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L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 681, July 29, 2012

"UN Small Arms Treaty Dead!"


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Kids Teaching Kids
by Bob Wallace
ProfessorBigBrains@gmail.com

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Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

Some years ago I was asked to babysit a seven-year-old girl and her two brothers aged five and three. I have never been a fan of babysitting and was expecting to be excruciatingly bored. But when I got there I found them in the girl's room—and encountered something I had never seen before.

All three of them had set up a blackboard and an easel. The girl was standing in front of the easel, with one of those huge pieces of kid's chalk in one hand, while the boys sat on a bed. She was teaching them the alphabet.

To my surprise, the boys sat there expectantly and the girl took on a rather teacherly air. She drew letters on the board and had her brothers repeat the names of them. She was enjoying it, and so were the boys.

This lesson lasted 15 minutes before they got tired of it, ended their session, and went outside to play—which, by the way, is self-teaching.

The lesson I learned from watching these kids is that our schools are set up the wrong way. They have been for a long time. Instead of separating children into grade school, middle school and senior high, it would be better if it was done as it was in the little red school of our past (or, for that matter, the home school)—all kids go to school together.

Then the older ones could teach the younger ones. And that, I think, is more important than it sounds.

I don't know enough about the history of American schooling to know why children have been separated into these three different groups, but having spent almost 13 years (if you count kindergarten) in the public schools, I know it can be a catastrophe. Especially middle school, which I consider (to put it mildly) a most uncivilized place. There were times I couldn't even go into the bathroom without a fight breaking out. If nothing else, middle high should be merged with high school.

I found—just like just about everyone else in the U.S.—that grades K through 6 aren't much trouble, but once kids got into middle school, everything fell apart (a friend one time asked me, "Was seventh-grade a kind of hell for you?").

In middle-school there was a noticeable amount of bullying. The stronger and older sometimes bullied the weaker. It didn't happen all that much, but it happened enough to be a problem. (Stephen King said his first novel, Carrie, was based on his experiences in school.)

When I was a senior the administration finally figured out the problem and placed the ninth grade with the rest of the high school. Then they were called "freshmen." After that, there were never any problems with the 14-year-old freshmen, since they were at the bottom of the rungs, and there weren't any 12- and 13-year-olds for them to pick on. And they certainly weren't going to take on a 17-year-old. At least, I never saw it.

I think that if all children had to go to school together and each grade had to help teach the ones behind them it would go a long way into helping the kids grow up. The high school kids could easily control the middle school kids, and the middle school kids would have to help teach the grade school kids. That "middle school" mentality just might come close to disappearing if they had to assume somewhat of a parental role with the younger kids.

I did have some experience with this parental role when I was 17, but didn't realize what it meant until some time after the chalkboard incident.

A friend and I were camping on a lot his parents owned, some 150 miles from where we lived. While he was off swimming one day, I decided to shoot some basketball. A boy, who I remember as being about 10, and who lived nearby, wandered over, wanting to play. I showed him some basketball games and how to how to shoot the ball.

After about half an hour I was ready to leave, but he protested, "No, don't go; show me some more." He was impressed that an older kid would actually teach him something. And I enjoyed it, too. It wasn't boring for either of us.

The only time specifically that I was involved in teaching the younger was when I took Tae Kwon Do in high school. The more experienced students taught the less experienced. It seemed such a normal thing to do I didn't give a thought to it, and at that time it never occurred to me it might transfer to the schools.

Boredom is a big problem with school. Maybe it's the biggest problem. Kids are supposed to sit quietly at their desks, in ranks and rows, and somehow absorb knowledge radiating from a teacher at the front of the class. If students had a more one-on-one relationship with the younger kids, I think it would alleviate that boredom a great deal. They would be doing something useful instead of just sitting there. It might even be fun.

Jesse Stuart, in his autobiography about his teaching days, The Thread That Runs So True, wrote about his inability to reach his students. Then one day he noticed all of them absorbed in play outside. It was a revelation: learning should be play; it should be fun. He made it a game, and had very few problems after that. He also had the older kids help teach the younger.

"Absorbed" is the important word. If students aren't absorbed they're bored. School then becomes a chore or else a sentence to be served. It becomes meaningless. And what helps kids become absorbed is when the older teach the younger, as when my seven-year-old charge decided to instruct her brothers in the alphabet.

Being in school should have importance, meaning and community. If those things aren't there many kids will flee the place as soon as they can.

I am reminded of Almanzo Wilder's biography, Farmer Boy, written by his wife, Laura Ingalls Wilder. Almanzo hated school and attended only a few months in his life. Yet he grew up well-read, self-educated, and intelligent. As did his wife, who wrote the "Little House on the Prairie" books.

I doubt this older-teaching-the-younger will ever happen until the public schools are shut down. They've been around for too long; there is too much bureaucracy, red tape and ossification. And too much turf and ego to be protected.

If kids teaching kids ever did transfer to the schools, I think it would work just fine. It isn't hard to teach little kids their ABCs or numbers, to how to add and subtract. After all, I did see a seven-year-old girl—who obviously didn't have a college teaching degree—teach two pre-school boys the prerequisites of reading. And they were happy to learn.


[ Back in the days of the one-room schoolhouse it was SOP for the bigger kids to teach the littler kids. This was before "education" became organized with the same resulting problems we find in "organized religion" and so on.—Editor ]

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