As I See It: Utilize our assets for the greatest future

Malala Yousafzai took a bullet in the face for trying to continue her education. She did not choose the bullet but she took the risk. She knew the Taliban had targeted her. She endured extreme security measures to get to her school.

Our keiki and their parents are subject to a similar choice. Risk COVID, or a life of ignorance. It is one thing to miss a year at age 15, one small part of an already developing academic life. A teenager can have acquired enough learning skill to continue their education on their own if they choose. Many do. Missing a year of school before age 7 (the age of reason) is a major change from which recovery may not be possible. There are critical skills that need to be instilled early. They need to learn analytical thinking as opposed to simplistic primary thinking. Otherwise, they get bad habits, like rote learning, unthinking prejudice or the inability to separate conjecture from fact. How to learn must be taught early, before hate and prejudice can be planted deep in their psyche. Curiosity needs to be channeled into a need for understanding not blind acceptance.

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There are also social skills that develop early in life or not at all. Parents should teach them but often they don’t or do it poorly. Many parents have never themselves learned much of what the modern youngster needs to learn, or they are unable to teach it. This includes table manners, other common courtesies and simple things like the art of civil conversation. If these traits are not instilled early in life, bad habits instead will become ingrained and be almost impossible to overcome. Parents may tend to teach what they think they were taught, which may be out of date, inappropriate or plain wrong.

I don’t claim to be an educator, but I have received plenty of education and endured plenty of instruction. I still suffer from some inadequacies at the earliest level, (inscrutable handwriting) but an eight-year hiatus in college was not hard to recover from. To me the choice for educators is not school or no school but how do we best utilize our assets for the greatest future benefit under the present constraints.

One possibility: The earliest years take the least physical assets, but require the most personal attention. If we concentrate available assets on the earliest grades, pre-K through at least third grade there will be plenty of classroom space for social distancing. The paycheck protection funds might be used to involve willing upper-level teachers and volunteers with some adequate training to supervise classes. They can get guidance from the grade specialist teachers. More mature students could help with instruction as they did in the classic one-room-schoolhouse. Older children are better equipped to deal with online lectures, classes, learning from publications, or just pursuing their curiosity. Many great people have been self-educated, but very few of them did not get some initial guidance.

The Department of Education needs to think really hard about creative ways to get the youngest back in school before they develop hopeless bad habits. There are many ideas on the internet and DOE seems to have selected all-of-the-above maybe. Once children can read and have a thirst for knowledge, they can learn a lot on their own. “When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can think at all.” Paul Simon. We all can recall many wasted hours in high school. It is not impossible for older ones to recover from one missed year, but there is no make-up for the formative years. Some keiki, by the way, get their only proper nutrition at school.

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Why are the arcades and bars open, but not the libraries?

Ken Obenski is a forensic engineer, now safety and freedom advocate in South Kona. He writes a biweekly column for West Hawaii Today. Send feedback to obenskik@gmail.com