A few weeks ago I came upon a scene that left me baffled, yet mighty curious. There went a young boy of about 10, bent over and shuffling steadily around his yard. Not particularly unusual, you might think, but it was the snorkel, complete with full face mask, that threw me.
Shuffle, shuffle. Scoop. Breathe. Shuffle, shuffle. Scoop. Breathe.
Gathering worms? No. To get the best ones you must stealthily creep out with a flashlight in the evening when it is dark, and cool, and wormlike. It was noon. It was hot. They’d have fried in no time.
Rooting out weeds? This theory had promise but was highly unlikely. Out of every 10 adults, only about one, in my experience, bothers with the pesky things. I figure kids probably rank somewhat below that average.
Hunting lost coins, toys, or other treasures? Now, this premise had some merit. He didn’t appear to have a metal detector, though, so that ruled out old coins and treasure. He seldom played outside with “toys,” so it seemed they were out, too. Besides, there was still the snorkel gear. If he were hunting for things in the grass, he probably could have seen better without the mask and snorkel tube.
Dredging up experience culled from my worm-collecting days — or rather, nights — I furtively sidled closer. A little difficult, I admit, considering it was noon and a street stood between me and him, and no trees or shrubs offered much camouflage.
I needn’t have bothered; he paid me no attention. Shuffle, shuffle. Scoop. Breathe. Shuffle, shuffle. Scoop. Breathe.
Aha! Pooper-Scooper in one hand and plastic bag in the other, this boy was picking up what his dog had left behind.
Amazing, isn’t it? Kids can come up with solutions to problems that we, as adults, never even perceive as being such. I’d have gotten by on lung capacity and breath support or, failing that, on the ability to breathe through my mouth. But to that boy, the odor was a real problem, one that needed a real answer, so he promptly devised a real plan. On his own, too, I imagine, since no adult appeared to be monitoring his progress by capturing it on video.
The kid could have stepped right out of any number of sitcoms, but there is one glaring difference: this was real life, not fantasy. This kid’s actions stemmed from a problem he perceived as needing a solution, not from the creative recesses of a script writer’s mind.
His rather unique use of a snorkel isn’t Nobel-Prize worthy or anything, and isn’t likely to garner a patent or appear in a scientific journal. But you know what? Maybe it should.
Maybe promoting offbeat solutions and praising eyebrow-raising efforts is a better choice. Maybe a pat on the back for the kids who really don’t think twice about what neighbors or passersby might say would net the world some alternative, creative thinkers. Lord knows, we need them.
Amidst all the education horror stories that abound these days, there are bright spots.
A friend of mine — a teacher by trade — tells me the story of a former student who, in terms of real world education, had a pretty good head start. And it began with guinea pigs.
While in middle school, this child generated a thriving business raising the pigs and selling them to pet stores and to individuals. His endeavor didn’t make him a millionaire, but it certainly gave him the tools to build with.
Think of the organizational skills he developed, the scientific knowledge he accumulated, the math and business skills he cultivated. And all that without parental prodding. (Or so I presume. How many parents do YOU know who would actively encourage the proliferation of guinea pigs?)
There was a youth who already had delved into genetics, breeding, nutrition, health, profit and loss, business principles, accounting, customer service, sales…. Think of the college graduates who’ve never had that experience. Now, that’s a head start.
Our future veterinarians, doctors, scientists, entrepreneurs, artists? Who’s to predict? One thing’s for certain, though: this kid shuffling around his yard, willing to look ridiculous with a snorkel and a Pooper-Scooper in hand, certainly has the potential to accomplish any one of those roles, just as we have the potential to either realize or squash their ambition and ingenuity.
Sure, there’s a lot wrong with our educational system. But there’s also a lot that’s right, too. What’s right are the teachers, by profession or by nature, who offer an encouraging word and who take those sometimes ludicrous solutions quite seriously to help grow the next generation of creative, out-of-the-box thinkers.
I lift my glass to you.