why? Unlike a video, reading gives one the ability to stop and concentrate on what he is reading. To think.

Writing introduces one to the concepts of declension: nominative, dative, accusative – gerunds. Correct sentences require structure. This requires creativity, thought.

Arithmetic is not just about answering a series of multiplication or division problems – please don’t mix these together. It requires the comprehension of information and the application of known theorems or formulas to arrive at the correct answer.  Again, this requires thought and reasoning capability.

Education has become soulless. Loud music and videos (conveniently stored on our iPhones) allow us to go through live and avoid the often inconvenient activity of thought.

I recently visited the campus of one of the most respected technological universities in this country. I was disturbed at how everyone moved along, earplugs in place, without acknowledging the presence of other human beings. A din of the noise from their devices protected them against interaction with others.

At the risk of being labeled a conspiracy theorist, I have to ask, is this all by design?

Just like with Walden Two, utopian systems cannot survive where there is independent thought.

Consider this the next time you cringe when someone else’s thoughts disturb your comfort zone.

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